Autumn is moving swiftly this year. The colors are well on their way for the fifth of October. This morning I woke up to the house at 59 degrees, I think tonight we might have our first fire in the wood burning furnace tonight.
Nature has a funny way of predicting the future. The chickens molted early this year. Tom, our large Black Spanish Turkey lost almost all his tail feathers by the end of July. I noticed that many of the chickens followed suit.
This time of year you may notice that many of your chickens are looking a bit straggly in the feather department. This is a perfectly natural and healthy process that most birds experience in the fall.
What is the molt?
Your chickens loose their old and perhaps damaged feathers so that new plumage can grow in creating a dense and insulated coat for winter.
How do I know if my chickens are molting?
Usually chickens molt for the first time their second autumn. Some chickens molt heavily, becoming almost bald, while others might loose only a few feathers. Other things can cause a molt; stress, changes in diet, a long brood time, health problems. But if your chickens seems healthy, (eating, drinking well and no visible health problems) and it’s the fall time of year, then it’s most likely the seasonal molt.
You’ll also find feathers scattered around the coop and run area.
Enthusiastic roosters can cause hens to loose feathers during mating. This usually occurs on the back and at the sides behind the wing. They will also loose feathers on the back of the head where he holds on with his beak. If your hens are displaying this pattern of feather loss check them for cuts under the wing and consider separating them from the roo until their feathers grow back. This also might be a sign of too many roosters per hen count in your flock.
My nest boxes are empty?
Unfortunately for us humans, chickens lay eggs less frequently during the molt and sometimes stop laying altogether. Just like heirloom tomatoes or spring lettuce, eggs are a seasonal commodity.
The protein that they use to lay eggs is now being used to grow feathers back. A hen knows what her body needs in each season of life.
How do chickens know it’s time to molt?
Nature is smart. The molt occurs at just the right time in the season to prepare your chickens for winter. The old feathers are shed, and then have time to grow back just in time for the really cold weather to hit.
Birds are instinctively sensitive to the number of daylight hours. It’s what prompts migratory birds to head south, it effects egg laying and the beginning of molting season.
What can I do to help my chickens recover from molt?
It takes extra protein to grow back feather. That’s one of the main reasons egg production lowers during this time. Make sure you feed your chickens a balanced feed. If some of your birds are having a particular hard molt, you can gradually up the protein level. Feed a 20% feed, or a grower feed.
Fresh greens and scrambled eggs can also be added to their diet. Don’t feed raw eggs as this can encourage the chickens to eat their own eggs.
Provide a calcium supplement like crushed oyster shell or crushed, dried egg shells.
Try not to handle your chickens at this time. If you look closely they will be getting their pin feathers in. Pin feathers are a baby feather. The pin feather grows out the feather shaft and looks like a small spear. (They remind me of the plastic tips of shoelaces) these feathers are particularly sensitive for a chicken. As the feather develops it will send a shoot out the end of the pin feather, lengthening until the feather is full grown.
Remove over zealous roosters from your hens. Over mating can damage and injure a hen growing her feathers back.
Provide clean dust bathing areas. Molt is a great time for chickens to really exfoliate their skin and old, dead feather shafts and material. It also keeps new feather free of mites and other external parasites.
Do you have feathers on the ground? Tell us your story by leaving a comment below, or visit the Community Chickens Facebook Page.