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Molting Hens=No Eggs

17 December 2010

One of my sons checks in on my hens on occasion. He emailed me to say the I hadn’t posted anything lately. I answered that not much was happening in the henhouse. Most of the six hens show signs of molting (loosing their feathers and growing new ones) and aren’t laying eggs. In fact, we’ve only been getting about one egg per day and it looks to be from the same hen. You see, all their eggs look slightly different. They have different shapes and are different colors so we can tell who is laying and who isn’t.

Barred Rock Molting-Pinfeathers are Growing in

Molting is a yearly occurrence for most breeds of chickens. Feathers are made of keratin, a kind of protein, and the annual transformation of shedding and replacement takes its toll on the hen’s physical condition and disposition. When the hens molt, their combs shrink and become a pale pink.  Some hens experience a change in personality, becoming unusually cranky. Molting could go on through January so I’ll have to forgo omelets until the hens are back in form.

Our hens are approaching two years of age now. Several are going through their second molt. Tulip, the Ameraucana, is one that has molted twice. Her molts seem to last forever. She stops laying those pretty green eggs for a couple of months. Sweetpea, the barred rock, is also suffering (I mean experiencing) her second year of molting. Sweetpea, is a good layer and I miss her large, rather long, light-brown eggs. Sweetpea is one of our most affectionate hens. She jumps onto our laps and tucks herself into the crook of our arms and settles in for an extended stay. Last fall, when she first molted she wouldn’t let us touch her. I read that when birds molt, the incoming new feathers make the skin sensitive to the touch. This year, though Sweetpea is a little stand-offish in her molt, she still has enjoyed some gentle handling.

Sweetpea's bare bottom

Daisy, the Buff Orpington, needed to molt. Her light flaxen plumage had become ragged and dull. I can’t wait to see Daisy in her new feathers. Rosie, the Rhode Island Red, has stopped laying and dropped a few feathers here and there. I see her growing some back on the bare spots on her head that the other hens had denuded. I think that Rosie will be one of those hens that does not fully molt. They say that the better layers molt less and for a shorter length of time and I think that Rosie is one of those. Luckily, we have temperate winters here on the Central Coast. My poor hens are walking around with bare bottoms and naked necks. Hopefully they’ll be strutting their new look soon.

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2 Comments to “Molting Hens=No Eggs”

  1. My chickens are molting and not laying as well! I hope they don’t continue molting through January! Is there a way to make them molt a little faster? I feel sorry for them if they don’t have a full body of feathers during the cold months (the have no heat), and this was the first time in my life that I had to buy a carton of eggs at the store!

  2. It’s odd, isn’t it, that they most often molt in the fall? I’ve got two out of the three hens, loosing their feathers. It will take about two months for them to complete the cycle, then they’ll start laying again. I’ve tried vitamin enriched food, additional protein in their diet, vitamin D is supposed help feathers grow. Nothing seems to speed them up. Some breeds molt more often and take longer. I’m afraid that you just have to wait it out. Then you’ll enjoy those delicious eggs again.

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