Molting: Feathers Everywhere
It’s that time of year again when we may start to notice more feathers scattered around the coop than eggs. Did someone have a pillow fight in here? Are my girls alright? What’s going on! Molting feathers are everywhere!
So what exactly is molting?
A mature chicken typically loses his or her older, dull and spent plumage sometime during fall. It’s similar to how reptiles shed their skin.
The natural process in shedding feathers allows the growth of new and healthy feathers before cold winter days arrive. Old, dirty and broken feathers do a terrible job in providing insulation and protection. So, the chickens shed the old ones and grow new feathers to bette protect themselves in cold weather.
Your old worn sweatshirt won’t keep you as warm as a new one that hasn’t been through the wash 100 times, right? This is the same for your chickens’ feathers.
What triggers molting??
Shorter daylight hours and the natural end to a laying cycle are the most common triggers for a molt. This typically occurs at the end of summer through autumn.
There are also other factors that can contribute to molting: stress, dehydration, malnutrition, illness and extreme heat. Keeping your flock healthy is essential in avoiding these other triggers to an untimely molt.
A broody hen may also molt after sitting on and hatching eggs. In her effort to make sure her eggs and chicks are safe, the stress on her body can trigger molting (so they often seem a bit bedraggled after an extended broodiness).
Baby chicks will also go through a series of molts as they mature, but that is a little different from the seasonal molting adult chicken eggsperience. A young chicken typically does not go through its first molt for the first 15 to 18 months of its life.
Duration and types of molt
The length and duration of a molt will vary. Just like their individual personalities, each of your little feathered family members will have their own molting “schedule.”
Some will molt slowly, in what we often refer to as a “soft” molt. In a soft molt, a chicken will slowly drop its feathers over an extended period of time.
Sometimes it takes about a month, but we’ve had chickens that seem to molt for three or four months!
Some chickens will look fine one day, but the next day, they look like they’ve blown up, losing a large amount of feathers overnight or in a quick span of days. This is what we often refer to as a “hard” molt. While chickens that go through hard molts look worse than those that go through slow molts, the entire duration of their molt will be shorter than the soft molters.
When chickens experience a hard molt, be sure to give them extra protein to regrow their feathers.
The duration, type, and progress of molt will depend on each chicken’s genetics. They don’t molt in the same way. This will even be more apparent if you have a larger flock.
Molting Laycations: When chickens stop laying eggs!
To make new feathers, the chickens need a huge amount of protein. Making eggs also requires the use of protein.
In order to grow new feathers to protect them through the winter, hens take a break from laying and take a “laycation.” The laycation is considered the end of the year’s laying cycle.
The amount of daylight hours also contributes to the cessation and reboot of a laying cycle. A hen needs about 14 to 16 hours of daylight to trigger the hormones that play a part in laying eggs. Daylight hours shorten in the winter and are not enough to continue the regular egg-laying process.
In favor of protecting herself with a better feather coat, and to allow her body to rest, a hen will slow or stop laying in favor of self-preservation. Winter time is essentially the hen’s natural way of slowing down and taking a little winter vacation!
Check out our tips and tricks to help your chickens through their molt.