Common Questions about Molting Chickens and Other Birds

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Here’s what you need to know about molting chickens and other backyard fowl, what to feed them, how to support them, and more.


Common Questions about Molting Chickens and Other Bird

Molting chickens can be a scary sight if you haven’t experienced it before. If you’ve noticed your chickens start to lose some of their feathers late in the summer and are wondering what’s going on – keep reading!

Once a year, sometimes two, chickens go through a process called molting. Here’s what you need to know about molting chickens and other backyard birds as well.


What is molting in chickens?

Molting is what chickens do to replace broken, old feathers, with shiny new ones. The molting process happens to all birds in your backyard flock. During this time, often in the fall during the shorter days, you might notice feather loss in your laying hens (and other backyard birds as well – like ducks, turkeys, peacocks, guineas etc). 

In the molting season, birds will lose feathers and grow new feathers. You will probably see roosters losing tail feathers and you might also see pin feathers – which are the new feathers growing back in. 

Why do chickens molt?

Chickens molt to replace their feathers. They lose the old feathers and grow in new feathers. It’s important for chickens to have healthy plumage as that helps keep them warm throughout the winter.

molting peacock

When do chickens molt?

Do chickens molt in the spring? Do chickens molt in the winter? Yes and yes. Molting usually happens in adult birds once a year (in the fall and sometimes spring) as the amount of daylight changes.

Chickens go through several molts as they grow. Their first molt happens when they lose their baby down and grow in feathers when they’re only about a week old. Then they molt again around eight to twelve weeks, and at this time their sex becomes apparent. 

How often do chickens molt?

Chickens start their adult molts when they’re around 18 months old and then generally molt once a year, most often in the fall. Some chickens molt in the spring too, and there are always crazy birds that don’t seem to follow any pattern. But fall molting is most common.

So don’t be alarmed if you start seeing chickens lose feathers or notice a lot of feathers in the coop. Your chickens aren’t sick or dying, they’re just working on shiny new plumage.

feathers collected from molting birds

Do birds other than chickens molt?

Molting is perfectly normal and all adult birds molt, not just chickens. Some people are surprised to find out that even peacocks molt, as do all wild birds. I love the molting season with my mixed flock. I find many gorgeous feathers including duck feathers, peacock feathers, guinea feathers, goose and turkey feathers too! 

Peacocks actually lose their entire long tail plumage and regrow all new feathers so they’re ready for mating first thing in the spring.

molting turkeys

How long do chickens molt?

Molting can last anywhere from four to twelve weeks. Sometimes the feathers fall out all at once, but sometimes they fall out slower. After the feathers fall out, you’ll notice pin feathers start to grow back in.

Do chickens lay eggs during their molt?

The frustrating part of molting is that during this time, chickens don’t lay as many eggs or they may cease laying eggs altogether. Their energy shifts to losing and re-growing feathers during the molt

Adding artificial light in the mornings is a way to keep your chickens’ egg production up even during the molt, though. Some people don’t want to interfere with a chicken’s normal biological processes, but some people do. 

Adding light is generally accepted as safe for your chickens and doing so is up to you. Some backyard chicken owners compromise by adding a light a few weeks after egg production drops off to give their chickens a bit of rest, but still continue to get eggs throughout part of the winter.

molting chickens

Is molting stressful for chickens?

During molting time, it’s important to reduce the amount of stress your birds may be exposed to. You might not want to move them to a new coop or introduce new flock mates during this time. 

During molting, you will also notice pin feathers. Sometimes people wonder if pin feathers are painful. They look painful, and growing in new feathers can indeed be stressful on your flock. 

Sometimes molting can be a painful process for chickens so your once friendly chickens may seem grumpy and might not like to be handled.

What should you feed molting chickens?

You might want to switch from layer feed to high protein feed, like a 20-25% broiler feed to support them during this time. A high protein food will help the chickens grow their feathers back in.

It might also be a good idea to add apple cider vinegar and other vitamins to their water during their annual molt,.

High protein foods for molting chickens

You can also feed them other protein rich snacks like:

Supporting your chickens during their molt is an important part of backyard chicken keeping. Do you do anything differently when your chickens start to molt?

If you liked this post on molting in chickens, you might like these posts too:

What to feed chickens in winter to help them stay warm

7 tasty and entertaining treats to feed chickens

You can eat that! 5 delicious eggs that aren’t from chickens

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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