If you’ve been wondering when do chickens molt, then you should know you’ll see molting chickens throughout the year, but generally a full molt takes place in late summer or fall. During this time, you should be increasing their protein and calcium intake, to help them through the stresses and due to the loss of those important nutrients. Molting may also occur during high times of stress such as predator attack or weather-related events. As a backyard chicken owner, it’s important to learn how to protect chickens from hawks, foxes, raccoons, owls and other hungry predators.
You can increase the nutrients with simple measures. Add Chia seed to a quality layer ration. It is a fully balanced protein and high in many nutrients. Nut meat and peanut butter are high in protein, and chickens love them. With fall just around the corner, most nuts and acorns will be dropping to the ground; simply crush them and toss to the molting chickens. Boiling or scrambling eggs will give back some of the proteins and calcium lost and help to maintain good body weight. Probiotics in the form of yogurt added to the feed, or sprouts will help to keep a healthy internal balance. Molasses is high in nutrients, and there are feed formulas with molasses. This is called “Sweet Cob,” but you can add molasses to the feed you are using. Just mix it in well. Adding Calf Manna is also beneficial to increase calcium and proper nutrients. The amounts vary according to the amount of ration you are feeding. But it does not require more than a tablespoon to an average ration. We offer ways of increasing the proteins and calcium, and some chickens may prefer one or another. We are not suggesting that you use all of the options at once. Use what you have among the list of possibilities, in moderate proportions.
It is very important to maintain good health in your molting chickens. The stress can cause weight loss and overall ill feeling, though they are not technically sick, they are not at their best. It is especially important to monitor if there are drastic weather changes, which can lead to illness while the molting chickens are less than their vibrant selves, and immunity levels may be low. Expect fertility to also be low during a molt, which is important to note, if you intend to hatch any eggs that may be laid during this time.
If there is a sign of illness, in the form of sneezing, wheezing, head-shaking or mucus around the eyes or beak, then you need to act promptly with treatment to prevent any illness from taking hold. If you notice signs in one, you must treat all. Illness and disease can and will run rampant through a flock, and as with your own family, those contagions affect each member of the family, even if they are several days apart. Most illness and disease manifests in seven to 14 days, so expect each of the chickens to contract those illnesses one after another.
Always provide plenty of clean water at all times for chickens, and while under stress, electrolytes are beneficial. Providing electrolytes once or twice during molt helps to keep their body chemistry in balance, helping to ward off illnesses that can take hold. We have provided an electrolyte recipe that you can use or can purchase in the baby section of your local grocery store.
You can expect the molting chickens to reduce or discontinue laying. It takes energy, calcium and protein to produce an egg, but they lose those important nutrients through the feather loss, and that needs to be replaced. Some may continue to lay, but most discontinue until they have gone through the molt.
How long does molting last? Molting can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months. There is no set time frame for molting, and no breed standard for molting. You may have the same breed molting in different ways and different time. Molting occurs in the first full year of a chicken’s life. The chicken is not fully mature until it has gone through it’s first molt. You might note, that this is not just a process in a pullets life, but it is also a process in a cockerel’s life, though the males generally do not molt as fully as the females. We have noticed here at Just Fowling Around, that if young pullets are housed near adult birds, that they will molt, even though technically they are not reaching maturity. This may be due to the hormone activity during this particular event. We have no scientific information to back up our own assessment, but this has been a trend that we have come to observe.
The process of molt, offers an opportunity to check for parasites and treat accordingly, so the birds are not going into winter as parasitic hosts. This is also a time when feather picking may become an issue. If you notice birds pecking at each other, treat with Blue Kote to alter the appearance of broken skin. If you notice during this time especially aggressive pecking, this would be a good time to cull out those aggressive birds.
Molting should be complete before winter sets in; however, it is not uncommon for some birds to go into winter without being fully feathered. In this case, you should protect your birds from the winter chill, and especially from winter winds. We use bamboo shades, winter and summer. In summer to provide shade, and in winter as a wind block. Just as with humans, the winter wind chill is hard on the birds. The bamboo shades are easy to install and come in a variety of lengths and widths. We just use zip ties to securely attach to the fence wire. The shade can be rolled up and easily stored when not in use.
With a proper diet, added proteins and calcium, plenty of fresh water and proper monitoring, the molting chickens should come through the process with little or no worries.