|Sunny looks pretty scraggly right now.|
Molting is the process of shedding and renewing feathers. During the molt, the reproductive physiology of the bird has a complete rest from laying and the bird builds up its body reserves of nutrients. The provision of new feathers or a coat (a feature inherent in most animals) is a natural process, designed by nature to maintain a bird's ability to escape enemies by flight and better protect against cold winter conditions. Under usual conditions, adult birds molt once a year. Some may molt twice in one year and, rarely, once in two years.
The chick goes through one complete and three partial molts during its growth to point of lay. Generally, complete molting occurs from 1-6 weeks of age, and partial molting at 7-9 weeks, 12-16 weeks and 20-22 weeks. During this final molt, the stiff tail feathers grow.
Mature birds normally undergo one complete molt a year. The three main factors that bring about molting are:
- physical exhaustion and fatigue
- completion of the laying cycle (as birds lay eggs for a certain period of time)
- reduction of the day length, resulting in reduced feeding time and consequent loss of body weight.
If a bird stops laying and molting, this means its physical condition is deteriorating and, therefore, cannot support egg production, continued nourishment of their feathers or body maintenance. Feathers contain protein and are more easily grown when laying ceases because of the difficulty in assimilating sufficient protein for both egg and feather production. During the molt, the fowl still needs a considerable amount of good quality food to replace feathers and build up condition.
The time at which a laying hen ceases production and goes into molt is a reliable guide as to whether or not the hen is a good egg producer. Poor producing hens moult early and take a long time to complete the process and resume laying i.e. they 'hang' in the moult and are out of production for six to seven months. Poor producers seldom cast more than a few feathers at a time and rarely show bare patches.
High-producing hens moult late and for a short period (no more than 12 weeks), and come back into production very quickly. Rapid moulting is seen not only in the wing feathers of good producers, but also in the loss of body feathers generally. Because of this, it is common to see a late and rapid moulting hen practically devoid of feathers and showing many bare patches over its body.