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Chickens Molting: Everything You Need To Help Your Hens

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Are your chickens starting to lose their feathers?

When chickens lose their feathers it’s called molting. Adult chickens normally molt their feathers once a year but additional molts can be caused by stress from the heat, lack of light, poor nutrition, or hatching out chicks.

When you are new to raising chickens the first time you see your chickens molting you might think something is very wrong with them.

The sudden loss of feathers can leave your hens looking scruffy and bare.

You might even think that they are sick.

But molting is a perfectly normal process that chickens go through every year to lose their feathers.

Why your chickens are molting text overlaid on a photo of a red hen losing her back feathers.

What Is Molting?

Molting is simply the natural process that chickens and other birds go through each year to shed out the old feathers that have become broken and worn with new feathers.

When the chickens feathers get old and worn they can’t keep them warm as well as they used to. So it’s time for the birds to grow new feathers that will do a better job.

Chickens go through many molts during their lifetime.

The first juvenile molt starts when the chick is 6 to 8 days old and starts to lose its soft downy feathers for real feathers.

The second juvenile molt starts when the bird is 8-12 weeks old. At this stage, they start to lose their baby feathers for a new set of feathers.

This is also when the males start to grow in their decorative long tail feathers and saddle feathers.

If you have been wondering “When do adult chickens molt for the first time?” Chickens will normally go through their first adult molt when they are about 18 months old or the first fall as an adult bird.

Normally molting happens in the late summer and early fall.

What Causes Molting?

Chicken starting to molt its head feathers.
Chicken starting to molt it’s head feathers.

Decreasing daylight hours in the late summer and early fall is the most common trigger of molting.

But there are other things that can trigger your birds to start molting too.

Molting can also be caused by extreme heat, hatching eggs, poor or not enough feed, lack of water, physical stress, and inconsistent artificial lighting.

If you have been lighting your coop during the winter to improve egg production and then change your mind and stop lighting it, the sudden change can trigger your hens to start molting in the middle of winter.

How Long Does It Take For Chickens To Molt?

Adult molting normally lasts for 8 to 12 weeks and during this time your chicken will shed their feathers and grow in new ones.

Some hens will go through a molt more quickly than others and some will drag it out even longer. We have had some birds most as quickly as 2 weeks and some take 6 months.

Do Chickens Have Different Types Of Molting?

Back feathers starting to fall out in a summer molt on a red hen.
Back feathers starting to fall out in a summer molt.

Chickens have 2 different types of molting soft and hard.

A soft molt is when a bird loses some of their feathers but it’s so minimal that if you aren’t used to looking for it you probably wouldn’t even notice.

A hard molt is more sudden and the birds will lose a large number of feathers making it look very odd. Some birds can lose their feathers so quickly that they become almost bare.

The type of molt your birds go through can depend on what breed of chicken they are as well as if they are a good egg layer or not. On average your best egg layers will molt the fastest (hard molt) and lose a lot of feathers quickly but also grow them back quickly.

Do Chickens Lay Eggs When They Are Molting?

When your birds start to molt you will often notice a sudden drop in egg production. This is because feathers are made of 80% to 85% protein.

It is simply to hard on the chicken to regrow its feathers and lay eggs at the same time.

Some hens will still lay a few eggs while others will completely stop until after the molting has finished.

Once the hen has finished molting it will start to lay eggs again although not normally as many as it would in the spring before the molting started.

What Do You Feed Chickens When Molting?

Chickens that are going through a Molting process need a high protein feed to help them regrow their feathers quickly.

Normal laying mash is 16 percent and isn’t high enough to help your hens when molting. Switching to a grower feed that is 20 to 25 percent will help to provide extra protein they need at this time.

You can also simply keep your birds on layer mash and provide lots of proteins rich treats to you birds to give them the boost they need.

Some ideas are:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Peas
  • Soybeans
  • Mealworms
  • Meat scraps
  • Fish scraps
  • Scrambled eggs

Once your birds have finished molting then gradually mix the layer feed with your high protein feed over 1 to 2 weeks slowly adding more of the layer mix.

This will help them to start laying again and prevent stress from a sudden feed change.

Do Chickens Lose Weight When Molting?

Molting is a perfectly natural process for birds to go through, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy on them.

Many chickens will lose weight when going through a hard molt.

The lack of feathers means they can’t easily warm or cool themselves, they are using a lot of nutrition to grow in new feathers. But at the same time, they are sore and uncomfortable.

Without their feathers they are also more likely to be pecked and bullied by the other hens.

Make sure you provide lots of high protein treats to your hen.

If you notice they are losing a lot of weight you could try penning the heaviest melters up separately from your flock where they will have less competition for feed.

Is Molting Painful For Chickens?

When chickens start to grow in their new pin feathers they can be very sensitive. It’s best not to handle or hold your hen until after her feathers have grown back in if possible.

Pin feathers are filled with blood that feeds the growing shaft and feather. These can easily break and bread if handled.

Try to remember that during molting your hen is very sensitive and to give her some space.

Is It Molting Or Mites?

When chickens start to molt it can look similar to the damage caused when they have a mite problem. However, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between them.

When a chicken molts they lose their feathers in a predictable pattern, most of the time.

The molt starts with the feathers on the top of their head, followed by the neck, gradually working down the body until the tail feathers fall out.

Mites on the other hand cause feather loss in an unpredictable way. Often starting around the vent and tail. You will also notice that their skin can be sore, red, and flaky.

Just remember to be patient with your molting chickens. They are working hard right now and will come through the feather change just fine with a little extra care.

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Saturday 29th of July 2023

Great article, thank you. This is the information I needed. I wasn't sure if my 15-month-old hen was sick or molting, she looks so bad! But I'm sure now that she's going through a hard molt. Poor baby. It's super hot here right now, in the 100F to 110 degrees, just going into Autumn, so those are probably two reasons. It's been going on for a while now, at least 4 to 6 weeks, and I didn't know hard molts could last this long. I'd guess she has a way to go before she's back to normal. My other three hens are fine.

Amy Wong

Saturday 27th of November 2021

Thank you for posting this article, my favorite hen is going through a hard molt, and it makes sense she isn't laying and looks like she's losing all of her feathers all at once, and none of my other hens are going through it. I feel much better knowing how to care for her.