How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

Today we’re going to talk about keeping your hens laying through winter.

And since mine have started to drop off in production, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

There’s many reasons why a hen can drop off production in the winter, and we’re going to look at reasons why that happens, both biological and environmental, and what you can do about it.

Some people like to give their hens the winter off, or let nature do its thing and go with the flow as their hens naturally drop egg production in the winter. Personally, I like to be eating omelets year round, so I try to keep my chickens producing eggs in the winter.

Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?

The biggest reason hens stop laying in the winter is because the days get shorter, and so there’s less light. Egg production is triggered by light, specifically by the pituitary gland and the amount of light that is affecting the pituitary gland. And since shorter days mean less light, it triggers the pituitary gland to stop producing the hormones that command egg production.

Chickens need about fourteen hours of light per day to keep laying eggs. Now this isn’t to say every hen needs fourteen hours, and we’ve even bred chickens that will keep laying throughout shorter days, such as Production Reds. But generally speaking, most chickens need fourteen hours or so of light in order to lay eggs consistently.

From an evolutionary stand point, more energy is needed to keep a hen alive during the winter. And chicks are less likely to survive in the winter because chicks have a harder time maintaining their own body temperature until they feather out. So there’s less evolutionary value in producing eggs during the winter. So from that angle, it makes sense why hens don’t lay in the winter!

Now for people this stinks, obviously, because we have to work to keep egg production up, or just simply go without eggs.

How can I keep my hens laying?

There are several things you can do to keep your hens laying through the winter. The main thing is adding light. In order to keep your hens laying throughout the winter you have to supplement the light that your chickens get with artificial light. In our coop, we use battery powered lamps.

If you’re lucky enough to have electric lights in your coop, you can use those, or you can also use solar energy. That’s a great option if you are off grid. We’re looking at getting solar panels for our coop this winter, but for now we’re just using battery powered lanterns.

One thing to keep in mind is you need to use a strong light.  When we first started putting lamps in the coop, the lamps just didn’t emit enough light and so it was useless. Obviously, you don’t need to blind your hens, but just using  a small LED flashlight, in my experience, doesn’t work. So we use battery operated lanterns, which shed enough light to keep egg production up, but not so much that it’s overwhelming for my hens.

I advise you to skip infrared heat lamps. That’s the red light bulbs. In my opinion, the risks are way too high. Those heat lamps get really, really, really hot! And all it takes is a hen knocking it down (and chickens are great at getting into trouble) and you might lose your whole flock to a fire.

Putting a light in your coop is the top way to keep your hens laying throughout winter. But let’s talk about some other things you can do that are really just as important.

Molting

So the next thing we’re going to talk about is molting. If you don’t know what molting is, when hens molt they’re losing one set of feathers and replacing them with new ones. This could take a couple months, and while hens are molting they aren’t producing eggs.

Now when a hen molts, her body naturally puts all of its energy into producing new feathers, hence the drop in egg production. This generally happens in the fall and in early winter after your hen’s first year. Usually when she’s about eighteen months old, although I have had them molt at younger ages.

Now there’s really nothing you can or should do to speed up molting. I know in factory farms with chickens, they try to speed it up. But you really shouldn’t be doing anything to speed it up. It’s a natural process. But one thing that you can do that might help is to feed your hens extra protein, so her body can redirect extra energy into producing eggs.

So if you have a hen that’s molting, you can try a 22% commercial feed, or something with a lot of protein in it. Try things such as mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, or wheat fodder. If you like to feed eggs to your chickens, eggs are another protein supplement you can give a molting hen.

I supplement molting hens with my Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement. It’s packed full of protein and nutrients to help your hens have the fluffiest feathers ever! You can find it in the store here: Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement

 

Make sure your hens have enough to eat

The third thing that you can do in the winter to keep your hens laying eggs is to make sure they get enough to eat, especially if your hens are used to foraging.

During the cooler weather, foraging obviously gets harder, and as the weather turns cooler, chickens start using more nutrients and energy from whatever they’re eating to keep warm. So if they get too cold, they’re going to take all the energy and put it to keeping warm instead of producing eggs.

So it’s really important in cool weather to make sure that your chickens are getting enough to eat. And if your hens will be cooped up all winter, or if there is a lot of snow and they don’t want to leave their coop, you’ll need to watch how much they’re eating and increase what you’re offering so that they have enough energy to make eggs.

And when I give this advice, I’m assuming that you’re also providing a supplementary light to promote egg production because the bottom line is that without the supplementary light, most chickens won’t lay. But making sure that they have enough to eat is also very important.

You can simply feed more of your hens regular ration or supplement with mealworms, if you don’t already feed them. If it’s gonna be a cold night, you can offer corn. But as a consistent way to increase their feed, I don’t suggest feeding corn. You’re better off offering just more of what they already normally eat, and making sure that they’re getting enough protein and calcium.

Calcium

To help keep your hens laying toward the winter, you should also make sure that they’re getting enough calcium. This is really important. Winter is an especially important time to offer oyster shells as a calcium supplement. You should do it all year round, but winter is especially an important time to do it.

I just offer oyster shells separately in a bowl or a dish. Don’t mix it with their feed, just offer it separately so they can take it as they need it.

Without the calcium supplement, hens will start to draw calcium from their own bones which you don’t want. It’s not to say that if you don’t offer oyster shells, they will absolutely draw calcium from their bones, but if they don’t get enough calcium in their diet, it will start to come from their own bodies.

So I suggest that you offer them oyster shells as a supplement and let them eat at it as they need it.

If you have any concerns about whether your chickens are getting the right diet or are deficient in anything, you can always take them to a vet to have blood pulled to double check. But as long as you’re sticking to a recommended diet and feeding enough, your chickens should be okay.

Just remember, that I’m not a vet, so this is just a public service announcement. If you have any concerns about your chickens not getting the right amount of nutrients, have a vet pull some blood and double check it.

Now let’s just talk about scratch for a minute. I think you should avoid scratch at all costs, especially commercial scratch. If you make it from home and it has enough protein, that’s one thing. But commercial scratch … I suggest that you just save your money and don’t buy it.

Personally I think you’re better off offering more of the regular feed, or offering some other tasty treat.

Stress

Now something else that can shut down egg production in winter, even if you do everything else right, is stress. When a hen’s body is stressed, she’s less likely to lay. So when it’s very hot or very cold, she is less likely to lay because her body is having a little bit more stress. But there’s also environmental stresses that can be brought on by winter and confinement.

Now as it gets colder, you might choose to keep your hens in the coop more often. Or when there’s a lot of snow hens will choose to stay in the coop rather than brave the elements. This can lead to some environmental stresses, especially if they’re used to getting out and about a lot.

This is the classic issue of overcrowding. Overcrowding can lead to a drop in egg production and behaviors like egg eating, picking at each other, fighting. So when there’s snow everywhere and they don’t want to go outside, what are you going do?

Here’s what we do. In the past, we’ve put straw on the ground in the run. We don’t use shavings because shavings absorb water and it can become a boggy mess in the run very quickly. So we use straw which gives them a nice, clean place to walk and it’s a little bit warmer than snow.

Then to convince them to go outside we offer them treats, like mealworms. Pumpkin is another favorite. You can offer them any treat that they really go nuts for.

The situation of chickens being in the coop too much really becomes one of weighing the risks and the benefits. If they stay inside, what kind of behavioral, or even nutritional issues will they develop if they’re in the coop for long periods of time without sunlight. Vitamin D absorption can become an issue which then causes problems with calcium absorption. So look at the risks versus the benefits in making them go outside for a couple hours.

Obviously I’m not saying you should make them go outside in negative thirty degree weather or thirty mile an hour gusts. I definitely wouldn’t have them go outside in that case.

I’d definitely wait for a day when the weather is better. If you have really bad weather every day where you live, I’d consider building them an indoor warm area, like a greenhouse. But in reasonable winter weather, there’s no harm in making them go outside for a couple hours, and it will only benefit them and help avoid cabin fever.

Boredom Busters

Another option is what I like to call boredom busters. You can find a lot of examples out there on the internet. You can move perches around a lot to give them some interesting environmental things to think about. Something mine love are pumpkins, and literally what I do is I just break it in half and let them peck at the flesh and enjoy that for a few hours. We have about thirty chickens in our coop and it takes them a few hours to get through it all.

If you can’t find pumpkins in your area, you can offer them squash or other gourds. And the nice thing is that since the flesh is a little bit tougher in pumpkins and squash, it can take them some time to get through it, they get extra food, and they also love the seeds.

In my experience, the squash and the pumpkin keep them occupied longer which, in the dead of winter, when they’re bored, is always a good thing. It also keeps them moving around, which helps them keep their body temperature up.

With your flock, you can use some of these ideas to help reduce their stress levels, or you can always come up with your own to keep your flock occupied during colder days of the year when they might not want to go outside and play. And the less stress that they have, the more likely they are to keep laying throughout the winter.

If you want more boredom buster ideas you can head over to my article about my favorite gifts and winter boredom busters for your chickens.

So to sum up, making sure that your hens get enough to eat, get enough light, and have low levels of stress, will help you keep your hens laying eggs. Do you have any ideas you have on how to keep hens laying through the winter? What are your favorite winter boredom busters for chickens?

Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why are my chicken’s feathers falling out?!?!? This is one of the biggest questions I get from concerned new chicken owners.

 

There are many reasons why your chicken’s feathers might be falling out. I’ll go through some of the main ones today and give you tips on what you should do.

 

The top reasons chickens lose feathers are:

  1. Molting
  2. Not enough protein
  3. Self-inflicted from stress
  4. Broodiness
  5. Picking by bullies
  6. Mites and lice
  7. Vent gleet
  8. Overmating by roosters

 

Molting

So, chickens molt. And it’s a very common reason why chickens lose feathers.

 

In case you don’t know, molting is when chickens lose feathers and then those feathers are replaced by new ones.

 

And luckily, it’s a natural and totally normal process. (Ducks molt, too!) that happens more or less once a year (normally in the fall), and it can be ugly. (Not always, but sometimes you’ll wonder what happened to your once beautiful hens!)

 

I love chickens, but they just aren’t that good looking when they’re going through a rough molt. It’s messy, ugly, and a little bit uncomfortable as the feathers grow back.

 

The molting process can be scary for first time chicken owners, but realize that your chickens losing their feathers in a molt is a normal process.

 

If you want, you can feed them a high protein treat (like BEE A Happy Hen, which we sell in the store) to help them stay healthy and regrow their feathers.

 


Freaked out over feather loss?

 

Not enough protein

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is because they aren’t getting enough protein. This can happen if you’re feeding your chickens scratch or letting them forage for their food

 

Even if you allow your chickens to roam around the yard and they’re finding and eating bugs as they do so, you need to make sure that you are also providing them with access to feed that is nutritionally balanced and has the appropriate amount of protein.

 

If your chickens start losing their feathers without an explanation (such as molting), then evaluate their diet and feed that you are providing.

black soldier fly larvae backyard chicken treat

What to do:

Provide more protein!!! Start incorporating black soldier fly larvae (we sell them in the store right here – use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) or mealworms (use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) into your chickens diet – you can mix it with their feed or give it as a treat (we have lots of treats in the store with dried insects for just this reason!).

 

Plus chickens LOVE them  (like….really love them, LOL!) so they will eat it happily! If you want to raise them yourself, it’s easy to start a mealworm or black soldier fly larvae farm

 

Self-inflicted picking or picking by other chickens

One reason your chickens might lose their feathers is from picking, which is usually caused by environmental stress such as over crowding or bullying. Think of it as a reaction to anxiety.

 

Bullying among chickens CAN happen (personally, we’ve been lucky and not experienced this in our coop, but yours might have an alpha hen who picks on a more subservient hen).

 

Every coop has a social order and particularly if the flock as a whole is stressed or the “picked on” hen is new, chickens will sometimes peck the victim until she’s lost her feathers.

 

Or your chickens could also be stressed and so they begin picking feathers of other hens in the coop to deal with that stress.

 

What to do:

The simplest thing to do in this case is figure out why your chickens are stressed and try to remove the problem. If they’re over crowded (10 square feet per chicken in a coop is a good guideline), then give them more room.

 

If they’re bored, then provide environmental enrichment such as treats they have to “hunt” for, swings, branches for them to fly up to (this can also give them more room), places to hide, etc.

 

One popular idea is to put a treat such as cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, or cucumbers on a string and allow your flock to peck at it.

 

If your flock has a bully, then you can remove the bullied chicken from the coop and isolate her from the flock (give her a friend since 2 chickens together are likely to bond since they only have each other for company). You can then try to reintroduce everyone a few days later or continue to keep them separate.

 

If your chickens lose feathers still, then you should figure out if the problem is something else.

 

Broodiness

Chicken’s may also be picking their feathers due to broodiness. Some chickens get broody (i.e they really want their eggs to hatch) and so they’ll sit on their eggs for long periods of time and often pick their own feathers and lay them around their eggs for warmth.

 

If you want your hen to hatch the eggs, then let her do it, and understand she’ll stop picking her feathers after the chicks hatch.

 

If you don’t want her to hatch chicks, then break her broodiness. She should stop losing feathers because she’ll stop picking at herself.

 

Mites & Lice

Yuck. I hate lice and chicken mites, and they can definitely cause your chickens to lose feathers. Now, you might say “I don’t see any mites on my chickens” and assume the issue is something else.

 

I hear this a LOT from chicken owners trying to figure out feather loss. Even though you might not see mites on your chickens, they can still be the source of your trouble.

 

Mites are sneaky. They hide in corners of your coop and then come out at night and infest your flock. And eventually, they can cause more than feather loss – they can cause your chickens to lose the scales on their legs and eventually death as they rob your hens of nutrients.

Chicken losing feathers completely? Here's what to do!

What to do:

Even if you don’t think mites are why your chickens are losing feathers, you can still preemptively clean your coop and use herbs such as peppermint and cinnamon and diatomaceous earth to keep mites and lice away.

 

If you don’t know, diatomaceous earth is a powder that your chickens can bathe in. It has been shown in scientific studies to reduce the number of mites and lice in chickens because it’s sharp edges cut the exoskeletons of insects, causing them to die.

 

However, I highly recommend that you only use DE in well ventilated areas, and keep your flock out of the coop while you’re spreading it about (a little goes a long way)! Chickens have a very delicate respiratory system, so you want to be careful that they don’t inhale it on a regular basis.

 

If you don’t want to bother with DE, you can just use herbs. Mint repels insects, so hanging peppermint around the coop or nesting box is a great way to get rid of or prevent a mite infestation.

 

Another option is to provide garlic for your flock (we sell shelf-stable garlic granules in the store, which I’ve found hens prefer over fresh garlic). Because of the spicy nature of garlic, it repels external parasites (and it’ll help your flock’s immune system as well!)

 

Vent gleet

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is vent gleet, which is a fungal infection in the vent (where your chicken expels waste and eggs) and it can cause some pretty nasty whitish/yellowish discharge along with a loss of feathers.

 

Think of it like a yeast infection. It’s gross and it’s definitely not good for your chicken!

 

What to do:

If you think your chicken has vent gleet, then the best thing to do is take her to the vet, who can give you medications or make recommendations for all natural solutions.

 

One way you can help prevent vent gleet is to ensure your chickens have good gut health! You can do this by adding some apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon per gallon) to your chicken’s water. We sell apple cider vinegar granules in the store – they’re shelf stable and easy to add to water or feed.

 

 

Rowdy roosters 

So roosters like to mate. A LOT. It’s normal and part of a flock’s social dynamics. If you notice your hens are losing feathers on their back (and only their back) and you have a rooster, you can be pretty sure the issue is overmating.

 

This isn’t to be taken lightly – I’ve seen cases where roosters were overmating hens to the point where the hens lost not just their feathers, but the skin on their chests – which, of course, is a much bigger issue than losing feathers. 

 

In summer, this can end in a bad case of fly strike, and you might have to put your hen down if it’s bad enough.

 

Fly strike is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and treatment – which consists of picking maggots off your hen’s body and removing dead tissue – is painful and difficult, and a lot of animals simply die of shock).

 

Roosters stand on top of hens backs while they are mating and they can cut your hens or cause them to lose feathers.

 

If this happens you might need to separate the roosters from your hens to keep your girls safe. If the issue is only feather loss (and not skin loss), you can also use a chicken saddle, which will cover the bald area.

 

If you have multiple roosters and see them excessively bickering over the hens, then it’s time to either give each rooster his own flock of hens, or re-home one of the roosters.

 

If you have multiple roosters and notice one rooster is losing feathers on his back, then it’s time to separate him from his “prison buddy” if you get my drift. (Yes, this is a real thing that can happen because it’s about social dominance and their pecking order).

 

 

5 Backyard Chicken Friendly High Protein Treats For Fall

5 Backyard Chicken Friendly High Protein Treats For Fall

As the days get shorter, and your backyard chickens begin to molt, you might want to supplement their diet with high protein treats.

 

And luckily, there’s lots of options!

 

Molting is a normal process in the fall – it’s when chickens start losing their feathers to regrow new ones.

 

By the time it’s super chilly, most chickens will have grown a new set of feathers, and they’ll be ready for winter (some DO take a bit longer though!)

 

To get them into great shape, decrease boredom, and give them extra calories as the cold sets in, you can supplement their diet with extra high-protein treats.

 

And you might even have some on hand!

 

Here’s 5 high protein treats backyard chickens (and ducks!) LOVE – and they’re great for fall!

 

Eggs

Yep, you can feed chickens eggs. No, it’s not weird and it’s not cannibalism.

 

In nature, they go for them (it IS protein, after all). When they’re bored, they go for them.

 

And unless there’s a chicken IN the eggs (which there isn’t without incubation), it’s definitely not a case of chickens eating their brethren.

 

Eggs are also a GREAT source of protein (and the shells are a perfect source of calcium for your chickens).

 

You can scramble the eggs, cook them over easy, or hard boil them. It doesn’t matter – your flock will be clucking happy to eat them!

 

When cooked, eggs are less likely to turn your backyard chickens into egg eaters.

 

You can also mix them with any of the other treats on this list.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae

If eggs aren’t your flock’s thing, then you can try black soldier fly larvae.

 

You can buy them dried right here or you can create your own farm – they’re remarkably easy to farm, and they’ll live in anything.

 

(Recently, we discovered a BSFL farm in my truck bed, where some grain had spilled. Totally disgusting and proof they’ll hatch anywhere.

 

We had NO idea they established residence until some torrential downpours caused them to jump ship. Let’s just say the hens were VERY happy for a few days).

 

If farming black soldier fly larvae isn’t your deal, then you can always go with dried ones – hens love them either way!

 

Black soldier fly larvae are about 40% protein.

 

Brewer’s Yeast

It’s not something you typically associate with protein, but brewer’s and nutritional yeast is FULL of protein – they’re both about 40% protein.

 

You can mix brewer’s yeast with your flock’s regular feed, or with a special treat you’ve created for them (such as the eggs or black soldier fly larvae above).

 

It’s probably best to mix it with something else. It’s full of protein but also powdery – so adding it to food with texture will help your chickens enjoy their treat more.

 

You can buy it in our store here, and it’s mixed with garlic, oregano, and echinacea – all herbs traditionally used to support healthy immune systems in chickens.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are also full of protein – and hens LOOOOOVVVEEE them!

 

You might have heard that pumpkin seeds can help prevent and expel worms. While the jury is still out on that, the bottom line is that chickens love snacking on them.

 

And pumpkin itself is full of vitamins and minerals to help your backyard chickens stay healthy!

 

So, the seeds definitely can’t hurt, and they just might help! Just be sure to offer smaller seeds to they’re easy for your chickens to swallow and digest.

 

You can mix pumpkin seeds with herbs – consider chili and paprika.

 

Chili has been shown in studies to help expel worms (the parasites object to the spiciness) and paprika can help with turning yolks that gorgeous golden color we’re all looking for!

 

Sunflower Seeds with Herbs & Dried Berries

Sunflower seeds are another high protein treat for fall.

 

Any type of sunflower seed will work, but black oil sunflower seeds seem to get backyard chickens clucking more than other ones.

 

Like pumpkin seeds, you can mix them with herbs like garlic, or even the brewer’s yeast we mentioned above.

 

A third option is to mix them with gelatin and mold the entire mixture into shapes.

 

You can then hang the treat in their coop and watch them go nuts!

 

If your flock isn’t sure what to do with the sunflower seeds, consider mixing them with red berries, such as strawberries.

 

The red color will attract your backyard chickens, and they’ll naturally peck to see what it’s all about! From there, they’ll start to understand the seeds are a treat!

Do Ducks Molt? Here’s What You Need To Know!

Do Ducks Molt? Here’s What You Need To Know!

We all know chickens go through a molt every year, but did you ever wonder “do ducks molt?”

 

In short, yes ducks molt. In fact, they molt quite a bit every year – possibly enough to build you a whole new duck.

 

In fact, I’ve gone outside and wondered whether the drakes, hens, and young ones had a pillow fight the night before and didn’t invite me!

 

Do ducks molt? Here's everything you need to know!

 

You might even wonder how such a little bird can have so many feathers hidden – more on that in a minute.

 

Our hen Henrietta, a Khaki Campbell is molting presently – and she looks quite a bit disheveled. Not sleek and bright like the younger ducks in her pen!

 

Like chickens, ducks molt to replace old feathers with new growth, and they do it every summer. So, expect it to be an annual event.

 

How do ducks molt?

Ducks molt different than chickens, and in the main summer molt, both duck hens and drakes will lose feathers.

 

Chickens molt by losing them on their head, neck, and back, and then regrowing them in the same top-down pattern.

 

Ducks, on the other hand, just lose their feathers all over the place and all at once, including their primary ones. They’ll also scratch and pluck them out with their bills to speed things along or just relieve the itch.

 

Henrietta has been caught with bits of plumage all over her bill – she dunks herself in water to clean it off!

 

Do ducks molt? Here's everything you need to know!

 

You might also notice your ducks aren’t playing or interacting as much – again, this is normal. Henrietta has been staying a bit back from the younger ducks as she loses her feathers.

 

Additionally, drakes (male ducks) will undergo an additional molt after the spring breeding season has ended – they will lose their fancy colored plumage for duller colored feathers – this is an evolutionary adaptation that protects ducks from predators.

 

Why do they lose so many feathers?

As you probably know, in addition to their primary plumage, ducks also have a large padding of down feathers (the same down you’ll find in coats and other winter apparel).

 

So, ducks will also lose their down during a molt, which is why it can look like a crime scene in their pen – and you might take a headcount, wondering how a predator got into the duck house.

 

Rest assured, it’s just natural feather loss.

 

In fact, ducks lose their primary feathers (such as flight) all at once. In the wild, they will be flightless for about a month – no big deal since ducks are usually close to water, keeping them safe from predators.

 

This is less of an issue for domestic ducks, although the sight of it can be overwhelming. Just grab the broom and sweep them out.

 

As Henrietta has molted, she’s looks very disheveled, and her color appears mottled – this is a result of losing feathers as well as loose ones that haven’t yet been shed.

 

Eventually, glossy new plumage will appear, and the ragged hen will look sleek and beautiful again.

 

Just remember, that the length of time it takes to complete a molt will vary from duck to duck.

What about egg production?

While your ducks molt, you might notice the hens’ egg production goes down – this is normal. Like chickens, growing new feathers requires a lot of protein for ducks.

 

We’ve noticed that Henrietta is laying less, and when she does lay an egg, they’re smaller. Again, this is totally normal, and once she’s done molting, production picks back up.

 

If your ducks stop laying completely, don’t worry – it’s normal, and they’ll start again eventually.

What should you feed during a molt?

When your ducks molt, it’s a good idea to give them extra protein. You can give them more feed, or offer treats of dried mealworms floating on water (it also provides extra entertainment). Giving them high-nutrient treats such as kale or parsley will help as well.

 

You can also switch to a higher protein feed.

Got Chickens Molting? Here’s What To Do.

Got Chickens Molting? Here’s What To Do.

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.

 

Mealworms (or suet cakes made with mealworms) are a good supplement. You can also feed raw, unsalted nuts, kelp, freshwater shrimp, grubs, or crickets.

 

You can mix them directly with their feed,

or offer the extra protein separately. Molting chickens also need plenty of fresh water!

Heard your backyard chickens molting can be stressful? Here's everything to support your backyard chickens beginners need to know!