Since spring, Oyster Cracker has been plagued with a bald spot on the back of her head. I kept hoping that feathers would soon grow in that naked little spot, yet none came. I waited for months. Then, through one of my blog followers, Matt, I learned that the spot would remain bare until she molted. Deep within the skin were portions of broken off feathers. Her body was fooled into thinking that those feathers were still intact. Yesterday, I noticed that her bald patch was finally showing tiny barbs of new immature feathers called pin or blood feathers. They are rolled into a cylindrical shaped tube wrapped in keratin. As the chicken preens, the keratin sheaths are removed and new feathers seem to bloom into existence. This could only mean one thing. The chickens are beginning to molt.
Molting is serious business
Molting (or Moulting, as they spell it in Great Britain) is for most chickens, an annual process when they replace all their feathers. It typically occurs in the fall and can start anywhere from September to November. Birds molt in a specific order to replace their existing feathers. Replacing their body’s feathers entirely allows birds to insulate their bodies better in winter, remain weatherproof and fly away from predators. The entire molting process typically takes about 12 weeks, keeping in mind that it takes 9 weeks to make a feather.
How Chickens Molt
Molting begins on the head first, followed by the neck, breast, wings, back and tail. Sometimes, it is difficult to notice early molting as the feathers are small. By the time molting occurs on the body, the larger sized feathers are difficult to miss and so numerous, that it appears that a chicken has surely disappeared, leaving a copious amount of feathers behind. Molting is a stressful process on the flock. It requires large amounts of protein. Feathers consist of 85% protein. The other process that requires high amounts of protein is egg laying. During the molting process their reproductive systems will go dormant. Egg laying ceases. Their bodies are focusing on replacing hundreds of feathers.
Even though the molting process is stressful, chicken owners can make a difference to the lives of the hen’s during these times. It is possible to keep molting hens happy. Here are some tips to help the rate of the molting process and promote the health of your backyard flock:
Be sure the chickens are getting enough protein. Instead of treating the flock to vegetables and fruits try dried blood worms, dried meal worms, sunflower seeds, mashed up hard boiled eggs and plain yogurt instead.
Avoid giving the flock too much scratch. It does not contain enough protein.
Add a vitamin and electrolyte supplement to their drinking water.
Add 1 tablespoon per gallon of apple cider vinegar to their drinking water to help minimize stress.
Provide clean drinking water daily.
Supportive Environment for Molting:
Avoid stressing your birds. Keep them in familiar surroundings. Avoid things like introducing them to the neighbor’s new dog.
Maintain an optimal molt temperature between 70-80 degrees F.
Try not to handle the chickens during the molt at is can be painful.
Keeping these tips in mind, should help the flock molt smoothly. After the molting completes, their feathers will be beautiful and new. The chickens will feel incredibly silky and your tender loving care will be rewarded with their delicious homemade eggs.