Molting is a natural process chickens undergo, usually once each year. Although chickens usually molt in the fall, when the daylight hours begin to decrease, you may find that your chickens molt in the summer.
If you notice your chickens are losing their feathers, beginning with a few feathers missing from the head and neck area followed by lots of feathers missing from the breast, back, thighs, wings, and tail, don’t be alarmed! Once your chickens have shed their feathers, they will grow new ones and look even prettier than they did before their molt.
In general, two activities trigger molting in chickens: breeding and laying. If your chicken is breeding, she will generally molt after she has finished her breeding season.
In most cases, however, your hens will probably molt after an intensive egg-laying period. For high-producing hens, molting usually occurs after about one year of laying eggs consistently. High-producing hens are referred to as late molters, and their behavior is most desirable, as they will lose their feathers and grow new ones in a two or three months. For lower-producing hens, molting may occur after a few months of laying eggs and can last up to six months.
Caring for your chicken during their molt is important. Molting is a high-stress time for chickens because molting requires a lot of energy and involves a significant loss of body weight (in feathers). To care for your molting hens, reduce their stress level by following these three steps:
- Water. Water is always important for chickens, but they may need extra water during their molt. Take care to provide fresh, clean, and cold water always.
- Food. Chickens may require a higher protein diet during their molt. Some chicken raisers feed their chickens dry cat or dog food, cooked eggs, bacon, or yogurt in moderation to boost their chicken’s protein. You can also purchase a high-protein feed from a feed store.
- Temperature. Keeping the temperature steady during the summer can be a challenge, but use fans to try to keep the temperature in your chicken’s coop below 80 degrees. Heat naturally causes chickens, and if they’re molting, their stress level will increase even more.
If you’re experiencing your chickens’ first molting cycle, be patient. After they molt, their feathers will look better than ever and they will return to their egg-laying cycle. Keep their stress level at a minimum, and you’ll have happier and healthier chickens in the long run.