6 Ways to Help Your Molting Chickens

Molting chickens season is almost here…oh wait. I meant Fall. 😊 There’s feathers everywhere inside and outside the coop, your chickens are grumpy, and they’ve stopped laying eggs.

The annual fall molt is a hard season for chickens. Molting is painful, taxing on a chicken’s body, and a bit messy. However, there’s a lot you can do to ease the stress for your molting chickens and speed things up so your flock can get back to their happy, egg-laying selves.

What Is Molting, and How Often Does a Chicken Molt?

Chickens shed their old feathers in order to make room for new ones. This natural process is called “molting.”

Chickens go through molting once per year, typically during late summer through fall, as daylight hours decrease. However, they won’t go through their annual molt until they’re at least 16 to 18 months old.

So, if you’re raising chicks that hatched this spring, they probably won’t go through a molt this fall. But they will next year.

The reason you see molting chickens in the fall is because winter is coming, and it takes high-quality feathers to retain body heat during the colder months. So, chickens naturally lose their old feathers and regrow brand new ones to help them survive the winter.

Molting typically takes 7-8 weeks to complete. However, this can vary depending on the chicken. Some might speed through their molt and finish in 6 weeks or less, while others might take several months to complete their molt.

Chickens also have their own timeline when it comes to molting. Some chickens will molt so slowly that you can’t even really tell they’re molting, while other chickens will look truly pathetic, losing all their feathers at once.

Do Molting Chickens Lay Eggs?

It takes a lot of protein to grow new feathers. So, chickens stop laying eggs during their molt. They need to use the protein they normally would use to create eggs to, instead, regrow those healthy new feathers.

That said, good layers might continue to lay eggs during the early stage of their molt.

Roosters will also be sterile during most of their molt.

Are Molting Chickens in Pain?

Chickens are a prey animal, which means they’re pretty good at hiding pain. So to look at them, you might not think there’s anything wrong, except the fact that they look funny.

Although losing old feathers probably isn’t too painful, regrowing them is. The new feather pins are full of blood, and they’re very sensitive. That’s why many molting chickens don’t want to be picked up or messed with until all their feathers have grown back in.

How to Help a Bleeding Chicken

Sometimes, the emerging pin feathers bleed profusely if they’re damaged or broken.

If this happens, it’s essential that you remove the bird from the rest of the flock and follow these steps.

Step 1: Apply Pressure

Using a folded cloth or gauze pad, apply gentle pressure to the bleeding feather pin for several minutes. You can also apply a natural hemostatic (blood stopping) powder, such a powdered yarrow, to aid with clotting. If you don’t have powdered yarrow, cornstarch will work in a pinch.

Step 2: Clean Area

Chickens love to peck at anything red, and letting a bloody hen back into the flock is a big “no no.” She has to be cleaned up before she rejoins the group. So, once the bleeding is completely stopped, use a soft cloth, warm water, and a gentle soap to clean the blood from the chicken’s skin and feathers.

One easy way to do this is to put your chicken right into the sink or bathtub and give her a sponge bath. Some chickens really seem to enjoy a warm sponge bath, while others will flap around like you’re about to turn them into chicken and dumplings. The key here is to not wear clothes you care about.

It’s also very important to clean her gently. The feather pins are extremely sensitive, and any rough handling will cause her pain.

Step 3: Apply Antibacterial Salve or Spray

Once the wound area is completely clean, apply an antibacterial salve or spray to help prevent infection and speed healing.

I use a homemade herbal chicken wound salve that contains calendula, yarrow, echinacea root powder, comfrey, and myrrh gum powder (which you can learn how to make in my course, Chicken Health Academy!). You can also use a product like Vetricyn or Green Goo Animal First Aid.

Is My Chicken Really Molting?

Chickens lose their feathers for all sorts of reasons. So how do you know when it’s molting, and not something else? Here are some things to look for.

Yes, It’s Molt

Molting chickens have a distinct pattern of feather loss. Feathers fall out of their head and neck, and then progress down their saddle and abdomen, and finally their wings and tail.

The skin is not bare during molt. The pins, full of blood and growing new feathers, are still attached to the skin.

No, It’s NOT Molt

Chickens that are being bullied often have large bare patches of skin where the feathers have been pulled out entirely. You don’t see large, isolated bare patches during molt.

Chickens have that are missing feathers just in their breast area aren’t molting. They’ve gone broody (and if you have a rooster then you’ve got babies on the way!)

Chickens that are missing feathers around their vent aren’t molting; they likely have mites, lice, or vent gleet.

Chickens that are missing feathers on the upper curve of their wings (the saddle) are not molting, they’re being overmated by roosters.

How to Help Molting Chickens

Although this is a tough time for your flock, there are several things you can do to alleviate their pain and stress, and get them back to normal.

1. Provide Extra Protein

Chickens require a great deal of protein in order to grow new feathers. After all, according to a 2019 study in Microbial Cell Factories, those new feathers are made of 85% crude protein.

Chickens somehow know this, so you might seem them eating their fallen feathers from time to time. This is normal behavior…however, if you spot your chickens eating their own feathers it could be a sign that you need to increase their protein.

One easy way to support your molting chickens is to give them extra protein whenever they can. Some great high-protein treats for your molting chickens include:

  • Hard boiled or scrambled eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Mealworms (53% protein)
  • Animal meat (chicken, beef, pork, fish…see Tips below)
  • Sprouted grains
  • Suet cakes
  • Comfrey (up to 33% protein)
  • Cooked quinoa (24% protein)
  • Earthworms (from a bait shop or vermicompost bin)
  • Peas (23% protein)
  • Oats (up to 17% protein)
  • Cooked lentils (up to 30% protein)
  • Canned tuna
  • Spirulina (60% protein)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Alfalfa

Tip #1: It might feel weird to feed your chickens chicken or other meat. But the truth is, they love it. Chickens are omnivores, so they’ll eat any kind of meat. I’ve noticed that while my chickens will eat raw meat, they’re more excited to eat it when it’s cooked.

Tip #2: Don’t go overboard with the protein! Providing extra protein during molt is important, but make sure your chickens are eating their feed before you hand out extra treats. Your chickens should get no more than a tablespoon or two of protein-rich treats per day.

2. Reduce Stress

Your chickens need to stay as relaxed as possible during their molt.

This is not the time to introduce new chickens to the flock, renovate your coop, or transition your flock to new digs. If you have children, make sure they know that they need to leave the chickens alone and, especially, not to pick them up during this time.

Overcrowding is also a source of stress. At minimum, your chickens need 10 square feet per bird in their run, and 3 square feet per bird in the coop. You might also want to put up an extra roost bar so that the chickens can all roost at night without touching each other.

Make sure your flock has plenty of fresh water and food, since running out of either can cause stress. If your chickens are penned up during the day, keep them from getting bored by adding swings, perches, or hanging vegetables to peck at.

3. Soothe Molting Chickens with Herbs

There are several ways you can use herbs to soothe and support your chickens during molt.

First, sprinkle fresh or dried lavender, lemon balm, or chamomile in your coop and run. These herbs will help alleviate stress and promote relaxation.

You can also make an herbal tea for your chickens using these herbs! I do this for my flock and they love it.

You can give your chickens high-protein herbs such as:

  • Dill
  • Basil
  • Moringa leaves
  • Chervil
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Tarragon
  • Garlic
  • Coriander

Mix these fresh or dried herbs in with their feed, or hang up bunches of fresh herbs in the coop or run for them to peck at.

4. Monitor Roosters

Mating between chickens is uncomfortable at the best of times, and a visibly aggressive act during the worst. During molt, your hens can suffer during mating, because those feather pins are just so painful when they’re touched.

The fall molt might be a good time to separate your roosters from your hens, and spare them from the pain of an enthusiastic rooster.

5. Switch to Layer Feed

You can also help your molting chickens by switching them over to unmedicated chick starter. Chick starter is higher in protein than layer feed (20% – 22% protein versus 16% – 18% protein). Your hens won’t be laying eggs anyway, so they won’t miss the calcium. If you’re concerned they won’t have enough, put out some free choice oyster shells.

If you decide to transition your chickens to unmedicated starter feed, do it slowly. Mix in the starter feed with the layer feed over the course of a couple of weeks, offering more starter feed each day.

Making a sudden transition to a new type of feed can upset a chicken’s system and cause problems, neither of which you want during molting!

6. Add Apple Cider Vinegar to Water

Another way to help your chickens get through their molt is to add apple cider vinegar (ACV) to their water.

Apple cider vinegar offers so many benefits to chickens. And during the fall molt, it can be especially helpful because it helps a chicken’s body absorb more nutrients. It also provides probiotics that will boost their immune system.

Keep in mind that it takes an enormous amount of energy and nutrients to regrow feathers, so your chicken’s system will be maxed out during this process. Anything you can do to boost their immune system will help ensure they don’t get sick with an infection.

Last Word

It’s not easy to watch your chickens go through their annual molt. I always feel so bad for mine, because some of them look so pathetic! You can almost see their cringing, like they don’t want to be looked at in this state.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make this time easier on your flock. Giving out protein-rich treats, using herbs to boost nutrition and alleviate stress, and keeping an eye on your roosters will all help the molting process be less painful.

I’d love to hear back from you. What are you doing to help your chickens get through their annual molt?

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