|Only got one egg yesterday! The fact that it was so pretty made me feel a bit better.|
I kept waiting to see if the egg production would ramp back up, but no such luck. I checked each hen over and there was no sign of injury or illness in any of them, so I was desperate to get to the bottom of this mystery. Last night I think I finally figured it out - several of them seem to be molting! Hens will cease egg production during their molt to focus on making new feathers, so this was my first big clue. I hadn't noticed any major feather loss, so I decided to look for more subtle hints that some of they may be molting to confirm my theory.
3 Subtle Signs Your Hen is Molting
1) Comb Shrinkage and/or Color Change
I can always tell when our White Leghorn hen, Chickabod, is molting because her comb starts to shrink. Leghorns have big combs that flop over, and when Chickabod's comb begins to stand up straight, I know it's shrinking and she is beginning the molting cycle. When chickens are in the middle of their molt, their combs may also appear dry and quite pale in color. For hens with smaller combs, the color and texture change is easier to detect than shrinkage.
2) Light Feather Loss
Molting can look different from chicken to chicken, and sometimes it is very apparent by dramatic feather loss. It's pretty shocking when you open up the coop in the morning to let your chickens out and you see a giant pile of feathers under the perch where one of your hens was roosting! In this case it is quite obvious, but sometimes their molt is so light that it's hard to detect. For example, our Production Red hen has the most beautiful, full feathers. However, recently I've noticed her feathers seem a little thinner than normal. I've been keeping an eye on her and last night noticed she only has a couple of tail feathers left. It doesn't seem to be a case of feather picking, so I believe that she is molting as well.
Hint: I find that light feather loss can be more easily detected if you observe your chicken shaking out her feathers or flying up to the roost at night. With slight movement like this, any loose feathers will come out. Last night when Chickabod jumped up to roost, I noticed a few fluffy feathers float to the ground. In addition to her shrinking comb, this led me to believe she really is starting to molt.
3) Lethargic or Unusual Behavior
One of the tell-tale signs of molting that can be the most subtle is a difference in your chicken's behavior. I spend some time with my chickens in the morning and the evening each day just observing their behavior, so even slight differences are easy for me to detect. I have noticed lately that Chickabod has been going in at night to roost earlier than all the other chickens, and she doesn't seem to be her usual outgoing, spry self. Of course this could be a sign of all sorts of things (including illness), but this symptom along with her comb shrinkage and light feather loss definitely hints at molting to me.
The past few years, our chickens have molted later in the fall so initially it wasn't really on my radar to think that they may be molting. However, we have had a relatively cool summer overall, and especially the past few weeks our temperatures have been well below normal (it has rained a lot as well). I think this may have signaled to their systems that fall is on the way and triggered their molting a little bit earlier than in previous years. It's so fascinating to see how the weather plays a part in chicken keeping. No two years are exactly the same, especially here in Missouri, and this always keeps me on my toes!
Have you noticed any subtle signs of molting in your flock yet?
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