Fall Molting: All of Your Questions Answered

Fall Molting

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As the weather starts to get cooler, leaves start to fall, and so do the feathers from your chickens. Fall molting has begun in your flock.

The first time I saw my chickens during fall molting, I was sure something was happening. Were my chickens sick? Did something attack them? Did I miss a chicken brawl when they all got down and dirty fighting?

No! I sent pictures to my friends who were fellow backyard chicken keepers, and they told me that my chickens were molting.

Great. I knew my chickens weren’t going to die, but what in the world was molting? I set off to research, and here is what I learned.

What is Fall Molting?

Fall Molting
Image Credit: Thomas Kriese Flickr

Molting takes place when the days get shorter and temperatures get cooler. That combination triggers an automatic response in chickens, so they start to shed their old feathers while growing new, shiny feathers.

As chickens get older, their plumage, which is their collection of feathers on their body become dull, broke, and shabby. During the day to day tasks, it’s a bit hard to notice, but you would notice the dullness if you put your chickens next to a freshly molted chicken.

The first adult molt occurs at around 18 months of age, and then it will take place annually after that, usually in the late summer or fall.

Why Do Chickens Molt?

Winter is on the way, and feathers that are broke or worn out are unable to insulate birds from the wind, rain, and snow. The purpose of molting is to get rid of those broken, old feathers, leaving behind shiny, tight feathers.

Chickens need to have a tight bunch of feathers to protect themselves from the cold temperatures of winter. Think of feathers as a snugly fitted coat that’s for the winter ahead.

Both roosters and hens go through molting. It’s a normal process, and your chickens should act normal. If they seem sick, then something else is wrong aside from molting.

While the time of year is the usual trigger for molting, a few other issues can cause it, such as:

  • Excessive Heat
  • Overcrowding
  • Predators
  • Poor Nutrition
  • Using Supplemental Light in the Winter

What Happens During Fall Molting?

Fall Molting
Image Credit: Nikol Lohr Flickr

Molting means more than just looking like a crazy chicken. Now isn’t the time to take adorable pictures of your chickens or show them off to friends. A few of my chickens look like the chicken-stein.

Chickens lose feathers in a sequence that starts with their head and neck then moves down their back, across the breast and thighs, ending with the tail feathers. New feathers are called pinfeathers and they regrow in the same sequence they were lost.

During fall molting, your chickens will typically stop laying eggs – bummer! They stop laying eggs for a reason though, just like how they stop laying when they are broody.

Chickens need to use this time to build up their nutrient reserves. Even though your chickens are currently failing to give you eggs, you must provide them with a high-quality diet.

How Long Does Fall Molting Take?

Fall Molting

All of your chickens are different, and they’ll go through molting differently. Some only lose a few feathers, and they grow back within 3-4 weeks. Others lose a lot of their feathers, and it can take up to 16 weeks for those to grow back.

Good layers molt quickly with an average of taking 3 months from start to finish. Poor layers can take up to 6 months to complete the entire molting process.

How to Help Your Chickens During Fall Molting

Molting is a natural process that is good for your chickens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help the process. Here are a few things that you can try.

1. Try NatureWise Feather Fixer

Some chicken owners swear by using Feather Fixer during molting because it’s designed to help your chickens get through the process faster. It has a high level of protein as well as vitamins and minerals.

I’ve found success with Feather Fixer, so I do suggest it as an option.

2. Feed Your Chickens Plenty of Proteins

You want your chickens to have plenty of protein at this point. Add some protein supplements or foods that are high in protein at this time, along with your layer feed, if you don’t use a feed made for molting.

Try not to be excess with snacks. Ideally, look for a feed that has a higher level of protein. You don’t want to give too many snacks.

Feathers are made of 80-90% protein, 8% water, and 1% water-insoluble fats. A few good protein sources include:

  • mealworms
  • sunflower seeds
  • meat scraps
  • scrambled eggs
  • fish scraps
  • herbs

3. Limit Stress

Now is a good time to reduce stress as much as possible. Don’t bring new birds into your flock, if it’s possible to avoid.

4. Avoid Handling Your Flock

Handling your flock can be an added stressor if they aren’t used to it. However, it’s said to be painful for them during molting as well.

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