It’s that time of year when many chickens go through the annual process of molting and grow a new set of feathers. It’s easy to tell when the molting season begins because one day you lift the lid to the nest boxes to gather eggs and instead of eggs in the nest boxes, all you see is a pile of feathers. It’s a bit of a depressing time at the farm, not only because the ladies don’t lay eggs during this time (they need to use the protein that would normally be used for producing eggs to grow new feathers), but they also tend to be less social when they’re molting so there’s not much chicken snuggling going on.
Chickens usually lose their long tail feathers first, and when you see a chicken with only one or two tail feathers there’s no doubt what’s about to happen next. Tufts of feathers begin to fall out leaving patches of bare skin or downy under-feathers exposed all over their body. Then there are the poor chickens that seem to lose almost all of their feathers at once and spend the next several weeks running around half naked until the new feathers grow in. These poor girls tend to be quite skittish during this time when they surely must be feeling very sensitive as hundreds of new feathers sprout through their skin. The new feathers are called pin feathers, and when they first start growing all you see is the feather shaft protruding from their skin, and then gradually the feather grows out the tip of the shaft and unfurls into a recognizable feather. Some chickens molt gradually, and you can hardly tell they are molting except for the occasional feather that falls to the ground as they groom and give themselves a shake every now and then.
Although I do feel sorry for the ladies, it’s hard not to have a laugh at what these formerly lovely ladies are transformed into during this time. There are lots of bare butts to be seen, and a few of the ladies look downright ridiculous. Thankfully we’re having a warm fall this year, so I don’t feel quite as sorry for the ladies as I do when they molt during a really cold fall. Of course there will inevitably be a few hens that don’t start molting until November or December. So when the cold weather finally does set in this year, just be glad you won’t be subjected to the humiliation experienced by our poor ladies as they run around half naked with some weird lady following them with a camera and snapping pictures of their shameful appearance for all to see!