What do you do if the chickens are molting? It’s the very end of summer and some changes are happening on the farm. The fiber goats are about to have their fall haircuts. The rabbits are eating a lot of food during the cooler evenings. The piglets are moving on to their new homes. Leaves are showing a slight change in color and the summer garden is waning in production.
But the most dramatic change occurs in the chicken coop and run, as the chickens begin to look a bit ragged. Ok, lets not sugar coat it. They look downright bad as they start to lose the glossy summer feathers and show balding spots and rough appearance. The chickens are molting!
What Triggers Chickens to Molt?
As daylight begins to shorten, molt is triggered. The hens may even stop laying eggs during the molt, because all of the protein intake is going towards feather growth. If you have extra eggs during the spring and summer seasons, you can freeze the extra eggs for the fall season when you most certainly will see a drop in egg production.
As a first time chicken owner, years ago, I was sure that something was wrong with our flock. How could my beautiful birds be OK when they looked so messy? As it turns out, and I quickly discovered, this is normal fall chicken molting and a part of the chickens normal cycle. There’s even a pattern to the feather loss and regrowth. The molt will start with the head feathers and work its way to the tail and the fluffy butt.
The Chickens are Molting! How Can I Help?
The best thing you can do to support your chickens during molting season, is to feed adequate protein in the form of a high quality layer ration. Look for a ration that has at least 16% protein. While I have not switched feed because we feed a good layer ration all year through, you could also switch to a meat bird ration at 18% protein. Don’t overdo the amount of scratch grains during molt either. The chickens will still be happy to eat the chicken candy, but it will result in lower protein intake and a slower recovery from molt.
Not all of your chickens will molt at the same time
Treats for the Molting Chickens
Some recipes are available that will add some excitement to the life of a molting chicken.
My favorite molt muffin recipe was published in the book, Fresh Eggs Daily by Lisa Steele. I contacted Lisa, and she kindly gave me permission to share the recipe with you. But don’t stop there. I highly recommend this book for all who are interested in natural chicken keeping. You can purchase your own copy of on Amazon, Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally
Rich nutrition for your molting chickens.
1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup dried mealworms
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 cup natural unsalted peanut butter
To hang the muffins, you’ll need six large buttons (over 1″ diameter so the chickens can’t swallow them) and bakers twine
- In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients. Stir in the coconut oil and molasses. Then add the peanut butter and mix well. Set aside.
- Line muffin cups with paper liners.
- If you want to hang the muffins in the run, thread the bakers twine through two holes in the buttons. Place one button in the center of each muffin cup, leaving the ends of the twine hanging over the sides of the muffin pan. Spoon muffin mix evenly into the cups, making sure the button is centered in each cup.
- Refrigerate the muffins until firm. Remove them from the paper liners, hang them in the run and watch your chickens enjoy the treat!
NOTE: The only thing I did differently was to grease the muffin cups instead of using paper liners. When I made them using paper liners, I had trouble removing the liner before putting the muffins in the run.
Other Helpful Treats for When the Chickens are Molting
Some treats you may already have around your home or feed room are great for this time of year. Chickens will always run eagerly towards a handful or two of meal worms. These are fantastic for protein intake and rarely will you see a chicken turn them down. There is evidence that the increased protein from grubs and mealworms will help chickens recover quicker from a stressful molt. Black soldier fly larvae, often marketed as grubs, are now available from Tasty Worm Nutrition. Our flock loves these, and the ducks think they are the best thing ever!
Black oil sunflower seeds are another high protein snack. The chickens will enjoy the variety of different supplements while they grow some beautiful new feathers.
Weigh all the Advice Carefully
An old country method is to give the chickens some dry cat food. Cat food is characteristically very high in protein. I will be honest with you, I used to do this occasionally as a new chicken owner. We did not have any problems from it. Then, many times in a row, pet food recalls were occurring. Pets were even dying from toxic pet food. If the food can sicken a cat that it is intended for, I decided to no longer treat the chickens to occasional cat food.
Everything in Moderation!
Even though the molting chickens will look pleadingly at you, there is no need to over do the treats during the molt. The old adage, everything in moderation, still applies.
How Long Will the Molting Last?
One last thought. Even though your chickens will look horrendous during the molt, do not give up hope. As long as your chickens are eating, drinking, running around and acting fairly normally, then all is well. Expect new feather growth in your chickens after 4 to 6 weeks. Some chickens molt and recover feathers quickly and some take FOREVER. Fear not, your flock will soon be fully feathered again and ready for fluffing up their feathers for chilly winter nights. Take care when handling your chickens during the molt as the new feather shafts are delicate and can be injured easily.
Roosters will molt, also.
Now go show your chickens some love. Ugly chickens need love too.
You may enjoy these other recent posts on poultry
Hatching Eggs with Broody Duck
Keeping Your Chicken Coop Smelling Fresh
James Ward says
A few of my one and 3/4 year old chickens are beginning to lose feathers on the neck. I don’t have a rooster so what does this mean?
Janet Garman says
James, it is probably still molting getting started. While there is a “normal” pattern to molt, not all chickens will follow this pattern. I have also seen what you are describing. You may see it become more pronounced on other parts of their bodies, soon. – Janet
It’s probably not molting. Hens have a hierarchy and will often pluck feathers out of each other because of stress and/or dominance.
Hi- Just have a question! My 82 year old mom’s 2 chickens are over 10 years old. They eat pretty good and can be spunky at times. They no longer lay eggs. I believe it is called Henopause. LOL How long do chickens generally live? They are a cochin breed. Thankyou!
Janet Garman says
This is wonderful! I think they are doing really well. I have heard other people say that the hens can live 10 years or there about. I haven’t had that good fortune yet but we do have some nearing 5 this year. I actually didn’t start having chickens until 7 years ago. Sounds like they have a ways to go still. – Janet
About half of my flock of 26 hens look like they have been run through the ringer and they will NOT let me get anywhere near them with my phone or my camera……vain little things!
While your chickens are recovering from their molt, DO NOT handle them any more than necessary. Feather regrowth is a very painful process for them, like a baby cutting teeth. Our super friendly hens don’t want touches at all til they are fully feathered again. They will even peck us if we try to pick them up.
Be kind to your feathered friends during molt. TREATS, NO TOUCHING.
Janet Garman says
good point Belinda, which I did make but did not elaborate on in my post. Always happy to hear from my readers. Thanks so much
My chickens are molting but it is early spring. Is this crazy or what?
Karen Glatz says
I get wild salmon carcasses (after the butcher takes the steaks and fillets off), no heads, for $1 per pound. I pressure cook them for 50 min and mash them up. My girls go crazy for them. They get high quality protein and the bones go soft with pressure cooking so they get extra calcium as well.
Kathy Rodeffer says
I have a 9 month old ameraucana hen that is losing feathers. Not a few, a ton. The inside of the coop looked like something had gotten in and killed one. She has a bald spot on her rear end and looks like a typical molting hen. My concern is that it is December 12 and wind chill is supposed to be in the teens tonight. We checked for parasites yesterday and found none, I have blocked off half the coop with a straw bale so my 7 girls will huddle up (coop is 4×6) like Janet suggested at the Turf Center talk a couple weeks ago, and put new dry straw under the coop where they like to hang out during the day. Is there anything else I should be doing to support her? They eat a 16% protein crumble feed.