Why does it look like some of my chickens don’t molt at all, while others are nearly bald during molting season?
Don’t fret — while it may appear that only a few from your flock are molting in the fall, they all go through normal, healthy cycles that take anywhere from as little as two months to as long as five months. (For a more thorough look into the stages of seasonal feather loss and feather growth, check out this post.)
The factor that determines the length of time for old feathers to shed and new feathers to grow is the particular breed of chicken. Your most productive layers will molt the fastest; they go through hard molts, whereby clutches of feathers seemingly drop overnight. It’s sometimes hard to believe that big old pile of feathers came from only one chicken! (And even harder to believe that the average adult chicken has around 8,000 feathers… that’s a lot of energy going into regrowing her coat.)
Hard molters can resemble porcupines (hilariously so!) and while their appearance is a little unsightly at this stage, they usually have fluffy new coats within weeks of their first feather drop. (And that’s a good thing, as the feathers help with insulation and weatherproofing over winter.) They generally resume egg production after finishing their molts, which explains why certain chickens continue laying through the dark days of winter.
Your poorest layers, on the other hand, will molt the slowest. They typically go through soft molts, shedding only a few feathers here and there. You may not even notice they’ve begun to molt, but you’ll definitely notice they’ve ceased their egg laying. Their molts may spread out over five or more months, meaning they usually won’t lay again until spring. There’s nothing you can do to speed the process, but even these soft molters benefit from a little extra protein during their long cycles.
It’s often said that molts progress in a predictable pattern from top to tail. A lot of times this is true, but it isn’t always the case. Don’t be alarmed if you notice your chicken losing her tail feathers first, or if she appears to be dropping feathers in a haphazard fashion all over her body. Every chicken experiences a molt differently, even from year to year.
With my own flock, my Barred Rock, Kimora, is a prolific layer. She gives us five, sometimes six eggs a week in peak season, and she’s a fast and furious molter in the fall. By week seven, all her new feathers are fully grown in and she’ll gift us with a couple of eggs each week over winter.
My Golden Laced Cochin, Iman, likes to take her sweet time. She started molting over three months ago and I’ll still find a few feathers in the coop — feathers, but not eggs. In the summer, she lays around three eggs a week, and we cherish every one of them!
But this girl… what she lacks in egg productivity, she makes up for in lookin’ good year-round.