Why are my chickens losing feathers?

As the leaves start to fall from the trees, so do the feathers from your chickens. The cold weather triggers the chickens “molt” where they shed their old feathers and gain new, glossy feathers. Worn feathers will not properly insulate the bird against the cold temperatures and wind, rain and snow that come with it. Check out some facts about the molting process below! 

 Role of feathers: 

• Too much feather loss makes it more likely that injuries will occur to the exposed flesh resulting in infections or bruising of the tissues

• In addition, excessive feather loss can result in higher energy utilization requirements to maintain body temperature

 Why do chickens molt?

• It’s a natural process 

• Replace old, worn feathers 

• Rejuvenates a hens oviduct (organ that makes eggs)

• It is nature’s way of providing laying birds a rest period prior to the stimulus for maximum reproductive performance in the spring

 Why should you care about molting?

Molting is stressful and energy intensive for chickens 

• Putting energy into feather growth, leaves little for egg production 

• This results in hens not laying at all or only very sporadically

 What happens during molting? 

• Every year, once a year, chickens will shed their feathers 

• Natural molt occurs at the end of an extended, intensive laying period 

• This occurs in the fall with shorter days and cooler temperatures

 Length of Natural Molting:

• Some chickens lose a few feathers and grow them back in as quickly as 3-4 weeks 

• Other chickens lose a lot of feathers and 12-16 weeks to grow them back 

• A good high producing flock tends to molt late and rapidly

 The molting process:

• Chickens will lose their feathers in a sequence 

– Head 

– Neck 

– Body (breast, back and abdomen) 

– Wings 

– Tail

• Pin feathers are sensitive to touch, so handle your flock with care during the molt

 What should you do during molting?

• Feed a high protein feed (at least 16%) 

• Make feed available free choice 

• Would limit scratch or not use scratch feed 

• Scratch grains are like French fries—chickens that eat too many scratch grains have less of an appetite for more nutritious feed

 Other tips for helping chickens get through molting: 

• Reduce stress as much as possible, avoiding bringing new birds into the flock 

• Chickens should act normally during their molt – if they seem sick, something else is wrong 

• Avoid handling your chickens during molt, its painful for them and increases stress 

• Keep them sheltered from the wind and rain, where they can keep themselves warm and dry whilst they’re a bit bald

Molting may be a long, tedious process for your bird, but the results will be worth it. If you are still confused, Blue Seal employees will be able to answer any questions you may have on the molting process. And don’t forget to check out our selection of high protein food for the molting process!