HELP! My Chickens are Going Bald! (What to Do to Help Your Hens Get Through Their Molt & Why on Earth Does a Chicken Molt?)
"Aaaaaah!" I screamed! I remember that first time I went out to the chicken coop and saw about five of my beautiful hens with bright red BALD spots on their necks, wings, etc! What????!!!! I thought they had come down with some horrible disease!
I laugh now, at how I acted the first time I saw my poor hens. These days, I know exactly what's going on, and how to handle their molting times. What is molting, exactly? Well, it's those periods in a hen's life where they lose old feathers and grow new ones--and it's perfectly normal.
Here are some other chicken articles you might be interested in too: Bringing Home Your Chicks & Adding Them to Your Flock and Pasty Butt: What is It and How to Cure Pasty Butt.
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Why Do Chickens Molt and What IS a Molt, Anyway?
Chickens go through molting periods once and rarely, twice, a year, and sometimes even during stressful periods. The old feathers are pushed out by the new ones, starting on the head and neck area, down to the wings, and sometimes farther. Some chickens only have partial molts and others go through a complete molt all at once.
A chicken's very first molt begins to happen when it's just days old! The soft down covering the chick is pushed out by the first little feathers. This takes about four weeks to complete. The chick will have another molt as a teenager (juvenile) at about 12 weeks or so.
Chickens do molt annually, and the first annual molt will begin when the hen is about 15 to 18 months old. This annual molt generally occurs during the late summer into the fall, as the days grow shorter. The chicken's annual molt happens in response to the seasons---shorter days, less total daylight, and seems to follow the reduction in egg production for the same reasons (less light).
A chicken's feathers are made up mostly of protein--you know, like our fingernails and hair! Chickens need to replace the old feathers once in awhile, and this is their molting time!
What You Can Do to Help a Chicken Get Through Its Annual Molt
1) Don't handle your chickens during a molt
The new feathers forcing the old feathers out contain a blood filled shaft. It's painful for chickens to be handled during this time, and they can actually bleed pretty easily. They are best left alone.
2) Reduce their stress levels
Things that will stress chickens out include a lack of adequate food and water, adding new members to the flock, a change in their living quarters, you know--pretty much the same things that would stress a person out!
Make sure they have enough food/water and a nice clean coop with soft nesting material. Molting chickens can still lay eggs, even though egg production will slow down a lot.
3) Increase their protein
Chickens need at least 20% protein in their diet during their molting period. Doesn't that make sense? Since they are replacing old feathers with brand new protein-packed feathers, they'll need additional protein to help them along--
If you buy feed from a feed store, you're probably used to using layer feed. Well, at this time, you might want to switch over to meat bird feed for the increased protein.
You can also add high protein supplements to your flock's normal feed. Things like mealworms, insects, worms from the garden (if it's organic), are great! You can also add peas and other vegetables that are very high in protein.
Just keep in mind that too much protein isn't good either, and may even cause kidney problems. Keeping to about 20%, or just adding some high-protein supplements is helpful.
4) Consider other supplements & snacks
If you feed your chickens scraps or other snacks from your table, you can do this too. Scrambling up some eggs for them, adding healthy plain full fat yogurt to their feed, or even fermenting their feed provides extra nutrients for them. You can also give them sunflower seeds, tuna from a can, fish meal, etc.
It's tempting to keep giving them the high carb treats (like corn scratch) during this time, but try to cut back on the high carb goodies and stick with the treats that contain high amounts of protein. Even quality dry cat food or small dog food kibble will be something they'll enjoy.
Final Thoughts on Helping Your Chickens Get Through Their Molt
After four years of raising chickens, it's still kind of shocking when my poor ladies start molting. It actually does look painful. But after all this time, I know they will be beautiful again shortly!
If you're a new chicken owner, getting through the first molting period can be a little traumatic, at least it was for me. But now---it's just part of the deal. I still don't like it when they're molting during really cold weather, though. They need those feathers for warmth! But I've never had a chicken die from molting.
You may also enjoy these related articles:
- What is the Life Cycle of a Chicken (How Long Do They Live, PLUS Other FAQ's)
- 10 Chicken Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Make Perfect Pickled Eggs Every Time
Do you keep backyard chickens? If I've left out any ideas for helping your hens through a molt, please share with us! I'd appreciate it, and so will others who keep chickens!
Hugs & Self-Reliance,
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