Dec 05 , 2019
Is your young flock suddenly losing all their feathers? Fear not! It's a normal part of chicken life that happens every Fall. If you're wondering what's causing it and what you can do to help, read on for answers to the big questions.
Don't feel like reading? Watch our YouTube video below and visit our YouTube channel for more where that came from!
Help! My chicken is losing feathers. What is causing this?
Molting is a natural, integral part of chicken life. The first time a new chicken keeper experiences a molt, it can be scary! We think it is a disease or mite infestation. But thankfully, molting is a normal part of being a chicken.
Chickens actually go through two molts when they are young. The first molt at around two weeks doesn't leave them bald but will be noticeable by the little fluffy chick fuzz that floats through the air and covers nearby surfaces. The second molt at around 6 weeks old is when their adult feathers begin to come in. It doesn't leave them bald and is barely noticeable, but this is when you'll start to see the distinctive saddle feathers grow in on young roosters.
The first molt usually occurs around 18 months old at the end of summer as the days start to get shorter, but that timeframe can vary greatly from bird to bird.
The two juvenile molts are caused by hormonal changes as the chicks age, but the annual molt is caused by a decrease in daylight. It can also be triggered by stress around this time, such as lack of food and water, hatching out a clutch of eggs, predator attacks to flockmates, and inconsistent lighting in the coop. Supplementing artificial light and not replacing the bulb when it goes out can trigger a molt.
How long does this last? How can I make it go faster?
The time it takes to molt depends on the individual chicken. It takes 3-4 weeks for some birds to molt and 12-16 weeks for others. Most fall in the middle. Molts can vary from soft, only losing a few feathers, to hard, when they lose almost all of them. Molting usually starts at the head and moves toward the tail.
What else can I expect?
Your chickens should be acting normal, if not a bit tired. Feather regrowth is hard work, but they'll perk up again when they are through. Both roos and hens will go through an annual molt.
What can I do to help?
The number one thing you can do during this time is keep their stress level as low as possible. Make sure they aren't being terrorized at night by critters. Feed free-choice, and feed lots of high-quality, protein-rich foods like dried mealworms. Limit low-protein filler foods like scratch grains and bread. Commercial food rations have enough vitamins and minerals, so there should be no need to supplement. Always have water available. Don't handle them. Their pin feathers don't offer them any protection and can break and bleed. Keep them from picking on each other. Remove any bloody birds from the flock until they are well. Don't make them wear sweaters. Their new feather growth is too delicate, and it could be painful for them. Don't bring them inside. This only introduces stress at a time where stress levels should be kept low. Have plenty of bedding in your coop so they can keep warm during the day. At night, put fluffier chickens next to the naked chickens on the roost, and make sure no one is left alone.
Why did they stop laying eggs? How can I make them keep laying?
It just so happens that egg production is also tied to daylight hours. Egg production will drop when daylight hours decrease. Remember that re-growing feathers is nutritionally taxing on the body. Combine these two factors, and a chicken's body will prioritize taking care of itself first.
If you want to prevent a molt and have eggs through the fall and winter, it is possible to supplement light in your coop at the end of the day in late summer. But, remember that molting is a natural process. They molt because their bodies know it is time for a renewal process. It is probably healthier to let them go through the molt as nature intended and do what you can to help them through it. Many chicken keepers report that they eggs their hens lay after this period of rest are usually bigger and tastier than before.
What was your experience when your hens first started molting? How did you handle it? We'd love to hear your stories and see pictures! Reach out to us on social media and get in touch!