Winter Molts

Lately I’ve been fielding questions about hens that are losing their feathers now, in late winter. This is not molting season. In many places (like here) the weather is frigid. It’s not a good time for a hen to look like this:


The best layers molt late in the fall, not in the coldest months of winter. So, what’s going on?

A molt can be a sign of stress and/or disease. So, do observe your molting hen’s behavior. Is she eating and drinking and acting normally? Check for signs of external parasites. There might be something amiss.

But, in the cases that I’ve been hearing about, the hens are fine. What’s happening is that people, in their desire to get chicks at a time convenient to them (but not what farmers saw as prudent in the past) , are buying birds that hatched out of season. Mail order hatcheries are selling chicks year-round. If you bring your chicks home in September, then their first molt will be in the worst weather of late winter, and you won’t see eggs again from those hens until early summer.

In the past, when winter eggs were pricey, a farmer’s profit would be made from the good winter layers. Chicks hatched in the spring and were carefully matured so that the first year they laid through the winter, and in the second year molted in the fall and provided eggs again as winter waned in February and March. There is nothing in my extensive collection of vintage poultry manuals that gives advice about hens molting in the winter because it just wasn’t done.

Let me know if you have hens that are molting now, and let me know how they’re getting on.


  1. I have one buff that’s losing feathers on the top of her head…. ????

    • That could be pecking. Or molting. Sometimes, with the heavily-feathered breeds like the Orpingtons, the only place you see bare is the head. With molting you’ll see the pin feathers erupting to replace the dropped feathers. With pecking it will just be bare.

  2. No problems with my hens molting now. Great topic though.

    off/topic -Terry can you email me……I want your opinion on something and for some reason your email button doesn’t work on my computer…it’s not your site it’s my computer. Thanks.

  3. My EE just came out of her first molt and started laying again this last week. My two BRs have been laying consistently with not a feather out of place. I’ll have a different story next winter. Is that Agatha? Or Lulu?

    • Agatha during her first fall molt. Buff Orpingtons can go through a molt looking fine, though a tad loose-feathered. Speckled Sussex, however, have dramatic and photogenic molts!

  4. My partridge rock Shirley, usually a very friendly bird, is going through a revolting molting right now. She’s lost most of her feathers from the waist down. She still eats and drinks and comes running when we enter the yard, but doesn’t want to be touched or picked up. She has replaced my speckled sussex as lowest in the pecking order.

  5. I’m in New Zealand, so it’s summer and have a Barnevelder that’s molting, but last winter my Sussex molted – she is the best layer at almost always an egg a day even during winter. I was wondering why she molted at such a funny time – thanks for answering that! I also have 3 Brown Shavers that I got as pullets about a year ago and was expecting them to molt this summer but they haven’t lost a feather yet…

    • A “Brown Shaver” is not a hybrid that we have here, although perhaps it’s similar to our production breeds that are leghorn x RIRs?

      • Yes they look very similar to the Golden Comet, but their eggs are lighter in color and smaller. They are very common here and in the UK. Depending on the breeding company they are also called Hylines (they are a complex genetic mix). I’ve found them to be very friendly, good layers and (touch wood) highly resistant to parasites. One of them is my favorite, she jumps on my back and stays there while I’m cleaning the run (when it’s too wet to let them free range) and before I feed them she “asks” to be picked up and held/stroked for a while first…

  6. I got my four girls in the last weekend of June and one was a month old, the other three two months old. The youngest girl has yet to lay but three started in November and December. Treacle has now been molting and stopped laying for the past week. She had a bare bottom which was getting pecked so I sprayed with the purple spay which stopped the pecking. She is not at all her usual self and a few days ago I noticed she had stopped eating pellets and would only eat treats and even those less enthusiastic than usual.

    I have checked for mite and nothing. I am starting to worm her tomorrow (I had to order Flunenvet from the vet today ) to be on the safe side. I have put apple cider vinegar in their water and given poultry spice in live yogurt. I have increased protein, giving maggots, dried meal worms or sunflower hearts.

    As she was eating so little, I gave her some cooked rice and some sardine in olive oil today which she ate some of. I have also made scrambled egg with a little olive oil and water but the other three wolfed it down while she stood and watched but didn’t attempt to join in.

    I have been really worried about her and don’t usually feed these sorts of items but am trying anything to get her eating something. Other than that she is slower than usual and less vocal but still tail up.

    The other three are fine and fluffy and two laying.

    Any further advice would be welcomed.

      • Is there anything else I should be doing for her? If she has worms would this cause these symptoms? When I say she is not so enthusiastic for the treats, I meant she is not first there as usual but she is eating them and seems most enthusiastic for protein ie meal worms, sunflower hearts but less interested in corn.

        She has had some green poops which I thought was due to me giving daily greens such as spinach, cabbage etc while not being diluted by the pellets but then I read that it can also be a sign of worms, hence the decision to worm the girls. I will also stop greens for a few days.

        • Green poop is often (not always) a sign of an internal infection. Separate her for a day and see if, and how much she is eating and drinking. See what the poop is like. Read my FAQ about diagnosing a sick chicken. Good luck!

  7. Our GLW girls were a year old towards the end of September last year. There were feathers everywhere. However, one girl started doing a slow molt this past month. He only place I really notice it is the pin feathers coming in on her neck.
    They were fall chicks, so it makes sense. I was worried about my late molting girl, but she seems to be doing just fine. She is the first out the door in the mornings and they are all eating and drinking and our egg production is now picking up.
    Amazing what a bit more daylight hours will do!!

  8. My Golden Comet began a severe molt (lost all her tail and fanny feathers, wing feathers and feathers on her neck) after being indoors for a week due to a prolapse a couple of months ago. With significant sub-zero weather here in VT throughout most of January I kept a close eye on her. She was doing really well until I noticed some blood on her neck one morning – looked like the other hens, who had all molted in the fall, began pecking on her. Back indoors for a week she came for medical attention and R&R. She healed up well, her new feathers began to grow and fill in and back to the coop she went. She is my dominant and I watched her waste no time re-establishing herself in the pecking order. She is doing great!

    Just a note: both times I tried to reintegrate her into my small flock (4 hens) it did not work well for her to go back into the coop with the other hens already inside. I waited for a little bit higher temperatures and sunshine, let them all outdoors together late in the afternoon to scratch around a bit, and within an hour they all marched back to the coop together for bed – no problems at all doing it that way.

  9. Your observant care saved your hen! Pecking can get out of control all too quickly. And, you integrated her in just the right way. For other readers who want a few more tips beyond how Lynda handled it, check my FAQs. I have one about adding chickens to an established flock.

  10. Alot of my friends hens are molting. Some already have,but the molt has been quite quick. They have 19 including a rooster,so they are still getting eggs.
    Quick question,do roosters molt?

  11. I have 10 hens. 2 are gold laced Wyandotte. Got them 3-5-12. One of the glw is molting and started a few weeks ago. Eating and drinking fine. She just started growing her neck feathers back in. I have been worried as our temps the past 2weeks have been 15 to 20 degrees. But it looks like her feathers are coming back in on her neck. I am hoping she will be fine. i did have an EE go thru a mini molt in Dec but think it was due to stress as she had bumblefoot and I was soaking her every day. She is fine now and back to being fully feathered out. I was thinking something was wrong with the glw that was molting. I checked for parasites Etc. And as I said she is eating and drinking.

  12. I just saw your post and I’ve been worried because my two year old black Australorp started molting two weeks ago. I thought that was odd but our winter in Reno has been odd and very inconsistent. I thought that might have been the case but none of my other five hens are molting. I did consider any stress such as going back to school and not letting them out at lunch for the rest of the day to room. I’ve kept an eye on her and she’s eating, dominating any treats handed, running fast to get her treats and her tail is up and normal. She seems as normal as the others girls just with a hairless head and neck. This is normal right…?

  13. So glad you did a post on this one of my barred rocks has been looking weird for a few weeks, feathers all astrew, thin on neck, ive been watching her her, she is acting fine, eating and drinking, I juat thought she was too young for molt, she was born 03/12 alao noticed her crown is paler in color than the others, is this normal during a molt? First year with chickens, so much to learn

  14. Not sure whats going on with mine. I have a speckled sussex that is less than a year old and her entire back end is bare and raw. I have been putting salve & spray on signs of bugs..but she doesn’t seem to get better. I don’t think its molt. She is acting normal as best I can tell. Any suggestions???

    • I have several FAQs about feather loss, lice and pecking. Roosters cause bare backs. Pecking causes bare backs. But, if you mean the vent area, there are other causes. Check those FAQs – there are photos and likely the answer there.

      • Thanks, I’ll check it out. I don’t have any roosters and the bare area is definitely the vent area and is working its way up to under the wing tips. I checked very closely for mites, etc and there is nothing I can detect. Not only is she pretty bare in the vent area, but its smooth skin with little to no feathers left. Hopefully I can find an answer. We have very cold weather right now and want to make sure she is staying warm enough.
        Thanks so much!

  15. Hi,
    Interested to read about hens moulting now, I have just 3 hens a gorgeous heavy feathered Buff Orpington (10 months old) and 2 x-breed light sussex both 17 months old, one of my x-breeds has been going through a moult for a couple of weeks now, she stopped laying about 2 weeks ago, went a bit quieter than normal and wasnt as interested in her trets as normal, I first suspected worms, but then noticed that when she had been preening and had a good shake or after a nice dust bath she was dropping a few feathers, also there were her coloured feathers in the house in the morning when I went in for ‘poop patrol’!
    She has lost a fair few feathers around her necklace area and her little face is looking a bit sparce, I can now see these little white quills making their appearence around her face, so I do know for sure now she is going through a moult, we have been having some very cold weather here (were in the West midlands) and I was worried about her loosing the feathers now, she has gone back to looking less bothered these past few days though, she is looking redder in the face and has a little comb that is back to a redder colour, she is eating well and is once again running for her mealworms and corn in the afternoon!
    I am quite new to keeping chickens, these are my first 3 and I had them last May, so it has come as a bit of a shock for me, I expected that they may have their first moult next autumn, so I will be interested to see when my other 2 have theres.

  16. I have one three year old EE molting now.
    Terry I agree the late chicks molt at the wrong time, however, I always seem to have at least one older hen that is in the middle of a hard molt when it is zero at night for a few days.