Why some chickens molt faster than others
Backyard Chickens, Health

Why Some Chickens Molt Faster Than Others

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.

Chicken going through an annual molt

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.

Hard molt on a Barred Rock hen

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.

Molting hen

New pin feathers

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!

Golden Laced Cochin hen during a soft molt

Cochin going through a soft molt

But this girl… what she lacks in egg productivity, she makes up for in lookin’ good year-round.

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  • We clipped our Golden Comets’ wings about three years ago and they are still clipped. We haven’t observed any molting in GC’s, Leghorns, Australorps, or NH/RI Reds. It’s very strange. My chicks are full-time free-rangers in the woods and pastures (except for night time in the coop). Any thoughts on why they don’t molt? May be their molting is just occasional loosing and regrowing a feather here and there?

    My chickens lay pretty much on a daily schedule all winter long. It gets pretty cold here in KY in February and March. But then, they stop laying for a month-and-a-half in the middle of the summer heat. The amount of light doesn’t seem to effect their laying abilities. I started using scheduled lighting in their coop this year, but it doesn’t seem necessary. Light is mostly for the convenience of climbing on their roost at night.

    Kimberly

    • All chickens go through annual molts as part of their natural cycles, but perhaps yours just aren’t that noticeable (soft molts). They also don’t molt all at the same time; some start in summer while others wait until winter. If you’re adding artificial light in winter, this can throw off their circadian rhythms so they may not molt with the reduced daylight (instead waiting until it’s very cold, which can sometimes be problematic if you have very harsh winters). Eventually, their bodies will tell them to drop their feathers at some point in the year, whether all at once or bit by bit.

  • yawningreyhound

    Congrats on your Sprout!!!!!!

    I thought I was going to avoid the molt this year as I have two Feb-born girls, and two 3-year olds who apparently weren’t going to molt this year, going thru a huge molt last year! Ha. Now that we’re in the teens temperatures, they’ve started to drop feathers like crazy, all four of them.
    And one of the older ones (a GLW, too, but no feathery feet) has even gotten a little pale and lost a little weight. She gets about 3 more days to pink up again or we’re heading into the avian vet (that $64 visit sure screws with egg prices, eh?).
    I actually had to turn on the heat lamp in the run for them it got so cold here in CO last week. They quite liked it, choosing to roost in the run rather than their normally cozy but not heated sleeping coop. Then I turn off the light due to warmer temps and what do i find last night? They’re STILL roosting in the run. Tonight I’m moving them in to the coop to reestablish that habit!

    • Thank you!

      As for your hens, it’s normal for their combs and wattles to pale during molting, and if you notice they’re not eating as much, it’s likely a sign to give them an extra boost of protein in their feed. I give mine scrambled eggs and other high-protein snacks to help with new feather growth.

      • yawningreyhound

        oh gosh they love scrambled eggs! I’ve been giving them that just to give them something warm on these frigid mornings. Also, I found a feed called Feather Fixer by Nutrena, I believe, that’s 16% protein. And they LOVE it! Plus their mealworms/soldier fly larva/boss. It’s amazing they’re laying ANY eggs (i get one a day maybe) with all the protein/fat treats I’m giving them! But it’s about staying warm and growing feathers, not laying eggs right now! Oh, to be in Hawaii with chickens.

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