In the case of other birds and predators, you will likely see blood or some other forms of distress. If other birds are pecking at a particular bird, you may need to separate the bird until it is healthy. However, this is not ideal because when you reintroduce the hen back to the flock it will be a "newcomer" again and there are likely to be fights that may cause even worse injuries. Self-picking is a stress-related behavior and will require a change in bird management. With molting you will notice bald patches on your birds in various places on their bodies.
2. Both chicks and hens molt. The chick goes through one complete and three partial molts during its growth to point of laying. Generally, complete molting occurs from 1-6 weeks of age, and partial molting at 7-9 weeks, 12-16 weeks and the final chick molt at 20-22 weeks where the stiff tail feathers grow.
Laying hens normally undergo one complete molt a year and typically undergo their first adult at around 18 months of age, usually in autumn. However, this can depend on the time of the year that the bird started laying. Since most chicks are typically acquired in the spring time, it's not unusual to see many of your birds molt at the same time - which generally will be in the fall after their first full spring. A molt can last for 3 months, but some are reported to last 6 months or longer.
The below photos show a few examples of feather loss with the new pin feathers coming in. You can click on the photos to enlarge them for a better view.
If a bird stops laying after molting, this means its physical condition is deteriorating and, therefore, cannot support egg production, continued nourishment of their feathers or body maintenance. Feathers contain protein and are more easily grown when laying ceases because of the difficulty in assimilating sufficient protein for both egg and feather production. During the molt, the bird still needs a considerable amount of good quality food to replace feathers and build up condition.
The time at which a laying hen ceases production and goes into molt is a reliable guide as to whether or not the hen is a good egg producer. Poor producing hens molt early and take a long time to complete the process and resume laying sometimes being out of production for six to seven months. Poor producers seldom cast more than a few feathers at a time and rarely show bare patches.
High-producing hens molt late and for a short period (no more than 12 weeks), and come back into production very quickly. Rapid molting is seen not only in the wing feathers of good producers, but also in the loss of body feathers. Because of this, it is common to see a late and rapid molting hen practically devoid of feathers and showing many bare patches over its body. This is how our black sex links looked, but they only slowed their egg production - they never stopped altogether.
However, for this reason it is a good idea to stagger the ages of your chickens- meaning don't purchase your maximum number of allowed chicks all at one time. If you live in an urban area and are allowed to keep a maximum of 5-6 hens and they are all the same age, you may be buying eggs for a few months at a time.
4. Diet requirements. When birds are molting it's a good idea to provide them with extra protein and fat to help them keep their energy levels up and recover as quickly as possible. Feather growth requires a lot of protein. Additions like suet blocks will help keep up energy levels. In the summer time, you can supplement with black oil sunflower seeds.
5. Winter molting. If your birds are unfortunate enough to molt in the late fall or winter months, be sure they have good access to a heat lamp to keep them warm. Both of the girls above had the misfortune of being 1/3 bald during a couple of very cold weeks in late November and spent their days and nights directly beneath the warmth of the heat lamp - even on days when it wasn't as cold.
6. Roosters and cockerels also molt. While in this condition, roosters are nearly always infertile because they have lost weight and their reproductive physiology is in a resting phase. Care must be taken to ensure that roosters do not lose more than 25 per cent of their body weight while molting, as this can lead to sterility.
7. Care during molting. In all cases, pay particularly close attention to the feed the birds are receiving, their ability to stay warm and comfortable and try to keep their stress levels down. By doing so you will help expedite the molting process which will help keep your chickens happy and therefore able to supply you with eggs again as quickly as possible.
8. Egg production before and after molting. After molting, birds in their second year of egg production will produce 10-30 percent less than in their first year of laying, as the lay rate is lower and the birds cease to lay earlier in the following autumn. Hens that have molted twice and are laying for their third year produce only 70-80 percent of their second year's eggs (about 60 percent of their first year's production).
More information about feathers and molting:
A feather is a "dead" structure, similar to hair or nails in humans. The hardness of a feather is caused by the formation of the protein keratin. Because feathers cannot heal themselves when damaged, they have to be completely replaced. Molts produce feathers that match the age and sex of the bird, and sometimes the season.
Molting occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes. Because it takes a lot of energy to build new feathers, molting often occurs with periods of less strenuous demands such as spring and fall when the weather is less stressful. The entire process is complex and many questions remain regarding how the process is controlled.
There are two kinds of molts with different degrees of feather replacement:
1. In a complete molt all feathers are replaced
2. In a partial molt only some feathers are replaced.
Damaged feathers are replaced during a molt. A feather that has been lost completely is replaced immediately.