My Chickens Molting or Mites

Chickens Molting or Mites? Chickens can begin to molt at any time of year, but molting is most noticeable during the fall and winter months when daylight hours are shorter and cooler temperatures prevail.

Molting results from a decrease in day length (photoperiod) detected by a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. When this happens, the chicken’s body slows down its production cycles while increasing its appetite.

A hormone called “juvenile hormone,” normally present only at a low level, increases dramatically during molting and gives rise to several changes in a bird’s physiology that enable it to re-grow feathers more quickly after they have been lost.

Science of Chickens Molting

Molting is a physiological process of shedding the feathers from the body and growing new ones. It occurs in both wild and domesticated chickens, so it’s not unusual to see some chickens forcibly losing their feathers every year. In most cases, molting will happen on an annual basis unless some factors cause this process to be delayed or suspended; we can call these latter factors ‘molting problems’. This article provides information about the science of chickens’ molting – why and how they molt:

The function of molting is very similar to the other seasonal hibernation-like behavior across the animal kingdom such as hibernation, migration, estivation (in reptiles), aestivation (in desert mammals), and torpor (in bats); all of them are part of an animal’s strategy to survive. In a nutshell, molting is like the ‘overhaul’ your car needs now and then; it rejuvenates the chickens’ entire system (organs, muscles, bones, etc.) for another year of service. Chickens Molting or Mites?

Since molting is a form of forced rejuvenation process, it requires energy pooling to allow the body to support the renewal process. Chickens that are molt will eat more than usual – even double their normal daily intake (about 4-5% increase). A healthy chicken normally eats about 1/2 pound per day; with molting, expect them to eat up to 1 pound per day. So if you’re planning to molt your chickens, you better feed them regularly and supply more than enough of their favorite treats (such as kitchen leftovers, greens, etc.) to keep them satisfied. You can also reduce their meal portions accordingly once they start molting since the increased eating is just temporary; you will know when they are no longer hungry.

What causes molting?

Two factors trigger the onset of the molting process:

1) environmental change

2) hormonal activity

More specifically, molting will begin when the hours of daylight start to decline; this is due to their biological clock (in response to decreasing day length) that tells hens it’s time for them to molt.

What Does Molting Mean For Your Chickens?

Essentially, molting is a natural process that chickens go through every so often in their lives when they replace their old feathers with new ones. Chickens only go through molting once a year, usually at the end of summer or beginning of autumn, depending on your area’s climate.

Chickens are born with an unlimited supply of fresh feathers that they use to protect themselves from any predators out there in their world. Over time, however, those feathers start to wear out and break, so chickens have to replace them with new ones. They do this by going into a molting process that can last as long as six weeks.

The molting process is made up of three different stages: pre-molt, molt, and post-molt. With each stage comes some symptoms that tell you what stage your chicken is in.

What symptoms should I look for when molting?

Pre-Molt Stage

The pre-molt stage can last up to two months, depending on how old your chickens are and how long they molt. Chickens past their first molt will start the process of pre-molt, which is when they stop laying eggs to focus their energy on growing new feathers.

The pre-molt stage will start with comb and wattles turning pale, while the skin of your bird’s shanks might also turn blue. The pre-molt stage can be very confusing for chickens because they’re used to laying eggs and now it’s stopping. Your chickens might start acting out of sorts, too – some may give up their roosts to sleep on the floor instead, or try to escape from your coop by picking at weak areas of the fencing.

Molt Stage

The molt is when your chicken sheds all of its feathers and is the longest stage in the molting process. Chickens usually start this part of the molt by rubbing their head on things to loosen feathers that are still attached. Their wings, tails, and saddle feathers might also fall out during this time.

Once all of your chickens’ old feathers have fallen off, they will be new fresh birds with some downy fluff. Chickens during the molt stage will have a lot of bare patches and look disheveled because their feathers are growing in so quickly.

Post Molt Stage

The post-molt stage is when your chicken has finished replacing all its old feathers with new ones. This final stage of molting is when they look their best because they’re all fluffed up in new feathers. Chickens look plump and healthy during this stage, which can last anywhere from two weeks up to six months depending on the breed, age, and season.

Not all chickens go through molting at the same time or in the same way. Some breeds are more likely to molt than others due to the breed’s characteristics and depending on your location, weather, and light exposure. Your chickens might molt slowly or quickly; they could be fine one day and then suddenly start molting the next. How often you check for new feathers on your chickens is completely up to you as long as their health isn’t jeopardized.

5 Reasons that Chickens Molt?

Chickens molt, just like most other birds. Most breeds of chickens molt around 12 months, some as early as 10 months and others as late as 16 months. There are several reasons why the chicken molts so it is best to know all of them. Some factors that influence when a chicken molts include:

  • Age
  • The breed of chicken
  • The season
  • Stressful events, such as going through a phase where they are not getting enough food or water, a disease outbreak, a move to a new area, etc.
  • Sometimes it is just time for them to molt and there may be nothing that caused it.

Age:  

Some breeds of chickens can be as young as 10 months when they start to molt. Other breeds may not start until 16 months to two years. As a general rule, chickens will stop laying eggs once they do their first full body molt and begin laying again about a year later when the second molt is complete.

The breed of Chicken:  

Different breeds of chickens molt at different times. Some breeds molt quickly, within a month or two while others may take 6 months to begin their first new feathers.

The Season:

Chickens are living creatures and as such, they are affected by the weather and by the seasons. Usually, there are fewer daylight hours in the winter which causes them to molt earlier than chickens molting in the spring.

Stressful events:

Chickens are very social creatures and they will tend to pick on one chicken in particular if something stressful happens, such as going through a phase where they are not getting enough food or water, a disease outbreak, a move to a new area, etc. This can cause the other chickens to pick on the chicken that is having problems and this may even result in feather loss.

Sometimes it is just time for them to molt and there may be nothing that caused it:

Chickens are living creatures that have a natural life cycle and just like humans, they can experience health problems. Sometimes it is just time for them to molt and there may be nothing that caused it.

What age do chickens molt?

What is molting? Molting is a natural process that occurs in all birds consisting of a periodic shedding of the old, outer feathers and the growth of new ones. In chickens, this happens around once a year. However, not all hens will go through this process at the same time. Some may suffer from stress which can cause them to skip a molt entirely.

Hens, like most animals, go through different stages of growth. As they mature, they reach sexual maturity and lay their first eggs. The average age for this is around 6 months old (some breeds will take longer). A chicken will then continue laying until it is about 2-3 years old. Chickens can live for a very long time if they are well cared for, but the number of eggs laid will decrease over time until they stop laying altogether. Chickens Molting or Mites?

Molting Related Issues and Confusions

Is Molting Painful for the Birds?

At one time, it was thought that during molting, birds were completely incapacitated and unable to survive outside the nest. It is now known that this is not true. Birds do fine without their feathers and can fly and survive very well. However, if a bird has been malingering after feather loss (for example), there may be a problem.

If a bird is compromised from feather loss, it may have problems getting food for itself. It has been seen in some cases where the molting birds are young and old birds with poor coordination, but can usually recover with rest.

The most common sign of trouble is the inability to fly or difficulty flying (poor balance). The molting bird may also have become very thin and weak.

If you find a bird in this condition, bring it inside to safety. If the bird can eat on its own, place food and water directly in front of it so that it does not need to move around much. Make sure the cage is stabilized or tied down so that the bird does not fall over.

What to do if a Chicken Bleeds During the Molt?

It’s late summer and all the chickens are molting. You notice that one of your hens has stopped laying eggs and looks like she is getting ready to molt, but then you see her drag herself off into a corner and fluff up her feathers. She seems uncomfortable and tries to move away from the other birds so she can be alone. Unfortunately, she keeps bumping into things and she bleeds a bit from her comb and wattles. What to do?

First of all, DON’T PANIC! This is a normal part of the molting process in chickens. It’s one way that your body gets rid of toxins during this period. As long as the bleeding is not excessive, there’s no need to do anything – just give her a little space and allow her time to heal. Also, check your other birds for any signs of parasites or ill health. If you do notice that one of them has lice or some other condition then treat it right away before you all become infected.

Let her rest for a few days until the bleeding stops and then give her a little extra attention to help boost her spirits back up again. When she is feeling better, you can put her back in with the flock.

Wings after the Molt?

As the summer progresses, several species of migrating birds that were once flightless will have grown back their flight feathers. It’s quite common to see adults and juveniles with flight feathers visibly sticking out through the non-flight feathers making them look as if they have a small tuft of wings. Some people have gone so far as to say these birds are “injured” or even “handicapped”. Is this a sign of a problem? Do they need help?

We consulted a senior scientist at the B.C. Ministry of Environment, and she said there is nothing to worry about. This is part of the normal molting process that all birds go through each year, whether they are breeding or migrating.

In fact, over the next few weeks, these feathers will get shorter and more frayed-looking until they are not visible at all. She said that sometimes people get confused about what these feathers are since the shafts look like long “hairs” coming out of the bird’s skin. So to be clear, these aren’t milkweed “toxins”, but just normal shed feathers!

Do Chickens lay eggs when they Molt?

Chickens lay eggs when they Molt. Chickens are the only bird that does this. All birds grow by a process called “molting”, which is like having an adult plumage that has grown out and needs to be replaced with new feathers, or hair in the case of humans. In the wild, birds get new feathers every year.

Chickens in captivity whose entire life is artificial don’t have a molt schedule and can continue to lay eggs continually if they are healthy and well-fed. Chickens that experience a substantial molt where they lose a large amount of adult plumage will temporarily stop laying eggs until their body starts a new molt which restores a new supply of adult plumage.

The first time you see a chicken molt, it is a process that takes some time, but after the first molt, you will see more molts in a shorter period because their body has become used to replacing feathers quickly.

Chicken Mites

The local Chicken Mite is a tiny spider-like creature that feeds on the blood of humans and animals. They can grow to  1/8 of an inch in length and vary in color from white, brown, or grey.  

They are often found in the soft tissues of the throat, mouth, nose, and eye area. A serious infestation can cause severe irritation and fever-like symptoms such as chills, headaches, joint pain, and itching.

Bites from these mites can cause a condition known as Chicken Mite Dermatitis. Symptoms include an intense itching that may cause the victim to scratch or rub off scabs.

Types of the Most Common Chicken Mites 

Red Roosters / Brown Roosters

The red rooster or brown rooster mite is a parasitic mite that attacks birds, mainly chickens. It lives in dry soil and lays its eggs in the nests of birds. It has a reddish-brown color and it’s about 0.5 mm long. Red rooster mite is found worldwide, except in cold climates. It has a life expectancy of about 3 to 4 weeks.

The red mite affects chickens, pigeons, pheasants, and wild birds. They can transfer from bird to bird very easily during mating, therefore the red mite is a bigger problem in a flock of hens. The red mite is a bigger problem during the summer and fall seasons. The brown rooster mite is usually found in wet weather conditions.

The brown mite is more of a problem on the East Coast than on the West Coast. They are commonly found in soil nests and can be easily transferred through preening (when birds groom themselves).

Blue Rooster Mites

The blue rooster mite is a parasitic bloodsucker that attacks birds, mainly chickens. It lives in dry soil and lays its eggs in the nests of birds. It has a blue-gray color with a light green underbelly. The female mite is oval-shaped and about 1/20 inch long, while the male is more round and smaller –about 1/25 inch long.

The blue mite affects chickens, pigeons, pheasants, and wild birds. They are commonly seen after a couple of heavy rains during the summer months. The mites are most often found in soil nests or where chickens preen themselves. It’s especially common among hens with large combs.

Northern Fowl Mites (Chicken Mange)

The northern fowl mite is a parasitic mite that lives in the blood vessels of its host. The northern fowl mite is found worldwide and it affects chickens, pheasants, pigeons, and domestic rodents. It’s commonly found wherever birds roost such as on chicken coops or trees.

The northern fowl mite is 0.12-0.16 inches long and white with red eyes. It has six legs near its head that have large claws for gripping onto birds, while the back two pairs are smaller than helping it move inside the thick feathers of birds.

The female lays three to four eggs daily until she can lay up to 100 eggs, then dies. The eggs hatch in just a few days and the mite larvae drop from the bird into the litter or soil where it feeds on organic matter for 14-20 days. The life cycle takes about three weeks to complete.

Chicken Mange Mites

The chicken mange mite is a parasitic mite that lives in the blood vessels of its host. It’s found worldwide and it affects chickens, pheasants, pigeons, and domestic rodents. The chicken mange mite is more common among domesticated birds than wild ones.

The chicken mange mite has six legs near its head that have large claws for gripping onto birds, while the back two pairs are smaller than helping it move inside the feathers of birds.

The mange mite is 0.20-0.25 inches long and white with six to eight legs near its head that have large claws for gripping onto birds, while the back two pairs are smaller than helping it move inside the feathers of birds.

Final Thought

Chickens molt to grow new feathers. This process can take up to 28 days and during this time, the chicken will not lay eggs. Mites are tiny parasites that live on chickens and can cause them to lose feathers, become sick, or die. Chickens should be checked for mites regularly and treated if necessary. There are several ways to treat chickens for mites, including using a commercial mite treatment or making your miticide from essential oils. If you have a backyard flock of chickens, it is important to keep an eye on them for signs of molting and mites and treat them accordingly. See also Can chickens eat bread

Leave a Comment