If any of your chickens are molting during winter especially in this earlier than usual winter weather blast, it’s worrisome on how to care for our naked friends. Pin feathers are also an issue that should considered when looking for options to keep our featherless flock members warm. Take a look at some ideas to help you decide what is best for your molting flock members during cold weather.
Chickens, for the most part, begin serious molting at one year to 18 months of age. The molts may be severe as is the case with
my Mabel, a Plymouth Barred Rock, at the moment. Chickens may also have a light molt where less feathers are lost. Whatever the case, these chickens are more subject to getting cold and special considerations may be needed for their continued good health.
Many chicken keepers ask why is my chicken molting during winter, aren’t they supposed to molt towards the end of summer? Well, yes and no. Traditionally, chicks were bought in spring to add to the flock. As previously stated, chickens under a year old don’t usually molt heavily unless a hen has gone broody and stayed on the nest awhile, more on this later. If you acquired spring chicks last year (2013) they may not have begun molting until this summer at 18 months of age which is what you expect. However, if you got chickens in mid to late summer, their timing may be different and their molting may come later in the season. We, unfortunately, are experiencing colder weather sooner this year and this is cause for concern.
What To Do About Chickens Molting During Winter
When chickens molt during the colder part of the year it is up to their keepers to provide the appropriate living conditions to handle the molt. Many of you are already experiencing the “polar vortex” weather with extreme cold and heavy snow. You have several options you can use to keep your molting, exposed hens and roosters warm.
How you keep your bare chickens warm and where you provide the warmth is entirely up to you but here are a few ideas to help.
- Bring them in a building; your barn, your garage, your basement, your house and provide appropriate food, water and shavings or straw in a cage or crate set up while they regrow their feathers. Make sure to place an old towel or blanket over their crate at night to provide protection from drafts and help keep them warm while they sleep.
- If you live in an area that is not encased in the polar vortex, you can keep your undressed birds in there coops and runs as
long as you have wrapped the coops and runs to keep out drafty, cold winds. It is not a good idea to put heat lamps in your coops, they can cause FIRES in a blink so please DO NOT do this. Instead, provide a radiant heat lamp for your molting chickens if you cannot bring them inside. You can also throw old blankets or towels over coops but leave vents for air circulation above their heads.
- Additionally, if your roosters or hens are not totally covered in pin feathers you can put a chicken saddle on to help provide warmth when they fluff what feathers they have and sit on their feet. I did this with Mabel and needed help to put it on. The poor thing is just covered in pin feathers and it’s painful to any chicken for you to handle them when they have pin feathers growing out. They are filled with blood at that stage and until the exposed pins begin to really feather out, you should not try to pick up, pet or hold your chicken unless you have no choice. Mabel has been very cold, shivering and huddling in the coop so I decided that a saddle might help.
- Finally, provide extra protein to your adult molting chickens to help them grow back healthy feathers. Feathers are 85 percent protein1 so giving them a protein boost is a good idea. The longer the molt, the longer it will take to grow them back.
Other Molting Situations
More about molting! If you have a broody hen that has been “setting” for a while and hatched some chicks, she will probably go through a molt. You will note that while a hen is brooding, she may only get off the nest once, maybe twice a day to eat, drink and poop. This means she is not getting the normal nutrition and exercise that she normally would so her body has suffered a bit during this process. She will molt and shed old feathers.
Additionally, while your chickens begin their serious molts at an older age as mentioned above, newly hatched chicks go through downy and chick feather molts to grow their adult feathers. This is not usually severe. However,if you have ever hatched chicks, you will see that they begin to feather out and grow in real feathers while shedding their baby down. Then at about 8-12 weeks they shed some of those feathers to get their adult feathers. These molts may leave the chicks cold so providing radiant heat with a brooder warming device like an Brinsea Eco-Glow is a good idea if they were hatched in an incubator or it’s too cold to keep chicks and their mama outside. Again, please do not use a brooder lamp in your coops, they cause fire.
So keep your stark-naked, featherless, molting flock members warm by whatever means you can provide and remember that pin feathers hurt to be touched, broody hens and chicks may molt, too and keeping everyone warm is in the best interest of their health.
*This post contains affiliate links REFERENCES Damerow,G. Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens,pgs 199-202.StoreyPublishing, North Adams, MA; 2010. Damerow, G. The Chicken Health Handbook, Storey Publishing,North Adams, MA; 1994. Gauthier,J.; Ludlow, R.; Chicken Health for Dummies, Chs 2 & 8; John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NY; 2013