Chicken Behavior During Molting… or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?!

Chicken Behavior During Molting… or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?!

Chicken Behavior During Molting... or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?! Strange and odd behavior during a molt. | Whole-Fed Homestead
Not only do they provide us with meat and eggs, but chickens are pure homestead entertainment! Spending even a few minutes out in the fresh air and sunshine with these birds will always put a smile on my face. I love just watching them- and actually, keeping an astute eye on them is part fun and part necessity.

Knowing their normal behavior (and they’re all different!) is the key to knowing when something is off, and being able to intervene if they’re sick, before it’s too late.

Lately a few of ours have been acting strange. It started about a month ago just before the girls went into a really hard molt. The group of chickens we have now are our first, and they are about a year and a half old, so I knew their first major molt would be starting anytime. I had never seen chickens go through a molt before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect.

I did expect that they would lose a lot of their feathers and look like ragamuffins. And I knew that they would need extra protein in order to grow those feathers back with the least amount of stress on their bodies. What I wasn’t prepared for were the behavior changes…

Abe Lincoln
First it was Abe Lincoln. Now, she’s always been one of the oddest chickens- very spastic and reactionary. She always looks me right in the eye super-intensely, like she’s enticing me to have a staring contest. She knows her name, and I’ll call for her under my breath, like I’ve got a secret to tell her and I don’t want anyone else to hear. Then I feed her a small handful of sunflower seeds before anyone else can get there… Abe is the smallest of everyone, so I think she appreciates the extras.

Chicken Behavior During Molting... or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?! Strange and odd behavior during a molt. | Whole-Fed Homestead

See what I mean?!

One day during the afternoon chicken-check, I noticed she was acting strange. Everyone else was milling about as they usually do, and she was sitting in the run all by herself. Uh oh, that’s never a good sign. I launched into chicken-crisis-prevention-mode and went to check on her. I checked her over, she protested but wasn’t flighty, and I couldn’t find anything wrong with her. She wouldn’t even take the sunflower seeds I offered her. I checked on her every couple hours for the rest of the day.

The next day there was no change: still all by herself all day, just sitting there quietly.

Day three was the same. I didn’t know what to think- no one else was acting funny?!

Day four came and she pepped up a little bit. She started mingling with the rest of the flock again, and… she was missing a ton of feathers. They were falling out of her with almost every move she made!

Her behavior returned to almost normal slowly over the next few days, and she was extra flighty for the couple weeks it took her to grow her feathers back. Her beautiful grey beard- her namesake, has been the last part to get feathers back.

Val
She knows her name and comes running when I call it… she’s just a sweetie, and one of my best chicken buddies. She is trained to jump on my forearm when I put it down and offer it to her. She likes to perch on my shoulder and when I sit in the lawn chair she’ll jump in my lap and fall asleep. We catch grasshoppers together, i.e., I shuffle my feet through the weeds and she gobbles them down when they jump up.

Val’s molt was different, but equally strange. One day she completely changed. I could see she was starting to lose some feathers- nothing too major, a few here and there. Like night and day she became flighty and scared, of everything and everyone, including me. She ran when we walked towards her and she wouldn’t even come to the offer of sunflower seeds. Previously she would have been crawling all over me to get them. Now she didn’t want anything to do with me.

I wondered if there was a predator that had spooked her, or if another hen had been beating up on her to make her act this way. Maybe something had scared her? Just like Abe Lincoln, I inspected her and could find nothing wrong. She also stopped roosting and started sleeping in the nest box. I normally wouldn’t allow that behavior, but the poor girl was nearly bald and the hens can get pretty mean in the evening fighting over the best roosting spots. I’m a push-over.

Chicken buddy; Chicken Behavior During Molting... or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?! Strange and odd behavior during a molt. | Whole-Fed Homestead

This behavior continued for almost two weeks, as she lost a ton of feathers and then re-grew them. Just this week we rekindled our friendship. She’s got a beautiful full set of shiny new feathers, and she’s back to her old self: sitting on my lap and roosting again.

Little Henny
And then there’s Little Henny. Poor, poor Little Henny.

We have four Buff Orpington hens, and when we first got them we couldn’t tell them apart, so we just referred to them all as “Henny.” As they got older and became easier to distinguish, they all adopted new name variations. There’s Mama Henny, Regular Henny, and two Little Hennys (still can’t always tell those two apart). We’re original, I know.

Similar to Abe Lincoln, before losing her feathers Little Henny started acting funny. Three days in a row she refused to come out of the coop. She stayed on the roost nearly all day. And bless her heart, one of her friends stayed by her side and kept her company for two of those days. Chickens are so cool- they don’t get nearly enough credit as a species. They absolutely do have personalities and feelings!

Of course I checked Little Henny over, and again there was nothing obviously wrong. I left her alone and kept an eye on her from a distance. Over the next few days she lost almost all her feathers. I wasn’t surprised… by the time she was exhibiting this weird behavior, I knew to expect a molt, especially when everything else checked out okay.

Henny molting; Chicken Behavior During Molting... or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?! Strange and odd behavior during a molt. | Whole-Fed Homestead

She’s starting to come around now- although she has taken a little longer to get her feathers back than some of the others. She is also one of the smaller chickens, so I have made it my daily mission to see that she gets some extra nutrients.

But Why the Odd Behavior?
I’m not sure what the internal mechanism for the odd behavior is. Is it hormones? Is it simply because they don’t feel good? I mean… growing new feathers hurts. And it takes a lot of energy to do. Does it frazzle them because they are more visible to predators, and with less wing feathers and less energy it’s tougher to fly away?

My observation is that the anti-social behavior is due to their fear of being pecked on their bare skin. Beaks hurt when you don’t have layers of feathers to protect you from them! I’d shy away from the other flock members too if I were bald. Nor would I want a rooster jumping on my poor bald back. It’s almost like molting sends you straight to the bottom of the pecking order.

I’ve also noted that we have plenty of chickens that molted just fine, with no real behavioral changes. Just like people, they really are all different!

What Can We Do to Help?
Increase the protein in their feed. Try these out-of-the-box protein suggestions, or simply switch from a layer ration to a grower ration. Spring for a bag of dried mealworms, or raw sunflower seeds to help them through!

Reduce stress, be respectful. Don’t pick them up against their will, even if you really want to; don’t be selfish. For their own good- fine, for yours- no. It hurts to be handled when you’re molting. Just let them be. And make sure any children understand this too.

Don’t introduce new flock members, change housing, or do anything else out of the ordinary. Don’t allow big groups of visitors, rowdy kids, or strange dogs near where the chickens call home.

Make sure there is always food and clean water available. Our hens free-range, so I usually let them fend for themselves in the morning, and feed them in the afternoon. Since they have been molting, everyone gets a higher protein feed first thing in the morning. I feel bad making them find their own food in the morning when they obviously don’t feel 100%.

Practice Good Animal Husbandry
I think that one of the most important things you can do as an animal care-taker is be observant and pay attention to detail. Know what normal looks like, so you can tell when something isn’t normal.

Want more from the homestead?

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33 thoughts on “Chicken Behavior During Molting… or, Why Have My Chickens Gone Crazy?!

  1. Well, this is my first molting experience. My Sadie Hawk is behaving funny, losing her feathers, and not eating with the others. She is on the bottom of the pecking order anyway… this is making her isolate herself more. It make sense to stay away from the others.
    It is nice to read your experience and recommendation to help her through this time. My other girls must be light molters… we’ll see.
    We are having weird weather. It is very dry. Our grass is all dead and the 90 degree weather has gone. It is a pleasant 65-70 during the day but is now getting down to mid 30s. I’m afraid her feathers will not come in in time for the real cold weather. Should I worry?
    I made them a chicken meatloaf the other day. They love it. Sadie only eats a few morsels. I’ll pick up some meal worms and black sunflower seeds for extra protein.
    Thanks for posting.

    • Hi Karen! You’d think they would learn to molt not so close to winter!

      I don’t think you should worry too much. We have a couple chickens who are molting heavily right now as well. Our temps are 40s during the day and 20s and 30s during the night, and they appear to be handling it with no problems- they have been nestling in the leaves and hanging out in the sunshine during the day, and going into their protective house at night. If it helps, I have found that the average time from when they look like scraggly pitiful things until they have full and beautiful feathers back is about 4-5 weeks.

      Sounds like you’re doing all the right things! And meatloaf?! What spoiled girls! :) -Crystal

      • Thanks for the encouraging words. My husband is on the prepper kick and decided to get chickens. He bought a cute but inept coop. Two pullets were murdered by a possum. Eye for an eye was the possums fate. Built a kick-a coop and fab run. Long story I am the one that is in love with my chickens. They are so fascinating. My husband has named three of the five. Whitie Bulger, Gretta Van so Stern, Matilda McGillicuddy, Ruby Reynolds, and pitiful Sadie Hawk.
        Yes, they are spoiled. My husband says they are very lucky girls.

  2. I completely agree with your common sense caring approach. I have noticed similar things in my favourite girl Dolly .. Such a character but the annual major moult takes it out of her. Her 3 flock-mates don’t appear to be affected like her. Who knows why but I do acknowledge the stress the major moult takes on some hens. Good nutrition and comfort is all we can offer . .

  3. This is the BEST info site ever! I was searching for moulting tips because my Maisie has just started and she seems to be depressed and cranky these days. She also stopped laying after surprising me one morning with a very tiny egg. I was surfing for more information and it was just all so routine until I found this site! You are very thorough and helpful! Thank you for sharing your knowledge in such a warm and friendly way!

  4. What a relief it is to read this!
    My three ladies became antisocial, afraid to leave their coop, afraid to go back in at night. I tilled my garden, chicken crack-cocaine, and they didn’t come help! I find them, huddled in a corner of the deck and carry them to their sleeping perch in their coop. I can’t wait for this to be done and am hopeful that the end is in sight and I’ll get my Ladies back soon.

  5. Great info. My smallest chicken has been keeping to herself and was lying splayed on on my slate terrace. The heat must feel good on her bare skin. I know she’s molting but didn’t know it would change her mood.

  6. I have a hen with a tuft on her head, that almost resembles a mohawk. She is a petite,chic producing machine, and I call her Fertile Myrtle.She has produced 3 broods this year alone.she is free range, and her and her 10 fold, have just disappeared. I hope she is molting and the brood is hanging out with her somewhere on our farm. I am enjoying eggs already from her earlier broods. I sure do miss her. Christie in the Hollow.

  7. Yes, thanks for the info! I have had my two birds for almost two years – my first time ever having a bird. I never knew how much personality was packed into one chicken! I have one chicken and one rooster and they are the best of friends, but since her molt started, their relationship is off.

    My chicken, Audrey Griswold (she is SO dramatic), has gone through a partial molt before but this year is extreme – in one afternoon, her entire back was bald! Now her bottom sides are bald, as the 2 day old sprouts are coming through on her back. My back yard looks like a chicken exploded!

    She has been less active, less food aggressive, less herself in almost every way (she still seems to enjoy eating, just not to the extent that she steals Mr. Chicken’s food out of his beak) – I kinda went into panic mode this morning until I read this page!! At first I thought she might have had a stroke or something, but now I feel with the cold temps, her body is putting all its resources into staying warm and growing feathers. It was cold this morning – probably 33°- so I put her and Mr. Chicken back into their house until the sun warms the yard.

    I am still a little on edge and hate to think she may have to suffer 4 more weeks or so until fully refeathered. When my animals hurt, I hurt! I am going to try to spoil her with as much of her favorite treats as she will eat. For some reason, she refuses to eat mealworms, though! She is a chicken, not an animal, after all!! ?

    Thank you so much for this wonderful website! ?

    • Glad it helped calm your mind- they really do change a lot during the molt! Audrey and Mr. Chicken sound like a lovely couple of birds! :) -Crystal

  8. This is the first sight I have come across to give me exactly what I need. I have 8 hens, 1 is 3 weeks new to the flock. Both of my Easter eggers have been molting under there necks for a while now. I added chick starter back to their daily snacks but I don’t thinks it’s enough because they are still bald after a month. This is my first time with chickens and I have raised them since babies. They are very spoiled and loved. But I worry about their molt.

  9. I have about 30 layer hens and 1 orphlin rooster. They range from 1 year to 5 years and today for some reason they won’t leave the coop. I live is south Louisiana so it’s not cold. Matter a fact a storm is brewing. They have never not been out and about. Should I b worried?

    • I don’t know about molting tendencies in other areas of the country- but I don’t think they typically molt this time of year anywhere. My chickens tend to be more active right before a storm… but that doesn’t means yours have to be. I would suspect there is a predator around that they are scared of- might want to double check around and even consider keeping them locked up for a few days. Hope that helps! -Crystal

  10. I didn’t realize I wasn’t suppose to add new chicks when my older ones were molting. Should I remove the new chicks. They were introduced 2 weeks ago..

    • Hi Jen, if it was 2 weeks ago and it was just babies, your molters are probably past the point of feeling stressed by new flock members… I guess I’d probably leave everything as is. -Crystal

  11. MY 2 leghorn hens are younger then the older hens and they’re at the bottom of the pecking order. One of them, Hedwig, is at the VERY bottom and I’m not sure if she is molting or not. I think she is though cause she’s losing feather left and right. When I set her down, three feathers dropped down. She wouldn’t go in the coop tonight and she kept trembling. Is she all right?

    Thanks!

    • It sounds like molting to me, but it’s hard to say without seeing Hedwig or having more information. We have a couple chickens that like to sleep in the nest boxes during molting; and I let them- that way they aren’t picked on or bothered by the others and they stay warmer. Don’t forget to give them lots of high protein treats! -Crystal

  12. i have 3 lovely ladies (plus 4 boys and one other girl who i found good homes for) who i unexpectedly adopted at one day old with no chicken handling experience what so ever. This was October 24th 2017, now i have some very odd chickens, Soshie, the sweetest and best tempered of the three, she is shy and was hard to win over until i realized she couldn’t see well out of one eye. i swear she is part french horn when i hear her. She looks like a sapphire gem but lays big blue eggs. Next is Mama, a beautiful purple/green iridescent glossy black australorp looking hen, she is a silly little follower type, she imitates the sound of our saturn sl1 being started because she heard that every day as a chick. She is very vocal and kind of a whiny baby if she feels she is not getting what she wants. She lays either olive colored or blue with concentrated splotches of deep blue on them. Then there is my Keppie (she loved playing with water bottle caps when she was tiny and cap turned into Keppie) Keppie is the biggest of the bunch and certainly the leader of the pack, she is a green/purple iridescent glossy black girl with half of a polish fro on top. She lays light brown eggs some with freckles all over them. She screams like a human and growls at any possible threats to her or the other girls. SHE is why im leaving a comment, i just wanted to back you up on the “emotional while molting bit” Keppie is horrible when she is molting, i have to separate her form the others because she will flat out chase and attack the others without provocation.
    Also i do have a question, my hens went through their first molt and it ended about 2 and a half months ago, but it seems they are going through another molt already. Is this possible? There are feathers on the ground and im only getting one egg a day now. I should mention that they were moved from their original pen/coop area recently, it was only to the back yard in a safer area, and they seem happy in their new area. I also feed them very well, lots of freeze dried meal worms, scratch, oyster shell, and loads of kale (the secret to iridescence in feathers).
    Thank you, Rhonda

  13. My Girl Billie Jo Just started moulting. She has never been the friendliest, always hangs back from the other girls. but she pecked at me! So I picked her up to love and pet her, when I put her down she charged me! Twice!!! Not sure what to do. I want to keep her as friendly as the rest. Hoping once she gets done with her first molt, she’ll be nice :)

    • They hate to be touched when they’re molting- hopefully she calms down once that’s over! :)

  14. Thank you for your article. My omega hen just started acting hysterical. Her mood change happened at the same time with her molting. She is my first hen to ever behave so drastically.

  15. My chickens are going through their first molt and seem to be eating less. They do not free range. I give them fermented feed every morning and then they have access to dry feed the rest of the time. They are not interested in eating much of the fermented feed when they usually eat it all by mid day. They also don’t seem to be interested in their dry feed as much. I have added in a higher protein with their normal layer and also have given them mealworms, which they love. I also give them tuna in water sometimes. Is there anything else I should do to get them to eat more?

    • Sounds like you’re doing all the right things already. Though, are you saying you added a higher protein feed mixed in with their regular feed? Because if they are eating significantly less of it now, that might be a sign that they don’t like it.

  16. Thank you, it’s so good to read about our feathery friends. I have four backyard hens and Penny, a coppery/tan Aracana, was molting, got aggressive then dramatically timid! She has chosen to remain in her coop for two weeks now. I am a bit concerned but she seems healthy and doesn’t mind a little interaction with me every day. When I let the girls out of their run each day to forage in the backyard she stays put – I lure them back in with a meal worm treat and bring some to Penny in the coop (she has food and water). I am trying to patiently wait it out…any other ideas? Her feathers are looking pretty good. This the first time one has changed so drastically for me too – I even had one nearly bald that was fine!

  17. Thank you for confirming a few things for me! I’ve got a small crested polish and she is having a very (very!) hard molt. It’s been a bit of a perfect storm … lice (that I didn’t notice for a while) that weakened her immune system allowing a respiratory infection to get hold (vet administered antibiotics, vitamins, etc.), rolling right into this hard molt. I’ve brought her in to the house twice in the last 3 weeks because she just wasn’t doing well in the coop. It’s been 5 days since I last brought her in and she seems to be improving. One of the weirdest things she’s doing is walking upright, then kind of “sitting down” but still walking. Just bizarre! Someone else told me their polish walks sideways during molt so I’m rolling with it.

    I have a question that I can’t seem to find the answer to – hoping you can help? To look at her, you might not know she’s in the middle of such a hard molt, but once you lift up the thin outer layer of feathers, she’s got so so many thick pin feathers sticking out of her.

    Is it normal for her to be “going after” her feathers during this time? I’ve recently found a few new ones on the ground, so she’s either purposely or inadvertently pulling them out. She’s at her oil glands quite often, but also has her beak working on these new feathers all over her body, and using her feet to scratch her head/neck area. There is so much wax in her cage, it looks like snow.

    After going through the lice thing a while back, I’m now kind of hyper-sensitive about parasites but she’s too sore to search. I can spray her, but prefer not to introduce add’l chemicals to her struggle if what she’s doing is expected.

    Thanks for any insights!

    • You know, I’m not sure. I have never ever seen my chickens “going after” their feathers during the molt or being excessively scratchy. I would check very thoroughly for lice or other parasites again. There are more natural ways to treat external parasites- check out Fresh Eggs Daily, she usually has good naturally-minded info.

  18. It was very interesting to hear all the different ways that chickens react to molting. My six have just finished their first molt which took a full 8 weeks. The weather got quite cold during that time as we are in Colorado but they came through with no problems. I can totally relate to not being able to tell them apart when they were small. One of mine , Fancy, was and is very vocal so when they were all small I called them Fancy and the Cheepsters. Now they are Fancy, Tuesday, Junior, Spike, Madame Beautiful, and Geek. Your article was informative and I enjoyed the commentary. Thank you

  19. This article is the best! This is our first molt for my 8 ladies. Glad that I came across it. Your Abe Lincoln reminds me of my Mary. She’s the smallest and has always been low on the pecking order. She even got a bit feisty when I’d collect eggs at night. Initially I thought she was getting broody, but then I realized it was a molting thing. Now my Dilffy has started isolating herself and remaining in the nest box at night. (I’m a pushover too).
    I did add some extra protein, BUT the one hen that is still laying… well now she’s putting out some oddly shaped and soft eggs.

    Suggestions???

    Joni

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