During autumn, where days are shorter, it is often a signal time for a break for backyard chickens. The chickens may stop laying eggs or lose old feathers and start growing new ones. This phenomenon is known as molt.
Molt is mainly driven by season and it usually happens when the days are shorter (decreasing hours of sunlight). The reason why molt happens is because it will be winter soon after autumn. The hens would need to take a break from laying eggs momentarily and redirect all their energy to grow quality feathers in order to prepare for winter.
When Do Hens Molt?
Hens start losing feathers when they are approximately 18 months old and then occurs annually. Backyard chicken owners should expect about 8 weeks of feather loss and regrowth. With that being said, it could take up to 16 weeks for some chickens.
Although generally molting process is similar, but not all molting seasons are created equally. The onset and length of molt will be different for each bird depending on many factors such as age, nutrients and environment. Generally, it is observed that high producing egg layers and younger birds recover from molt much faster as compared to older and less productive hens. In general, proper nutrition and management will help the chickens recover faster from molting.
3 Tips For Molting Chickens:
1. Increase Protein Intake
The birds require different amount of nutrients depending on their current activity or life stage. Protein is crucial in a flock's diet during molt. The most important nutrient to switch is from calcium to protein during molt. The reason being feathers are made up of approximately 80% protein while egg shells are made up of mostly calcium.
When it is observed that the chickens start to lose feathers, it is the right time to switch to a complete feed that has at least 20% protein and includes probiotics, prebiotics and key vitamins and minerals. A feed with high protein content will help the hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth and get back to laying eggs faster.
2. Keeping The Stress Level Low
It is essential to ensure the molting chickens are free from stress.
During molt, it is important to reduce handling and provide ample of clean bedding as the area where the feather shaft meets the skin can be quite sensitive. Ensure there is sufficient space for the birds to rest and relax in private as well. The recommended space for each bird would be 4 square feet inside the coop and 10 square feet outside the coop.
Furthermore, it is crucial to provide access to plenty of fresh, clean water and proper air ventilation. Hydration as well as ventilation will help the hens regrow feathers faster. During molt, it is not recommended to introduce new flock members as adding new friends and reshuffling the pecking order could potentially increase stress for the flock.
3. Transition Back To Layer Feed
Once the birds are ready to produce eggs again, it is time to adjust the nutrient profile to match the energy needs required to lay eggs.
Gradually mix the complete layer feed with the high protein feed over the course of 7 - 10 days. This is to prevent digestive upsets and allow the birds to get used to the taste and texture of the new feed. Once they switch back to complete layer feed and have regrew the feathers, they are ready to start laying fresh eggs again.