For several days in a row, there were no eggs in the coop. Strange, I thought. My husband had finally given the chickens a good sized permanent paddock from which they can’t easily escape, so I knew they weren’t getting out and laying in the yard. (Though they do like to send us on literal egg hunts whenever they are given the opportunity.)
We resigned ourselves to the idea that this must be that time of the year when they stop laying. Most people who buy eggs at the store don’t know it, but hens will naturally stop laying for a time when daylight grows shorter. You can give them artificial light so they’ll keep laying longer- which is what commercial eggeries do (“eggery” must be the technical term, right? 😉 ) – but we haven’t yet taken that step.
Then, the hens began to display some grotesque and unusual features. Their heads looked shrunken at first. Then a little while later their heads looked like helmets and their neck resembled those gizzards you find inside your grocery store chicken. (Gulp.) They were dropping feathers everywhere. Our rooster-normally quite glorious, mind you- looked like a gangly, awkward teenager who forgot some important article of clothing.
I was concerned at first. What’s up with these frankenchickens? Are they diseased? Will I lose my entire flock?
But then I had a lightbulb moment. This must be what molting looks like! (Slaps forehead.) For some reason I could remember that hens stop laying for a time in the fall, but I completely forgot that they molt too. Duh. Let’s blame this one on mom brain, shall we?
The molting process generally takes around 7 weeks, but can be longer or shorter depending on the birds and conditions. During this time, most of their nutrition and energy is going into new feather production- hence, the lack of egg laying. They just can’t do it all at one time, and who can blame them?
The nice part about frakenchickens is that they are only molting for a time, and then they will grow some nice new fluffy feathers for winter. Then they will begin laying anew for another season. (This article has some good information and photos on the molting process and how to help your chickens get through it.)
I’m told that each year post-molting hens may lay a little less frequently, but the eggs they do lay are generally bigger. Having only had chickens for a year, I cannot yet attest to the truth of this statement. Regardless, I’m looking forward to having my nice fluffy chickens back in laying order.