Fall…Such a descriptive term for a season. The only season to have two names really,… sometimes called “Autumn” and then the less formal verb “Fall” which comes from the phrase “fall of the leaf“ coined in 1545. Dictionary.com. I find it interesting that no other season warrants a second, commonly accepted descriptive name. Winter is not also called “Snow”, Spring is not called “Flower” and Summer is not called “Sunshine” or the like.
For a chicken keeper, the term “Fall” can also be attributed to the feathers that scatter the ground like colorful leaves due to the seasonal molt. Right now, our coop and surrounding area has a beautiful collection of feathers wisped into corners, dotting the nest boxes and floating in the autumn breeze. And while I wish those feathers were still on the chickens that own them, I understand that molting is a regular process for birds.
This year at Iron Oak Farm there are a few new feathers laying on the coop floor, those belonging to our turkeys.
Following suit with most of the chickens I’ve raised, the turkeys are molting for the first time. It is their second Autumn, which is usually when our chickens molt for the first time as well. Then in the years that follow, they tend to molt (noticeably) annually or bi-annually after that. Sometimes the molt is hard, like last year the heat caused a lot of stress to our birds and I noticed our chickens lost a lot of feathers. This year isn’t too bad. We’ve got a few scruffy birds, but the pin feathers are already starting to make their way through the bald spots and soon they’ll be fluffy and fat for the winter cold.
I noticed our turkeys were molting, not so much because their feathers were missing, but more because they were once again able to scale the fence even though we had trimmed their wing feathers a couple of months ago. I hadn’t noticed them loosing these feathers because I had trimmed them evenly with their second row of primary wing feathers, (For more on how to trim feathers read my post Trimming Turkey Feathers) But now I notice our turkeys have grown their long rounded feathers back at the wing, where they were once cut bluntly. I can’t say the same for our Tom’s beautiful tail, which was a perfect black fan this summer, striking and circular. Now the fan is cut short and only sticks up behind him with a few lone feathers.
What To Do About Molt?
Many times…nothing. It’s true that molting can be somewhat stressful on birds. Their bodies are working harder to replace the feathers that they have lost and will often stop laying eggs. This is a natural process for birds and many times I don’t try to do anything to rush this period. I simply accept that our flock needs a little break from egg laying to do something healthy and rejuvenating for their little bodies. If your birds are healthy, and get plenty of sunshine, greens, bugs and aren’t overcrowded, they should pull through molt just fine. Our molts are usually mild and don’t last long…about 4 weeks. I don’t really notice a huge drop in egg production because each of our hens are at different stages (starting molt, finishing up, or maybe not molting at all this season) so we get enough eggs to meet our needs.
In the case of turkeys, the egg laying (or lack thereof) isn’t really an issue. We don’t raise turkeys for their eggs (for our consumption) so really anything I do to support our turkeys will be for their own benefit and quick recovery.
If I notice that the molt is lasting longer than 3 to 4 weeks, or that the turkeys are really loosing a lot of feathers, or that the weather is getting cold and the feather coverage isn’t compensating for the climate change, or if I simply want to give our turkeys a bit of a boost to get them started into the cold season with an advantage, there are a few things to try.
1. Game Bird Feed
Similar to chickens, turkeys need additional protein during their molt. One of our local feed stores offers a Purina Product called Game Bird Flight and Finisher with 19% protein ratio. We fed this to our turkeys last year meant for table and mixed it into our chicken feed during molt. I’ve noticed that this helps to not only fatten our birds up for winter or slaughter, but also helps them recover from their molt very quickly.
2. Feed Eggs…any eggs.
An egg is a perfect food to feed back to a bird to help replenish lost nutrients. It is the only source of food that an embryo chick receives while it’s developing and getting prepared to hatch. Many times if chickens are missing an essential nutrient, like calcium, they will instinctively break and eat eggs in the nest boxes to get the nutrients their body is lacking. If our turkeys laid eggs like our chickens, I would scramble some up and feed the turkey eggs back to our turkeys. Unfortunately, our turkeys lay more seasonally and now we only get an egg once in a while. But…the chickens are troopers and are laying enough that I’ve been able to scramble some chicken eggs and feed them to the turkeys. (If our chickens only knew!)
3. Nature Wise Feather Fixer
I’ve also been interested in trying a new product by Nutrena, Nature Wise Feather Fixer. It’s designed for chickens but has many added health benefits that would work well with turkeys too. (Listed below)
- Optimal protein and energy levels for chickens regrowing feathers
- Mite-Fighter™ technology helps prevent mite infestation
- Organic trace minerals support feather regrowth and eggshell strength
- Added prebiotics and probiotics support proper digestion and nutrient absorption
- Natural source of greens for periods when grass is limited
- Tagetes (Aztec marigold) extract for golden yolks
- Proprietary blend of nutrients naturally supports the immune system and overall health of your flock
4. Sun Oiler Seeds and Olive Oil
Occasionally during stressful periods like molt or extreme cold temperatures I will add Black Oiler Sunflower Seeds and a little olive oil to our chicken’s feed. (For more on feeding sunflower seeds read my post Help Pollinators and Your Chickens With Sunflowers.)
Do you raise poultry other than chickens? How do you get your birds through the seasonal molt? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below or visit the Community Chickens Facebook Page.