Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Molting Season – Fewer Eggs and Fewer Feathers




Molting season is upon us, and with it comes a reduction in egg production and possibly some raggedy-looking chickens.

In the late summer and early fall, chickens that are about one year of age and older go through a seasonal cycle where they shed their old feathers and grow in new feathers to keep them warm through the coming winter. This can take a lot of a chicken’s energy. It can also lower a chicken’s immune system because resources from the food it eats are being redirected to growing all those new feathers.

Two of my boys before and during a molt:
  

So what can you do to help your chicken through a molt?

Watch for Feather Picking/Egg Eating:
Often when a chicken is molting they crave protein. Some will break and eat eggs to get it, and others may pick out their own feathers and eat them. Yummy, no? Still other birds will pick their friend’s feathers to snack upon. You may see bare bottoms (apparently the fluff under the vent is considered a special delicacy). What can you do? See the next point:

Boost Protein Levels:
Make sure your flock is getting between 18% and 22% protein throughout the molting period.
You can buy bagged feed (many meat bird and chick feeds have these levels of protein – just look at the nutritional analysis on the bag).

Feed your chickens meat. The best meats for your birds this time of year are raw liver and any unprocessed meats. Cooked is fine, but avoid things like bologna and hotdogs as they are filled with preservatives and fillers. Article: Just Add Meat - Chickens are Not Vegetarians! (NCK)

Another option is fish food available at your local feed store – often in 50 lb bags. This feed can have protein levels as high as 35%, so give only a little bit each day as a supplement to their regular feed.

Good recipes for molting chickens:

Don’t Worry About the Eggs:
It is not uncommon for hens to lay odd eggs at an irregular pace during molt. Where a hen may have laid 5+ eggs a week like clockwork, she may now be laying 1 or 2. You may get objects lovingly known as “fart eggs” at this time. These are tiny little eggs – often without a yolk. You may get eggs with soft shells or no shells. Rest assured, it is likely ALL because of the molt!
Egg production will return after the molt is done. 



Monitor Health:
Molting won’t last forever, but remember that during this time your birds’ immunity to disease and illness may be lowered. Watch for any signs of illness like fluffed up feathers, hunched stance, discharge from the nose or eyes and lethargy. If you have already boosted protein and your birds aren’t stressed out, it is unlikely they will become sick at all. It is more common for older or weaker birds to have these problems.

Use the Molt to Your Advantage:
This is a very good time of year to check your birds over. With fewer feathers and fluff, it is easier to see external parasites like lice and mites. If you discover a problem, click HERE for information on getting rid of them naturally.

This Too Shall Pass:
Molting usually takes a few weeks, and different breeds will sometimes molt at different times. Two of my Silkies are all done with their molt and looking better than ever, while my adult Swedish Flowers and egg production flock are looking like a gaggle of hobos that had a run in with a heard of porcupines.


Anatomy of Feather Growth:

Pin feathers


If you have chickens with bare spots, you will first notice a small nub forming, signaling the growth of a new feather. As the sheath of the feather lengthens it may be appear to be a different color than the rest of the fully-grown feathers on your chicken. This is because pin feathers have a blood supply in the shaft during development.

If a pin feather becomes damaged or broken, it can bleed quite a bit. The best thing to do if this happens is to use needle-nose pliers to gently pull out the pin feather at the base. This will allow the bleeding to stop much sooner at the skin level. A new pin feather will develop and grow in the following weeks. Your birds will bear a slight resemblance to porcupines at this stage… so be sure to have a camera handy to record this humorous event.

Feather Sheath

You will notice as the blood supply diminishes from the growing feather that a tuft may appear from the top of the sheath. Just like a sword sheath, a feather sheath is just that – a covering. As the feather barbules develop, the sheath flakes off, exposing the newly grown feather. During this time, your birds may appear to have horrific dandruff. No need to grab the Head & Shoulders shampoo – the flakey residue from the sheath will fall off as your chicken preens or takes a dust bath. 


And finally, your birds will look better than ever once their new feathers have completely grown in! Your black birds whose feathers may have faded to a reddish-brown in the summer sun will be a shiny, dark black once again. Red birds will appear darker red, white birds will look freshly bleached and all the other colors will be vivid and rich once again. 


Yes - that is the same chicken!

Egg production should bounce back up after molting is complete (though remember that as the days shorten, most birds will not lay as well as they do in the spring and summer).

And there you have it…

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Comments

11 comments:

  1. Some that did not molt last year when the girls were one year have started their molt, thanks for the reminder to add meat. I do feed them scrambled eggs occasionally as well.

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  2. Last fall one - and only one - of my hens molted, and she lost about 75% of her feathers practically overnight! She was literally almost a bald chicken running around. I contacted a friend of mine about it, and she said sometimes chickens will do that. I brought her into the kitchen (in a cage) during a cold spell so she wouldn't be too cold. When the weather warmed up again and she had started to grow pin feathers, I let her back out with the others. The feathers grew back quickly and after a few weeks I couldn't tell her from the other hens who were her colors. Always something new to learn from a flock!

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  3. I'm surprised to see that even my young girls are doing a juvie molt this week. "Mister" started his a few weeks ago. I hope all the older ladies do theirs soon. They didn't start until December last year and it was much too cold to be naked!

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  4. Thanks, mine are molting. I give them Non-GMO 17% but I will add some meat or get a small bag of chick formula.

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  5. How long does a molting last I only have 4 hens I think two are red rocks and two are white I'm not sure what there called but any ways there all molting and have pity much stopped laying eggs I live in Indiana and it's getting cold so would that have something to do with it

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    Replies
    1. It usually takes a few weeks, but with temperatures dropping and less light, it can take longer. It also can depend on the age of your birds. Those breeds slow down after 18 months of age.

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  6. Slow down on egg laying or on how long it takes to get dune molting I'm new at this so I will most likely have more questions about the chickens of and I got 18 eggs in the incubator they've been in there a week or so how do you tell if egg has stopped developing so far they all are growing or look like it when I candle them and I love the poop brown chicken coop awesome I love in town so mine are in a limited space so is there anything specific I should do for them or give them sorry about all the questions

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    Replies
    1. Richard, I am very interested in knowing if your eggs were fertilized since you put them in your incubator while the chickens were molting. I took a dozen eggs to school to incubate for a class and after 10 days I candled them and not one was a fertilized egg. I've never had this problem but this is the first time I've harvested eggs for my incubator from molting chickens. I'd love to hear replies from others who have incubated eggs from molting chickens.

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    2. Richard - In many cases you can see movement in developing eggs - otherwise just go by comparing the size of each developing embryo. Also - developing embryos have a blood supply that you can see (depending on the color of the egg). If an embryo stops developing, the veins will go away (the blood drains out of them and you won't be able to see them any more.
      Hope that helps -
      Leigh
      =)

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  7. Does anyone know if chickens are fertile during a molting season? I incubate eggs a couple times a year and was asked to incubate some for a class at school 2 weeks ago. My chickens were molting and I didn't think they may not be fertile during this time. When I candled them, not one was a fertilized egg. I have 2 active roosters and about 20 hens of varying ages (some that are just now 1 year old).

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    Replies
    1. I'm sorry for your bad luck this go-round with eggs! Normally the eggs will be just as fertile as any other time of the year, provided the hens are laying. My own hens have simply stopped laying this year through their molt. LOL! But last year their fertility rates were just fine through molding season.
      Leigh
      =)

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