If you’ve noticed a chicken with a patchy looking plummage, it is highly likely she (or he) is molting. Molting is a normal condition where chickens lose and replace all of their feathers. This process can leave them looking a little disheveled.
Why do Chickens Molt?
A chicken’s feather coating acts as an armour that protects the thin skin beneath. The feathers provide an insulative barrier from the cold, wind and heat and even help to protect the skin from other pecking birds. Each feather seemingly locks to another, creating a protective barrier of long, shiny feathers.
Over time, feathers become brittle and dull, weakening the protective barrier. They fall out and are replaced by a fresh new feather
When do chickens typically molt?
There are two types a molting a chicken can go through. Most common type of molt for a backyard chicken is a soft molt which occurs over the course of up to 12 weeks. This slow process of shedding and renewing feathers may mean you barely notice a change, that is until you realise your hen is not producing any eggs. A hard molt is where a chicken loses their feathers in a shorter time frame. This can result in patches of missing feathers
Molting in adult chickens typically occurs twice per year. You may find that there are a lot of feathers lying around the coop at the end of Summer, or when the days are getting shorter. Your chicken’s body seems to know when they should prepare themself for the colder winter season, with a fresh new coat! Of course, after winter they will be needing another new coat, in time for Spring.
Pullets on the other hand molt far more often as they grow out of their short, downy plummage.
Be aware of when your hen is molting
You may not realize this, but molting can be a quite uncomfortable. process. As new feathers (also known as pinfeathers) replace old, they still have a venous connection. These If these new feathers are pulled out prematurely, they will bleed.
The molting process is long and exhausting. Their bodies require greater amounts of protein and nutrients at this time to process the added demands of feather building. You may consider add a vitamin and mineral supplement to their feed.
Also, if your chicken is going through a hard molt, their exposed skin is more susceptible to pecking injuries. If you have a known bully in the coop, it may be a good idea to separate the hens to prevent bloodshed.
Signs of molting
The signs of molting may vary slightly between bird breeds.
- Feathers lying on the ground
- A reduction in egg production
- Messy looking plummage
- Mood changes
- Exposed skin