The shorter days of the fall signal to birds of all types that it is time to renew plumage or feathers in preparation for cold weather and/ or migration. This process of chickens shedding their feathers and growing new ones is called molting. This process can take a couple of months for your best layers or up to six months for your not so good layers. The best layers don’t start molting until late, and once they start they molt quick. The good layers molt quickly so the poor things can appear pretty ragged. They are never totally naked as the feathers are not falling out and growing all at once. The poor layers will molt early and take quite a while to finish. They will not appear near as ragged. It may even be difficult to tell they are molting.
The big problem with molting is that most hens will stop laying until the molt is complete. The good layers will lay through their first winter, and then molt during the second winter. The poor layers will molt their first winter and the second. Hens don’t always stop laying during molt, but many do. Some good layers may simply slow down. The laying slows down because when the chickens are growing new feathers it requires a tremendous amount of protein that used to go into egg production.
You can help your chickens through the molting process by giving them extra protein. Mealworms, earthworms, sprouted grains and seeds, cooked eggs (I don’t like giving them raw eggs, as I worry they will start to eat their eggs, but if we have left over eggs from breakfast I will give them the leftovers), cat food (not dog food), fish, and raw meat from a good source (obviously do not feed them chicken meat).
My chickens have been molting for a month or so now. They are good little layers, as they have kept us in eggs the whole time. During the summer and spring we were getting 4 or 5 eggs a day from our five hens, and now we are averaging 3 a day. They have slowed down, but they have done surprisingly well. I think part of the success is the fact that they are a good layer breed, "Red Star", and they are given fresh ground to forage during the winter. They love eating all the bugs out of my large garden in the winter, and the leftover produce and seeds. Also, they get all of our kitchen scraps as well.
Reference: “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” Gail Damerow