Chickens Losing Feathers: How to Manage Molting
Why is my chicken losing feathers?
There are several reasons why a chicken may lose feathers, but it's most commoly related to a process called "molting". This is a natural cycle that chickens - and all birds - will go through. When a chicken is molting, it sheds its old warn out feathers and replaces them with new shiny, clean ones. Both hens and roosters will molt.
Molting is a natural part of a bird's seasonal cycle, not a disease. However, if you are unfamiliar with molting, it can cause concern the first time you see it.
What Causes Molting
Shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger a bird's molt because for adult birds, feathers mean warmth. Losing feathers and re-growing them is called molting and occurs every year when the days get shorter. During molt, chickens typically stop laying eggs and use this time to build up their nutrient reserves. It is important to support your bird's immune systems during this time and to be extra considerate of exposure to the elements, should the weather become inclement and cause additional stress.
Molting can also be induced by exhaustion or illness.
Chicks will also molt as they mature from their down with which they are hatched to their mature feathers. Chicks will have mini-molts about four times:
How long does it last?
A molt usually lasts 2-4 months but some chickens are very slow when molting and will take a long time. The hens that molt fast will only take a couple months.
Just as your chickens have individual personalities, they will go through molt differently as well. Some lose a few feathers and grow them back in as quickly as 3-4 weeks. Other chickens lose a lot of feathers and take 12-16 weeks to grow them back.
Molting usually depends on when a hen started laying. A chick that was hatched seasonally will start molting in March-April and finishes around July.
What happens during a molt?
Because a hen most divert her protein stores from rpdocucing eggs, which are 13% protein, to feather production, it will cease laying eggs for the duration of her molt. In roosters, fertility drops or stops. While molting, chickens tend to look sick or lose weight. Be sure to keep an eye on your birds when they are molting because they lose weight in this process and could lose too much and become sick.
The feathers that are coming in will push the old ones out. Chickens will start to lose their head and primary wing feathers first then the feather loss works its way down the body, down the back, across the breast and thighs and finally their tail feathers. The new feathers that emerge are called pinfeathers and will grow in following the same sequence they were lost.
Birds may have a hard molt or a soft molt. A hard molt is when the feathers drop out very quickly but don't come back for a while. A soft molt is when the feathers drop out and new ones come in soon after. The new feathers that come in are called pin feathers
When molting make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your bird healthy because their immune system isn’t at its best during this time. Your chickens comb might look very dull and very small when they are molting which is normal. Obviously expect a lot of feather loss.
During molting if your chickens have bare spots others might try to peck at the skin breaking it and causing it to bleed and attract more picking. If they have enough protein this shouldn't be a problem.
Care for Molting Birds
Even though they are not laying, it is critical that your chickens have a high quality diet during this time. Molting and growing new feathers requires a lot of energy. Feathers are 85% protein, so be sure your birds’ diet includes a highly nutritious feed.
Feed a high amount of protein, such as 20% and up. A Game Bird feed, or your keets' feed, works perfectly for these situations. You don’t need to add medications or other vitamins if you’re feeding one of these feeds.
You may also want to offer them high-protein snacks such as sunflower seeds, nuts, peas, and soybeans.
Other tips for helping chickens get through molting:
So don’t panic when your chickens start losing their feathers and stop laying eggs. Molting is a normal and natural process of shedding feathers and re-growing them that all chickens go through. Get more information about molting and photos on our blog.