An Early Molt

Good animal husbandry (which is what care of farm stock is called) is all about paying attention and noticing when something is off. If chickens played poker, they’d be very, very good at bluffing. What, me? Nothing wrong here, a hen says, even when she hasn’t been able to eat and swallow food for two days. I’m laying eggs, daily, like I always have, says the hen in the nesting box, who goes in as if she’s going to leave an egg, and yet hasn’t produced one for weeks.

Mid-July always brings changes to the flock. Heat and humidity stresses birds. Some go broody. I listen. I watch. Are they breathing normally? Are they roosting as always or has there been a rearrangement of hierarchy?

The Gems turned three years of age this past April. That’s old for laying hens. Despite a good diet, shells thin. Animals get diseased. So far, all is well.




Someone has been losing feathers. It’s a Speckled Sussex.

It’s Florence. She’s starting to molt. Look at how loose her coat is.

loose feathers


Ruby notices. She sees feathers dangling and moving, and so she pecks at them. Florence doesn’t mind. The feathers are falling out anyway.

feather picking


All chickens molt, usually late in the summer. Molting marks the cessation of the laying season. Hens that are poor layers are the first to molt; I’ve known that a few of the Gems were slacking off of the laying, and now I know who at least one of them is. It might be age, and Florence is otherwise fine, or it might be an underlying condition. I’ll pay attention.



  1. Thanks Terry,
    somehow you often seem to speak about things I am concerned about. I have an Ameracauna going through what seems to be an early molt. It is HOT here AND I have a couple new(ish) pullets upsetting the pecking order. I will also be rehousing them soon as I have a new coop. Yikes. I have 1 broody and 1 molting! I may lose eggs til next spring!

  2. Terry, that bottom picture of Florence is terrific! There are some changes happening in my hen house I`d like to share. I have been hoping to have a hen go broody this summer to have chicks hatch when my Grandkids are here later this month. Well I waited and hoped and sure enough it finally started to happen the weekend of the 5th. But I wanted it so badly that I was not sure what I was seeing was really broody behaviour, especially since the hen involved was my Ancona(Kendall), as they are not usually inclined to sit. Kendall is a flighty nervous bird and at first would startle and leave the nest box if I opened the door to it. But every day I have been visiting her several times getting her used to me and she does not react at all now except I can tell she is listening as I tell her how proud I am that she is going to be a Momma…..a foster Momma. It would have been too late for eggs to hatch under her before the G-kids arrived so I am going to introduce 3 day-olds under her tonight, hopefully if my friends babies come today as planned.
    I have left Kendall where she is and have set the whole hen house up as her nursery. The other birds sleep out in the outer run part all summer anyways so other then getting used to laying in a new converted cat-carrying cage, they seem not too upset. Some are choosing to lay out in the garden but I am hoping once they get their usual boxes back they will go back to using them.
    I will keep you posted on what transpires…..Sorry for rambling on but I really am excited! :)

  3. I wanted to say something about the large egg the lady showed. I once had a Road Island Red that always laid several triple yolk eggs just before a molt. She did this for 3 years in a row and then just stopped laying at all. She lived for 7 years, well beyond her time so there wasn’t anything wrong with her.

    • Interesting how unique each hen can be, and yet so consistent with their uniqueness! Liz will be very happy if her hen lives to be 7.

  4. I think Florence is relieved, to get rid of those feathers in this summer heat!

  5. How ironic. My Spec. Sussex is going through a molt as well.
    Mine might be stress related I had fox sneaking around. The neighbors were the first to warn me then I saw her standing outside their run around 10 am on the 4th. He had them all freaked out.
    He was trapped two days later. I’ve yet to find a predator that can resist jowl bacon. ;-)

  6. Yes I have a slw molting. She molted around this time last year. As far as I can tell she hasn’t laid an egg in a few months. She seems fine.. Eating, drinking, forging with the rest of the flock. So I have been keeping a close eye on her. On another note..have you had any problems with ants. There is only chicken food and water in the run. My girls will not eat ants. I have a few stumps in for the girls to hop on. 2 have a board attached and thy use this ALL the time. One was infested so tossed it. Any suggestions appreciated. I know that birds aren’t affected by things the way we humans are but It can’t be comfortable to have ants on you Ewww!

    • I should say this doesn’t seem like just a few . They are everywhere. So not sure how to get rid of them?

      • Oh, I hate infestations of ants! I don’t have any good ideas other than to get rid of the materials that they are living in. Replace the stumps. Sometimes pouring vinegar in the ant hills displaces them.

        • Good idea about the vinegar. I did spray your homemade coop cleaner in the coop. But I think the straight vinegar will be good for the run. Thx

  7. We have 4 hens that turned 1 year on Memorial day. We originally had 5 chicks, one of them turned out to be a rooster. We decided to wait and see if we needed to rehome him because he wasn’t an aggressive rooster. The end of April we noticed the hens had bald spots, I assumed it was from over mating since there were only 4 of them with a rooster. I posted him on our local and was able to rehome him in less than a week with a nice couple that had 20 free range hens and no rooster. Since he left in mid May, not only have our hens not grown their feathers back but they are getting worse. I’ve checked them for parasites several times and they have none. I’ve watched for feather picking and have never found a culprit. It started with 2 hens with bald spots, now all 4 of them are losing feathers on their backs and tops of their wings. Our one hen has a large spot about the size of a half follar and her skin is quite reddened. I have applied blu kote a few times but she is timid and hard to catch. Is it possible they are now molting? Also, they have been consistently laying 3-4 eggs per day.