This is what a chicken looks like when she molts:
Not a pretty sight, is it? If you don’t recognize her, this is Ginger (check the bios page.) Right now her tail is a stump, she’s got loose old feathers falling out, and her head looks like it belongs to a vulture. Look close, though and you can see quills, which will turn into new, shiny, full feathers.
A chicken molts once a year. During the molt, not only does the hen have a “bad hair day,” but she also stops laying eggs. All of her body’s nutrients are put into making new feathers. The molt lasts anywhere from a month to two, depending on the chicken. This is a problem for commercial growers, who sometimes induce the molt by starving the entire flock. Not here. The girls look awful, but are getting a rest from egg laying. By the time there’s enough sunlight to turn their bodies’ clocks back to laying mode, they’re back in full-feather and looking fine.
I do feel badly for Ginger, though. It was only 4 degrees F. this morning, and she doesn’t have her full-insulating down coat on. But, she seemed fine. She lives in a snug coop, and can huddle with the other hens at night.
Ginger is a hen that loves to have her picture taken. She poses, she stares, she gets right up to the lens. Today, though, she scurried away from me. Perhaps she knows how she looks?