More Molting

About half of my hens started molting back  in the sweltering days of August. Remember when Lulu looked like this?

Well, she’s back in full-feather, looking beautiful.

But she’s still crazy.

The weather has turned. There’s frost on the ground in the mornings, blowing winds and a chill damp to the air. You’d think it wasn’t the best time to molt, but a half dozen chickens are running around part-naked. Here’s Blackie in the wind. She looks a tad cold, doesn’t she?

But, this time of year does have it’s comforts. Now that the growing season is over, I let the girls into the flower beds. The dirt is warm, loose and inviting. It must feel really good on those bare patches of skin and the itchy, emerging quills. Look closely and you can count six chickens crowded into this spa. There’s plenty of other spots to dirt bathe in, but the chickens like to do this together – despite the downside of having dirt kicked into one’s face by a neighbor!

I’m not worried about the molting girls being cold. They have patches of sun to laze in, there are plenty of remaining feathers to fluff up and insulate their bodies with, and at night they roost together  – looking rather like a moth-eaten feather blanket hanging on a rack, but warm nonetheless. By the time it is brutally cold, they’ll all have on their toasty-warm feather coats and I’ll be jealous of their comfort while I do my barn chores in the mornings.


  1. So how often do they molt? I know the first molt is at 18 months but then how often after that?

  2. They molt once a year.
    Terry have you noticed your chickens going through a heavy molt? What I mean is losing tons of feathers at once instead of the usually gradual molt.
    I have several hens that are basically feather free! I have three I currently (because I’m a nice guy) have to place on the roost at night because they don’t have a single wing feather. In my 40+ years I’ve never seen this.
    My Speckled Sussex whose name is Spot(I know not very clever) has a temporary name of One Feather. She lost all her tail feathers except for on the top and kind of looks like a squaw walking around the yard.

  3. I’d thought mine would moult this autumn .. and there are a few feathers around, but not the clouds of feathers I expected! I’ve only ever had one hen do a complete, all-at-the-same-time moult.

  4. They molt once a year – but some hens can be “stealth” molters – they might look a little raggedy, but never bare. Others loose all tail feathers seemingly in one puff of wind. Ken, are your totally bare hens going through their first molt? It does seem extreme. Are these the chickens bought from one hatchery? I believe there’s a genetic component to how they molt. My hens seem to be consistent year-to year irregardless of the weather.

  5. I have noticed that my girls molt every OTHER year. Last year we had no molting….this year..EGADS! Terry, you made me feel better. My hens look as bad as some of yours!

  6. Terry, not totally bare but no breast, tail or secondary and primary flight feathers. The rest of their bodies are very sparce. The hens that are doing it are all three years old and came from McMurray but are all different breeds. It’s weird. They also seem to be under the weather. They basically stay in the coop and just kind of sit there. They do eat and drink they have full crops at night and do come running when I come out with the kitchen scraps in the evening. It’s almost like maybe they know they would be at a disadvatage if a predator came around without flight feathers. The weather has been in the upper 60’s and low 70’s and sunny so I don’t believe it’s being chilled but maybe it is, maybe I’ll go out in my boxers tonight when I get home and see if I get cold. ;-)

  7. Our 19 month old girls appear to be all in different stages of molting and amounts of molt. Some just beginning in the last week and others growing back. Feathers coming out in clumps and with every move. Like there’s been a feather explosion. Their mood are nothing but psychotic, some you even look at and they run and hide. Can’t even turn your back on Ann the rooster. Only one egg a day. We want our lovable, egg laying girls and boy back. No one seems to be roosting together either; nesting boxes are used too.

    • I’m sure they’re feeling vulnerable and cranky. They’ll be back to normal when their feathers come in, but you might not see eggs until February!

  8. Ken- I wonder if this is yet another “old hen” issue. It’s an age thing with other animals – old horses shed differently than young ones (in clumpy messes later in the spring. Sometimes not until summer.) My educated guess is that weather has something to do with initiating the molt, but that age and genetics even more. That said, I wonder if something else is going on with your birds? I don’t like hearing about lethargy in birds. Do they have enough energy to dust bathe?

    • Some of my lot are very mopey when moulting, just standing looking like a picture of an ill bird in a poultry book. Others breeze through it, some go mad, some won’t go in at night unless rounded up like sheep, and Big Girl crows like a cockerel in the mornings. As long as you know what is normal for each of your birds (admittedly much easier with a small flock like mine) you should be able to spot trouble. I don’t worry about lethargy with mine now during the moult, as long as they are eating and drinking – although it did frighten me at first!

      • I think that one of the joys of a small flock is knowing your hens as well as you do yours. I wouldn’t worry about Ken’s hens except he’s such an experienced poultryman, that when he notices something amiss I think you have to take another look!

  9. They love their treats and are eating normal. We were told to give them a can of tuna every other day for the extra protein. Oyster shells and ground up eggs shells available all the time. Dust bathing and laying in the sun continues to be their favorite past time when we have such a thing. We’ve also heard that molting and growing new feathers is painful. Thanks everyone for your insights.

    • Chickens have very high tolerance for pain. I’ve a feeling that molting isn’t painful as much as uncomfortable and depleting. It’s normal. They’ll get over it.

  10. This is my first year with chickens and I can’t belive the clouds of feathers I have in the hen house and the pen! My Barnevelders are a year old this mounth and even though they’re certainly loosing the feathers like crazy they really don’t look bad at all, just a lot slimmer. Sure wish I could molt. BTW– someone told me that roosters don’t do the dust bath thing but my Tut is right in there with the hens– we also call it the Chicken Spa. AND– twice I’ve caught him inside a nest box with one of the girls, and he’s a big ole roo! What do you think is going on with him??? Getting in touch with his feminine side, maybe?

    • All chickens dust bathe – even the roos! It’s essential for their health. Is he a small breed that can fit in the box? Sounds like one happy chicken.

  11. La’Nelle, the roo is showing the hens a safe place to nest and/or standing guard. My little roo likes to stand on the perch in front of the nest boxes. I believe this is pertective behavior.

    Terry, the hens that are molting “normally” continue to dust bath under the spruce tree, the almost naked ones do not. At least this is what I am observing on the weekends. (It’s dark when I leave in the morning and only about an hour of daylight when I get home, one of the reasons I dislike winter).
    You are probably correct in that it’s probably a weather related issue. We have had a above normal October as far as temps go, we still have not had an official frost yet. So it’s very likely the first “cool” day and nights of the last week of October triggered and all out molt.
    Again last night all the naked girls came a running when they seen me coming with the kitchen scrap bucket and they were pleasantly surprised when it contained some two day old spaghetti and they all consumed it with great vigor.
    I am hoping it’s just that regrowing that many feathers all at once is a drain on the body and it just makes them a little worn out. Time will tell.

  12. One of mine is molting right now. The over night temps this weekend are suppose to be around 30 with a chance of frost. I can’t believe she is molting now but she is. Oh well, she has lots of sun to lay around in so I’m sure she will be ok.

  13. Terry, it looks like Spot’s feathers came in black and white without any brown. Is that just the way she looks in the photo or is she no longer growing brown feathers. Also, do most speckled sussex change color after each molt?

    • Janice, how observant! Lulu’s shorter underfeathers are brown, but the long ones are white with spots. When they’re all in, you get that gorgeous Speckled Sussex effect – when she’s molting, well, you see what it’s like!

  14. I have had Chickens for over 15 years. This is the first year the moling has gone on forever and NO eggs at all. Even my ducks have stopped! Has anyone else noticed this?

    • Gayle, people have been noticing this. No consensus as to what’s the cause! Here at Little Pond Farm, I think it’s because I have so many elderly hens.