Autumn brings shorter days, cooler weather, and for chickens, it can mean a new stage in the molting process. That’s right – among the concerns that come with a chicken coop, add chickens molting in the fall to the list.

From seasoned chicken-keeper to novice coop-starter, choosing the right kind of layer feed for egg production is a careful endeavor. New Heritage has you covered.  Visit our website today for a list of local retailers that carry our essential oil-infused feed products.

Chickens Molting In the Fall: What It Means, and How the Molting Process Works

Chickens molting in the fall. Two chickens walk on a small farm in autumn.

Around late summer and early fall, you may observe a change in your flock members. As you look around your coop, you might notice the occasional bald spot as your chickens lose feathers.

If you’re a first-timer, you might wonder what is going on; is it something you did? Maybe there is a problem with the chicken feed you’re using, you theorize.

While chickens can molt as a result of dehydration, hunger, inadequate lighting, or parasites, molting is usually natural. Simply put, molting is a natural cycle whereby chickens lose feathers and grow new ones.

Why Do They Need New Feathers?

If you’re a first-time backyard chicken coop owner, all of this may sound strange and counterintuitive. Surely, chickens molting in the fall doesn’t make sense; wouldn’t birds need more feathers as the colder weather approaches?

Exactly!

Molting is the process your birds use to shed dirty or damaged feathers. They need to periodically replace their feathers, since strong, high quality ones are crucial to keep them warm.

Annual Molting

Chicks first molt when they are very young, during what are known as juvenile molts. The first of two juvenile molts occur around the first week of life, and usually finish by the first month. The initial molt is when chicks lose their familiar yellow down for their primary feathers.

The second juvenile molt occurs between 7 and 12 weeks, when they replace their first feathers with more mature feathers.

Between 16 and 18 weeks of life, chickens commence an annual molt. 

Remember when we said that inadequate lighting could result in molting? That part isn’t necessarily the chicken coop owner’s fault. As we all know, the days get shorter as we leave summer and approach autumn.

Chickens molting in the fall, therefore, happens due to the decreased light that comes with the change of seasons.

Egg Production, Daylight, and Feather Loss

Many fresh chicken eggs in a wicker basket in a henhouse

Let’s get one thing out of the way: if your chickens stop laying eggs during this time, don’t panic.

The process of shedding feathers and growing new ones is work. To accomplish this vital task, your birds need energy; they use a significant portion of their nutrient stores.

Growing feathers taxes your chickens because feathers are 85% protein. Every animal body works extra hard when producing or replacing protein-based structures.  As a result, egg laying temporarily takes a back seat to the molting process. 

Furthermore, the laying cycle is also affected by the amount of daylight a chicken receives. Without any supplemental artificial lighting, hens stop laying eggs during the fall and winter. Typically, they resume the laying cycle in the spring with the return of more sunlight.

Ultimately, hens lose feathers post-laying, as they resume their previous eating and drinking habits, as well as when daylight diminishes.

How Long Does Molting Take, From Start to Finish?

As with many natural cycles, there is a rather wide range of normal. Usually, the process of feather loss and replacement takes around 8 weeks. However, this cycle can last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks.

Chickens replace lost feathers with pin feathers. These replacements may initially resemble the feather shafts, but they are quite delicate, so be careful!

Soft Molt vs. Hard Molt

Chickens molting in the fall. A happy couple picking up eggs in a henhouse.

There are two primary kinds of molting: soft and hard. A hard molt is when a bird loses all of its feathers at once. By contrast, a soft molt is when they lose their feathers gradually.

You may find that a soft molt is a little more challenging to detect, particularly in free range chickens.

What is Fright Molt?

Fright molt is an exception to the cyclical molts we just discussed. This is a phenomenon whereby a bird loses its tail feathers when it is scared or under stress.

Some experts believe fright molt is an evolutionary response, which birds use to prevent predators from grabbing their feathers.

Helping Your Flock Cope with Molting in the Fall

rooster on a rustic autumn background. Rooster standing near colorful gourds

While molting is natural and mainly cyclical, it can still present challenges. There are specific steps that you, the chicken coop owner, can take to protect your flock and keep them comfortable.

Lighting

As we’ve seen, lighting plays a role in the molting process. Therefore, you should be cognizant of the lighting conditions in your coop. Be aware that sudden changes to the amount of light the coop receives may trigger molting.

Protein Intake

Be sure to increase the amount of protein in your chickens’ feed during this time to aid with feather production. A 20% protein feed should be adequate in most cases. 

Additional protein-rich snacks you may want to consider can include sunflower seeds, nuts, cooked meat, bone meal, soybeans, and peas.

Handle With Care

We’ve already mentioned that pin feathers can be sensitive. Keep in mind that handling your birds can cause discomfort during feather growth.

Additionally, featherless chickens can face bullying from other members of the flock. Keep a particular eye on anyone undergoing a hard molt!

Minimize Flock Stress

One last thing to avoid with your flock: new stressors. Try to keep disruptions to a minimum where at all possible. If you can avoid introducing new flock members or changing living arrangements during the molting process, do so.

Pamper Your Flock with New Heritage Feed Co.

smiling woman holding a chicken Although it can be stressful for both coop and owner alike, molting in the fall is a natural process. This year, New Heritage Feed Co. is standing by to lend a hand.

Treat your flock to a protein-rich feed complemented with our proprietary blend of essential oils. With New Heritage Feed Co., you can support the comprehensive health and wellness of your coop. Visit our website to view our ingredients, and find a retailer near you.