While the chicken molting process sure isn't pretty, it’s a perfectly natural and healthy part of your chicken's life.
If you’re new to the world of backyard chickens, it might be a little alarming to suddenly find your chickens shedding feathers like crazy.
This is called “molting”, and mature chickens will go through the process about once each year, normally at the end of summer or in the fall.
Why Are Your Chickens Molting?
Each year as the weather cools, the chicken molting process begins and your birds will begin to shed their old feathers.
As the old feathers are discarded, new feathers will grow to replace them.
This helps to keep them warm during the colder winter months.
It’s similar to the way other animals shed skin or fur as the seasons change.
While the process is perfectly natural, it can be pretty unnerving for the uninitiated chicken owner. In fact, many new owners mistake their chicken molting for having an illness! But unless your chickens start molting out of season, it’s nothing to fret about.
How Long Does Molting Last?
Over the course of one to two months, your flock will lose all their feathers. The whole process typically takes 5-8 weeks, though molting can last as long as 12 weeks for some birds.
Molting will usually start around the neck and breast and spread outward to the body, wings and tail.
There are two types of molting, a hard molt or a soft molt.
Hard molting is when your chicken loses and replaces its feathers in a relatively quick time period.
A soft molt is when the feathers are lost and replaced gradually. In some cases you may not even be aware of a soft molting.
Whether your birds undergo a hard molt or a soft molt, they’ll look a bit pathetic for a while. Before long though, new feathers will begin to come in.
Molting and Your Flock’s Behavior
Molting is a tough time for your birds.
They’re undergoing wild hormonal fluctuations and their bodies are expending large amounts of energy in order to produce new feathers.
The molting season puts your chickens under quite a bit of stress, as this is also when your birds are recovering from the year’s egg-laying cycle.
During this time, your chickens may act out of character.
They might hide in their coop or run away when you approach. As new feathers grow in, the chickens’ skin is very sensitive.
Anything that touches them can cause discomfort. While this behavior might be alarming – especially if your birds are the cuddly sort – don’t worry, because your chickens will be back to normal before long.
Remember also that your chickens may all molt differently. Just as they’ve each developed a distinct personality, they’ll also handle molting in their own way.
Molting and Your Flock’s Egg Production
When you have a chicken molting, you can expect egg production to drop off drastically for that bird.
A chicken's feathers are largely composed of protein (approximately 85%), so producing a whole new coat of feathers effectively drains a chicken’s body of energy and nutrients.
Understandably, egg production slows down or quits altogether until the bird is finished molting.
Caring for Molting Chickens
While your chickens may not be as friendly (or as attractive) as usual, there’s a lot you can do to help them through the molting process.
By providing extra care and nutrition, you can make the process much easier on them.
There are a few main things that molting chickens need:
Molting isn’t easy on your birds – and it can be extra work for you too. But within a few weeks your patchy, balding birds will return to their former, fluffy glory and all will be right with the world once more.