Molting chicken, why is my hen losing feathers?

Chicken molting

Days are getting shorter, summer gives way to fall… and our hens inevitably start their annual molt. This natural process in poultry often worries owners who notice a drop in egg production and see their hens looking worn out.

So why do our feathered friends lose their feathers, and how can you help them through this period successfully?

Why do hens molt?

For our hens, feathers serve as both a protective and decorative coat.

  • They shield from cold, moisture, and heat.
  • They guard against impacts.
  • They play a role in mating displays.
  • They assist in movement and short flights.

Chicken losing feathersThis coat is constantly in heavy use, so it wears out and needs replacement. Starting at 18 months, after their first eggs, hens molt at the end of summer to get ready for winter challenges. Autumn is when they regain their splendor.

Feathers begin to shed from the head, then around the neck, and finally down the rest of the body and tail. Molting lasts between one and two months. Some hens molt twice a year, a rare occurrence. Remember, if your hens molt quickly and during the right season, they’re likely excellent layers.

Molting’s impact on egg-laying

Molting is a demanding time for hens. It draws heavily on their reserves. They pour all their energy into this physiological shift.

  • Impact of molting on egg-layingThere’s little to no egg laying for several weeks. After each molt, hens lay 10% to 30% fewer eggs, which means that by their 6th year, they’re no longer laying at all.
  • Reproductive systems are in full rest mode (roosters become infertile).
  • Activity drops and weight loss is noticeable.

Supporting our hens through molt

High protein food is crucial for molting hens, given that their entire set of feathers consists of protein.

Great extra treats for your hens:

  • Feeds that help moltingsprouted seeds;
  • sunflower seeds;
  • scrambled eggs;
  • meat;
  • fish;
  • mealworms;
  • rice and semolina.

You can spruce up your hens’ outdoor area with compost heaps for them to scatter. They’ll uncover a host of insects to feast on, a real protein buffet.

Feather loss outside of molting season

If your hens are shedding feathers outside the molting season, it hints at a health issue.

  • Parasites are a possibility.
  • Mite infestations;
  • Nutritional deficiencies;
  • Stress factors like insufficient light, poor soil, cramped space, or simple boredom;
  • Pecking or hen scuffles.

In such cases, get in touch with the breeder or consult a vet for a solution that answers the problem.

Smart tip

If you’ve got basil, dill, or tarragon growing in your garden, sprinkle some on your hen’s feed. These aromatic herbs pack a vitamin punch and are excellent for helping them molt smoothly.

Images: Pixabay: Cornelia Gerhardt, Nicky, Pexels; shutterstock: Carrie Epley

Written by Lydie Dronet | With over 20 years in the field of animal care, Lydie shares her paws-on expertise and experience. Other topics she loves delving into are nutrition and the medicinal uses of plants.