We have things we do to get our chickens ready for winter, and so do they.
Now that the days are getting shorter, they’re busy molting, so they’ll have a fresh set of feathers to help them stay warm. A couple weeks back their feathers started to fall out. Notice how thinned out this hen’s feathers look. You can clearly see the white down underlayer that’s usually completely hidden from view. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a lot prettier than the next step …
See not pretty AT ALL. This hen is getting her pinfeathers. That’s what those quill-looking things are. Each one of those “quills” has a new feather encased in a waxy coating. Once they finish coming in, that wax layer will fall off, and a new feather will be revealed.
If you think the molting process looks uncomfortable, you’re right. Your chickens may not act like themselves while they’re molting, and they probably won’t lay either.
Molting requires a lot of protein (feathers are 85% protein), so most hens usually take a break from laying.
But don’t worry; they’ll be back to laying soon enough.
The molting process can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks, but most chickens are done in 7-8 weeks. It just depends on the bird. Some will molt quickly (a hard mold), and some will molt slowly (a soft molt). You may have both fast and slow molters in your flock (even if they’re all the same breed).
How to Help Your Molting Chickens
The best thing you can do for your molting chickens is to increase their protein intake. You can do this by switching from layer feed to meat bird feed for a month or so, or you can increase their protein in other ways. We’re been giving our hens pumpkin seeds and allowing them to forage for bugs and worms. Some people prefer to feed their hens cooked egg and meat. Do whatever feels right to you.
Also know that your chickens won’t want to be held while they’re molting (even if they usually love this). Being handled is painful to molting birds, and could cause injury. Each of those pinfeathers is connected to a vein in the shaft, and if the shaft is injured, it will bleed sometimes profusely. So, just give them they’re space until their new feathers are in, and if you have kids, make sure they do the same.