The first time you experience your chickens going through their first molt, you may be shocked to find enough “un-owned” feathers in the coop to suspect that a predator has attacked. At least, that was my first thought when my first flock began their molt! Let’s discuss and learn about molting and ways to help your hens get through it gracefully.
Molting is the term that refers to the complete, rapid shedding of old feathers and re-growth of new feathers. Generally, chickens normally molt in the late summer and early fall months. Chicks hatched in early winter or spring will not molt that same year, but will wait until the following fall before they molt for the first time.
During a molt, a hen will drastically slow or completely stop laying eggs. Feathers consist of 85% protein, so egg production must decrease in order to re-grow feathers. Giving your hens a higher protein ration while they are molting will help them grow new feathers quickly, which should help them get back to laying sooner. Feeding high protein treats like black oil sunflower seeds, plain yogurt, pumpkin seeds, scrambled eggs and mealworms can also be helpful. Cat food is another recommendation you may read about on the internet, but be aware that cat food is also high in sodium and may cause a nutrient imbalance with your flock. Given as an occasional treat is probably okay, but any more than that could cause a problem.
Molting doesn’t just happen to hens, roosters will also go through this process. The length of molt varies greatly by breed and can also vary between individuals within the same breed. Generally, your best layers will molt late in the season and molt quickly. The not-so-great layers will barely look like they are molting; dropping feathers and re-growing them so slowly that you may not even notice that she is in molt and not laying eggs. On average the molting process will take around 7-8 weeks from start to finish but can take up to 12 weeks.
Molting and the unavoidable decrease in egg production that comes with it are Mother Nature’s way of preparing our chickens for winter. What are some of the other ways you’ve helped your flock through their molt? Leave a comment below and tell us!