How to help your chickens through a molt
Each year your chickens will experience “molting”, which is the process of shedding their old feathers and donning new feather skirts. Most hens will slow down their egg production during this time to redirect their energy to the arduous task of growing new feathers. We’ll show you how to help your chickens through a molt, and what to expect throughout the process.
When do chickens molt?
Chickens begin molting early on in life. In fact, chicks molt frequently during their first few months of life as they shed their baby fluff in favor of their adult feathers. Chicks will molt a total of 4 times:
- First molt within the first 1-6 weeks of age
- Second molt around 7-9 weeks of age
- Third molt around 12-13 weeks of age
- Fourth and final molt around 20-22 weeks of age
By the end of this fourth molt, your chicks’ tail feathers will begin to come in – making cockerels easier to spot.
Once they reach adulthood, all chickens will follow a natural annual molting cycle that occurs toward the end of summer or the beginning of fall. The need to grow new feathers will be evident – your hens’ feathers will appear dull or bleached out shortly before they molt. Occasionally, chickens can go through a molting cycle outside of this timeframe as a response to stress.
How do you know if your chicken is molting?
While chickens can lose random feathers any time of year due to rough play or preening, minor feather loss is not considered molting. Molting is accompanied by obvious signs like:
- Patches of missing feathers (some may be large)
- A disheveled appearance
- Dull combs and wattles
- A sudden drop in egg production
- Increased appetite
The molting process usually begins with the feathers at the chicken’s head, moving toward the breast and legs, and finally to the tail. By the time the tail is bare, the head feathers will have begun to regrow.
If a chicken is losing feathers and doesn’t grow new ones, you’ll want to do a quick hen health check, as sometimes mites or illness can be to blame for unexplained feather loss. If you suspect an issue other than a seasonal molt, be sure to contact your veterinarian.
What to give chickens to help with molting
Molting is not an illness, so while it may not require treatment, your hens will appreciate some extra nutrition during this time. Their taste for protein will increase in response to the extra energy needed to grow new feathers – and they’ll need lots of it.
To add extra protein to the chickens’ diets, give them a feed that is at least 18% protein. Cooked eggs and fish are also good protein sources, as are dried mealworms or soldier fly larvae. If you have a chicken tractor, move your flock to a spot with the most insects. Or, you can use chicken fencing to keep your hens in areas that are dense with bugs for a fresh protein source.
You can also add some apple cider vinegar to your hens’ water, and offer fresh herbs like oregano to give their immune systems a boost. Chicken supplements are an easy way to add nutrients to your flock’s feed, and allowing them to free range as much as possible will help them peck out what their bodies need the most.
What to do when your chickens are molting
Molting varies between each hen, but you can expect a full molt to take anywhere from 4-16 weeks to be completed. Try to avoid handling your chickens during this time, and resist covering their bald patches with chicken jackets or clothing. Your hens will be tender and itchy while they’re growing new feathers, so handling them or covering their skin will add unnecessary irritation.
Not all hens will cease egg production for the entire duration of a molt, but it’s normal if they do. It’s normal to expect your hens to stop producing eggs for several weeks while they’re molting. Flocks will molt together on the same schedule, so be prepared to be short on eggs for a while. Unwashed eggs will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, so start saving eggs toward the end of summer to head off a temporary egg shortage.
Having an easy-to-clean chicken coop and chicken run are both helpful during a molt – your hens will shed feathers both day and night, leaving feathers everywhere. Dump or rake out shed feathers routinely to keep your flock’s area presentable and to give your hens plenty of dust to bathe in, which will aid in the molting process.
Keep your flock’s feeders and waterers topped off during their molt, and check on their progress daily. Most hens will go through their cycle without incident or need for human intervention, but keep an eye out for:
- Excessive lethargy from hens
- Bleeding or scabbed over patches
- Difficulty regrowing feathers, or patches of missing feathers even after new ones have grown in
Before you know it, your flock will have ditched their dull, dingy feathers and will emerge dressed in their new, polished plumage just in time for winter.
Molting with Omlet
The annual molting cycle doesn’t have to be a chore for you and your chickens. Whether you house your hens in our Eglu Cube chicken coop and Walk in chicken run, or one of our chicken tractors, our expertly designed products make it easy for you to help your hens through a molt so that they can get back to feeling, and looking, their best.
This entry was posted in Chickens