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A couple of molting chickens in the backyard

Molting Madness: Understanding and Managing Your Chickens' Molt

If you’ve noticed a flurry of feathers in your backyard and your hens looking a little scruffy, don’t panic! This feather loss is likely due to molting, a natural process where chickens shed old feathers to make way for new growth. While molting can seem alarming, especially if it’s your first time experiencing it with your flock, it’s an essential part of a chicken’s life cycle. Let's dive into understanding what molting is, how to support your chickens through it, and what impact it has on egg laying.

What is Molting?

Molting is the process where chickens lose their old feathers and grow new ones. Think of it as a seasonal wardrobe change. This typically happens once a year, usually in the fall, and can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the bird.

Why Do Chickens Molt?

Feathers, like our hair, wear out over time. They can become damaged and less effective at providing insulation and protection. Molting allows chickens to replace these old feathers with fresh ones, ensuring they remain healthy and well-insulated against the cold.

Stages of Molting

Molting usually follows a predictable pattern. It starts at the head and neck and progresses down the body, ending with the tail feathers. During this time, your chickens might look a bit ragged, and you’ll notice more feathers scattered around the coop and yard.

The Impact of Molting on Egg Laying

One of the most noticeable impacts of molting is a reduction in egg production. Some hens might stop laying altogether during this period. This is because growing new feathers requires a lot of protein and energy, resources that would otherwise go towards egg production.

Why Egg Production Drops

Feather growth is a significant physiological process, and chickens prioritize it over laying eggs. Feathers are made mostly of protein, and since hens only have so much protein to go around, they divert it from egg production to feather growth. It’s nature’s way of ensuring they are well-prepared for the colder months ahead.

When Will Egg Laying Resume?

Once the molt is complete and your chickens have their new feathers, they will gradually return to their normal egg-laying schedule. However, the timing can vary. Some hens bounce back quickly, while others take their time. Patience is key during this period.

Supporting Your Chickens Through Molting

While molting is a natural process, there are several ways you can help your flock through it, ensuring they stay healthy and comfortable.

Boost Their Diet

Since molting requires a lot of protein, it’s crucial to adjust their diet to support this need. Here are some tips:

  • High-Protein Feed: Switch to a feed that has a higher protein content than your usual layer feed. Feeds formulated for game birds or flock raisers often have more protein and can be helpful during this time.
  • Protein-Rich Treats: Offer treats like mealworms, scrambled eggs, or sunflower seeds. These are high in protein and can help provide the extra nutrients needed for feather growth.
  • Supplements: Consider adding a protein supplement to their feed. Options like fish meal or soybeans can be beneficial.

Maintain a Comfortable Environment

Molting can be stressful for chickens, so keeping their environment calm and safe is essential.

  • Warmth: As chickens lose feathers, they may become more sensitive to cold. Ensure their coop is well-insulated and draft-free. Adding some extra bedding can help keep them warm.
  • Protection: Keep an eye out for bullying. Molting chickens are sometimes pecked at by their flockmates, especially if they have bald spots. Providing extra space and distractions, like hanging treats or adding new perches, can reduce this behavior.

Minimize Stress

Molting is a vulnerable time for chickens, and reducing additional stressors is vital. Avoid making significant changes to their environment, such as introducing new chickens or moving the flock. Keeping a consistent routine will help your birds feel secure.

Recognizing and Managing Molting Problems

While molting is usually straightforward, there are a few potential issues to watch for.

Prolonged Molting

If a chicken seems to be molting for an extended period (longer than 16 weeks), it might be a sign of a problem. Poor nutrition, illness, or stress could be factors. Evaluate their diet and living conditions, and consult a vet if the issue persists.

Feather Pecking and Bullying

During molting, some hens may be pecked at more aggressively. This can be due to their more vulnerable state or the exposed skin and pinfeathers that attract attention. Keep an eye out for signs of bullying and separate overly aggressive birds if necessary. Providing enough space and distractions can help minimize this behavior.

Feather Eating

Occasionally, chickens might start eating their own or others' feathers. This behavior usually indicates a protein deficiency or boredom. Ensure they are getting enough protein in their diet and consider adding foraging activities or toys to keep them occupied.

Post-Molt Recovery and Egg Production

Once your chickens have completed their molt, they will start to look beautiful again with their shiny new feathers. This is also when you can expect egg production to pick up.

Gradual Return to Normal Diet

After the molt, you can gradually switch back to their regular layer feed. Continue to offer protein-rich treats until you’re sure they’ve fully recovered.

Monitor Egg Production

Your hens will begin laying eggs again once their bodies have replenished and they’ve adjusted to their new feathers. The quality and size of eggs might even improve compared to pre-molt, as the hens are rejuvenated. Keep an eye on their laying habits and provide continued support as they get back into their rhythm.


Molting is a natural and essential process for your chickens, even though it can be a bit of a hassle for you as a backyard chicken keeper. By understanding what molting is and how to support your hens through it, you can ensure they come out the other side healthy and ready to lay eggs again. Boost their protein intake, maintain a stress-free environment, and be patient as they go through this critical phase. With proper care, your flock will soon be back to their regular egg-laying selves, and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of fresh eggs once more.



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