Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Backyard Chickens: Molting

We usually get an egg from each of our two hens a day but about a week ago we stopped getting eggs altogether. And they became completely silent which was quite a change since my little hens are usually talking from sun up to sun down. I didn't know what could be wrong - were they spooked? Were they sick? Not getting enough feed? I gave them extra food and water and made sure everything else was ok. A few days passed and when I checked on them I realized what the problem was. There were feathers EVERYWHERE! Aha, my ladies are molting. Molting is a process chickens go through once a year to shed their feathers and replace them with new ones. Many of you may be experiencing the same thing since decreased daylight times and temperatures will induce molting.

Here's some information I found on another site about molting:

Molting is the shedding and renewal of feathers and occurs about once a year. The order in which the different sections of the bird lose their feathers is fairly defined: head, neck, body, wings and tail. Molting is a difficult time for birds, since it involves hormonal fluctuations and increased energy requirements. Eliminate stress during this time: keep temperature in a narrow range (70-80o F), provide a high quality diet, and each day mist the birds with a fine spray or provide a pan for bathing. It takes about seven weeks for new feathers to complete their growth cycle. Domesticated chickens bred for high egg production have a definite molting pattern. A natural molt does not normally occur until the end of an extended, intensive laying period. Chickens that have been laying heavily for one year or longer molt easily in the fall since this is the natural molting season. If they finish their intensive year in the spring, they do not molt easily and may wait until the fall. A chicken loses feathers from various sections of its body in a definite pattern. The order is: head; neck; feather tracks of the breast, thighs and back; wing and tail feathers. Some birds molt more slowly than others; some molt earlier. A good high producing flock tends to molt late and rapidly. Decreasing day-length is the normal trigger for molting. Therefore, lighting programs for egg production flocks should provide either constant or increasing day-length. Stresses caused by temporary feed or water shortage, disease, cold temperatures, or sudden changes in the lighting program can cause a partial or premature molt.

*Did you know that when you have questions about your chickens you can go to this great forum and people will start posting replies almost immediately? I have used it for many reasons asking things like, "What breed do you think this pullet is?" to "Can chickens get fleas?" It's been a great resource. You should check it out!

19 comments:

katiegirl said...

Some of my girls are molting at the moment. And I love backyardchickens.com. Lots of good information there!

Holly | Reed Photographic said...

Mine are molting too! Great article.

Georgia said...

Hello, I just checked online to find out about molting because I thought that might be what was happening with my 4 hens. Sure sounds like it. Thanks for the info. Aren't chickens great?!

miho719 said...

My chicken (Barred Rock) is just over two years old and she's never molted like my other chicken (Rhode Island Red) yet they're the same age. Do all chickens molt? The Barred Rock's feathers look dirty and oily like she could use a good molt. What's the deal?

Anonymous said...

I have not had chickens very long they quit laying and i ask an older person what could be wrong with them. Noticed the feathers coming out etc. But how long will they molt. It is going on 3mths+ that I have not gotten an egg? How long will this last? I started some higher protien feed 2 days ago. Maybe this will help

Dale Johnson said...

Molting can take anywhere from a few weeks (6) to a few months (3-5). Your hens should start to lay any time now. The higher protein feed will help.

Anonymous said...

One of my frazzle hens molted every single feather off her entire body !!!! :(
What a sight! I've posted some photos during molting at my site: http://livingvictoriouslynow.blogspot.com Enjoy

Joel & Adina said...

I've heard that mealworms help them through this? Is this true?

Anonymous said...

i love chickens and take them to the fair! the on i want to take is molting, what should i do to help get her feathers back in?

Anonymous said...

As my hens start the molting process I try to help them along by adding additional nutrients to help the process. Feathers are almost pure protein, so when they molt a protein boost helps a lot. Some resources I have read recommend feeding cat food, which is high in protein. If you are like me and don’t have a cat, you can feed them Chick Starter that has more protein than Layer feed, along with Oyster Shells for the calcium. Other food items that are high in protein are eggs, cheese, yogurt, and meat.

Occasionally I mix up a paste mix made with yogurt for the hens. Here is the recipe I use which helps their digestive system:

1/4 cup plain yogurt
Layer crumbles
A small amount of fruit like strawberries, grapes, peaches, etc.

Mix all this together into a paste. After a couple of hours remove any uneaten portion (normally it is always gone).



PLEASE know that NONE of this stuff is mine. I'm just learning about my chickens, and we're just starting our first molt. THIS info came from

http://www.fowlvisions.com/?p=1100

(just copy and paste....) That site has A LOT of good info...

Anonymous said...

Just read your info on molting chickens. Very interesting. Mine are going thru this right now. Feathers all over the place. Got some good info about protein and things they will eat. (If anyone out there has a garden and tomatoes, the chickens fight over the BIG GREEN WORMS). Mine also love all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Make a great clean up of the excess you get from a garden.

Anonymous said...

My chickens are molting now too. I too have noticed that they've been quiet. Good advice on bumping up the protein. Thx

ladychickenfarmerinvermont said...

We have 6 hens, 2 Americauna's, 2 black Sexlinks, and 2 Buff Orpington's. The other day I noticed the smallest of our chickens, an Americauna, is molting. Then today, I noticed one of the Sexlinks and the other Americauna is molting. We have a small coop, that is vented, insulated, and has a heat lamp, but is a little drafty, especially when I leave the door open to the run during the day. Should I keep them in the coop until the molt is over? Should I worry, or should I make them sweaters, and hope for the best? The temps have been slipping down into the single digits and negative numbers here in Vermont. They get very crabby if they can't go out into the run. Also, our girls don't use the nesting boxes. They kick all the bedding out onto the floor and all 6 lay their eggs under a little shelf their water dish sits on. Any idea why, or are they all just brain damaged? Thanks for the advice!

Anonymous said...

In my one year experience as a back yard chicken farmer I have learned that a chicken will go to a warmer place when it gets cold. I wouldn't worry too much about them if they want to go out. The breeds you have are considered cold hearty. I have one Plymouth Barred Rock, two Easter Eggers, one Buff Orpoington, two Silver Laced Wyandottes, two Rhode Island Reds and one Black Australorp. They all go in when they are cold though I haven't seen them get cold since they were chicks. Regarding where they lay, my Barred Rock did the same thing. She would put an egg down on bare plywood after clearing all the bedding away. I finally caught her in the act one day and placed her in a nest box and partially covered the entrance to the nest box with a small piece of plywood. When she was done she pushed it out of the way and went about her business. She has laid in there ever since.

Marfa said...

I'm so glad to know...our chicken stopped laying about a week ago and then yesterday I noticed a bunch of feathers! I worried that some animal had tried to attack her (squirrel or hawk?) and am glad to know she's just molting. How long before your chickens laid eggs again?

Anonymous said...

Will my rooster accept our new chickens we bought this year?

becky said...

Hi my older chicken is molting and I noticed yesterday that her and the other chickens were pecking her back, I went out and saw she was bleeding tiny bit where it looks like new feathers are coming. She normally doesn't stand for the others pecking her, she's been known to pin them to floor when they try anything but for some reason she isn't she just runs off from them, there not doing it all the time just everynow and then I catch them having a peck. I keep cleaning her up and feeding her bits on her own. Is there anything else I should do?

Anonymous said...

My hen is having a spontaneous molt! All of her feathers are falling off in the last 12 hours, at least 40%are going, everytime she moves at least 15 fall. She seems a little stressed by it. Poor thing, she is a sweetheart too.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, I live on the sunshine coast, queensland, Australia. I have 3 chickens (enough for someone who does not eat eggs). On Fri, only 2 eggs; they free range and I noted one of my girls was just 'standing' I checked her and eventutally felt her abdomen 'cause I am terrified of them being egg bound! Yep, a swelling - checked with another girl and yes definitely a sweling! I picked up the crook girl and massaged her belly - that morning's egg popped out .. further gentlr massage resulted in another egg - this time dsfot shell. So Sat, only 2 eggs again and today (Sun) only 1 egg!! I read moulting can stop egg production, but I have only had the girls since mar 2012 and I read theymoult in Autumn??? I note from the few comments above that a moult can happen at this time of year (Oct?Nov)? ie not autumn??? - is that common in Australia?? Can you suggest anything? Cheers
Catherine