Molting Season or Exploding Chickens? November 9, 2015

Now that the heat of summer has passed, and the fall nights are cooler, you may have noticed your coop is a little messier than normal. Perhaps much, much messier. This time of year, whenever I collect eggs I can’t help but wonder: is it Molting Season or do I have Exploding Chickens?

molting season: feathers all over!

Molting season or exploding chickens? I can’t decide!

With autumn comes molting season.  A chicken can molt any time of year, but most chickens will molt in the late summer or autumn. This gives the flock time to regrow their feathers before the cold of winter sets in.

My birds tend to hard molt—they lose all their feathers at once, rather than a few at a time over the course of a few months.  It’s a terrible thing to behold: my poor ladies spend much of October and November hideously unattractive. For me, molting season is a time of rosy-skinned naked hens, and non-stop coop cleaning. What do you do with fallen feathers?

We won’t even discuss the turkeys.

DSCN1727

Let’s not talk about it.

Henny didn’t want her picture taken, and knocked over the feeders trying to get away!

Because my hens hard molt, I don’t get very many eggs this time of year.  This is normal: production will go down during molting season because the hens’ bodies are stressed, and they are using most of nutrients from the feed to regrow their feathers.  You can help ease the process by supplementing with a higher-protein feed.  I like turkey grower or meat bird grower; it makes the feathers grow in glossy, and helps the hens put on a little weight before it gets cold.  As soon as I start to see eggs again, switch back to layer feed.

DSCN1736

Until then, it is a never-ending battle keeping up with the mess, but it doesn’t last forever.  Soon the hens will have their feathers in, and look fabulous!

 

DSCN1720

Buffy looking great after finishing a soft molt.

While the constant clean-up can be annoying, I do like to bag up the excess coop debris in empty feed bags.  Local gardeners go nuts for the feathers/hay/poo mix, and are happy to haul it off for their winter compost.

DSCN1725

On a side note: most chickens will only replace the majority of their feathers after a molt, so if your hen has feather loss due to injury, she may wait to regrow any missing feathers. Increasing her protein may help, but don’t be surprised if she remains naked until fall!

6 Comments
Neil Armitage November 10th, 2015

I am always surprised by the way some hens seem to end up stark naked and others take ages just losing a few feathers at a time. Not sure which I prefer dealing with as fast moulters tend to die of cold up here in the North but they seem to go back to laying quicker so it does have it’s advantages.

Ric December 7th, 2015

Is the NUTRENA feather fixture worth purchasing to help the feather situation from molt

Lissa December 8th, 2015

That is a high protein feed; generally you do want to supplement protein when the flock is molting. Other than that, we don’t know that it’s better than other commercial feeds. You might compare the cost of getting that brand with the cost of supplementing protein in another way, such as adding some game bird feed. In many areas one might be easier to get than the other, or one might be significantly more expensive. We do find that supplementing with animal protein treats–like mealworms–tends to be a lot more fun! And if you get dried mealworms, it can be inexpensive, easy to store, AND fun. 🙂 The mealworms, of course, are a nutritious treat rather than a complete feed. Mealworms have about 50% protein (then there’s fat, fiber and moisture).

Barbara Olsen August 10th, 2016

I have a Rhode Island Red that had missing feathers on her chest when we got her at 6 months, she is now maybe one year. We figured she was molting. It got better but now it looks really like she is picking at her chest and now one of my Plymouth Rock hen is getting some loss of feathers, only on her chest which she didn’t have before. Is this molting? Or?

Lissa August 17th, 2016

The chest is actually a pretty unusual place to lose feathers from most causes other than molting. With mites/lice, the feather loss will usually be on the back near the tail, around the vent, and also under the wings. With a rooster causing wear, again it could be on the back near the tail, or on top of the head. So, the feather loss could be caused by molting. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, this is the time of year when molting begins. You should see a loss of feathers in other areas of the body, too. Another possibility is that some hens develop what is called a “broody patch” when they are trying to hatch eggs. They pluck the feathers from their own chests in order to get their warm skin closer to the eggs. That said, while a Rock may be broody from time to time, RIR are very rarely broody.

The last thing I can think of is that you might be seeing a very full crop. If it is super full and bulging out, with the skin stretched it can sometimes give the illusion of feather loss. If you find that’s the case, make sure your birds have access to sufficient grit so digestion is efficient. If it’s none of those things, you might consult a vet to see if examination can determine the cause.

Barbara olsen September 28th, 2016

Thank you we feel much more informed and are picking up some grits! We live in Big Bear Lake CA and it is in the 30’s already at night the other girls seem to be over the molting and all are laying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *