So we’re a little over one year into our chicken experiment and I can honestly say, it’s been a lot of fun! It’s not nearly as hard as I thought it would be, nor as messy. As we gain experience, we learn what to be concerned about, and what’s normal. For example, our molting chickens stopped laying eggs about 2 weeks ago. I know they are molting, because it looked like a few feather pillows exploded in our backyard and inside the coop.
Molting is the process whereby a chicken sheds its old feathers and grows new ones. They usually start in autumn, but they can really start at any time of the year. All chickens molt, to include roosters. It usually lasts between 4 to 8 weeks, and depends on the breed as well as environmental factors such as stress, access to food, and water. Molting chickens can either lose their feathers very quickly (fast molt) or so slowly that you’ll hardly notice (slow molt). Each chicken is different, and so some in the flock might have a fast molt while others are slow.
Fast molts can be a little freaky. The chicken will often have large bare fleshy spots all over its body. It looks horrible, because the chicken will have the appearance that its diseased. One of our hens had a somewhat fast molt, and so the neck and a small spot on the back-end were bare skin for weeks. Ruling out other causes, such as disease and bullying, is as simple as looking at the chicken’s skin for spots, redness, mites, ticks, bleeding, or fungus. If one of these things is happening, it will be fairly obvious to see. These things will also spread to the other hens in the flock and won’t be isolated to just one hen. Stress can trigger a fast molt, or it just may be in the chickens genes. In time the feathers will grow back, but it could take weeks or months.
A slow molt is subtle. The other five hens in our flock slowly lost their feathers and grew back new ones without us even really noticing. The only sign a molt was occurring was the number of feathers we found in the coop and outside around the yard.
Feathers are 85% protein, and a molt requires a lot of energy, so egg laying stops or slows way down as the chickens grow new feathers. There isn’t enough protein to perform both functions at the same time at fully capacity. However, once the new feathers are in, the egg laying will resume. You might notice the eggs are a bit smaller at first, but within a week or two the eggs will be normal size.
It’s not a bad idea to supplement their diet with some higher protein foods during the molting process. Some people buy cat food, however we prefer to buy the NatureWise Feather Fixer food that is fortified with about 20% protein. It’s cheaper and easier to deal with and we use it as their only food source during a molt. Don’t overfeed them protein, though.
Chickens need a break from laying eggs. However, if they aren’t getting enough protein, they may start eating their own feathers off the ground, pecking the feathers off other chickens, or they’ll get mean towards one another.