Every year, the hens renew their plumage: it is the moult which will last a few weeks. During this period you will have to pay special attention to your hens. Here is an article that will help you better manage this period that often worries the keepers of laying hens.
Moulting is a process that allows hens to replace old feathers, damaged feathers, dirty and worn feathers with new ones. Having new feathers allows for better heat retention during the winter. Feathers are like a protective coat against water, the blazing sun and it is also their protection against the cold. This coat of feathers constitutes 8% of the weight of the hen. So, in late summer and early fall, don’t be surprised to see a pile of feathers in the barn and all over your yard. Moulting is triggered in late summer when the day length decreases. It can also be triggered forcibly by placing the hens in the dark for a long period of time.
The moult often begins around the head and neck and spreads to the tail feathers. Not to be confused with brooding hens who often lose their underbelly plumage during brooding so that they can have a more moist contact with their eggs. A hen that undergoes an intense pricking could lose its feathers. The causes are often space that is too small and lack of entertainment. A hen with parasites could also lose feathers, without being in the moulting period. With parasites, chickens spend their time trying to get rid of them to the point where they tear off their feathers and also attract other chickens to be plucked. Stress can also make chickens more aggressive and by pecking themselves they can pull out their own feathers and risk injuring their skin.
Here see how Juliette is in her normal state in August and the other picture in December losing feathers on the right side of her neck and chest. Sometimes they lose sections and you can see the new feathers appearing like little thorns.
It is around the age of 18 months that the hens will have their first moult which tends to come back every year thereafter. During this period, egg-laying decreases and may even stop
completely. Good layers will often take less time to complete their feathers, about 3-4 months, while some hens will take more than 4-5 months. You must be patient and know that hens take advantage of this laying break to replenish their mineral reserves. Some hens will have a very discreet moult, while others will drastically lose a lot of feathers and will be more bald. Keep a close eye on these chickens so that others do not peck their skin or hurt them unduly.
My chickens looked at themselves in a mirror and sometimes in the reflection of a window. I have noticed that when some of my hens moult, they are not happy and their attitude is very different. They are less playful, almost embarrassed by their poor appearance. They hide and seem to realize that they are less beautiful. During moulting, it is important to provide good nutrition with more protein, which will be beneficial for our hens. Feathers are 80-90% protein, 8% water and 1% fat. So providing additional protein is highly recommended. Here is an overview of the proteins you could give them: mealworms, sunflower seeds, scrambled eggs, small leftover meat, fish, canned tuna, herbs and sprouted grains.
When the feathers grow back, you will see tips that look like pieces of shoelaces. This is a waxy coating that protects the growing feathers.
The Protein Bread Recipe to help our chickens during moulting.
3 eggs lightly beaten
3/4 cup of water
2 tbsp. molasses
2/3 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup of crumbled egg-laying feed or moistened tablets in a little water
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seed powder (ground in a coffee grinder)
3 tbsp. coconut oil (optional, but useful in winter)
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 to 3 tbsp. ground flax seeds
1/4 cup powdered milk
Chopped garlic clove
¼ cup of fresh or dried parsley
1 tablespoon of several of these herbs, fresh or dried to your taste: basil, dill, marjoram, tarragon, etc.
1 cup and ½ ground beef
Combine eggs, milk and water in a large bowl. Mix the oatmeal, wheat germ, flaxseed, ground seeds and other ingredients of your choice and the milk powder with the garlic and herbs. Add the minced meat and mix well.
Place the mixture in a loaf pan or a small ovenproof pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour. Let cool, slice and serve. Leftovers can be frozen and served as needed.
I hope these tips will help you understand molting and how to make this step easier for your chickens. Because our urban chickens deserve our best care! www.poulesenville.com To know everything about keeping urban chickens!
Text written by Louise Arbour
BECAUSE LIFE IS SIMPLY BETTER WITH CHICKENS!