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It was like they had a pillow fight in the hen house! Poppy started molting overnight. Molting, moulting, sloughing, shedding, or ecdysis is the manner in which animals routinely cast off a part of their body. A chicken’s feathers protect her skin from injury and sunburn, conserve her body heat, and provide some waterproofing. Feathers wear out and are replaced every year. Late summer and early fall is the time of the year when chickens renew their plumage. Shorter day lengths trigger an automatic response in them to molt in preparation for the cold weather. Not all flock members will start molting at the same time. It usually happens some time between August and December in the northern hemisphere. Also young hens will not molt for their first year, but will during the following fall. Molting is perfectly normal and is no indication of a disease. However if a chicken molts out of season, looks sick, and behaves differently than usual, something else may be happening. Check for parasites and bring her to the vet if needed.

The molt progresses in a distinct pattern. It starts at the head and neck, proceeds to the breast, body, and wings, and finally ends at the tail. It usually takes 3 to 4 months for a chicken to go through the whole process. However some may shed all their feathers at the same time looking almost naked, and take as little as 2 months to regrow them all. This is called a hard molt in comparison to a soft molt that may take as long as 6 months. I noticed that my older hens take their time changing their plumage. They start early summer, lose a couple feathers at a time, and don’t show much bare skin. They have their new set of feathers by early winter. Six to eight percent of a chicken’s weight is feathers, and feathers are 85% protein. They require so much energy to grow that chickens lose weight while molting. A hen typically stops laying eggs during that period as the nutrients needed to produce eggs go into producing feathers. This actually gives a break to her reproductive system and helps rejuvenating it. Feather growth is quite fascinating to watch. At first, pin feathers break through the skin and for a short period the chicken looks like a hedgehog. These pin feathers are supplied with blood while they are growing. New feathers grow inside waxy shafts, and as they mature, the waxy coating falls off or is removed by the chicken when preening herself. The feathers unfold and finally the blood inside dries up. Since the growing feathers have a vein inside, they will bleed heavily if broken. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, remove the pin feather entirely. Apply light pressure or styptic powder at the base. And then, disinfect and put antibiotic ointment on the skin. Molting is actually quite stressful for chickens. Poppy and Ginger are getting particularly grumpy when they are going through it. Not only does it drain all their energy, but the new feathers are also very sensitive while growing. Here is what you can do to help them during this yearly molt:

  • Offer extra protein like tofu or hard-boiled eggs.

  • Don’t add to their stress by introducing new chickens to the flock or moving them to a new place.

  • And avoid handling them as much as possible to reduce their stress but also because the growing feathers are painful to the touch.


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