Molting chickens can be stressful because, well, your flock looks naked and like they’re unhealthy.
In fact, they can look like they’ve been to hell and back. They can look scruffy, and you might worry that they’re sick. And you might even take them to the vet! (Want more help with your chickens? Grab my bestselling ebook right here!)
When we say “chickens molting,” you might wonder what that really means. It’s a term you see thrown around on Facebook, but it can be confusing if you’re a beginner with chickens.
Basically, when we say “chickens molting,” we mean that your hens and roosters are losing their feathers. Don’t worry – they’ll grow new ones, and chickens molting is perfectly normal.
When do chickens molt?
Inconveniently, chickens tend to molt in the late fall or early winter; breeding season is over, and your flock will start to grow new feathers.
As your chickens get more and more “naked,” you’ll probably worry that your flock is cold (they might be and you’ll have to find a way to keep them warm).
Chickens start molting typically in the winter after their first year (in case you wondered “when do chickens molt for the first time? – it’s a typical question new owners ask).
So, how often do chickens molt?
Usually every year, although the severity of the molt (meaning how many feathers they’ll lose varies from hen to hen and the year.)
Your mileage will vary; while some people have chickens that look like they’ve had every feather removed, I’ve personally never had a hen lose more than a few feathers.
We live in an area where the winters are mild, so maybe that has something to do with it!
How long does molting last?
Almost universally, when I encounter a new backyard flock owner who has chickens molting, I’m asked “how long does chicken molting last?” and the answer probably won’t satisfy you.
Truthfully, only your chickens know how long they’ll be molting for. We’ve had it last 2 weeks and up to 6 months. Most molting seems to last 60 to 90 days, from the time the hens start to lose their feathers to completely regrowing new ones.
During this time, as your hens regrow their feathers, they’ll be more physically sensitive than normal. As the feathers start to peek out, this new growth is called “pin feathers.” Touching them can hurt your chickens.
When the feathers finish growing, though, your hens won’t be so sensitive, and you can pick them up and pet them as you normally would.
You might be tempted to provide a sweater or saddle for molting chickens, but it’s best to just let nature take its course. If it’s very cold out, you can find another way to keep your flock warm.
Chickens molting or mites?
When your chickens start to lose their feathers, it can seem similar to a mite infestation. However, the two present differently, so using these rules of thumb, you can confidently know whether your chickens are molting or if there’s a more serious issue.
When chickens molt, they lose feathers in a systematic, predictable fashion: From the top of their heads, then their necks, and then on down until they lose their tail feathers.
If you think your problem is mites and not chickens molting, you’ll usually see feather loss around the vent, the tail, or other areas; it’s not in a predictable pattern. You’ll also notice their skin is red and irritated, and possibly flaky.
What should I feed a molting hen or rooster?
Your molting chickens’ diet is extremely important. To grow feathers, your flock needs lots and lots of protein. In addition to a high quality layer feed (you can get my favorite feed recipe here), you’ll want to give your chickens extra protein.
You can mix them directly with their feed,
or offer the extra protein separately. Molting chickens also need plenty of fresh water!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.