Backyard Chickens / Health

The Big Reason Some Chickens Molt Faster Than Others

Why some chickens molt faster than others

Why does it look like some of your chickens don’t molt at all, while others are nearly bald during molting season?

Don’t worry—while it may appear that only a few ladies from your flock are molting in summer and fall, they all go through normal, healthy cycles that take anywhere from as little as one month to as long as five months.

Read more: What Happens When a Chicken Molts (A Visual Guide)

Here’s a look at why some of your chickens seem to be speedy molters, while others go through a full molt very slowly.

Speedy molters

The main 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.)

Hard molters 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

Slow molters

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 up the process, but even these soft molters benefit from a little extra protein during their long cycles to help them stay healthy.

It’s been shown 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. And sometimes, environmental factors such as heat stress, malnutrition, or dehydration can cause molting out of season, or for longer than normal.

Hard molt on a Barred Rock hen

My experience with molting chickens

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. Cochins are not known for being super productive, but they’re always reliable. In summer, she lays around three eggs a week, and we cherish every one of them!

She usually starts molting in late summer to early fall and I only notice it after I find a few feathers in the coop—feathers, but not eggs. This continues until late winter when she finally pops out her first egg after a long hiatus.

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.

Common questions about molting

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on December 3, 2015.

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I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »