How To Identify And Care For Molting Chickens

As fall quickly approaches many backyard chicken raisers are facing, a drop in egg production and molting chickens.

Fall brings welcome relief in temperatures, for many but it also has its own set of problems for chicken keepers. On the top of that list is molting chickens, so today we are going to cover everything you need to know about molting chickens.

The What And Why Of Chicken Molting

Ever come out to your chicken coop to find feathers everywhere, and your birds are looking a little bare? As long as your chickens are healthy and free from mites, your flock is most likely molting. So why are your chickens molting and what is it anyway? Molting is perfectly normal, chickens will molt annually as new feathers grow in and push old feathers out. Molting is a reaction to shortened days, as summer slips into winter.

Your chickens will have their first molting when they reach 18 months old, their annual molting will begin in late summer to early fall. It should take between 8-12 weeks for all of the feathers to return. Good layers tend to grow their feathers back sooner, then poor layers. How quickly your birds grow new feathers and begin laying again will depend on the breed. Even roosters will molt and can become infertile while regrowing their feathers. If the rooster loses more then 25% of their body weight while molting they can become permanently sterile.

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How Do Chickens Molt?

The length of time a chicken is molting can vary but the patter will remain the same. Molting will begin at the head, continue down the neck, into the saddle, breast, abdomen, wings, and tail.  A chicken can lose only a handful of feathers and look completely normal or lose chunks of feathers at one time leaving it looking pretty rough.

Loss Of Egg Production During Chicken Molting

Because feathers are 85% made of protein, much of the chicken’s energy and nutrition supply go into feather production, so egg production will drop drastically if not stop completely until the molt is finished. You may also notice the combs of your laying hens lose a bit of their vibrancy and become a not so bright red color.

How To  Help Your Molting Chickens Through The Process

Both egg production and molting are controlled internally as a reaction to the amount of daylight your chicken’s experience. Your flock will also need more protein during their molt. There are some ways to help your birds get through their annual molt a little easier.

  • Add a light to your coop. Having a light on for a few hours every night can help up your egg production through the fall and winter months.
  • Increase your chicken’s protein intake to 20-22%. A good way to do this is to switch from layer feed to game bird feed for about a month because it has double the protein. Some feed companies have special feeds for molting chickens, so make sure you check your local farm supply.
  • Limit scratch to 10% of their diet so you don’t dilute their protein intake.
  • Supplement their feed with high protein treats like Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, Meal Worms, Tuna Fish, Cooked Eggs, Peas, Beans, Fishmeal, Meat Scrapes, Fish Scrapes, Marjoram, Parsley, Basil, Chervile, Dill, Fennel, Coriander, Spearmint, Tarragon, Oats, Wheat Germ, Cod Liver Oil, Cauliflower, Spinach, Broccoli, Alfalfa, Lintels, Peanuts, Pumpkin Seeds, Quinoa, Spinach, Spirulina, Celery Seed, Oregano, and Saffron.
  • Add Apple Cider Vinegar to their water once a week/every other week to up their mineral and vitamin intake.
  • Molasses, milk, and powdered milk can also be added to your chickens to diet to keep their calcium and mineral levels up.
  • Mix ginger into their feed to boost their circulation.


Caring For Molting Chickens

Your chickens should act normally during their molt if they begin acting sick, something else could be wrong. While your chickens are molting it’s important to know how to care for them.

  • Limit handling of molting birds, to avoid inflicting pain.
  • Reduce as much stress as you can. Avoid moving your birds to new living quarters or adding new birds to your pen.
  • It’s important to ensure your birds have regular access to food and water.

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