Molting. What is it and How to Help Chickens Get Through It

Molting is the natural 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.
It’s late summer/early autumn and the floor of the coop looks like a pillow fight broke out overnight. Assuming the flock is healthy, older than 12 months, has no external parasites or other problems, they are most assuredly molting. Let’s discuss what molting is, when it occurs and what can be done to help get chickens get through it.

Molting is the natural 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 or sudden change in normal lighting conditions. Broody hens molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.

While molting occurs at fairly regular intervals for each chicken, it can occur at any time due to lack of water, food or sudden change in normal lighting conditions. Broody hens molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.
This is Phoebe, my bantam Frizzle Cochin in October 2010.
Molting is the natural 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 or sudden change in normal lighting conditions. Broody hens molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.
This is Phoebe in September 2011- like clock-work.

FIRST JUVENILE MOLT

Chickens experience two, juvenile or “mini molts” as I like to call them, before a their 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.

 Chickens experience two, juvenile or "mini molts" as I like to call them, before a their 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.

First juvenile molt in chickens replaces down with first feathers

SECOND JUVENILE MOLT

A chicken’s second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old when its first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this time that a rooster’s distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear.

 A chicken's second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old when its 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.
 A chicken's second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old when its first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this time that a rooster's distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear.
There is little doubt when chickens are going through their juvenile molt as evidence is left behind.

 All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.

ANNUAL MOLT

All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones. Feathers consist of 85% protein and feather production places great demands on a chicken’s energy and nutrient stores, as a result, egg production is likely to drop or stop entirely 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.

Both molting and egg production are controlled internally in response to lighting changes. When daylight hours decrease, egg production may slow down or stop completely and chickens will shed their feathers and grow new ones. When spring approaches and daytime lengthens, egg production will pick up again. At the end of summer, supplemental light may be added to the coop to promote egg-laying through the dark months.

 All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.
Lucy (Easter Egger)

All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.

This is Phoebe, my White bantam frizzled Cochin, who is the 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 parka.
 All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.  All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.  All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones. The tissue within the follicle of an emerging feather (aka: pin feather) contains a rich blood supply that will bleed if broken. Pin feathers are very sensitive and chickens generally prefer not to be handled while molting.
Newly emerging feathers have a vein-filled shaft which bleeds when injured.Feathers emerging through the vein-filled shaft, which is covered by a waxy coating (aka: the epitrichium).
New feathers emerge through a vein-filled shaft, which is covered by a waxy coatingAn injured feather shaft is visible in this photo as a black spot of dried blood on top of the feather shaft.
 All chickens will molt annually, their first annual molt generally occurring around 16-18 months of age. During a molt, chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones.  A bird with a bleeding pin feather should be removed from the flock for treatment and their own safety; if not removed from the flock, other birds can pick at the wound, making it worse and endangering the bird's life. The injured area should be washed and assessed. If the bleeding has stopped, soaking feet in a tub or sink of warm water, then clean with Vetericyn Wound & Infection spray or antibiotic ointment and keep the bird separate from the flock until fully healed.Windy is a Blue Splash Marans hen who had injured one feather shaft, which bled profusely even though the injury was minor. A bird with a bleeding pin feather should be removed from the flock for treatment and their own safety. More on how to treat an injured chicken here.

If the bleeding will not stop, the pin feather should be removed with tweezers by grasping it at the base close to the skin and pulling quickly. Apply light pressure to the area until bleeding stops. Apply a little Vetericyn Wound & Infection spray or antibiotic ointment to the area and keep the bird apart from the flock until healed.

 A bird with a bleeding pin feather should be removed from the flock for treatment and their own safety; if not removed from the flock, other birds can pick at the wound, making it worse and endangering the bird's life. The injured area should be washed and assessed. If the bleeding has stopped, soaking feet in a tub or sink of warm water, then clean with Vetericyn Wound & Infection spray or antibiotic ointment and keep the bird separate from the flock until fully healed.
This was the source and extent of the injury on the Marans, above.

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 blood supply dries up (the feather shaft is then known as a quill).

 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). Lots of shaft casings are visible on the droppings board in this photo:
Lots of shaft casings are visible on the droppings board in this photo
 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). Lots of shaft casings are visible on the droppings board in this photo:
This picture shows the new feathers on the back of Rachel’s neck are losing the last of the waxy casings.

HOW TO HELP CHICKENS GET THROUGH A MOLT & RETURN TO EGG LAYING

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 introduce any new flock members during a molt.
 There are a few things that can be done to help chickens get through a molt a little bit easier:2. Increase their protein intake by switching to a feed containing  20-22% protein. 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. Limit handling to avoid inflicting pain and to keep stress to a minimum.

limit handling of molting chickens to keep stress and discomfort to a minimum
Rachel’s neck feathers are just beginning to poke through. It looks painful and it is painful

4. Change their chicken feed to a higher protein feed such as a starter, (unmedicated) a starter/grower or a Flock Raiser for two to four weeks. (This is preferable to injecting their diet with high protein people-foods.)
The occasional high protein treat is fine in moderation.
**NO MORE THAN 5% of a hen’s daily dietary intake should consist of anything other than their chicken feed.** No more than 2 tablespoons per bird on any given day and not every day.

Homemade Alfalfa cake protein treats are a great supplement to a molting chicken's diet.
Alfalfa Cake recipe here.
Homemade molt muffins are a great supplement to a molting chicken's diet.
Molt Muffins recipe here

EXCESS PROTEIN ADVISORY 
Caution should be exercised when supplementing the chickens’ diet with protein. Large amounts of protein can lead to diarrhea and other, serious problems.

“Excess protein in a chicken’s diet is converted to uric acid and deposited as crystals in joints, causing gout. The excess use of meat scraps as a source of protein can also result in an imbalance of phosphorous.”1
“Incorrect diets that contain excessive levels of protein causes wetter droppings since the extra protein is converted into urates. This causes your chicken to drink more therefore you will see an increase in urates leading to wet, damp bedding.”2

NOTE ABOUT CAT FOOD
Cat food should be fed to chickens in moderation only for a limited period of time due to the potential for consuming excessive amounts of methionine, which can result in Heinz-body anemia4 and death. Sources available upon request.

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

 Molting is the natural 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 or sudden change in normal lighting conditions. Broody hens molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.
September 11, 2011 (above) November 11, 2011 (below)

Molting is the natural 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 or sudden change in normal lighting conditions. Broody hens molt furiously after their eggs have hatched as they return to their normal eating and drinking routines.Sources & further reading:
The Chicken Health Handbook, Damerow, Gail 1994 (pgs 27-28)
Mineral Deficiencies in Poultry
Treatment & Management of Diarrhoea

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Kathy, The Chicken Chick®connie sSavannah CustardCrystal Duke Recent comment authors
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connie s

How early in the season can chickens start molting? This will be their third year and they are starting to lose feathers already and laying less eggs. It started a few weeks ago. They are all losing feathers so it doesn’t seem like anyone is being bullied. They also have a clean coop and no mites or lice.

Savannah Custard
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Savannah Custard

Do I need to worry about my rooster mounting a hen during her molt? Should I worry about my hen being in pain or breaking new feathers, during a rooster mount because of the new sensitive feathers growing in?

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