Chicken and Hen Moults

Maureen in the Meadow

Maureen has perked up a little over the past day. As per my last post, she’s not been a particularly happy chicken, and we weren’t exactly sure why. In fact, we’re still not sure, but we think her moult has something to do with it.

I thought I would post a little bit about chicken moults. mainly because my knowledge of chicken moults has been collected over a couple of years, from snippets on various websites and from different books. And my experience sometimes differs from what is considered ‘normal’.

Our ex-batts had already moulted when we got them, and we pretty bald in places to start with. We think this is because they had a forced moult (where the farmer withholds food to induce a moult, which eventually keeps egg production high after the moult has finished); I suspect they do this before slaughter, or in our birds’ case, their release to freedom.

Spelling!

The first thing about chicken moults is the fact that in the UK, we spell it moult. In the US, it’s molt. Small, but significant fact I think!

When Does a Chicken Moult?

Cyn Before and After

As far as chickens are concerned, from the age of about two, a moult is usually an annual happening. I’ve read that moults are most common during autumn, and in my experience, it usually happens between October and November, just before it gets really cold. They never seem to moult at the same time, it always seems staggered. Our chicken Maureen arrived from the battery house pretty well feathered, she was the only one that was in a ‘good’ state, and didn’t moult for the first 18 months that we had her. As a chicken or hen ages, they’re more likely to moult and sometimes the moults become more severe.  However, a couple of my chickens have moulted at random times during the year, for no apparent reason.

Chicken Moult and Egg Production

When a hen is approaching a moult, it’s very common for her laying to slow down, and stop for a while. There’s no set time that they stop laying, but I’d say that our chickens stopped laying for around 2 or 3 weeks during the moult. This year, Maureen, who is around 3 and usually lays around 4-5 eggs a week, slowed her laying for a good month before she approached her moult, and stopped altogether around 2 weeks before she started showing signs of shedding feathers.I think I’m right in saying that a hen (your common ‘brown hen’) who is in lay has whitish coloured skin on their legs, whereas a hen not in lay with have more of a yellow hue to the skin on their legs. This is at least true for my lot.

You might find that after the moult, egg production starts and stops again. There might be a few dodgy eggs, but as long as it’s not an ongoing problem, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

What Does a Moult Look Like?

The first real indications of a moult, are of course the shedding of feathers. It might start with a few, followed by a heap of feathers being shed left, right and centre, or may appear to happen out of the blue, and all at once (providing, of course, that it’s not the result of feather pulling or a fox attack – always check a hen over if loss of feathers is truly unexpected). It’s only in the past few days that mounds of feathers have started to appear under Maureen’s perch, and where she hangs around during the day. Her head feathers look normal, but underneath she’s started losing a lot of feathers. Yoko, on the other hand, usually starts moulting from her head first, at least, it’s more apparent there. Then she sheds from her body and undercarriage, and occasionally will lose a wing feather. Last year she completely lost all of her tail feathers, and took on a ‘bobbed’ appearance for a week or so – that was quite a strange sight!

Cynthia’s ‘Needles’

The new feathers usually come through quite quickly, if not straight after the feather is shed.  The first sign is a darkening of the skin just under the surface, before a ‘needle’-like tube breaks through. In this tube, the feathers are growing, and eventually start to protrude out of the end like small paintbrush tips. Eventually, the feather emerges, beautifully fluffy and glossy.

Chicken Health During the Moult

Hens can seem quite under the weather during their moult. Even before the feathers start to fall out, they can appear a little hunched or grumpy. If their laying has reduced they may eat less too. However, even you think your hen is approaching a moult, you should still keep an eye on them; make sure to check that nothing else is causing the ‘off’ behaviour. I always check their crop,undercarriage, feet, eyes and bottom to check everything is normal and they’re not in fact ill.

Extra Supplements During Moult

During the moult, all the protein that hens eat goes towards producing new feathers, hence why egg production drops or stops altogether. To help them along during this time, you can add some poultry spice or poultry drink to their water. They might also appreciate a small measure in their food – try making a layers mash porridge and mixing in the appropriate amount of poultry drink supplement in the water. We use Battles Poultry Drink, but some people prefer Poultry Spice. We also stick a clove of garlic in their drinking water, as it’s said to help boost their immune system to stave off colds and things that they can become susceptible to during the moult.  A few dried mealworms, cheese or cooked egg also wouldn’t go amiss – but not too much. All the nutrition they need is in their layers mash and mixed corn.

 Keeping Out the Weather

The last point is important – a chicken during their moult will not have their normal ‘weatherproof’ aid…feathers! Usually when a hen is in moult, the weather is rubbish. So it’s important that they have somewhere that’s sheltered from the wind and rain, where they can keep themselves warm and dry whilst they’re a bit bald.

Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now off the top of my head. Any questions, don’t hesistate to leave a comment. Similarly, if you’ve any extra tips or info about moults, I’d love to hear. Chicken keeping has been a continual learning curve and I’m always looking to improve my knowledge.

Comments

  1. An excellent round up of info Lucy. We didn’t appreciate just how down a hen could feel when moulting until this September when Phoebe really had a tough time!

    I’d also add that if your birds are tame, don’t be tempted to pick them up or handle when the quills are just coming through. There are lots of blood vessels and nerve ending near the surface and she will feel a lot of discomfort and even pain if these are pressed on. The feathers can also get damaged and may get white marks across them. So restarin from cuddles – your advise about food supplements and somewhere dry and out of the wind to shelter is excellent.

    Thanks Lucy!
    Celia :)

  2. is it usual for the other hens to pick on the moulting hen. i have 3 which usually get on ok, one seems to be going through the moult and does seem a bit sad, i have noticed one of the others giving her the occasional peck. the others both have their feathers

  3. One of my hens is in moult. Her feathers are coming back nicely and she looks much like a porcupine. What I am concerned about is that she runs backwards many times throughout the day. I wonder, is this because of the discomfort of the new feathers coming in around her head and neck and she is trying to get away from it by backing up?

  4. Interested in your feedback, please…
    I have a black sex link pullet (she won’t be a yr old until April ’09), who looks like she might be going into moult, but she’s too young. Her head looks like the ‘before’ photo above of Cyn. Her ear lobes have also lost their plump red color & are now shrunken & purple.
    I also have ~6 other pullets (same age) with patches of completely bare skin on their backs close to their tale feathers. There is no sign of new feathers coming in.
    How do I know for sure if I have an insect problem, an overzealous rooster problem, or some very early moulting?
    Thanks!

  5. hi lucy am in portugal with 5 chickens 3 lay eggs other 2 are 2 young one is losing feathers from her neck i dont know what poultry spice is. they are all eatinglots of fresh sunflower seed as well as corn and maize also they have an orchard to roam in and a proper house to go in at any time . it was 102 f yesterday any ideas. many thanka liz.

  6. Hi , you have put my mind at rest, I have 5 ex bats had them since March so watching “gingy” feeling very sorry for herself and loosing feathers at a rate of knots has been very disturbing, I was so worried before reading the above so feel much better…I was advised to give marmite on toast they all love it but don’t spread it on too think. She has been so sad wings and tail down, her food intake has gone right down,standing on her own, but still loves a tin of sweetcorn…how long will this go on for, any ideas? Is there anything I should look out for that could mean it’s not moulting? Have looked on so may websites and none of her symptoms seem to match any illness’s , so I’m hoping it is just moulting !!!!

  7. Hi i have three hens that i am not sure of their age(around 1-2yrs old) the hen that is the ‘big boss’ came out of the coup with fethers missing from her tail and either side of her body. she has also stoped laying, become more shy and doleful from her normal over conferdent self and is eating less. could she be moulting? or is it something ells?
    thank you. replies needed

  8. Hi

    We have 4 hens that we rescued from a battery farm a few weeks ago. Over the last week, one of our chickens has lost a lot of feathers all down her back and looks quite dark blue underneath where her feathers should be. We’ve never owned hens before and I’m worried that this may be more than a moult? She still seems to be laying as normal?

  9. Hi Laura

    Sometimes a chicken fresh out of a battery farm will either be in a bit of shock (which can contribute to feather loss), or it may well be that she’s just in moult. Before the hens are slaughtered they can be starved, which also induces moults.

    The dark blue under the skin could be the new feathers forming, eventually they’ll push their way through the skin and look like little paintbrush tips. During this time the hens need lots of extra protein, as their bodies are putting on a lot of extra growth, so feeding them protein-rich food such as mealworms (NOT maggots!) mixed in with their normal corn and layers mash will help them through this time.

    However without seeing the hen I can’t be sure that it’s not bruising from the rescue – if you’re at all concerned it’s definitely worth getting the hen checked out, in case there are any broken bones or particularly bad bruising. Also check the nest box – are there any feathers under the perch? Does your hen appear to be being picked on or have any scratches or peck marks on her?

    If you need help from lots of ex-batt owners and rescue coordinators, I would suggest joining the free and excellent Ex-battery Hens Forum: http://exbatteryhens.com/index/

    Good luck, hope all of your girls are enjoying their new life. Keep me posted with how they’re getting on

    Lucy

  10. Tena Redding says:

    I have five hens who are less than a year old and one of them has lost ALL of her tail feathers. She doesn’t seem to be feeling badly and I haven’t noticed the others picking on her. Could this be just a moult? What else could cause this? Thanks, Tena

  11. HELP!!!

    I have had chickens for 20 years+,
    this is the second time I got a hen
    that moults by shedding ALL her feathers
    and NOT grow any new feathers!!!

    The first hen I had to cull eventually,
    after trying everything I could think about,
    now this one is the second one,
    and I would really like to know
    WHAT is happening!

    I’m keeping her in a warm place,
    with water and corn,
    plus regular hardboil egg, dried lucern,
    bird seed, sunflower seed,
    some tinned cat’s pets meat,
    dewormed her with a broadspectrum and
    gave her a bobmartin conditioning tablet!

    She’s NOT fat, still too thin to my eye!
    And there is still NO indication
    that new quils and feathers want to appear!
    It has been 3 weeks now!

    She’s a Wyandotte cross Loman Silver (lying hybrid)
    More than 2 years old, probably 3 or 4years.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!!

  12. I had five Warrens until three weeks ago, when we added three pullets to the bunch. Everyone is settled in and doing well, but egg production has all but stopped. We are down to 1-3 eggs a day, whereas we were getting 5-6 a day until two weeks ago. Also, one of our older hens has a naked neck now. I looked her over quite well today and the naked skin does not have any feather stubble of any sort and is smooth and clear. Checked her for mites and didn’t see any. Recently gave the hen house a good mite treatment. Could it be moult? We are in the UK, the weather has been ok, if a bit humid and stuffy. I do not see any indication of feathers in the house or yard…so I am at a loss. Any ideas?

    Hope

  13. Rita Thompson says:

    I reognise what you are saying G. We have 6 ex barn warrens and just over 3 weeks ago added 3 black rocks as the warrens as egg production was a bit iffy ranging from between 1 and 5 eggs a day over a week. It has taken over 2weeks for them to settle but they appear to be almost alright now with just a bit of bullying still. The black rocks are about 19-20 wks old now. Egg production has really dipped since we got the pullets. Over the past few weeks we have had a number of small yolkless eggs and over this last week have had 3 shelless eggs. I was wondering if this change in quality is because they are unsettled or could it be the pullets are coming into lay and not getting it right yet? The ex barn hens are all healthy looking birds, busy and appear to be happy and now have grown back their feathers after being released. We feed them on layers pellets, corn, kitchen scraps and occasionally some dog food as we were told the shell problem could be lack of protein. They also have a dish of grit to take when they want it. Are we doing anything wrong? Advice would be much appreciated as we are new to this and have been keeping hens for just 3 months. I am so pleased that we gave these 6 warrens a good home and feel that we give them a lot of attention and a good life. They are in an approx 8′x12′ run and have half of our shed for accommodation and nesting. Thanks Rita

  14. Hi there i have 60 battery hens that i rescued in March and i do think they are going through the moult because of the loss of feathers and they look bald round their comb. They now have started to get the cold really bad making coughing noises and having a very runny nose and sneezing is this normal it seems to be happing to them all. They like to roost in the bushes and long grass so have plenty of sheltered spots. this has been going on for about 4 weeks since they stopped laying altogether. any advice would be most grateful.

  15. Help! Please!
    I have three chickens. An orpington hybrid named Boots, a black rock named Benny and a white leghorn named Dora.
    A few weeks ago I noticed Benny had a bald spot at the side of her neck which grew new feathers with no issues.
    About ten days ago Boots went broody again (4th time since i got them as pullets in December last year!)
    After bringing her out of the ‘broody coop’ she was fine. However, I noticed that on one of her feathers that she had shed in the bottom of the coop was what appeared to be a bug that looked like a flea? White in colour.
    Now, the other two appear to be fine but I bought powder to treat them all.
    However it would appear that Boots is now in moult?! There was an enormous mound of feathers under her perch bars.
    None of the other girls are losing feathers at this rate.
    TO look at her you would not know she is losing any feathers as she has lots and lots of feathers! (if she was a woman she’d have REALLY thick hair! ;-) )
    My question is such; if Boots is indeed moulting, can I still treat her for lice/ticks etc?
    Any replies greatly appreciated!

  16. Charlotte Moses says:

    Hi,we have a hipswell coucou and she is loosing a lot of feathers.she is about 10 months old.She doesn’t really look noticeably different but it looks like some of her feathers are turning white.When i had a look at the back of her neck there was just the “spikes”where the feathers begin.As far as i know the other chickens do not peck at her.And i have cleaned there house and there are no signs of redmite.please help i would appreciate it!

  17. Don & Shirley says:

    We have 8 Road Island Red Girls , about 9 months old and we get 5 or 6 eggs a day. But Scruffy,her name, one little girl hen looks like a witch out of the depths of Bogger Land and is now
    slowly growing back some feathers. They did not all molt yet
    only one , however they will all molt sooner or later.
    first thing in the morning , when the automatic door opens, and they all rush out to greet us and eat out of our hands and then
    rush off to free range . then I worry about that old red tail
    halk who would like to have one for dinner. I put up ribbons
    to flutter in the wind which they say will deture their intentions. lots of luck you all. from Texas don & shirley

  18. Hi everybody I have just found this site and hope that someone can help me. I got three ex-bats. Red ones, in Spt.2010. They are still laying usually 1-3 a day.Not each. Two of my girls, Rosie and Tillie are fine, well feathered plumpish, free to roam in my garden, haven’t seen a snail or slug in months. Edie is giving me some worries, she is scrawny, very poor feathering,but is still laying beautiful eggs. Never see many feathers. So cannot say if she is being bullied. I am feeding them layers pellets, but since the colder weather set in I am making them a warm mash of oatmeal + chopped vegetables a few mealie worms, other bits and pieces, sometimes I also add bran.Pat from Corby

  19. Sheron Stark says:

    I’m glad I found this site. I have just started raising chickens this year. I got my 10 chicks in June 2010 they have all done fine. I get from 6-10 eggs daily. They have a nice large coop and very proected from the weather. Living in Idaho we do get very cold tempertures but they have all seemed to handle it fine. I have one problem my Barred Rock is loosing all of her feathers on her breast all the way up her bottom. I do not have a rooster.I have never seen any of the other hens picking on her. The skin is clear and no sign of new feathers coming in. All of the other hens show no sign of loosing feathers. Do I need to make a dirt bath in the coop for the cold winter days? I’ve looked for lice and mites and can not see any. They have oyster shell available all the time, they are fed laying feed, they get veggies, table scraps, and I make them warm oatmeal on the really cold days, they also get good quality chicken scratch, and I put some grass hay down so they can peck at it when I let them out of the coop. So any ieads of why she is loosing feathers I would appreciate it.

  20. my chicken has lost feathers and his skin is bright red
    on his neck,legs,and under his chest. he is heathy and eating good never had a chicken do this what could this be?

  21. Nicola Coates says:

    I have a black rock hen who is about 7 or 8 years old. She is eating and drinking well but is loosing under feathers and leg feathers, in fact her legs are totally bald! What can I do to help her. Obviously she doesn’t lay any more and she does seem quite thin despite eating well. I have 50 other hens who are fine but this one is one of our original pets when we had our first 6 so we dont want to cul her but neither do we want her to suffer. Any advice would be appreciated.

  22. my cockrel is in moult but the quills on the tail will not split can you please help me

  23. Hi,
    I have had my hens for about 10months now and I have to say that
    the information and comments about moulting is just what I needed. I was beginning to become really concerned about my hens Dora and Betty.
    Dora has lost all her feathers around her neck now and some down her front. Betty has lost and re-grown feathers down her front and now has lost them underneath, but looks to be re-growing them now. Her skin is bright red there. She is losing feathers still though. I have been a bit confused, because I understand that this process happens over a period of weeks and egg production stops. In both these hens this losing of feathers has been going on for a number of months whilst egg production been excellent slowing up only to 3/4 eggs over the last week. I have checked and dusted for lice just to be on the safe side and the vents are healthy. Wattles and crowns are a lovely red and when out and about in the garden they run to meet us. I have started to supplement their feed with poultry spice in and AVC conditioner every day for 1 week out or 4 as per instructions. Is there anything else I should do? Please will you reply?

  24. Hi Lucy
    I have fed the girls dried meal worms before, so will provide them again. To update they are now laying again and continue to be perky. Thanks for the tip, you have a great blog.
    Margaret

  25. Help – have bought 10 new girls aged 2 to our brood of 10 . Unfortunately they wont stay together in the coup . The new lot were moulting as well…….howe long before they go back into egg production ……

  26. Hi all

    hope someone can help. Have 4 black rock hens now in their second year. laying has albut stopped because of moult. 1 has finished moulting and looks great, two others are just coming into moult although they are still looking perky, red combs, eating and scratching around as usual. however 1 has developed a really strange walk. she raises her leg (either leg) REALLY high under her breast and some times hesitates for a few seconds before she puts it down!! looks really odd although otherwise she seems fine. can this be because she is uncomfortable because of loosing feathers or new quills coming through? any ideas would be really useful – thanks Chris.

  27. karen abbott says:

    I have the same problem as Sheron Stark
    January 23rd, 2011. I too have looked for lice, mites etc. All my chickens are still laying but have got bald underneaths. Could you please advise.
    thanks

  28. Great info thanks. My hen has finished losing her feathers and now not looking quite so strange, She seems fine healthwise (not laying) but was concerned about the rather jaundiced apperance of her legs . Not so worried now
    Reassured chook lover x

  29. Guy Highfield says:

    This was so helpful, you have just described all the excact syptoms that our Hybrid (Lacey) is going through at the moment, we thought she was dying at first, stopped laying for about a week then laid a couple of half developed eggs then shed loads of feathers, so pleased she is just going through a moult, thanks for the great information.

  30. Thank you this was very helpful, I knew my chicken Aggie was moulting but this year she has lost such a lot of feathers, even her tail feathers, so I was quite worried about her. I see now her new feathers coming through after reading this and knowing what to look for now. Thanks

Speak Your Mind

*