Help! I’m MOLTING!
What has your girls’ feathers in a ruffle? Around this time of year, you may have noticed that your flock’s feathers have started to fall out (you may also be witnessing full-blown molting madness by now)! No need to crow for help! This is a natural annual process in which a chicken’s feathers regenerate.
What is molting?
Molting is an annual feather regeneration event that occurs at the end of egg laying season. Closely linked to the hours of daylight, you will notice the feathers of your flock begin to fall out. Annual molting is very similar to the molting that you see when your fluffy chick loses her down feathers and replaces them with her fancy feathers.
There are two types of annual molting:
Hard molting: this is the more extreme kind of molting. Larger patches of feathers will fall out and you will see more exposed pin feathers. The process is more dramatic, but will be over faster than a soft molt.
Soft molting: this is a less extreme version. Without examining your chicken, you may not even realize that she is molting. This type of molting will take longer than hard molting.
How do they molt?
The molting process begins when the daylight hours get shorter. The feathers will fall out and you may see some bald spots, especially around the neck and back. Then, pin feathers will appear. These are fresh feathers that are covered in a hard, waxy protective coating that supplies blood flow. These pin feathers are very delicate and sensitive, so it is best to leave your chickens alone! Then, the waxy coating will fall off and their new feathers will be in full bloom.
How long does it take?
Annual molting typically lasts between 2-3 months. A soft molt could last as long as six months, while a hard molt may only take 2 months.
When does it happen?
Typically around September and October, molting will occur. In the first few months of life, your chicks will go through many molts, losing their soft down in the first few days, and again a few months later.
Why do chickens molt?
Chickens will molt annually in the fall in order to regenerate feathers. Molting ensures strong and protective feathers just in time for the cold winter and restarts the egg-laying season.
Another reason for molting is a significant diet change, particularly when protein intake is decreased. If your chickens are molting unexpectedly, check for other underlying causes. A lack of food or water can trigger a molt. If only one or two of your chickens are losing feathers, check for mites or other reasons for feather loss.
What factors affect molting?
Daylight, nutrition, and stress all affect molting in chickens. Additional light inside your coop is a factor to consider for your hens. It is a good idea around October to turn off the light at night in order to allow molting to happen (sweet dreams, girls!). As for nutrition, continue to increase protein while keeping your chickens hydrated.
Need a little trick to help with digestion? Add about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water to your chickens’ glass or plastic waterer.
What can I do while they molt?
Although you cannot avoid the natural process of molting, you can help speed it up by increasing protein intake. Because feathers are made mostly of protein, increasing protein intake will help your chicken’s feathers grow faster.
Limit the amount of scratch and grain feed you are giving your chickens. The feathers are about 80% protein, so the diet should be higher in protein. You can also take them off of layer feed and use feeds that contain about 20-22% protein. High-quality protein treats such as Grubblies (dried black soldier fly larvae) can help increase the protein intake as well.
Limit how much you are handling your hens. The new feathers emerging from their skin are called pin feathers (vein-filled, waxy developing feathers). They are very sensitive and will bleed if damaged.
Remember, while your chicken is molting, she is very vulnerable! Watch your flock to make sure there are not any bullies (keep your beaks to yourselves, ladies!). If you find an aggressive hen, temporarily separate her if possible.
Do your chickens need a nutritional boost to get through molting?
Treat them to Grubblies!