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Understanding the Molt


The scene always takes me by surprise, walk out into the coop and it looks like a chicken has literally exploded with feathers everywhere.  Sound familiar?

What your flock is experiencing is natural, it’s called a Molt.  A molt will replace the dull, worn, broken feathers with new vibrant and warm feathers in time for the winter season.  Molting season is usually brought on by the decrease in sunlight and can take between 8 and 12 weeks to complete.

Molts will happen yearly beginning when your hen or rooster is about 18 months old.  However, during the first year of their life chickens will go through several smaller molt cycles.

Molt Timeline

6-8 Weeks                                Downy feathers are replaced by baby feathers

8-12 Weeks                              Baby feathers are replaced by juvenile feathers

18 Months                                First adult molt replaces old feathers

Yearly after first molt              Adult feathers are replaced

 

There are two types of molt: 
Hard or Soft

A hard molt is where the bird will lose most of their feathers within a short period of time.  Bald spots are likely from a hard molt.

A soft molt on the other hand is where the bird will gradually lose feathers over time.  This is sometimes experienced during their first fall season.

What can you expect
during the molt?

  • Hens will decrease or stop laying eggs. This is due to feathers being around 85% protein and they will naturally concentrate on the creation of new feathers rather than laying eggs.  Sometimes this slowdown will be the first sign that your hen is about to start a molt, often starting a couple weeks prior to beginning to lose feathers.
  • Feather loss and growth
  • Weight loss
  • Mood changes
  • Decrease in energy or enthusiasm, it is important that you recognize the difference between a molting chicken and a sick chicken.

Tips for helping your birds
during a molt

  • Increase protein in their diet. You will want to provide a feed with at least 20% protein during this time.  Several brands offer a feather fixer variety.
  • Give higher protein snacks several times a week. Cut back on the low protein treats such as scratch and fruits and vegetables, these should only constitute about 10% of their diet during a molt.  Examples of higher protein snacks include:  scrambled eggs, tuna (in water, low sodium), mealworms, grubs, black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS), sprouted seeds, cat food and fish pellets (use sparingly).
  • Decrease stress at this time. Try not to add any new birds to your flock or move a bird to a new coop.
  • As the new pin feathers start to come in, remember that it can be painful for your bird. Handle as little as possible during this time.
  • The bird will remove the pin feather’s sheath with their beak. Once removed, the new feather will unfurl.
  • Add vitamins and electrolytes to the drinking water a few times a week.
  • Keep the coop tidy and pick up the majority of feathers. This will keep the birds from developing a taste for feathers.  Molted feathers are a great source of both protein and nitrogen making them a fantastic addition to your compost and an amazing fertilizer.

Other reasons for feather loss

If a chicken is loosing feathers at other times of the year investigate the cause.  Several reasons that this could be happening include:

  • Stress
  • Sickness
  • Parasite infestation –if the bird is only loosing feathers in the vent area, this is a sign that they may be dealing with a mite or lice infestation.
  • Rooster riding
  • Bully picking

 

According to an old wives’ tale - if chickens molt early, it’s going to be a bad winter.  My grandmother swore on this fact, have you ever heard it or have you heard any others?

 


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