Moulting is a normal process and all part of a hen’s natural cycle.
It allows hens to shed damaged or loose feathers and replace them with a fresh set. The whole process is usually gradual to ensure the hen has enough feathering to protect her from the elements, but in extreme cases a hen may drop most of her feathers in one go.
As evenings start drawing in and days become shorter this can act as a trigger for birds to start to moult, although some birds moult at the end of an egg laying cycle. Other factors can include stress, hatching eggs, lack of water and changes in the coop.
Most hens will have their first moult around the age of 18 months, and while it is usually in the autumn, some hens will buck the trend and moult in the summer. It normally takes 8-12 weeks but can last longer.
Where feathers have been lost new pin feathers will emerge giving the appearance of a hedgehog to your already tatty hen! These pin feathers taste nice to other hens and may be plucked so watch out for signs of feather pecking on the moulting hen.
Hens can be helped through the process by switching to a higher protein feed or adding extra protein and calcium to their diets (feathers are 80% protein).
Most hens often go off lay and egg production may drop as protein is directed towards replenishing new feather growth. She simply can’t produce enough protein for both processes especially when a full moult takes place.
Colder weather will also speed up the process of new feathers growing back, so please don’t knit a jumper for the hen, she is capable of producing her own new outfit.