You are here

Molting of laying hens

Each year chickens molt, or lose the older feathers, and grow new ones. Most hens stop producing eggs until after the molt is completed. The rate of lay for some hens may not be affected, but their molting time is longer. Hens referred to as "late molters" will lay for 12 to 14 months before molting, while others, referred to as "early molters," may begin to molt after only a few months in production. Late molters are generally the better laying hens and will have a more ragged and tattered covering of feathers. The early molters are generally poorer layers and have a smoother, better-groomed appearance.

Early molters drop only a few feathers at a time and may take as long as 4 to 6 months to complete the molt. Early molters are usually poor producers in a flock. Late molting hens will produce longer before molting and will shed the feathers quicker (2 to 3 months). The advantage of late molters is that the loss of feathers and their replacement takes place at the same time. This enables the hen to return to full production sooner.

The order in which birds lose their feathers is fairly definite. The feathers are lost from the head first, followed in order by those on the neck, breast, body, wings, and tail. A definite order of molting is also seen within each molting section, such as the loss of primary flight feathers before secondary flight feathers on the wings.

The primary wing feathers determine whether a hen is an early or late molter. These large, stiff flight feathers are observed on the outer part of each wing when the wing is spread. Usually 10 primary feathers on each wing are separated from the smaller secondary feathers by a short axial feather.

Molting birds lose the primary feathers in regular order, beginning with the feather nearest the axial feather and progressing to the outer wing-tip feathers. Late molting hens will lose primary feathers in groups of two or more feathers, whereas early molters lose feathers individually. Replacement feathers begin to grow shortly after the old feathers are shed. Late molting birds can be distinguished by groups of replacement feathers showing similar stages of growth.

Printer Friendly and PDF

News

A woman holds a brown and white chicken while a young girl looks on.
Filed Under: Poultry June 1, 2018

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- More than a million backyard chicken flocks provide Americans with eggs, meat or companionship, a trend Mississippians embrace, but hobby farmers must learn proper care to keep them healthy.

A close up of white eggs stacked in a bowl with other white eggs.
Filed Under: Poultry April 13, 2018

RAYMOND, Miss. -- With low feed prices and healthy demand for broilers and eggs, the Mississippi poultry industry is poised for another productive year.

An illustration depicts a large yellow chick with a graph showing the number of Salmonella outbreaks since 2000 and includes text instructions to wash hands after handling backyard poultry.
Filed Under: Youth Poultry, Agriculture, Livestock, Poultry March 30, 2018

Baby chickens are so cute and cuddly that few people can resist holding them. Unfortunately, as public interest in raising backyard birds has grown so has the number of Salmonella outbreaks in the U.S. (Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

More than 20 newly hatched chickens covered in yellow down bask under warming lamps in a large black tub.
Filed Under: Youth Poultry, Livestock, Poultry March 27, 2018

Some people can’t resist the latest spring fashions. Others plant flowers in profusion.
Then there are those, like me, who are highly susceptible to the cheerful chirping of newly hatched chicks. (Photo by Kat Lawrence)

Filed Under: Commercial Fruit and Nuts, Green Industry, Organic Fruit and Vegetables, Other Vegetables, Corn, Cotton, Nuts, Peanuts, Soybeans, Equine, Goats and Sheep, Poultry, Lawn and Garden, Forestry, Seafood Economics, Seafood Harvesting and Processing March 7, 2018

ELLISVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State University representatives met with agricultural clients in Ellisville recently to discuss research and education needs for 2018. More than 115 individuals attended this year's event.

Watch

Farmweek, Entire Show, August 28, 2015
Farmweek

Season 39 Show #08

Thursday, August 27, 2015 - 7:00pm

Contact Your County Office

Your Extension Experts

Extension Associate III
Extension Professor
Extension Instructor