In the past week our daily egg harvest has dropped from 16-18 dozen down to about 13 dozen. Why? Our older birds have started moulting.
Moulting for chickens is the equivalent of shedding for dogs or a snake losing its skin. Their feathers receive a good deal of wear and tear and need to be periodically replaced. Chickens typically moult once a year, though some bird species moult 2-3 times every year. For chickens, the process occurs in the fall as the strong, new feathers will keep them warm during the winter and will become thinner throughout the hot summer months.
Growing new feathers takes a lot of energy so chickens stop laying eggs shortly before they begin moulting and don’t resume laying until after the process is complete. It can take anywhere from 4-16 weeks for a chicken to complete a moult. Chickens can’t shed all their feathers at once (this would leave them too exposed to the elements) so it often happens in a wave, starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body to the tail. As old feathers fall out, they are replaced by new feathers, called pinfeathers.
Chickens look pretty rough while they are moulting. They are losing a lot of feathers very quickly. Our coop looks like a fox had a field day. That’s how many feathers there are. Then there are the poor, unsightly chickens. I may not like chickens much, but they really are beautiful animals. Not so much when they moult.
Moulting may not be fun to watch, but it is part of a chicken’s natural life cycle. If you are new to raising chickens and notice a member of your flock losing feathers, don’t panic! It is completely normal and once they grow back your chicken will be as good as new.