Getting Your Chickens Through the Molt!
By Rebecca Daun-Widner, BioFuel Oasis Chicken Instructor
What is Molting?
Molting is a normal process by which a chicken drops her old feathers and grows new ones periodically throughout her life. Molting can also be the result of stresses, including lack of food or water, predator scares and parasites.
There are two juvenile molts within a pullet’s first 4-6 months of life to exchange baby fluff for feathers, and then small feathers for adult feathers. The second juvenile molt is when sex differences in feathers, like showier tail plumage and neck feathers, become apparent.
The first adult molt typically occurs 12-14 months after a hen starts laying. There is some variation to this, and some girls start their first molt much earlier.
- “Early Molters” can be expected to be lower egg producers and to have less drastic & more drawn-out molts lasting as long as 6 months. They often continue laying, but at a slower rate than normal.
- “Late Molters” are typically better egg layers, but look more ragged and less well groomed in general. Their molts are more drastic and are completed in 2-3 months.
How will you know your girls are molting?
You’ll may notice lots of feathers around the coop – it can be really dramatic, as if a down pillow exploded – or just a few feathers at a time. You will be able to see clusters of pin feathers emerging on the hens. These are the new feathers, encased in a waxy coating. Eventually the coating falls off or is preened away, and the new feather inside fully unfurls.
Molting is a high energy business, and more often than not will affect the amount of eggs your girls are laying. Feathers are made up of about 85% protein, and are very taxing to produce.
How can I support my girls through their molt?
- Provide high protein feed and/or treats. Things like black oil sunflower seeds, quinoa, unsweetened yogurt or cottage cheese, and eggs are all good supplemental sources of protein. Kelp meal, greens, molasses and herbs like comfrey, alfalfa, and nettles are good sources of additional minerals and vitamins. Be sure they still have access to a balanced feed.
- Alternately, you feed a special high-protein molting or meat bird feed for the duration of the molt.
- Be gentle with your girls – the pin feathers are sensitive, and each has a dedicated blood supply while it is growing. Handling can be more stressful than at other times.
- Be patient – the hen’s bodies have a big job to do, and they will get through well with patience and support from you.