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Molting- What is it & How to Help Chickens Get Through it

7/27/2012 3:03:01 PM

Tags: Molting, Chicken Molting, Chicks Down, Chickens, Chicken Feathers, Feathers, Pin Feathers, Quill, Chicken Bald Spot, Chickens Feather Loss, Feather Loss, Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick, Kathy Shea Mormino

 Molting 1 

It's late summer or early autumn and the floor of the chicken coop looks like a pillow fight broke out overnight. Assuming the flock is healthy with no parasites, they are most assuredly molting. What is molting, when does it occur and what can be done to help get chickens get through it? Molting is the shedding of old feathers and growth of new ones. Chickens molt in a predictable order beginning at the head and neck, proceeding down the back, breast, wings and tail. While molting occurs at fairly regular intervals for each chicken, it can occur at any time due to lack of water, food, normal lighting conditions. Broody hens tend to molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines. 

The photo above shows Phoebe, my bantam Frizzle Cochin, in October 2010. The photo that follows is Phoebe in September 2011. 
 Molting 2 

First Juvenile Molt ('mini-molt') 

There are actually two, juvenile or "mini molts" as I like to call them, before a chicken's first annual molt. The first mini molt begins at 6-8 days old and is complete by approximately 4 weeks when the chick's down is replaced by its first feathers. This is a 7 day old Olive Egger chick. She is losing her yellow down, which is being replaced by her first feathers. 

 Molting 2a 

 Molting 4 

Second Juvenile Molt ('mini molt') 

The second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old and the chicken's first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this
time that a rooster's distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear.  These Black Copper Marans & Ameraucanas were 11 weeks old at the time of their second mini molt. 

 Molting 5 

There is little doubt when chickens are going through their juvenile molt as evidence abounds in the coop. 

 Molting 5a 

ANNUAL MOLT   

All chickens will molt annually, their first occurs around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones. Molting occurs in response to decreased light as summer ends and winter approaches. Given that feathers consist of 85% protein, feather production places great demands on a chicken's energy and nutrient stores, as a result, egg production is likely to drop or cease completely until the molt is finished. On average, molting takes 7-8 weeks from start to finish but there is a wide range of normal from 4 to 12 weeks or more. 

 Molting 6 

Both molting and egg production are controlled internally in response to the number of hours of daylight. Left to natural lighting conditions, chickens will stop laying eggs during the fall and winter and when spring brings increased daylight and their new feathers have grown in, egg production will again resume. To encourage egg production, supplemental light may be added to the coop.

Molting can occur at any time due to lack of water, food, normal lighting conditions. Broody hens tend to molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.

These are photos of a few of my chickens undergoing an typical molt:

 Molting 8 

 Molting 9 

This is Phoebe, my poster chicken for a rough molt. She has molted in this most undignified manner for the past two years. She's a trooper though, I have yet to hear her demand a sweater. 

 Molting 11 

 Molting 12 

 Molting 13 

Newly emerging feathers have a vein-filled shaft which will bleed if cut or injured. Pin feathers are very sensitive and chickens generally prefer not to be handled while molting as it can be quite painful. An injured shaft is visible in this photo as a black spot of dried blood on top of the feather shaft.

 Molting 14a 

 Feathers emerging through the vein-filled shaft, which is covered by a waxy coating.

 Molting 15a 

A waxy-type casing surrounds each new feather and either falls off or is removed by a preening chicken. The feather within then unfurls and the inner vein dries up (the shaft is then known as a quill). 

The shaft casings are visible on the droppings board in this photo:  

 Molting 16 

How to help chickens weather a molt & return to egg production 

There are a few things that can be done to help chickens get through a molt a little bit easier: 

1. Reduce their stress level as much as possible. Try not to move them to a new living quarters or introuduce any new flock members.

2. Increase their protein intake to 20-22%. This is easiest to manage with commercially prepared chicken feeds. (eg: switch from layer feed to meat bird feed for a month or so)

3. Supplement their daily diet with any of the following: black oil sunflower seeds, tuna fish, cooked eggs, soybean meal, cat food, (as it
contains animal proteins) peas, beans, fishmeal, cod liver oil.  

4. Limit handling to avoid inflicting pain and to keep stress to a minimum.

Remarkably, within a few weeks, dull and balding turns to shiny and voluminous within a matter of weeks. 

September 2011:

 Molting 17a 

 Molting 18b 

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Post a comment below.

 

joyce Gardenhire
4/2/2013 10:40:52 PM
My chicks are about 5 weeks old and they are all going bald on their backs.....and some on the neck. Most of the information I have read indicates that they are too young to molt. I have checked for mites and havent found any....any suggestions?

Angela Burns
3/1/2013 7:43:26 AM
This is the end of my first year with my chickens i have 5 hens which have been laying up through the end of December. Begining about the begining of Feburary I noticed what appears to be molting in four of the hens. We did have a warm stretch (~40 degrees) for about a week. Other than loosing feathers the hens seem healthy. I do not use any artificial lighting so I did expect the laying to stop. My question is could they really be molting at this piont, they never did in the fall and they are now ~11 months.

Karen Gower
2/12/2013 9:39:55 AM
i have just spent a fortune at the vet thinking our girl was sick , being a pet of my son,s i would do anything to prevent losing her so when she stopped producing eggs all i thought of was she was egg bound , but now after seasrching the web and realising it is normal to lose so much feathers she will be ok my son adores his chicken ill try the cat food thing thanks for your information

Kathy Mormino
8/8/2012 5:23:42 PM
If your hen is molting, I would recommend elimintating the scratch completely. Scratch is really more of a treat for chickens and should only be given sparingly when they are not molting or ill.

Hans Quistorff
8/5/2012 3:36:15 AM
My hen is molting early. May explain why she is making a special effort to escape the chiken tractor and get to the cat food. Will add cat food to the scratch.

Barbara
8/4/2012 3:19:05 PM
What is a safe amount of cod liver oil and how often?

tgrbts Boyer
8/4/2012 2:55:06 PM
Thanks for the article. I've been wanting to get some chickens. When I get out of town. but If I'd had chickens that looked that that I would have thought they had a dreaded disease. Thanks for the pictures and explaining about the molting. Clearly I have alot to learn before I get any chickens. lol thanks.

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:45:51 AM
Congratulations Heather! You have won a copy of "Lard, The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Mother's Secret Ingredient" AND a subscripton to Grit Magazine!! Please email me with you mailing address. Kathy@The-Chicken-Chick.com

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:42:18 AM
My pleasure, Christy. thank you!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:41:55 AM
Thanks Kristen!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:41:47 AM
That's wonderful, Christina! Good for you that you're researching it so far in advance!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:41:13 AM
Good for you, Kerri! It is SO much fun. Beyond the obvious benefit of getting eggs, they are wonderful pets!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:40:39 AM
Thanks so much Lisa!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:40:29 AM
Good luck Lorilei!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:36:37 AM
LOL Tami! Most of them do not look as bad as Phoebe. She's a special case of extreme molting!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:36:06 AM
My pleasure, Tabitha, thank you!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:35:55 AM
Hi Aaron and thank you!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:35:31 AM
Erin, I'm still waiting to hear from you about your tee shirt size from the last contest. Email me! Kathy@The-Chicken-Chick.com

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:34:46 AM
I appreciate that, Sara. Thank you.

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:34:34 AM
Thanks Kristin!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:34:27 AM
That's the trick, Kathy, the coop and run must be secure. Chicken wire won't do it, only hardware cloth can protect them. Dig it down into the ground at least twelve inches around the perimeter and put it anywhere and everywhere any small critter could possibly squeeze into. I hope you do give it a whirl again, they're such wonderful pets.

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:32:57 AM
Patty, no matter how long we all keep chickens, we all have much to learn!

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:32:36 AM
Thank you Donna, that's nice to hear. :)

KATHY MORMINO
8/2/2012 1:32:23 AM
Thanks Amy!

Lorilei Cochran
8/1/2012 7:18:49 PM
Hoping I win that Grit Sub. Thanks!

Lisa Taunton
8/1/2012 6:44:10 PM
Great blog posts. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

Kerri Huntzinger
8/1/2012 6:26:53 PM
Very informative! Especially for someone like myself, who is just starting to research owning her own chickens!

Christina Busse
8/1/2012 6:02:20 PM
This is great information. We plan to acquire our first chickens next year and at least I know now not to panic!

Kristen Crumly
8/1/2012 5:42:40 PM
good info!

CHRISTY BRINK KIMBLE
8/1/2012 5:37:52 PM
Thank you for this info. I did not realize how molting effects the egg laying. I have been raising chickens for about 4 years now and I learn so much from you.

Tami Furlow
8/1/2012 5:37:40 PM
If I had not read this I would have had a heart attack when my chickens started going bald.

Tabitha Stanford
8/1/2012 5:37:08 PM
Thank you for sharing. Need all the info I can get.

Aaron Butler
8/1/2012 5:32:51 PM
Thanks for helping me know what to expect. Making the decision to raise chickens was the best idea I've had in a long time... thankfully there are blogs like this to help me along the way!

Erin Olson
8/1/2012 5:29:24 PM
Thanks for the info! Following your blog and thanks for all the giveaway opportunities!

Sara Tryzelaar
8/1/2012 5:27:40 PM
Thanks for the wonderful info - as always! I have learned so much from you and am so grateful!

Kristin Maynard
8/1/2012 5:22:28 PM
great info

Kathy Long
8/1/2012 12:27:56 PM
I think we might start with chickens again in our yard. We tried 3 years ago, but were devastated by racoons. We also have a number of coyotes that wander through the yard. A mighty fortress was not our coop.

Patty Farnsley
8/1/2012 11:07:10 AM
I have so much to learn! Thanks for all the great information!

Donna Moran
8/1/2012 3:41:46 AM
Love your blog. You always have info I can use!

Amy Arnold
8/1/2012 2:43:37 AM
Great information! Thank you so much! I've been learning so much from you which is so helpful with our new chickens!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:09:52 AM
My pleasure, Robin! Thanks for following!!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:08:57 AM
Thank you so much, Sue. I appreciate that!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:08:35 AM
You're right, Esther, they do seem to molt continuously in that first year. When they reach maturity and their first annual molt, you'll recognize it!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:07:19 AM
Messy, isn't it?

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:06:56 AM
ROFL! True enough, Alex!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:06:43 AM
Thank you Mary Jane! Cat food should only be fed in moderation while they're molting but it's fine in small doses.

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:05:41 AM
Poor girls, it's not easy being beautiful. :)

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:05:09 AM
Are they at the "should I put sunscreen on them" phase yet? :)

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:04:47 AM
Congratulations on your new babies, Jessica!!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:04:30 AM
Good for you, Lori!! They're such wonderful pets. If you have any questions at all, please let me know if I can help. ☺

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:03:51 AM
You GO GIRL!! Let me know if you have any questions along the way!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:03:23 AM
Thank you, Joyce!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:03:08 AM
Robin, welcome to chicken-keeping!! The fun has just begun. Thanks for following me on FB and my blog posts, nice to have you with us!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:02:31 AM
It's not pretty, that's for sure!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:01:39 AM
Thank you Cathy, you're sweet. :)

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:01:28 AM
ROFL. Sing it, Nancy!!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:01:04 AM
Thanks Debbie! You're funny!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:00:51 AM
LOL!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 1:00:28 AM
My pleasure, Susan. I don't think Phoebe was thrilled to have been photographed in that state, but I told her it was for educational purposes. ☺

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 12:59:47 AM
My pleasure, Tami, thanks for your comment!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 12:59:32 AM
Thanks so much, Heather!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 12:59:08 AM
Makes you want to break out the ShopVac, doesn't it, Jennifer? :)

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 12:58:35 AM
Hi Cheryl and thank you! Welcome to chicken-keeping and good luck in the giveaway!

KATHY MORMINO
8/1/2012 12:58:06 AM
I agree. And some molting chicknes are shocking even when you DO expect it! LOL

Robin Phillips-Knotts
8/1/2012 12:54:26 AM
I'm following your other blog via networked blogs. Thanks for all the info - very helpful! {thanks for the giveaway too!} cokelush at gmail

Sue Leighton
8/1/2012 12:42:03 AM
Kathy, thank you for providing this information- now I know what to expect ! Love the pictures too!! I'm still very new to chickens and have found you to be a valuable resource!!

Esther Widgren
7/31/2012 11:59:54 PM
My girls (at 17 weeks) seem to have been growing and losing feathers throughout their short lives! I'm not sure what a molt really looks like!

Sandy Abell
7/31/2012 11:03:35 PM
My teenagers are going through a molt and there are feathers everywhere! Thank for the info!

Alex Summersell
7/31/2012 10:24:17 PM
Thank You for all the great information. Our chickens do look funny until their feathers come in. And Roosters don't miss a beat, they still think they look awesome!

mary jane iverson
7/31/2012 9:30:02 PM
i use to have about 50chickens but i got pregnant so i sold most of them but 8. i didnt know about the cat food thing my chicken would go crazy over it and i freaked out that it would so something weird to them. so thanks by the way your chickens are beautiful

Kelzi Tacoz
7/31/2012 8:53:44 PM
5 of my hens are moulting right now , 3 are so bad had to order them some saddles, thanks for the information! :)

Jennifer McCormick Willett
7/31/2012 8:41:02 PM
Mine are going through it right now. My turkey is so pretty white right now!!

Jessica Frahm
7/31/2012 8:29:17 PM
I brought home my first chickens 7/28 and I have studied your blog. So much useful information.

Lori Smith
7/31/2012 8:23:56 PM
So happy I found your FB page and blog! I will be moving to the mountains in a few weeks and we will be getting chickens so I am a sponge for any information I can find. Thank you!.

Kae Martin
7/31/2012 8:12:59 PM
I recently found your blog through FB and am loving it! I'm in the planning stages of backyard poultry keeping and this has been a fabulous resource. My rural town doesn't want to allow hens in my yard.....but I can have pets. I'm going to find a way.

Joyce Scott
7/31/2012 8:04:18 PM
Your blog is very informative and I enjoy reading it very much!

Robin Thomas
7/31/2012 7:53:54 PM
So glad I found your FB page and blogs. I am new to the backyard chicken business and its very helpful. Would love to win a subscription to Grit

Victoria Channell-Johnson
7/31/2012 7:51:17 PM
Thank You for the very valuable information.. I have a Black Jersey Giant that has been doing this for a little over a month now. It started on her upper leg and now seems to be filling out again... Thank Goodness : D

Cathy Zeiler
7/31/2012 7:50:30 PM
I love the Chicken Chick! Love all her posts!

Nancy Chadbourn
7/31/2012 7:45:47 PM
The chicken chick have the best gol dang information and give aways..Grit.....I think I love you!

Debby Nutter
7/31/2012 7:44:16 PM
Very good info, as usual! Pictures on the other hand....ewwww...... :)

Sharon Belton-Patry
7/31/2012 7:41:26 PM
I had forgotten how funny some can look when molting

Susan Smith
7/31/2012 7:14:05 PM
Thanks for another good article. Great pictures of the molting chickens. I have some extra meat chicken feed here that I will give them when they start.

Tami Seibold
7/31/2012 7:01:47 PM
Your blog is always full of so much info and tips. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on chickens with us!

Heather Harris
7/31/2012 6:45:53 PM
My gals haven't gone through their second anual mult but I suspect it is coming soon. They were Nov. babies and started laying in the spring. It has been a great joy learning about my new family members and having such loving pets. I am alway learning something new about them every day and now that I have read your blog on multing I have learned how to help them when it comes time for their next mult. I just love your blogs :) Heather

Jennifer Thompson
7/31/2012 5:59:11 PM
PS, I

Jennifer Thompson
7/31/2012 5:58:24 PM
Thanks for the great info! My youngest chicks just recently finished their second juvenile molt. There are feathers EVERYWHERE!

Cheryl Brown Neuenschwander
7/31/2012 5:37:14 PM
I am new to the chicken world and really appreciate all the information you give me. Thank you, and I could definitely use the magazine. :)

Felicia Johnson
7/31/2012 5:32:57 PM
I think that a molting chicken might shock someone if they did not know to expect it.

KATHY MORMINO
7/31/2012 4:37:01 PM
My pleasure, thank you Theresa.

KATHY MORMINO
7/31/2012 4:36:48 PM
Good for you, Cheryl!!! Be sure to share photos when you load it up for the first time!!

KATHY MORMINO
7/31/2012 4:36:22 PM
Hi Brandee my pleasure. Good luck!

KATHY MORMINO
7/31/2012 4:35:49 PM
Thank you Jessica! Nice to have you along for the ride!

Jessica Casteel
7/31/2012 3:48:06 PM
I LOVE YOUR BLOG AND FOLLOW YOU, I LOVE ALL OF YOUR INFO!!!!!!

Brandee Tilton McGuire
7/31/2012 3:31:55 PM
Thanks for the info, i follow your blog also thanks for the entry!

Cheryl Sleeth
7/31/2012 3:28:24 PM
You always give wonderful info!! I, also, follow you on Facebook!! Thanks to you, I saved 10% yesterday on a new incubator....you rock!!!

Theresa Hennessey
7/31/2012 3:22:14 PM
Great info! thanks!



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