Why are my chickens losing feathers?

Typically, when chickens lose their feathers, they have entered into a growth phase known as molting. During this time, hens will have either decreased or no egg production, and both hens and roosters will shed and replace their feathers.

What is molting?

Molting is the process through which birds replace their old and damaged feathers with new growth.  During molting, the old feathers drop off and are slowly replaced by new, small feathers called pin feathers. The pin feathers then grow into the next year's plumage.

What does a molting chicken look like?

There are two variations in the normal molting process: soft molt and hard molt. In a soft molt, the feathers drop off gradually and are replaced. During this process, the only obvious evidence of the condition may be the feathers that are left on the ground. During a hard molt, the birds suddenly lose feathers in clumps and take on a ragged appearance that can be very alarming.

How often do chickens molt?

Chickens experience two juvenile molts in the first year of life. Between six and eight days after hatching, their fuzzy down will slowly start disappearing and tiny feathers will take its place. The second juvenile molt will begin between eight and twelve weeks after hatching. During this molt, the adult feathers will begin growing in.  After the completion of the second juvenile molt cycle, healthy chickens will molt annually, usually in the Fall when the days have started to shorten.

How long does the molting cycle take?

In most healthy birds, the new feathers should fill in completely in eight weeks.

Do molting chickens need to be brought inside?

It's not uncommon for people to see the molting chickens and be concerned that they are cold. In reality, even in colder climates, the chickens are usually fine. You can add extra bedding to the nesting boxes, but the birds will usually conserve body heat by huddling together when the temperatures drop.

What else can I do for my molting chickens?

Molting is a time of rest and renewal for the chickens, but nutritionists believe that increasing the amount of protein in their diet is beneficial. A balanced, high-protein diet will help to decrease the length of the molt and support the growth of the new plumage.  If you're interested in considering a diet change or need additional suggestions to help your flock weather the molt, contact us today.

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