Why Are My Chickens Loosing Feathers? -Molt
Updated: Aug 29
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Our older chickens look rather...sad this time of year. There are feathers collected in the corners of the coop and stuck to the chicken wire in the run. Just like autumn leaves, the chickens are shedding down the year's feathers and looking pretty straggly.
What is Molt?
Molt is the process (for all birds not just chickens) where they shed their feathers and grow new ones. Despite what your birds may look like, this is usually a healthy, natural, seasonal occurrence and nothing to worry about.
There are different degrees of molt. Some years your chickens may only loose a few feathers, (hardly noticeable) and other years your chickens may be bald.
As they come out of molt, you will notice little pin feathers starting to poke through the skin. These are stiff, pointy tubes made of keratin (like finger nails). They remind me of shoe lace ends. The feather will grow from the pin feather shaft.
Pin feathers have a blood supply (the pink area, as seen on light colored birds). This area is tender while the chicken is growing its feathers back. It's similar to the quick in a dog or cat's nail/claw. It's especially sensitive if it's pushed backwards against the direction of growth. So try not to handle your chickens where they are growing feathers back.
3 Types of Molt
1. The Growing Year Molts
Young chickens go through several molts as they become adults. They molt their down fluff and begin the process of growing real feathers when they are around 2 weeks old, earlier, as the wings develop. The last area to grow real feathers is the head.
Then chicks will molt again as their adult feathers begin to come in. This is when your teenage chicks begin to look like smaller versions of their adult self. Their plumage will look like a typical example of the breed.
Usually in the chicken's first year, they do not have a late summer, early autumn molt.
2. Autumn Molt
In a chicken's second year, it will begin it's yearly cycle of shedding feathers in late summer/early autumn. This is so it will have fresh, healthy plumage going into winter. The chicken will shed any broken or less-than-ideal feathers and grow new down feathers (under feathers to insulate against the cold), and they will re grow primary feathers (to block out the wind and damp).
3. Stress Molt
Sometimes chickens will molt as a result of stress. Joining a new flock, traveling, illness, periods of over heat, or lack of food and water can bring on an out-of-season molt. In this case, all efforts must be made to make the bird more comfortable so it can grow back healthy plumage.
Lack of Eggs
During the molt you might notice that where you once had delicious eggs, you now have feathers. Chickens stop laying while they are molting. They instead, direct the protien that they would have been using to produce eggs, to re-grow feathers.
What Do you need to do about molting chickens?
Nothing...Honestly, you don't have to do anything. Molting is a natural part of the chicken's seasonal life. It's a healthy, normal process. And while your chickens might look kinda pathetic for a couple weeks-to a couple of months. They're fine. They will grow their feathers back and return to egg laying.
Sometimes the molt lapses into the shorter daylight hours of late Autumn. Daylight hours directly effects egg laying. In this case you may not get eggs again until spring unless supplemental lighting is provided. (I will cover this topic in a future post)
If you want to give your chickens an extra boost, or get them laying again more quickly, then read on.
Give your chickens a boost during Molt.
The key to getting your chickens to grow back feathers more quickly, and to start laying again is... protien.
There's a few different ways you can do that.
1. Cut out scratch grains.
I don't feed our chickens scratch grains any time of year because it's basically junk food for chickens. They may enjoy it, but it takes away from their protien intake and will not prove beneficial to laying nor feather production.
2. You can up their protien intake through feed
If your chickens are on Layer Feed (16% protien) you can mix in some Grower Feed (18% protien) or an All Stock Blend Feed (22%-26%), to up the protien. Just mix it in gradually as to not upset the digestive system. You can add a probiotic anytime you're making feed changes. I like Multi-Species Probios. (not sponsored)
Nutrena makes a specific feed designed to grow back feathers. Nutrena Nature-Wise Feather Fixer. (not sponsored) It's an 18% protien feed with Vitamin D and minerals to help feather growth. I've been wanting to try this feed for years and do a review.
3. Feed meal-worms
Live are best, but dehydrated will also work. Mealworms are one of those things where the more you buy, the less expensive they are. We have over 40 chickens so It's cost effective for me to buy larger bags. Grubblies is a good brand that I've used before. (not sponsored) But if you shop around at your feed store, especially in the wild bird seed department, you can sometimes find better deals.
4. Scramble some eggs
You might be low on eggs if your chickens are molting, but eggs are actually the perfect food to feed to chickens. Just make sure to scramble them, or disguise them (like mixing them into the daily feed ration). Some say that feeding raw eggs to chickens can lead to egg eating (where the chicken lays an egg, then breaks it and eats the contents.)
After your chickens are done molting, they will be at their most-beautiful! Come Mid-late Autumn you will have back your fluffy, shiny and fresh chickens in all their glorious plumage!