Molt is the natural cycle where birds lose feathers and gradually regrow their plumage. Molt usually occurs when the days start to shorten in late summer and it can go well into the fall season. The feather shedding process can take as long as 16 weeks to completely cycle through and has the potential to greatly decrease egg production in your chickens. When chickens molt, a lot of the energy in their bodies is used to regrow feathers and less energy is available for egg production. Many chicken owners will see a huge drop off in the number of eggs they find in the nesting boxes this time of year. However, there are a few potential shortcuts to reduce the impact of molt on your birds. Nutrition plays a huge role in getting through the molting cycle and having a proper diet can reduce the length of time your birds are in molt. Feeding an adequate level of protein and proper amino acid profiles can greatly help boost energy levels in your birds. A product like NatureWise Feather Fixer, that offers 18% protein, can be a great option for molting birds. This product is meant to be fed as a sole ration and it has the potential to get your girls through molt several weeks faster than if they were on a traditional layer diet.
Another key factor in decreased egg production in the fall is related to diminished sunlight. Chickens usually need between 12 and 16 hours of daylight to maintain maximum egg laying potential. With daylight getting shorter in the fall, you can introduce supplemental lighting to maintain egg production for your flock. Setting up a generic 75 watt light bulb in your coop will produce enough light to keep egg production at a similar level to those long summer days. We do NOT recommend using a heat lamp in your coop. Heat lamps generate a lot of heat and can become a fire hazard. The purpose of the light bulb is to generate enough light in the coop to “trick” the chickens into thinking it is still daylight outside. It’s recommended to have the light set to a timer and have the light come on early in the morning rather than extending daylight later in the day. This way the chickens are awaken by the light bulb and they can use it as an alarm clock to start the day. If the light is set on a timer at night, the chickens may not expect it to go off and it could disorient them or cause stress when it suddenly gets dark in the coop.
There’s no doubt that reduced egg production is a challenge, but with some small adjustments you can help your flock get back on track.
Summer is an exciting time for your chickens, they likely have more freedom than the winter months and enjoy exploring in the warmer weather. But it can also be a time where vigilance is key as a chicken owner. The extreme temps can take a toll quickly on your feathered friends, so taking proper heat precautions is extremely important. Here are a few tips to make sure your chickens have a comfortable summer.
Signs of Heatstroke
- Lethargic and not actively moving around.
- Open beaks with wings spread out. The birds look similar to a dog that is panting.
- Little or no intake of food and water.
- Make sure your chickens always have fresh and clean water. It is a good idea to give fresh water at least every 24 hours. Stagnant and dirty water attracts mosquitos and acts as a petri dish for holding diseases. Old and lukewarm water will not be appealing to your birds and it will cause them to stop drinking, which can lead to lower egg production, forced molt, dehydration and possibly death.
- It is a good idea to put ice in your watering system. Chickens may stop consuming water if the temperature of the water rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Have your coop in an area that is covered and protects the flock from the sun.
- Make sure the coop has several open windows that allow air to flow through the structure. Windows can be added to the coop by cutting holes in the sides of the structure and covering the holes with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth should keep predators out of the coop, but it will allow more air circulation and ventilation for the birds.
- Consider letting your flock free range in the summer. Free range chickens can have more opportunities to find shade and cool off in dust bathing areas. There are certainly risks involved in letting your chickens free range, but it can be a great option for keeping them cool in the summer time.
- Melons and squash are great treats for the summer.
- Chickens love watermelon as a treat and it naturally increases water intake, since watermelon is about 91% water.
AC for the Flock
- You can freeze gallon jugs of water and place them in and around your coop. The jugs of water can lower the temperature in the coop and perform as a makeshift air conditioner.
- A small baby pool gives chickens the option to cool off in the summer time. (You only need to fill the pool with a few inches of water).
- Purchase a mister attachment for your hose. The mister attachment can reduce the body temperature of your birds as well as the ground temperature around the coop.
- Consider placing fans in and around the coop. There are battery and electrical powered fans available at your local hardware store (make sure the fans are not close to any water, as this can potentially be a fire hazard).
Biosecurity is always an important consideration for your feathered friends, but especially when attending poultry shows. Here is a list of some considerations to take into account when preparing, attending and returning home from shows.
- Pre Show: Pay close attention to the birds that you are planning on bringing to the show. It is a good idea to monitor birds at least 14 days in advance to the show. If your birds are lethargic or have any signs of illness, those animals should be left at home to prevent spreading disease to other animals at the show. We also recommend giving your show poultry electrolytes about a week before the event. The electrolytes can give a boost to the bird’s immune system, which will help the bird fight off disease.
- Shoes: Have a pair of shoes that are dedicated to your flock. This means that you only wear these shoes on around your flock at home. There are many poultry diseases that can be spread to your flock by wearing shoes in public places. There are potentially numerous avian diseases at poultry shows and you could carry those diseases on your shoes and bring them back to your flock at home.
- During the Show:
• Make sure to clean water and cages daily. Do your best to prevent wild birds from eating or drinking from your feed and water. Wild birds are a primary culprit to spread avian diseases to poultry and your birds may have a higher chance of exposure to wild birds during shows events.
• Make sure to separate different species of poultry. You should never have chickens, ducks, and turkeys co-mingled.
• Do not share equipment with other exhibitors. It is a nice gesture to help your competition, but sharing equipment dramatically increases exposure to avian diseases.
• Always wash your hands after handling animals.
• Make sure to thoroughly clean your cages and equipment after the show. You can disinfect cages and equipment with household bleach and water at a ¾ cup of bleach per gallon of water ratio.
- Post Show Isolation and Best Practices: It is good to keep your show birds isolated from the rest of the flock for about 30 days after a poultry show. The show birds may not initially demonstrate any signs of illness or disease, but an outbreak could occur a few weeks after the show and cause an infestation to your entire flock. The stress of traveling and the show environment can weaken the immune system of birds and make them more susceptible to illness. For this reason, we also recommend that you wait at least 30 days before you show the same birds at the next event.
Good luck and take time to enjoy the showing experience!