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Help! It's Winter and my Chicken is Molting!

Chickens usually molt in the fall, but every so often you'll have a late molter who waits until the dead of winter.

In a perfect world, your chickens would all molt at the end of the summer as soon as the days start to get shorter and grow in nice new feathers to keep them warm through the winter well before the temperatures drop. 

But we all know that things don't always go as planned, and sometimes you'll end up with a chicken who decides to start molting in the dead of winter. 

I've had a few chickens over the years who have molted late in the fall, but I had never had one start molting in January before! But this year, Bonnie, my almost-two-year-old Olive Egger decided to do just that. 

Now mind you, this has been an unseasonably cold winter here in Maine with days on end that don't get above single digits. We're talking serious cold here. 

Help! It's Winter and my Chicken is Molting!

So what to do? 

Without feathers, chickens have a hard time keeping warm. I don't heat my coop, so it's getting down to zero overnight some evenings, and I have to admit that I was a bit worried about Bonnie. 

But here's what you don't want to do:

Don't put on a Sweater 

Chicken sweaters are a bad idea. Period. And an even worse idea when a chicken is molting. 

The process of growing feathers in can be uncomfortable at best and downright painful at worst, so the last thing you want to do is be struggling to get a molting chicken into a sweater.

Don't Bring her into the House

Having a chicken in the house isn't a good idea for the chicken or your family. Chickens can spread salmonella and other pathogens through their feathers and feces. 

It's also not a good idea to keep one in the house during the winter and then put her back outside when she's done molting because she won't be used to the cold any longer. 

Also, she'll be lonely in the house all by herself with no chicken buddies.

Here's what you should do instead:

Increase the protein

Offering high-energy, high protein treats are going to help those feathers grow back as quickly as possible. Mealworms, dried grubs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, meat scraps, fish or shellfish are all good, healthy options. 

Lots of Straw

I have noticed that Bonnie is spending lots of time hunkered down in the straw on the floor of the coop during the day. 

She's staying warm by doing that, so if you have a late molter, get a nice thick layer of straw on the floor of your coop if you don't already have it, and maybe even make a nest on the floor in a wooden crate for her.

Make a Chicken "Sandwich"

Nights are my biggest concern since that's when the temperature goes down. 

So after dark, once everyone is one the roost, I go down to the coop with a flashlight and make sure that Bonnie is sandwiched in between two big fluffy girls. 

As noted above, you don't want to handle a molting chicken unless absolutely necessary, so I leave her where she is and instead move one or two big girls and put them on either side of her. 

That way at least I know she has someone to snuggle with.

Or, you can leave your chickens to their own devices. The more I observe them, the more I'm convinced that they're smarter than we are. 

I discovered Bonnie most nights actually sleeping partially underneath Truffle, our super puffy Chocolate Orpington. Smart girl! Until Truffle had enough of Bonnie needed another plan.

She has decided that she's warmer sleeping in a nesting box with the curtain partially covering the front of the box. So... I've waived my "no sleeping in the boxes" rule, at least for the interim.

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