One day you’re going to walk into the chicken coop and see bald hens and a floor piled with feathers! And if it’s your first time seeing this don’t worry, it’s likely that your hens are just going through molt.
So to ease your mind this article is all about when molt occurs and what you can expect.
Even though I’ve had chickens for years it’s still a little frightening every time I see a bunch of bald hens running around.
It’s also hard to not think something is wrong.
But thankfully it’s nothing to be worried about.
Molting is a natural occurring process of chickens losing their old feathers to get a new thicker set of feathers and down for winter.
When Do Chickens Molt
The largest molt consistent across your flock members will likely be in fall during the shorter days as they prepare for winter.
This is called an annual molt.
It will generally happen between September and November and your hens will be losing a majority of their feathers in a very quick amount of time.
So if you’re noticing feather loss during this time of year it is perfectly normal.
Chickens may also molt due to stress.
The stress can come from multiple things such as:
- poor health
- threats from predators
- a change in flock dynamics
Another issue that causes chickens to lose their feathers that isn’t from a type of molt is chicken mites.
If your chicken is infested with mites it is common for them to lose their feathers but usually only around the vent area.
Mites are very tiny and are red or black in color.
They are most active at night so if you believe your chickens are infested check your chickens during nighttime on the areas that have soft feathers such as around the vent and areas under the wings.
If you happen to find mites, treat them immediately with a product such as poultry dust.
Types of Molts
Soft molt – is when chickens slowly lose and regrow feathers. It’ll happen all throughout the year and you likely won’t even notice.
Hard molt – is when chickens lose a huge amount of feathers all at once. This usually only happens once a year during their annual molt.
Which Chickens Molt
All chickens molt, but hens will be much more noticeable than roosters.
Roosters will only lose a small portion of body feathers along with their tail feathers.
Whereas a hen may look completely bald.
If you have young pullets who were born in the spring of that same year, they likely won’t go through an annual molt.
They may have a soft molt to grow in some extra down for the winter but that’s about it.
But any hen who is a full year old or older should go through a hard molt.
Other Effects of Molt
One of the most common occurrences during molt is a decrease or stop in egg laying.
Hens are putting all of their energy and nutrients into growing in their new feathers so it’s nearly impossible for them to keep up with full egg production at the same time.
So if your hens have stopped laying during the time of molt don’t worry.
Once all their feathers have grown back in they should continue laying as normal.
Although, keep in mind that as the days start to get shorter hens will slow down laying due to the decrease in light per day as well.
So even if their molt has ended you may still notice a decrease in egg production due to the time of year.
If you want eggs throughout the winter you can put a light in your chicken coop that comes on for a few hours a day which will provide your hens the additional light they need for continued production.
Additional Nutrients Needed During Molt
You can’t stop the molting process but there are a few things you can do to help your hens stay healthier and regrow their feathers quicker.
Since regrowing feathers requires so much protein, during this time you should feed a higher protein layer feed that is 18-20% protein.
A good option is Nutrena Feather Fixer.
You can also feed additional high protein foods in moderation such as a few handfuls of cat food, hard boiled eggs, and black oil sunflower seeds.
The Molting Process
As chickens begin losing feathers it’ll start with their head feathers, down to their neck, and in sequence all the way to their tail feathers.
Then they will grow back in the same sequence.
So for example, as their head feathers are lost you should notice pin feathers that are ready to grow in.
Each hen will vary though. Some may barley be noticeable while others may seem like they stay bald forever.
Factors such as age, weather, and diet will determine the severity of each chickens molt.
So to learn more about the entire molting process check out my article, Your Guide to Molting Chickens.
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