We’ve reached that time of the year where you get no fresh eggs from your flock and it looks like someone plucked all your hens: Molting Season. All birds molt, wild and domestic. Molting is when a bird loses it’s feathers and regrows new ones. Now, they don’t lose all their feathers at one time, that’s why you don’t see naked birds flying around. (Fun Fact: Wild birds will molt the same flight feather on each wing at the same time, that way they are not off balance in their flight).
Usually the molt takes place once a year in early spring or late fall. For wild birds it helps to renew their feathers in preparation for migration or cold weather. In chickens and domestic fowl it helps improve their laying quality, feed efficiency, and renews their feathers.
The best egg layers in a flock of hens will molt late and fast and the lazy egg layers will molt slow and early. The average time for a complete molt to take place is 14-16 weeks.
Chickens have a molting sequence in which they lose their feathers. It goes: head, neck, back, breast, stern, thighs, wings, and then the tail. You can tell a chicken is at the end of losing it’s feathers when it has no tail. They than regrow their feathers starting at the tail and going in reverse.
Molting can sometimes be painful for a chicken as new feathers are growing into tender feather follicles. Avoid picking up molting chickens as the new feather follicles are very sensitive and it can hurt the bird when pressure is applied to them. This is often the reason why many friendly birds will become skittish while they are molting.
Sometimes a feather follicle will burst or open too soon and become bloody. This often happens if the feather follicle gets snagged or pressured. If this happens, I just wipe off the blood and spray it with PoultryAid or Vetercyn. Sometimes I will keep that bird separated from the flock incase any blood returns. Chickens will peck at each other each other if they see blood on one of them, eventually they could even kill the bird. If it continues to bleed, clot it with cornstarch and keep the chicken separate until you can wipe the blood off.
Many hens stop laying at this time because they need the extra protein and energy used in making eggs to grow new feathers. Once they have finished the molt, egg production will increase and egg quality will become better. Although, the more molt seasons a hen goes through, the more she will decrease in egg production and quality.
Chickens often benefit from extra protein in their diet during their molt. I made a molt mix for my flock with some high protein ingredients. I mixed together these ingredients:
- 10 c. dried mealworms (18 grams of protein in a serving)
- 5 c. sunflower seeds (without shells) (29 grams of protein in 1 c.)
- 3 c. steal cut oats (9 grams of protein per serving)
- 1 c. hemp seeds (10 grams of protein per serving)
I feed them approximately 1 c. of it each day during the molt.
Molting is a stressful time for your flock, so try to keep your flock as stress free as possible during molting season. (Like don’t add new birds to your flock, ooops, I might be doing that right now!)
Now you know of ways that you can help your flock have a quick, uneventful molt! They will thank you for the added consideration and high protein snacks! Soon your flock will be back in production mode and producing high quality eggs!