Suddenly everywhere you look feathers are abundant in the coop. My kids often tell me it looks as though a chicken has exploded!
Chickens over one year of age typically molt each fall. This is the time when they replace all their feathers on their body just in time for the cooler months ahead. Molting starts at the head, then moves down the neck, chest, wings, back, and finally the tail. You might notice that some birds molt more heavily than others. This is completely normal. Molting doesn’t only happen in the fall, it can happen anytime chickens are stressed too. As your flock molts, you might notice that they have stopped laying as many eggs or stopped laying eggs entirely. This too is normal, as feathers and eggs are comprised mostly of protein. Did you know it can take up to 9 weeks to make a feather? Instead of laying eggs, their bodies focus on making new feathers. Luckily, there are a few ways to help your flock through a molt. Here are some helpful tips to get you through their molting period:
1. Ensure that they are on a chicken feed at least 16% protein.
2. Cut down on treating your flock to too many non-protein rich snacks such as scratch, garden veggies, and fruits.
3. Treat them instead to mealworms and sunflower seeds during their molts to help supplement their protein.
4. As new pin feathers emerge they can be painful when touched, so avoided over handling your chickens.
5. Pin feathers will unfurl to reveal new beautiful feathers once the chicken removes the pin feather’s sheath with her beak.
6. Vitamins and electrolytes added to their drinking water a couple times a week can help during this period.
7. Keep the coop neat and tidy and try to scoop up the excess of feathers to prevent some flock members from developing a “taste” for feathers.
8. If they are experiencing a stress molt, investigate reasons why. (such as predators, new flock mates, overcrowding, and illnesses)
About the author: Melissa Caughey is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, gardener, and cook who pens the award winning blog, Tilly’s Nest. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her family of four and her Miniature Schnauzer. She regularly writes for HGTV Gardens, Community Chickens, Grit magazine, and contributes to Country Living Magazine. Her blog was recently named one of Better Homes and Gardens Top 10 Gardening Blogs. Melissa’s first book, A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, is due to hit shelves this March.