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.
Keep the coop and run clean.
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.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
15 thoughts on “Backyard Chickens: Tis the Season to Molt”
Melissa, my girls are only 12 weeks old. Will they molt this fall, or do only older chickens molt? I've been noticing loose feathers in the coop bedding lately. Wondering if they are starting?
Hi Helena, Chicks go through one complete and three partial molts until they begin to lay eggs. A complete molting occurs from 1-6 weeks of age, and partial molts at 7-9 weeks, 12-16 weeks and 20-22 weeks. During this final molt, the tail feathers appear. From here, your chickens should keep their feathers and completely molt next fall.
Great – thank you so much! I learn something everyday here. 🙂 I can't wait until they have those beautiful tail feathers!!! They are already looking quite full and fluffy. 🙂 And making lots of big girl chicken noises, lol. XO Helena
You are very welcome Helena. So glad you are accompanying us on our journey 🙂
How often and how much are you giving the chickens of yogurt, apple cider vinegar, etc?
Carmi, I add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water. I give them this water everyday. I give the girls yogurt about once per week. My eight girls share about 1 1/2 cups separated between two bowls so they all get a chance to share.
I'm enjoying reading your posts and pics. We have 14 hens and 2 roosters and some of the birds are pretty beat up looking on their back sides. Our Dominique looks bald and I'm afraid she's just had too much rooster action. Will her feathers grow back? We got them a year ago and I'm not sure if they've been through a molt or not. A lot of hens looks great and some look like they've gotten broken feathers and small ones coming in, or perhaps they are just small feathers that are now showing that were underneath the larger ones that are gone. Someone told me that sometimes the hens will not grow back their back feathers if they've been rubbed off by the rooster. I'm afraid if they don't, she'll get sunburned. She looks dry and raw on top now. So much to learn…and each one of us seems to have new and different problems. Any ideas?
Hi Laura! So glad you are here and enjoying the blog. Yes, they make hen saddles. I would put them on the girls who are being worn out. I did a post on these. I love the ones from Louise's Country Closets. The post was called On the Mend An Update on Dolly. My iPhone won't let me share the link:(. But I will get it for you later today.
Here is the link: Be sure to let Louises' know that I recommended them. Thanks! https://www.tillysnest.com/2012/02/on-mend-dolly-update-and-giveaway.html
Our Dominiques had the same problem from our roosters and we got them aprons and finally feathers have begun to grow back. We got our aprons from Louise and they are great. We were new to raising chickens and got Dominique girls and Welsummer roosters. The difference in size of the 2 breeds caused some issues. When the roosters got "friendly" with the Doms, they would literally smash them onto the ground. The Doms just couldn't support the weight of the Welsummer roosters. We finally got some RIR to take the "heat" off the Doms LOL and now everyone is happy 🙂
So glad to hear that everyone is happy. Roosters do love their girls!
Once the chickens stop laying eggs during the molt, how long before they start laying again? The full 9 weeks?
Also, do different breeds molt at different times or all together because of temperature and sunlight hours?
Hi Alex, You may find that some of your hens wait until they have completely finished molting to lay, while others lay intermittently during the molt. I think a lot of it has to do with their protein stores. I think focusing on high-protein snacks during this time, might help to ensure a few eggs laid during the process.
Do chickens molt more than once a year? I have two hens that molted in the fall and now they are again. Lately we have had the coldest temps in Georgia in over 30 years and these two girls don't have "coats".
Yes, they definitely can molt more than once, especially during times during stress.