• Diana Reed

9 Stages of MOLTING for Chickens

What is Molting in Chickens?

The shorter Fall Days and Fewer Hours of Daylight serve as a Signal to the Chickens that it is time to Renew their Plumage in preparation for the coming Cold Weather.


Molting is the process that Chickens go through each year of shedding and renewing their older, broken and missing feathers with new healthy ones.

chicken molting feathers

Chickens will fluff their feathers when they get cold to trap air warmed by their bodies between their skin and feathers and create a buffer against the cold air.

If their feathers are old and broken, they don't fluff as well, so by growing in a whole new set of feathers just before winter, chickens ensure they'll have nice new feathers to keep them warm.


When Does Molting Occur?

Like most wild birds, Chickens begin molting at approximately 1 year intervals, and will usually begin during the Late Summer and Early Fall..

How Long Does the Molt Last?

The entire process (beginning to end) can take an average of 14 to 16 weeks. It varies from chicken to chicken, as well as from breed to breed.

The Good Heavy Layers ( like the Sex Links and Leghorns ) tend to molt more quickly taking 3-4 months on average. The Less Productive/Average Layers ( usually the Heritage and Pure Breeds ) can take up to 6 months to complete the entire molting process. You may not even notice that the Molting Process has begun until you notice the reduction in eggs or the loose feathers - which can already be a few weeks in progress.



 

chickens

9 Stages of What to Expect during a Molt :

  1. Egg Production reduces/stops

  2. Feathers and Fluffy Down begin to fall out

  3. Nutritional Needs arise / immune system compromised / Pale Pink Combs

  4. New Plumes emerge within casings

  5. Sensitivity - Chickens are uncomfortable to be touched

  6. New Feathers emerge in a sequence

  7. Casings are found around their roosting areas

  8. Nutritional Proteins are being replenished ( they are extra hungry )

  9. Egg Production resumes in a new improved form - Rosey Red Combs


Lets Explain each just a tad bit more so that you can understand just what is happening during this strange season of chicken costume changes.


chicken molting feathers hard molt

1) Egg Production Reduces/Stops Hens generally stop laying eggs while they are molting since all their energy and nutrients need to be concentrated on growing new feathers. Good Heavy Layers may continue during the initial part of the molt.

Our Red Star Sex Links sometimes carry on laying occasionally during the molt - but for most of our other hens - production will stop altogether.


2) Feathers and Fluffy Down begin to Fall Out

Our Pastures and Chicken House Floors will start to look like there's been a huge pillow fight, with feathers discarded everywhere. Because molting occurs over a time span of multiple weeks, rarely will a chicken become completely naked. Since the new feathers push out the old ones, you will rarely see bare patches of skin, instead your chickens will just start to look kind of moth-eaten, raggedy and generally unkempt.


chicken molting feathers

3) Nutritional Needs Arise / Immune System Low / Pale Pink Combs

Their bodies have changed their Nutritional Supply from making Eggs -- to making Feathers, and this change compromises their immune system in a way that they are more susceptible to the affects of stress and disease during this period. The Pale color of their Combs reflect their lower vitamins / iron / protein levels and lack of vibrancy during this molt. This is NOT a time to make changes in your coops - keep stress as low as possible.

Now is a great time to offer vitamin rich foods into their diets.


chicken molting feathers new casings

4) New Plumes Emerge from their Skin within Casings

While the Chicken is growing in their new feathers, each plume emerges covered in a waxy coating. This casing helps to protect the "pin" feathers that are filled with blood, which nourishes the growing shaft and feather. If you look closely, you will be able to see the new feather shafts pushing up through the skin. Each is encased in a waxy tubular coating in which the new feather is just waiting to unfurl when the coating cracks open.


5) Sensitivity - Chickens are Uncomfortable to be Touched

During this process of emerging their plumes/casings - the Chicken will likely shy away from being picked up or handled – Growing in the new feathers is uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at times. Give them space, they need their rest anyway.


chicken molting feathers sequence neck plume

6) New Feathers Emerge in a Sequence

The process of molting can take weeks, or even months, but it always follows the same pattern: starting at the head and working its way down the neck, along the body and finally to the tail.


7. Casings are found around their Roosting Areas

As the feather grows, the wax casing breaks and falls off to allow the new feather to emerge. You might see the cast off casings in your nesting boxes or floor of your coop.


8) Nutritional Proteins are being Replenished ( they are extra hungry )

Chicken Feathers are made up of the Protein Keratin at 80-90%.

Chicken Eggs contain between 13-20% Protein.

In order to make a whole covering of feathers, chickens must keep all the Protein they can get to prioritize their new plumage.

So the Protein their bodies extract from their food is diverted from Egg-Laying to Feather-Growing - and these Protein levels need to be replenished before the Chicken can return to Egg Laying at the conclusion of their Molt.

chickens nature fed healthy

Now is a Great time to Introduce Protein Rich foods into their diets.



9) Egg Production Resumes in a New Improved Form - Rosey Red Combs

Egg Production may not return to the same Levels as before the First Molt, but you will definitely notice that your eggs will generally be Larger and of better Quality and Taste. You will know they are getting close to their new laying season as you see the Red Color return to their once pale combs.


We have found that we can keep up the Quantity of these new improved Eggs by providing the compost piles and green pastures they need to forage in and keep their nutritional requirements sufficient for heavy production.



chicken eating lettuce healthy produce

 

Helpful Tips

 

How can I Help my Chickens Through a Molt?

Feathers are made of approximately 80-90% protein, 8 percent water and 1% water-insoluble fats, so providing your Molters Extra Protein during their Molt is Critical.

Protein Sources for Molting Chickens

  • Meal Worms

  • Sunflower Seeds

  • Scrambled Eggs

  • Meat scraps

  • Fish scraps

  • Herbs

  • Fresh Produce

Note: some people suggest feeding canned cat food, but we do not advocate that. Commercial made Cat Food is formulated for Cats, not Chickens.

Canned Fish such as Mackerel, Sardines or Tuna is a FAR Better (and cheaper) bet.


Yes, chickens love to eat tuna. When fed in moderation, tuna contains protein and other vitamins that can be beneficial for your flock. However, too much tuna can expose your birds to an excess of mercury. It’s best to feed them fresh tuna or canned tuna free of additives such as salt and oil.

chickens eating pumpkin worm control healthy

Many Herbs also contain high levels of protein and can be fed free-choice, fresh, or added to your chickens' feed in dried/crushed form.

Some of the best Herbs include:

herbs

  • Basil

  • Chervil

  • Coriander

  • Dill

  • Fennel

  • Garlic

  • Marjoram

  • Parsley

  • Spearmint

  • Tarragon



ACV - Apple Cider Vinegar w/Mother helps with nutrient absorption and also provides overall health benefits and an immune system boost.

While they're molting, Chickens can be more susceptible to a host of illnesses since they're in a somewhat debilitated state, working overtime to grow in new feathe