All About Molting
Posted by Melissa Caughey / Wed, Nov 4, 2015 @ 9:00 AM
Each and every year, chickens undergo a process called molting. Molting by definition is when a bird loses its feathers and regrows new feathers in their place. The molting process allows birds to produce new, perfect feathers. It also allows feathers that are damaged or missing to be replaced. Molting usually occurs in the Fall when cooler weather begins to arrive. In the United States, the process can begin anywhere from September to October.
All chickens molt to varying degrees. Some chickens lose all of their feathers and can appear practically bare-skinned while others show less signs of molting. Each molt is based on the individuality of the chicken and not the breed. Some chickens can also undergo a molt at any time of the year and during periods of stress. Stress can be from many reasons including perceived threats, predators, changing flock dynamics or poor health.
Molting begins with the feathers on the top of the head. These feathers fall out and the molting continues moving down the neck, to the chest, body, and finally the tail. The molting process can happen gradually or seem to happen overnight. It's not uncommon to open up the coop on a fall day to find it filled with handfuls of feathers.
A new feather takes approximately three weeks to make. This means that the entire molting process can take a few months. As new feathers begin to emerge from the skin, they are wrapped in a protective sheath. These partially developed feathers are called pin feathers. Pin feathers have a full blood supply and if damaged or pecked, they will bleed. Once the feather is fully formed, the blood supply is no longer in the feather as it recedes back to the body of the bird. As the feathers grow and the birds preen themselves, they remove the pin feather sheaths to reveal new feathers. It is important to note that handling chickens with pin feathers can be painful for them as they are very sensitive. Pin feathers can also be heavy bleeders. If a chicken develops a bleeding pin feather, it should be plucked from the skin to stop the bleeding as soon as possible.
Feathers are comprised almost completely of protein. Eggs are also comprised of protein, so it is not uncommon that molting chickens temporarily stop laying eggs until their molt is complete. Instead of focusing on laying eggs, their bodies focus on making new feathers. Sometimes it is possible for hens to continue laying eggs through the molt by increasing their protein intake. Some chicken keepers replace treats low in protein with mealworms and sunflower seeds until the molting is done. This helps to temporarily increase their dietary protein.
Supplements are available on the market today to help with the molting process and boost the flock's nutrition as well. Manna Pro® offers two supplements, Manna Pro Poultry Conditioner and Calf Manna. Both can be added to the chicken's feed to boost their protein intake and provide supportive vitamins. They’re easy and practical solutions to aid with the molting process that take mere minutes to implement into your daily routine.
The process of molting is certainly stressful on the chickens' bodies. By understanding the molting process and supporting the flock nutritionally, we can help improve their molts and get them fully-feathered for winter. We can also hope to see a surprise egg or two during the molt. Those are always a welcome addition to the nesting boxes. They are also great indicators during molts that as backyard chicken keepers we are meeting our flocks' nutritional needs.