What Is Molting And What Can You Do To Help Your Birds?

Molting is the natural process of replacing old, worn-out feathers with new feathers, that happens every year to your ducks and chickens. But the process can still be hard on them. Here are a few ways that you can help your birds get through it a little easier.

Feathers - What Is Duck and Chicken Molting?

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What Is Molting?

If you walk into the chicken yard and see feathers everywhere you might think you are looking at a predator attack. But on closer inspection you see that all of your flock is present, they just look very bedraggled. And you are not getting as many, or maybe any, eggs. You are probably dealing with molting.

Related: Raising Ducks 101

The feathers of a chicken or duck (or for that matter turkey goose or any other bird) play a very important role in the bird’s health. Their role is to keep the bird warm and dry.

Chicken Molting?

So let’s discuss chicken molting and duck molting.

Over a year’s time, feathers take quite a beating. They get rained on, preened, and bathed in either water or dirt. They get pulled on by other birds and end up broken and bent. When they are in this shape they no longer fit snugly together to protect the bird from the elements like they should. So what’s a bird to do? This is where molting comes in.

What is Feather Molting?

Feather molting is a natural process that all birds go through to replace these old and ineffective feathers with new feathers that lay nicely together to insulate and protect the bird from the elements.

Often in the fall, but sometimes in the spring after hatching out a nest of eggs, the birds start losing their feathers and getting new ones. With some breeds the loss is dramatic and with others, it is a little slower process. But they all must go through it. You will gradually notice new feathers coming in.

What Causes A Duck Or Chicken To Molt?

The main reason for your flock to molt is to get ready for winter and it is brought on by hormones.

As the days shorten it triggers the bird to drop its old feathers and replace them. In some birds this happens almost all at once over only a few weeks, for others, it is more gradual. A chicken molting will look much more bare and bedraggled than a duck molting since a duck loses its feathers over a longer period. However, neither one will ever be completely naked.

There are other reasons for molting as well, most have to do with breeding, but these are not generally such a drastic molt.

Duck Molting Feathers

More Reading: What Can Chickens (and ducks) Eat And 10 Things To Avoid

How Should You Treat A Molting Bird?

Handle With Care – Molting time is a very stressful time for your chickens and ducks. A lot of their skin is exposed to the elements, mosquitoes, and other pecking birds. Also, the new feathers, as they start to come in, are very tender.

A new feather has blood flowing through it until it is fully grown in. (known as blood feathers) And during this time it can hurt the bird to be picked up. If the new feather is broken it can bleed a lot.

An old feather is dead much like your hair. But unlike your hair that keeps on growing, a feather, once it is full-grown, stops growing and the blood recedes as does the painful feeling.

What Does Your Duck Or Chicken Need While Molting

A Peaceful Environment – A Molting Chicken or Duck is under a great deal of stress during the molt. Your birds will be anxious about being attacked. Not only are their bodies tender during a molt, but they are also unable to fly to allude a predator. This can cause anxiety. They need to be watched for bullying and even moved to a different pen if necessary.

Duck Molting

Related: Preparing For Predators On The Homestead

Extra Nutrition – It takes a lot of protein to produce feathers.

A feather is made up of about 85% protein. Chicken feed is not made to provide that much protein. A typical layer feed has about 16% protein.

During molting, you can switch to a broiler feed which has 20-25% protein. You can also supplement their feed with high protein sources like earthworms, mealworms (grown yourself or purchased dry), or any type of bug.

Buy Your Girls Mealworms

You can also mix up special feed like Lisa from fresh eggs daily did with her molting meatloaf.

And your ducks need healthy fats from pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or cod liver oil. You can crack open a whole pumpkin and let the birds eat the whole thing pumpkin, seeds, and all. Mine would devour every little bit leaving only the thinnest rind. It was really good for them too.

During molting, you should cut back on non-protein treats. Watermelon is great in the heat of summer, but not while they are trying to grow feathers.

Don’t forget to go back to a low protein diet after the molt as too much protein is not good for their kidneys when it is not needed for making feathers.

Supplements – A molting bird will be more prone to illness. Adding Apple Cider Vinegar or probiotics to their water is a good idea to support their immune systems.

Related: Deep Litter – The Best Method For A Duck And Chicken Run.

Cleaning The Coop – Now is a good time to clean the coop. Do this not only to reduce the bacteria the stressed birds are exposed to but also to combat any pests, bugs, or parasites that may be lurking in the corners.

Molting Duck Feathers

Related: 30 Gift Ideas For Duck Lovers

Be Patient – Your wonderful egg layers will get back to providing you with the bounty of eggs you are used to in no time.

Remember this is a normal, natural process. With just a little extra attention and care your flock will come through the molt happy and healthy and more protected from all the elements than ever.


Here are a few other articles you might enjoy.

Raising Ducks 101,

10 Reasons to Raise Ducks,

Raising Worms

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