Moulting: The purposeful loss (or shedding) of scales/hair/feathers.
In late summer or early autumn, chickens begin to lose their feathers. This is one of the most alarming things for a novice chicken keeper. This, however, is perfectly normal. It is called Moulting (USA spelling is Molting).
When chicks hatch, they are covered in soft puffy tufts of fluff, which is shed and replaced by small feathers in the first juvenile moult. After a few more juvenile moults, and a lot of growing, the chicks finally acquire their adult plumage. This is then moulted off again in autumn, and replaced.
Chickens moult to replace their old, worn, torn and no longer waterproof feathers with brand new, shiny, waterproof plumage to combat winter’s harsh weather. So, during September, October and sometimes even August, chickens all over the country will look ragged, and partially hair-less. As said before, this can be quite scary for a novice chicken keeper, however is 100% normal!!!
It takes a lot of energy to grow new feathers, and lots and lots of protein! During the autumn, chicken will stop laying to concentrate on moulting. At this time, changing feed from layers pellets to breeders pellets may be advisable, as rather than egg laying, breeders pellets target fertility and beauty, and contain lots of protein which helps hens grow new feathers.
Feather eating during this period may occur, this is also not a problem as the hen is only recycling protein! If you are worried they will choke, rake loose feathers away, but ensure you feed foodstuffs that contain plenty of protein.
Moulting is a natural process, not a disease. It occurs over a 6-8 week period, and gradual feather-loss is okay, whereas baldness is NOT ok. If a hen is completely bald, it may be a different problem besides moulting that requires investigation.
More protein, less stress and good hygiene = good moult, and good return to lay.
Chickens should act normally while moulting, if they stop eating or drinking, something is amiss!
When returning to lay, eggs may be smaller than normal, however, they should quickly return to normal!