Lana Beckard, Nutrena® Poultry Expert – Ready or not, here comes the molt. Chickens shedding feathers and a drop in egg production in the fall are good indicators that your birds are going through molt. Chickens can weather the storm easier with the right preparation and planning.
What is Molt?
Molt is the natural shedding of feathers and the regrowth of new ones. This usually happens in the fall as day length shortens. It’s a chicken’s way to refresh old feathers and grow new ones for the coming winter. Molt happens in an expected order, starting at the head, down the back, breast and ending on the wings and tail.
How to Get Through the Molt
We know that molt is a natural process, but what, if anything, can you do to help your birds through the annual loss and regrowth of their feathers? Can you help them prepare and get through the process faster or more easily? It turns out you can – here’s how:
1. Start now. If you do not use supplemental light in your winter coop and your hens are 14 months or older, chances are good that one or all of your girls will experience molt soon. Preparing for this transition now will help you stay ahead of the curve.
2. Feed appropriately. Chickens use molt to build up their nutrient reserves and typically slow or even stop laying eggs during this time. Though they are not laying eggs, it is important that your chicken continues to eat a high-quality diet since feathers consist of approximately 85% protein. A higher level of protein is required in birds that are molting so that they can replace those protein-rich feathers. Now is the time to dial up the protein and cut back on the treats. Treats like scratch and straight grains dilute protein content and should be avoided, or feed at no more than 10% of the birds’ total diet.
3. Clean the coop thoroughly. This is a great time to learn how to clean a chicken coop and run prepared for winter by giving everything a thorough cleaning and disinfection. Include nest boxes, perches and cracks and crevices in your cleaning plan. Having your facility as clean as possible will help reduce the bacteria and chance of infection for birds with bare skin due to molt.
Feather Fixer™ is a unique and innovative life-stage product that can also be fed year round if desired.
4. Check for creepy crawly critters. Because molting affects your birds’ feathers, it is important to make sure that molt is the only challenge that is presented for feather regrowth. Parasites like chicken mites and lice will affect feather quality and will be an added stress on birds that are molting. Examine your flock and their housing for any parasites and treat accordingly, repeating treatment as necessary.
5. Monitor aggressive flock mates. If you have a flock member that has had a history of being a bully or acting in an aggressive manner, you may want to take this opportunity to decide whether or not the bird should be kept in the flock. Tender, exposed skin and blood filled pin feathers can become prime targets for aggressive flock mates. Learn more about aggressive rooster behavior.
6. Reduce Stress. During molt, chickens should not be handled as much as possible. You should also avoid bringing new birds into the flock, if possible. Molt is a big enough deal for a chicken; try not adding to it by unnecessary handling or integration.
7. Alert the neighbors. In the fall, molt is generally the answer to “why have my chickens stopped laying?” If you are in the habit of giving away or selling your eggs to neighbors, friends and family, you may want to alert them as soon as you see the drop in egg production that usually goes along with molt. They’ll appreciate being given a heads up that they’ll need to source their eggs elsewhere for a while.
With some forethought and research about molt, chickens in your flock can stay as comfortable and healthy as possible during the season.
NatureWise® Feather Fixer™ from Nutrena® is a feed designed specifically to help your birds get through molt quicker. It has elevated levels of protein as well as a mix of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help maintain healthy skin and develop strong and beautiful new feathers. Start to feed Feather Fixer™ at least 30 days in advance of anticipated molting for maximum benefit to your birds.
To find a Nutrena® dealer near you, visit NutrenaPoultryFeed.com. You can subscribe to the Nutrena® poultry blog at ScoopFromTheCoop.com.