I got home from a work conference to find that a couple of our chickens started turning ugly.
Just kidding! They had started to molt. Unlike when they got chicken pox, I knew that molting was a possibility, but I didn't really know what it would look like or what caused it. So I decided to do some reading to learn more. Amazingly I have 4 books that books that are about homesteading/urban farming, but mention chickens on the cover or are expressly about chicken raising.
So what did I learn about chickens molting? Not very much. The two books that are broader homesteading or gardening books do not mentioning molting at all. The two books about raising chickens each had about 2 paragraphs of information about molting. So that tells me that chickens molting is either not that important or not that interesting.
Well I find it both, so here goes: Molting is when the chickens lose their established feathers and start growing new ones. They tend to molt each year in the fall or winter, but sometimes they skip their first year. One of our chickens is full on molting, another one seems to be doing it, but either is a slower molter or has just started. The other 4 look completely normal so I'm guessing they will probably skip molting this year or maybe they'll just start later.
Some chickens lose their feathers slowly so you can barely notice, but others lose them quickly so they look a little scraggly. Unfortunately the later is the case with one of my girls. She just looks like she's going grey and skinny because the new feathers are coming in.
Can you stop them from molting? Nope. It's best to just let nature take it's course.
How can you support your chickens while they are molting? There isn't really anything that you can do other than ensure that they have proper nutrition including adequate protein. Some people increase their protein availability (by adding cheese or eggs, but there are risks to that), but others don't do anything.
What about eggs? Molting generally slows egg production, but it doesn't affect the quality of their eggs. Sadly, one of the books said that commercial eggeries (I think I made that word up, but, you know, commercial egg production plants) "harvest" chickens when they molt. We're obviously not going to do that. In fact, their egg production has seemed increased from the low we experienced while they were fighting off the chicken pox. Hooray!
Were you surprised when your chickens first molted?