Molting can be quite concerning. Especially the first time you observe it in your flock. The losing of feathers and the lack of eggs are undoubtedly worrying; besides these are common symptoms in many illnesses that chickens can develop. But when is molting likely to occur, what’s the typical duration and when will chickens begin laying again? With these questions in mind, I spent some time researching and will be sharing all that I found here today.
So, how long do chickens molt and not lay eggs? Chickens will typically molt for between 6 to 12 weeks, although sometimes it extends up to 16 weeks. They generally do so during the winter season, but they do so each year. Hens should resume laying eggs once they have their new set of feathers.
The process of molting involves the shedding and regrowing of feathers; this happens every year once your birds are between 12-18 months of age, and usually takes place when the days get shorter and the temperature drops.
Hens stop laying eggs during molting, diverting their energy to feather production, and increasing their nutrient reserves.
So, during any period of molting, you must continue to feed your flock with a high-quality diet. It’s of great importance!
Such feed should be higher in protein – with feathers being 85% protein, it comes as no surprise that they would need a boost to their protein intake.
And then, once your hens return to egg-laying, you should look to transition back to a layer feed that is richer in calcium (and that will better support this process).
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Let us now take a closer look at molting so you can understand exactly what its about, what is involved, and what you need to do as a keeper to support your flock!
Why Do Chickens Not Lay Eggs When They Molt?
Chickens do not lay eggs when they molt for two reasons. Firstly, it is due to the lower daylight that accompanies the time of year, and secondly, it is due to the repartitioning of nutrients. Energy is used for new feather growth and is not available for egg production.
In fact, successful egg production requires at least 14 hours of daylight. Peak egg-laying typically occurs when daylight reaches around the 16 hours mark.
In chickens, whenever daylight decreases, egg productivity will decline.
And it is almost as if chickens instinctively make the most of this situation.
And egg laying is an energy demanding process.
The production itself takes up much of a chickens nutrient reserves.
So, its only logical to assume that the nutrients that are needed for healthy egg-laying are diverted to feather production.
But we also need to consider that the molting process causes a lot of physical deterioration; they are not in optimal shape to support egg production.
So accompanying this time, a hen’s reproductive system will go into complete rest.
Instead, this break will give them some time to recuperate, and slowly begin to build up their nutrient reserves for the upcoming year and season.
Its important that we remember that molting is a natural and inevitable phase in a hen’s life – even though they don’t look their best!
As long as you are feeding your hens a high-quality diet, this phase will pass.
You need only worry about your hen’s health and seek veterinary attention if they do not molt as expected, for an extended period, or if egg production does not come back. These could both indicate stress, sickness, or even a parasite.
Molting is partly the reason why, in good layers, egg production will peak at between 250 to 280 eggs within the first year and beyond, will decline until she retires.
What Time Of Year Do Chickens Molt?
Molting takes place once per year, typically during the spring or towards the end of summer/ beginning of fall – as the days get shorter.
While molting chickens will lose their feathers, they should replace them all within 8-12 weeks. Not all molts are conventional, however, and some can drag on for as long as six months!
Some chickens begin molting earlier than you might expect; it’s not unheard of for birds to molt as early as June.
Either way, it’s essential for chickens to go through this process regularly and on their own accord, because the integrity of their feathers impacts how well they keep themselves warm in the winter months.
Chickens will experience several molts during the course of their lifetime, with the earliest occurring when a chick is about a week old. This molt is somewhat different however and is simply in preparation for their early months of life.
As such, a chicken will experience its first adult molt at about 18 months old.
While it is true that hens may sometimes molt during other times of the year, this is usually brought about by extraneous factors that include stress and aging. This is not your typical molting that is experienced by most birds, each year.
What Does A Chicken Look Like When Molting?
Chickens can look one of two ways when going through a molt. Either very sparse in the case of a hard molt, or with quite a few feathers in the case of a soft molt.
Molting will also look different depending on the age of the hen.
During the first juvenile molt, chicks will lose their downy feather; and in the second juvenile molt, they lose their first baby feathers for a new set.
During this molt, the male juvenile develops ornamental feathers – this includes the long saddle feathers and long sickle tail feathers.
But as adults, there are generally two different levels of molting – soft and hard.
A bird going through a soft molt will lose some feathers, but most of the time it is not very noticeable to the untrained eye.
This may be something that you learn to detect in time, or through the prescence of some feathers on the floor.
A bird going through a hard molt will lose a lot of feathers, and their appearance will be quite dramatic.
They will look quite sparse, as in the case of a hard molt, will be losing most of their feathers after all.
Either way, molting occurs in an orderly way.
Feathers will stick to definite tracts with bare skin patches in between.
The sequence begins with the head and neck, then down along the back across the breast to the thighs, ending with their tail feathers.
When the wing molts, the primary feathers drop first from the axial to the end of the wing.
The secondaries don’t shed in the same order as the primaries. The new quill grows as soon as the old feather is removed – this takes around seven weeks to grow.
Panicking is understandable as your flock lose their feathers and cease laying eggs.
However, the new feathers are fuller and larger in contrast to the old ones; not to mention cleaner, softer, glossier, and brighter.
The new feathers are known as pin feathers, and they grow in the same sequence they were lost. Phew!
At times, high producing hens might not lose all their primary feathers but keep them for another year. Modern laying hens, however, should molt in the late fall because they of their uses for egg production.
Some breeds of hens will molt pretty much continuously; this is easy to see by the flawless condition of their new feathers. Typically, these birds are poor egg layers.
How Do I Help My Chickens To Lay Eggs Again?
Molting is a time when hens cease production, it’s a time of rest and recuperation.
Egg-laying will resume again, but this will happen only when your birds are ready.
Nature will take its course, but there are things you can do to help your flock lay eggs once again:
Provide Quality Layers Feed
You don’t need to break the bank to feed your flock but a premium laying pellet or mash with occasional vegetables, fruit, mealworms, and other healthy treats will help them considerably.
Molting and growing new feathers take up a lot of energy – the feathers are over 80% protein, so be sure to offer your chickens a suitable feed.
Make sure to limit scratch to 10% of their diet – so it doesn’t water down the protein content!
Allow Your Chickens To Free Range
Nothing makes chickens happier and healthier than being allowed to roam free in open pasture.
Here, they can consume bugs, grubs, and other insects which give them a lot of nutrients and provide a source of digestible protein!
It’s a good idea to provide your chickens with an area that is large enough to graze while also being protected from predators.
One way of allowing your birds to free-range is to use a portable chicken run. This is a great one to consider from Amazon.
You can transport this kind of run from one spot to another – keeping your birds predator-protected and enabling them to access new fresh grass when they’ve exhausted one spot.
Egg-laying requires a lot of calcium, so be sure to offer your chickens enough calcium.
You can add crushed oyster shells into a cupful of high-quality feed to ensure your birds meet their requirements.
Chickens need appropriate hydration in addition to a high-quality feed to be healthy. Around 500 ml per bird is advised, per day.
Also, be sure to change the water daily; making sure it is fresh and clean at all times.
You should notice that doing so leads to healthier chickens and more eggs.
Parasites are a terrible nuisance for chickens, and mites are the most common in the coop.
Mites can take over the coop without detection, so it helps to inspect your flock regularly.
Mites are most active during the night, so this may be a good time to observe.
If you have a mite infestation, you must give each of your chickens a dose of ivermectin.
Deep regular cleans of the coop are also a must, along with a change of bedding at appropriate times.
Deep cleaning is essential for removing and keeping pests at bay.
Avoid Handling Your Hens
When your birds are not molting, it’s good to handle them to check for problems like cuts, broken bones, and other health issues.
However, you should avoid picking up your chickens during molt as it can cause them pain and increase stress.
It’s essential to lower stress as much as you can.
Chickens should behave as they do normally during molt – but this does not mean you should behave the same way with them!
Be mindful of this naturally stressful time.
And if they don’t seem well, do continue to seek out veterinary attention.
Your hens can’t rest and recuperate if they have to worry about and contend with predators.
So, be sure their coop is fully secure from predators and they are not paying your flock a visit.
Check to ensure that animals like cats, raccoons, and other dangerous animals such as badgers cannot burrow their way into the hen house.
Examine your coop and check for any vulnerabilities, points of access or weakness. From there do all you can to resolve!
Also, be mindful of aerial threats such as owls too!
Clean Nest Boxes
Chickens like laying eggs in a clean nest box with comfortable bedding, so be sure to clean the nest boxes and replace any bedding, as regularly as needed.
Both roosters and hens experience molt in their lifetime, and it’s a natural and inevitable process.
The experience can differ from one bird to another, with some losing a few feathers that grow back in as little as 2-4 weeks!
For others, they may lose a lot of feathers and it can take months to grow them back!
Molting is by nature, an uncomfortable experience for your birds and yourself as a keeper alike.
Besides we do not want to see our flock in distress.
So, it’s essential that you reduce all sources of stress during this time, and do all you can to meet your bird’s needs.
For instance, during a molt is not a good time to introduce a new bird to the flock, nor is it a good time to change the coop entirely.
But, by taking care of your birds and ensuring their needs are met, you should notice that they resume laying eggs in no time!
Can You Stop Chickens From Molting?
It is not possible to stop chickens from molting. It is a biological and innate process that all birds will go through, at some point. The change in season, daylight, and temperatures brings molting on; so you will need to wait until the process naturally completes
Looking to learn more about egg-laying in chickens? If so, my following guides may be of interest:
- How Long Does It Take For Chicken Eggs To Hatch?
- How Long Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
- Does It Hurt A Chicken To Lay An Egg?
- How Many Eggs Does A Chicken Lay In A Week?
- Can Chickens Lay 2 Eggs A Day?
- Do Male Chickens Lay Eggs?
- Why Do Chickens Peck Holes In Their Eggs?
- What Is A Fart Egg?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.