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Chicken Molting and Chicken Feather Loss

Chicken Molting and Chicken Feather Loss

When chicken molting takes place, and health risks of molting New chicken raisers are often given the shock of their lives when they see their chickens gone bald or balding one day.

A chicken with her plumage missing parts here and there and generally looking ratty does not make for a very welcome sight. So before you panic and start assuming that your ragged looking hen has been invaded with pests, you have to understand the chicken molting process, that this is a normal process that all chickens will go through every year, and the impacts on chicken health.

Chicken molting is the process of replacing old, worn out feathers with new ones. All chickens will start molting when they are about 6 months old during the first year of their life although this is more of a gradual process and not the heavy molting experienced at later times in your chicken’s life. Chickens molt late in summer or early in the autumn. However, you have to understand that different breeds of chickens molt at different times. They also vary in terms of how long their molt will last and  chicken molting can last from 2 to 4 months.

For example, the more prolific laying hens begin to change their feathers early and molt quite slowly. Lighter colored chickens also tend to molt faster compared to darker colored chickens. Those with sturdier and longer feathers molt much later in the year.

Pure breeds also molt longer than hybrids. The chicken molting process begins when the old feathers get shed and pin feathers grow in their place. After the feathers have grown to become full feathers, other feathers get shed. The head and neck feathers are the first to go, followed by the plumage in the body (both the breast and abdomen) and then the wings. The tail feathers are the last to go. Laying hens often keep laying eggs even when the molting has begun although they stop when the molt has reached the wing feathers.

After the chicken molting process  is completed, the new feathers are visibly fuller, softer and brighter compared to the old ones which were frayed and tattered. Aside from the natural molt that chickens go through every year, remember that they will also shed off feathers when subjected to stress. This can occur any time when they are sick, given poor nutrition, subjected to temperature extremes or are poorly managed.

Always remember that “chickens at molt are considered sick chickens” and thus, they should be given the best care at this time. If you fed them well when they were not molting, you should even be more generous with them when they are changing feathers. In addition to your regular feedings, you may also add electrolytes in their water. You should also give them vitamins and minerals since this is a very stressful time for your chickens. Dried cat food is a rich source of protein so you may also give it a try.

Finally, it would be healthier for birds at molt to be given access to grass and greens. Do not handle them or pet them at this time since even the most docile chicken can get aggressive due to the pain caused by chicken molting. Molting is a non breeding time as well. When your chickens are molting, they are more susceptible to weather extremes, nutrient deficiency, and disease. Ensure propper care during this time to maintain good chicken health.

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