Whether you are a first-time chicken owner or have had chickens for a while, knowing how to care for them while they molt is important to their overall health. All chickens molt annually. This occurs when the days start to get shorter and fall approaches. Some chickens will molt twice in one year and this second molt is called a soft molt. To the untrained eye, you will not be able to tell this is happening because your chickens will only lose some feathers to thin out their coat. During a hard molt, the chicken will become almost bald. This process can take anywhere from eight to sixteen weeks; however, each bird is different, and the length of its molting process can vary. Caring for your birds while they molt is of the utmost importance as they are more susceptible to illness.
A chicken’s feathers are 80%-85% protein so making sure they get enough protein in their diet while molting is extremely important. Changing your chickens’ diet to a complete feed during this process can ensure they receive all the protein, vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and supplements they need. A complete feed is one food source in the form of pellets, mash, or crumbles. If you are looking to supplement their diet, one of the most common things to give is mealworms. Mealworms are 50% protein alive and 36% protein dried so giving your chicken 20-24 a day is sufficient for that extra protein they need for healthy feather growth. There are a number of other items you can give your chickens during molting season such as cooked eggs, seeds, cat food, fish, shellfish, and even chicken. All these things contain considerable amounts of protein and should not be given in great quantities but as an extra snack during the day.
Molting can be a very painful and stressful process for your birds. During this time, their skin is raw and irritated. Developing feathers are called pin feathers or blood feathers and if your chicken is handled too much these areas can become damaged which will cause them to bleed. If this happens it will need to be dealt with immediately. Remove your chicken from the rest of the flock and apply pressure then coat the area with a clotting agent such as surgical glue, cornstarch, or flour. If the bleeding does not stop, the feather will need to be pulled from the base using tweezers. You will need to keep your injured chicken separate until they have stopped bleeding and healed. Chickens are attracted to blood and if they see it or smell it this can cause a pecking or cannibal outbreak in the flock which can result in the death of your already injured chicken.
While your chickens are molting you will need to provide plenty of bedding and keep it clean as often as possible. Your birds will be shedding large amounts of feathers and these feathers can contain parasites and bacteria. Since your molting chicken has exposed and irritated skin, they are more susceptible to contracting these parasites and bacteria and developing skin infections which can become deadly if left untreated. Providing plenty of clean bedding will allow your chickens enough space to lay down on something soft and rest. The general rule is your chickens should have four square feet comfortably inside the coop and about ten square feet outside, this allows them plenty of private space to molt in peace.
During this time, it is important to not introduce new members to your flock. Even when chickens are at their healthiest there is still a pecking order that all new members of the flock will go through. Molting chickens look ill and have visible blood exposed due to their pin feathers which may cause new birds to start pecking at them which can lead to death. Having to stay away from the new chickens that pose a threat can also bring on unnecessary stress that your already stressed-out molting chickens do not need. Along with stress and pecking, new chickens can carry different bacteria or parasites and as we already talked about, your molting chickens are more susceptible to illness and infections. No matter what season you are introducing your chickens you should always quarantine your new birds for at least a week up to a month to make sure they do not transmit any diseases to your existing flock.
Remember that molting can be a painful and stressful process for hens and roosters alike. Keeping them healthy, comfortable, and safe is important so they can grow beautiful, full feathers and get back to being the happy and social birds you know and love.