In possibly one of the coldest weeks in the Australian Autumn this year, one of my chooks decided to moult. Well, at least I thought she was moulting. The only problem was she lost ALL of her feathers… and it was on wet, windy days with maximums of just 12°C (54°F).
As it turned out, “Susie Chook” was moulting and not sick or diseased. She lost all her feathers save those on the very top of her neck and face, but there was no sign of lice or mites on her body. In a few days she had new feathers growing and within 7-10 days she was completely grown out with new feathers. The other chooks in the run also moulted around this time but none of them moulted as severely and quickly as Susie.
This sort of moulting where a bird loses all their feathers at once is not overly common. A bird will usually moult in late summer or autumn. You can tell if your chickens are moulting when you see old feathers littering the run and lack of feathers or scruffy feathers around the body and particularly the neck. This is usually a longer gradual process than poor Susie Chook’s effort this autumn. If there is a particularly severe moult it will typically be only the neck feathers which will drop all at once.
Birds generally stop laying during a moult and if it is late in autumn some may not lay again (or only lay periodically) until the days warm and lengthen in spring. Birds may also require some extra protein in their diet to cope with the moult.
When a bird begins to moult, it is a good idea to check them for lice, mites and other problems to ensure that the reason why they are dropping their feathers is due to an annual moult and not some other stress or disease/pest related issue.