It’s another year and that means another molting season for the chickens. Just about every fall, as the days get shorter and cooler, the chickens start to molt. It’s a natural process for them, however it does put some extra stress on them.
Molting is where the chickens harness their inner dinosaur and shed their old feathers and grow new ones and it usually happens around 14-16 months of age for new birds and annually thereafter. There are multiple reasons for this, and the biggest one is they need shiny, new feathers to stay warm during the winter. During the rest of the year the birds are breaking feathers, losing some of them to play and bullying, and some to just normal bird stuff. With new feathers ready for winter the birds will be happy and healthy.
During the molt, the birds will slow way down on their egg production and we’re seeing that right now. With our 38 birds, we are lucky to get 12 eggs a day now, which is way down from the typical 24-30 a day we see during the peak summer months. The birds are putting the majority of their energy into growing those feathers. They also become a bit more skittish and crankier, so I usually leave them alone as much as possible and limit my visits to them to two a day.
Here's the worst bird we have at the moment, but you can see the new feathers starting to come in.
We supplement their diet at this time with a higher protein feed to help them grow out their new feathers as fast as possible. Some of the birds lose a few feathers at a time and look a little scruffy, while one bird this year lost about half her feathers at a time and is now just growing them back.
In the end its worth it for them to stay warm for the winter and get back to the business of laying high quality eggs for all of us. Bear with us during this time and they’ll be laying again in no time.
If you want to learn more about molting birds here are a few resources I've used.