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Molting Process

The autumn leaves are falling and so are feathers at the farm! If you have visited Chrisholm Historic Farmstead over the past few weeks, you may have noticed the hens looking a bit ragged. Why are their feathers falling out? It is called molting and is a natural process that all birds, domestic and wild, go through. The shorter days and cooler temperatures triggers this automatic response in chickens.

chicken molting

Feathers become broken and worn out over time and can’t be used for flying or insulating the chicken against the upcoming cold weather. Old feathers are discarded and new shiny, tight feathers will grow anywhere between 3 to 16 weeks!

Our hens aren’t losing their feathers willy-nilly. It is a distinct pattern starting at the head and neck, proceeding down the back to breast and thighs and finally arriving to the tail. The new feathers that emerge are called pinfeathers and will grow in following the same sequence at which they were lost.


Feathers are approximately 85% protein, so during molt the hens need to increase their protein intake. Most chickens stop laying eggs during this process, too. They won’t restart laying eggs unless there is 14-16 hours of daylight. Some chicken owners add artificial light to coops to encourage egg laying all winter long.

molting 2

The pinfeathers are very sensitive, so it is best not to touch or hold the chickens during molt. You may notice a lot of “dandruff” on the hens in the next few weeks, too. It isn’t dandruff as in sloughed off skin. It is the discarded waxy covering of the new pinfeathers which acted as a protection for the new fragile feathers until they were fully developed.

Have fun learning how to draw a chicken with the pdf below.

How to draw a chicken

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