What Is Molting in Backyard Chickens?

What is Molting in Backyard Chickens? 

Molting is the process that chickens (and other birds) go through to replace old, broken and dirty feathers with new healthy ones.

This is not only for aesthetic reasons but also for health reasons.

Healthy new feathers help trap warm air through the winter better than old feathers.

When Does Molting Occur?

Late summer to mid fall, your run will start to look like there's been a huge pillow fight, with feathers everywhere.

The shorter days of fall normally trigger the molt, ensuring the bird will have nice new feathers to keep them warm through the winter.

What Causes Molting?

Stresses such as heat, overcrowding, predators or poor nutrition can also cause a hen to start molting.

Adding supplemental light in the coop and then changing your mind and deciding not to add light midway through the winter can also trigger a molt,  so be consistent with your supplemental light if you choose to add it.

(I don't recommend it personally)

The first adult molt generally occurs at about 18 months of age and then will occur annually after that, usually in the late summer or autumn.

How Long Does the Molt Last?

The entire process can take weeks or sometimes even months. It varies chicken to chicken.

Good layers tend to molt more quickly (taking 3-4 months, between 14-16 weeks generally) while poor layers can sometimes take up to 6 months to complete the entire molting process.

Hens stop laying while they are molting since all their energy and nutrients need to be concentrated on growing new feathers, although good layers may continue during the initial part of the molt.

Roosters also molt and lose fertility while they are molting, even becoming permanently sterile if they lose enough body weight (more than 25%).

A chicken can go through a mild molt and barely look as if she's missing any feathers, or look really awful with huge chunks of feathers missing.

Will my Chickens Act Differently When They're Molting?

My girls seem almost embarrassed, as if they know how horrible they look while they're molting, and tend to hide behind bushes while they are molting.

They act listless and unhappy.

You might even think they're sick.

This is normal.

They will bounce back to their perky selves once the molt period is over and they have their gorgeous new glossy, healthy feathers.

Egg production most likely won't return to the same levels as before the first molt, but eggs will generally be larger and of better quality.

Molting Follows a Pattern

While the length of each hens' molt can vary widely, the pattern is always the same.

It starts at the head and neck, then moves to the saddle, breast, abdomen, wings and finally the tail.

It's fairly easy to recognize a molting hen versus one who is being pecked or the victim of feather pulling.

The main difference is that during a molt, the new feathers literally push the old feathers out, so new shafts or quills can be seen where the old feathers are missing.

You'll rarely see completely bare patches like you would if one chicken was pulling feathers out of another.

If there are bare patches around the vent, it's most likely mites, lice or other parasites, not a molt.

 If you notice a hen with a bare breast or abdomen, she's not molting, she's broody.

Growing in New Feathers

While the chicken is growing in new feathers, they are covered in a waxy coating.

This helps to protect the "pin" feathers that are filled with blood, which nourishes the growing shaft and feather.

As the feather grows, the wax casing breaks and falls off to allow the new feather to emerge.

You might see the cast off casings in your nesting boxes or floor of your coop.

How Can I Help my Molting Chickens?

During a molt, extra nutrition is extremely beneficial to your hens.

eathers are made of approximately 80-90% protein, 8 percent water and 1% water-insoluble fats, so providing your molters extra protein during their molt is critical.  Good protein sources include:

  • meal worms 
  • sunflower seeds
  • scrambled eggs
  • meat scraps 
  • fish scraps
  • herbs
Note: some people suggest feeding canned cat food, but I don't advocate that. It is formulated for cats, not chickens, and canned fish such as mackerel, sardines or tuna is a far better (and cheaper) bet.

Many herbs also contain high levels of protein and can be fed free-choice, fresh, or added to your chickens' feed in dried/crushed form.

Some of the best include basil, chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, marjoram, parsley, spearmint and tarragon.

Making Molt Meatloaf

I have developed an easy recipe for Molt Meatloaf that I like to feed to my hens while they are working hard to grow back their feathers.

They love it - and the eggs, oats and ground beef provide protein while the milk product provides added calcium, both of which help their molt go faster and more smoothly. 



3 Eggs, lightly beaten
¾ Cup water
2T Molasses
2/3 Cup Old-fashioned Oats
2/3 Cup Layer Crumble (or pellets moistened in a bit of water)
¼ Cup Wheat germ
¼ Cup Powdered Milk
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped
¼ Cup Fresh or Dried Parsley
1T each Fresh or Dried Basil, Dill, Marjoram and Tarragon
1 ½ Pounds Ground Beef

In large bowl, combine eggs, milk and molasses.

Stir in oats, crumble, wheat germ, powdered milk, garlic and herbs.

Add meat and mix well.

Pat mixture into a small casserole or loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

 Cool, slice and serve.

 Leftovers can be frozen and then defrosted as needed.


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  1. Your recipes always sound good enough for us to eat!

  2. I use recipes similarly for my parrots. They love birdie bread made from jiffy cornbread mixes with whole corn, or fruit cocktail..sunflower seeds, and it bakes in te microwave for 7-10 minute or until done in a 9" square glass dish.

  3. Love this recipe and I learned something new too. I didn't know roosters were infertile when molting. Thanks!

  4. my girls are still young. so i need to tyr and keep this in mine for when it come

  5. You've done it again with this recipe-Thank You.
    Sandra Miller

  6. Looks yummy! My girls aren't really in full molt but they are losing baby feathers and bringing on their big girl ones! I do worry about them getting enough protein so I'll have to give this a try!
    Do you freeze it? It would take the girls a while to eat up a whole pan of it! :-)

    1. Sure you could slice it and freeze the slices and then dole them out one by one. Great idea. My girls finished off the loaf in about 3 seconds, but there are 21 of them!

  7. Hey, I have to cook for my parents and my family every night. I'm like Donna----Sounds good enough for us! I've got a meat loaf craving going on. That said, this sounds great for the flock!!! Can't wait to try it!!!
    Thanks SO much!

  8. How often would you feed this to them during a molt to be benefical? My husband will be jealous if I cook his favorite for the girls and not a people one for him also.

    1. While they are molting I try to give them some extra protein every day. Whether it be this meatloaf, scrambled eggs or mealworms. Switch it up with other protein sources and that will be fine. I usually time it so I bake a meatloaf for us to eat for dinner at the same time.

    2. Thank you for taking time to reply and in such a timely manner :-)

  9. I read somewhere parsley is bad for chickens. Is that bad info? I am totally using this recipe for my girls even if I don't add parsley. I love you gals at FED.

    1. Hi. I have never heard that and I give my chickens parsley all the time. All the culinary herbs are so beneficial for them. If you are concerned, you could certainly leave it out, but I have fed mine parsley for years without any problems.

    2. If it makes you nervous you could add purslane. My chickens are crazy for it, and it is high in omega 3's.

  10. I've missed your posts, Lisa. Glad I didn't miss this one. I've saved it for future reference. Thank you!

  11. I appreciate this info! Apparently some recently purchased girls of mine are in this process. I'm kinda new to chickens and hear about molting etc but I didn't know ALL these things! Now I'm gonna go home and start pampering my babies so they will be beautiful as I'm sure they were before! Ty again. I shared this on my facebook too. I commented as anonymous because I don't have an option to post as my Facebook name. I follow ur page there also. (Brenda Jones Thomas)

  12. SOOO needed this today....our roo is in full molt and looking pitiful. Just fixed them some scrambled eggs/tuna! thanks a bunch!

  13. My girls are 3 1/2 months old and I guess going through a mini-molt on their way to getting big girl feathers...whole beautiful feathers and some down. Do they need supplements like this recipe for a mini-molt ?

  14. I have 3 that are just starting their molt....feathers everywhere!!!

  15. Fascinating! A few of our birds are going through their first molt right now. They look ridiculous! I had no idea the molt could take up to six months! Poor ladies, that must be the pits!

  16. Mixing in a little cayenne pepper would benefit your flock. They can't taste the heat like we can (fewer taste buds), but the internal parasites sure don't like the stuff! It won't cure an infestation, but can help as a preventative.

  17. Much-Needed Protein for Feather Regrowth in Chickens
    feather headband

  18. Great information for this site

  19. Hi! I am new to chickens and your blog has been a wealth of information for me. I've learned so much and am so thankful for it, so thank you, thank you! So, we got 5 chicks last April, so as of now, they are almost 10 months old. Yesterday, I noticed my Australorp had a few feathers in the run and this morning in the coop she had quite a few underneath the roost. Is it possible she could be starting to molt at this time of year? I guess I wasn't expecting them to molt until next fall. I do inspect them quite often for mites, lice, etc... but will look at her a little closer when I get home today. I also noticed that yesterday, she seemed to be a little more quiet. I really didn't think much of it because she was still acting normal for the most part and eating, drinking and still running around. I spend quite a bit of time with them, so I feel like I sometimes pick up subtle differences in their behavior...unless it's me being paranoid! Just curious if they could have a first adult molt this time of year?