Around the late summer and early autumn, we start to receive emails and calls
from concerned chicken keepers who are new to the hobby, asking me what is
wrong with their hens - their feathers are falling out and the number of eggs
being produced has dropped off or stopped altogether.
The first season of keeping chickens can be a steep learning curve as you get to
know your hens and their habits, as well as the signs that could indicate a health
issue. The good news is that although the first moult may look awful, it is an
entirely natural and necessary process and forms part of the chicken-keeping
year.
It usually takes place at the end of summer and into early autumn and is a
process of rejuvenation as old and worn feathers are dropped, to be replaced
by fresh new ones that will help protect the birds during the rigours of the
coming winter. It is thought to be triggered by the onset of shorter daylight hours
and falling temperatures. This late summer moult is the general rule, although
some hens may buck the trend and start their moult in the late spring and be
finished by the middle of summer.
Just as timings for the start can vary, so too will the amount of time it takes your
hens to complete the process, and this appears to be based on the number of
eggs that are usually produced.
Generally speaking the commercial layers will complete the process
quickest and can be finished in as little as a few weeks.
However the fancier breeds, which generally produce
fewer eggs during the year and have been bred for
their decorative plumage, can take up to a couple
of months to finish their moult.