Molting is a natural part of chicken biology where they lose feathers and start to grow new ones. Colder temperatures and shorter days trigger this – usually in late Summer or Early Autumn.
Both hens and roosters molt. Young chickens will go through a couple of juvenile molts. Their first adult molt will occur at 16-18 months of age.
The most visible part of molting will be your chickens losing their feathers. This gives them a ragged, unkempt look that can be quite shocking to owners the first time they see it. It’s a natural part of the process and not something to be worried about.
Some people talk about typical patterns of feather loss with molting chickens, while others claim that every chicken loses feathers differently.
The other defining characteristic of molting is that your hens will usually stop laying. They’re directing everything they can to nutrient reserves and producing new feathers – which are 85% protein.
How many feathers are lost, and how long it takes to grow them back is variable between chickens. Some lose just a few feathers, while some lose loads. Growing new feathers can take between 3-16 weeks, varying with the breed and increasing with the age of the chicken.
How To Care For Your Molting Chickens
Due to their increased protein needs, it’s worthwhile to increase the amount in their feed. One option is to buy a high protein feed, usually around 20-22% protein. This will sometimes be called “feature grower”, “feather fixer” or “gamebird / showbird”. If you don’t want to buy specialty food, it’s possible to increase their protein consumption by adding some dried cat or dog food, bone and bits of meat, or freeze-dried mealworms. In all cases, you don’t want to go crazy. Having too much protein can be hard on a chicken’s kidneys and could CAUSE health problems.
Along these lines, during molting, you’ll want to limit scratch to no more than 10% of their diet. Scratch doesn’t have much protein, but chickens love it. If more is available they’ll fill up on it and not get enough high-protein feed.
Molting is inherently stressful for chickens, so you don’t want to do anything that will add more stress to their lives at this time. Moving them, introducing new birds to the flock, or handling them are all high-stress events that should be avoided. Their growing feathers are very sensitive and being handled will be painful to the birds.
If you have multiple chickens molting at the same time you can end up with a large number of feathers. A chicken can have thousands of feathers. These can be added to a compost heap, used for cat toys, or thrown in the garbage.
Have your chickens molted? How was the experience for them? For you?