Chicken Molting: Why, When, Symptoms, Care Tips, Diet

Do you want to know all about chicken molting? Every poultry farmer is concerned when their flocks are in the molting process.

So, should you worry about it? This definitive guide on chicken molting comprises the various causes of the molt, symptoms, how to prevent, treatment and FAQs.

Whether the chicken molting is a mite infestation or seasonal, we need to find the root cause and treat it as soon as possible. Let’s start the guide to understand more about it.

Also read: How to keep chicken warm in winter?

What is Chicken Molting?

Molting is the process by which chickens shed old feathers and grow new ones. Chickens usually molt once a year, but in some cases, they can occur more often if the chicken is stressed or ill. 

Chicken molting is a three-stage process that starts with a rest period, then they lose their feathers and then grow new ones after resting again.

The chicken molting time varies from one chicken to another and from breed to breed. It could last from three weeks to five months, depending on many factors, such as the environment, diet, stress, etc.

Even though molting may seem like your chicken’s season has changed, remember that chickens lay eggs all year round, just not always at the exact times.

Also read: List of best egg-laying chickens

Common Causes of Chicken Molting

Chicken molting on back side and body feathers
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1) Hormonal Fluctuations and Abnormalities

Some chickens may molt at younger ages than others because of abnormalities and imbalance in hormone levels. Like tumors in the pituitary gland or ovaries are common reasons.

2) Diet

If you feed your chickens low-quality food that doesn’t have enough nutrients, they’ll molt. If you constantly feed your chickens with low-quality food with a lack of nutrients, it will molt and die.

Provide them with high-quality chicken feed or any other balanced layers or breeding feed which contains a high level of protein and amino acids.

Additionally, there are commercial diets available for molting purposes, but it is best to consult your vet about what is the best suitable for your case.

Also read: All about chicken scratch feed

3) Illness

Most of the chickens also molt when they are sick or stressed. The droopy appearance and loss of appetite are signs of illness in chickens. In this case, you should consult a veterinarian to rule out any possible diseases.

4) Starvation

If you don’t feed your chickens regularly, they will molt due to starvation. It is important to provide your chickens with the correct amount of feed.

Feeding chickens with less feed can cause health issues like weakness, molting, and low egg production. Giving flocks a high amount of food can lead to obesity and other leg problems.

5) Temperature fluctuations

If your flock is exposed to temperature fluctuations, it causes stress and Molting; this is especially evident if you move the chicken from a warm climate to a cold one or vice versa or extreme weather changes in general. 

Chickens need their bodies to be around 105-107 degrees Fahrenheit and should always be kept dry and out of rain or snow. You can use heat lamps during cold days or place heat pads under their coop if needed.

6) Genetics

There are breeds such as Orpingtons and Brahmas, which are known to tend to go into molt. They start molting at young ages and usually lose once a year. 

In this case, genetics play a significant role as there’s not much you can do about it as they will always go into molt under some conditions.

7) Lack of Protein

In general, if your chickens don’t get enough protein, they may go into molt early due to their bodies telling them there is a lack of proteins and therefore needs replacing. 

Chickens require a lot of protein, but they should come from high-quality sources such as seeds, legumes, or insects since these contain even more amino acids than meats.

8) Parasites

Parasites are another reason for molting, especially if you have chickens with weak immune systems or diets. 

Chickens with a robust immune system may live with parasites without getting sick, but you can see this in older chickens about to go into molt. You must treat chicken wormer medicines as soon as possible before it becomes fatal.

Read more: About chicken dewormers

Symptoms of Chicken Molting?

symptoms of molting chickens
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The symptoms of molting chicken are the following:

1. Thin Appearance Due to Lack of Feathers

When the Molting starts, put your chickens into a larger coop as they will be less mobile and prone to injuries.

You can also provide them with more food as they will need energy stores since their metabolism speed drops.

2. Droopy Appearance

When your chickens start molting, their feathers become weak, and they look droopy. This is expected, especially if the molt started due to illness or stress. 

You can see them on older hens. Drooping wings and tails are visible signs of weakness and sickness, which must be addressed by either moving them into a warmer environment or calling a vet. 

If you don’t treat chickens, their conditions may worsen and eventually die from related complications such as infections.

3. Lack of Feathers

Your chickens will lose their feathers exceptionally quickly, especially if they are molting for other reasons than genetics. At first, you should start noticing it on the wings and tail because these contain the most visible body parts.

Then, slowly but surely, your chickens will get completely naked or look like puffballs if the molt is severe.

4. All-Over Color Change

If your chicken molts regularly, even if it’s only once a year, you should notice their colors changing entirely since different breeds go into molts at different times. 

Some get primarily white, while others may get lighter brown or almost grayish in appearance. If their colors keep changing, make sure to consult with your vet as it may be a sign of illness or other complications.

5. Weakness

The chickens that go into the molt will feel tired and less active than usual. Their bodies are trying to shut down all systems except for those needed for essential life support such as breathing and circulation. 

The molting period can last from one month up to six, depending on the breed and why they started molting in the first place. 

Some hens may also stop laying eggs during their molting, but others don’t, which means you won’t notice any changes whatsoever until the feathers start falling out and they begin regrowing them again.

When Do Chickens Molt?

Chickens usually molt in the late summer or early fall; this is the most common time to see chickens molting as they go into their natural resting period, which can last up to six months for some breeds. 

Chickens that you breed for meat will molt more often than those that lay eggs, but genetics also play a significant role when your chicken decides it’s time to start molting.

How Often and Long Do Chickens Molt?

It depends on the breed and why they are molting. Some may go into molt a few times a year while others only once every three years. 

When chickens start molting at young ages, it’s usually due to stress or lack of minerals in their diet for less than one year. Genetic hens will only lose once when they reach two years old, but this can be extended if they become ill or stressed for other reasons.

The molting process can last from a few weeks to six months; some hens will start laying eggs again before molting is complete, while others may stop altogether. 

In this case, it’s best to provide your chickens with an enriched diet including more minerals and protein for them to regrow their feathers faster and feel better when going into molt.

Can You Avoid Molting Chickens?

A chicken molting on top of the body
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Molting is inevitable. Even if you are doing everything right, your hens will still go through the molting process every year. 

It is natural for birds to molt once a year when they shed off their feathers periodically to maintain good body health. 

Your chicken will look less healthy with lots of loose feathers hanging around during molting season but don’t worry. As long as you provide them with good nutrition, they will grow new feathers back in no time.

5 Tips to Take Care of Molting Chickens (Summer, Spring, and Winter)

Here are some easy steps for caring your backyard boys and girls during molting process-

1. Provide Plenty of Light and Fresh Air for Your Hens

Lack of fresh air or darkness will cause the molting process to last longer because the absence of light deprives your chicken of producing hormones triggered by sunlight responsible for the proper molting cycle.

Be sure to allow enough sources of natural lighting with at least 8 hours of daylight from a window.

2. Reduce Stress for Your Chickens

To avoid stress, decrease the number of chickens in a poultry coop and provide enough space for each chicken to stretch their wings. 

Also, make sure there are no predators around your chickens, such as hawks and foxes, during the molting period because they can harm your chickens with ease due to poor feather condition.

Use a best electric fencing around your chicken coop for keeping your flock safe from outside predators.

3. Adequate and Balanced Feed

Provide your chickens with a balanced and nutritional feed during the molting period. You can feed them with layer pellet or mash, which are specially designed to meet the requirements of molting chickens. 

Don’t overfeed your chicken so that it will not get obese during the molting process.

4. Give Your Chickens Vitamin Supplements

Since the molting process takes lots of energy, vitamins such as Vitamin A, D3, E, and B will be helpful to reduce the risk of any disease that can harm your chicken’s health down the road when they are still weak to lack or absence of feathers.

Also read: Best vitamins and mineral supplements for chickens

5. Provide Cozy Environment for Your Chickens

Chickens need a warm place to sleep while going through the molting process because their body will generate lots of heat during this time to help new feathers grow faster. 

Also, provide your chickens with enough space to snuggle together under the bedding materials such as straws and dried leaves to prevent them from catching a cold, significantly if you are raising them in a colder climate.

Chicken Molting Diet: What to Feed Molting Chickens?

The molting process is very stressful for chickens because their bodies go through a regeneration phase where they need certain nutrients to help them grow intense rather than weak.

Providing your chickens with nutritional pellets, vegetables and grains will help improve their health while waiting for the molt period to pass.

It’s best to consult with your vet about what type of food they should receive during this process but avoiding corn, wheat or cereals is recommended since it can cause discomfort.

Creating an enclosed space in your coop where your chickens can roll over in dust will help them to improve their feather quality. 

This is because it provides them with a good source of minerals and removes any crusty patches which may have appeared under their feathers due to skin damage. 

Stop using this method once the molting process is over since these baths are drying for the skin and might cause constipation if used excessively.

Chicken Molting or Sick: How to Identify?

A weak chicken with molting (falling feathers) and droopy look
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A hens molting is not something to worry about if you manage it adequately. However, if you notice irregularities in your hen’s behavior or the feathers are falling out quickly, it might be necessary to contact the vet since she might be sick.

Immediately isolate any chickens that are behaving strangely and check them for signs of mites or lice infestation.

Molting occurs once a year for chickens; however, if molting is happening twice or more, you need to consider that there might be some other cause like stress, nutrition problems, or disease. 

Please consult your vet for further recommendations on how to take care of your chicken during this delicate period without disrupting her molting process.

Chicken Molting or its Mites Infestation?

Chicken molting can be caused by multiple factors, including stress, diet change, illness, and ageing. 

If those symptoms last longer than usual, then there is a possibility that they’re suffering from parasites such as scaly leg mite, red lice or poultry louse, which need immediate treatment. In case of doubt, always contact a vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Mite infection is difficult for chickens since it’s usually resistant to standard drugs. Checking them regularly is recommended to prevent further damage and prepare for an eventual mites’ infestation, which can lead to death if left untreated.

Conclusion

Molting is a natural process for chickens where they lose their feathers to get new ones. 

Don’t panic if your chickens are molting because it only occurs once a year, and the process itself doesn’t take more than five months. 

However, if you notice signs of illness or irregularities, then contact your vet immediately. I hope you liked this informative guide on chicken molting.

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I am Bijaya Kumar and I have been raising chickens for the last 10 years. Backyard poultry farming has been our family business for the last 30 years. We raise multiple chicken breeds in their backyard.

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