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.
It’s hard to imagine that dreaded time of year is almost upon us, you guessed it, molt. Even though molt is a very natural process for poultry, it doesn’t make it any easier as a flock owner. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for this less-favorable season.
Be proactive – Supplemental light, especially in the winter months, is a great consideration for your flock. Hens 18 months or older can benefit from this practice, and it can possibly lessen the extreme experiences of molt.
Feed adjustments – Now is the time to dial up the protein and cut back on the treats. Higher levels of protein are required for birds in molt so they can replace those protein-rich feathers. A product like Nutrena NatureWise Feather Fixer can also aid in getting through the painful period of molt just a little quicker. Feeding this at least 30 days in advance of the onset of molt will provide maximum benefit to your birds.
Clean is key – A clean coop will not only prepare you for the long winter months, but it will also reduce the bacteria and chance of infection for birds with bare skin due to molt.
Keep the creepy crawly’s out – Parasites like mites and lice will only make the molt process more challenging. Examine your flock and their housing for any parasites and treat accordingly, to prevent the issue from affecting your birds during the regrowth period.
Make sure everyone can play nice – If you have a flock member that has a rap sheet for being a bully or acting aggressively, it may be time to assess if that bird should continue to be kept in the flock. Tender, exposed skin and blood-filled pin feathers can be a prime target for angry birds (no pun intended…ok, maybe a little).
Just remember, molt is no one’s favorite time of year, but it does serve an important purpose in the life-cycle of your chickens and the health of the flock.
It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?
Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.
Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
Are your guys and gals looking a little bare right now? It’s likely the result of molt, a naturally occurring process in chickens from August through December. In the molt process, chickens can lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molt process to be complete. But all of this is not in vain, the process actually serves a vital purpose in the health of your chickens, protecting them from skin infections, the cold and precipitation of winter.
But fear not, there are options to help speed the process along. Products like, Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer can help your birds get through molt quicker! Visit NutrenaWorld.com to learn how Feather Fixer can help you get through molt, naked but not afraid!
Molt is the natural shedding of feathers and regrowth of new ones that usually occurs any time from August to December. Learn from Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart what you can do to help your get through molt faster.
Leave a comment if you have one, or feel free to ask questions below!
Ready or not, molt is coming…the dropping feathers, the lessening egg production, the embarrasment of a flock who’s in a full blown molt. We know that molt is a natural process, but what, if anything can you do to help your birds get ready to go through the annual loss and regrowth of their feathers? Can you help them prepare and get through the process faster or more easily? It turns out you can – here’s how:
Start now. If you do not use supplemental light in your winter coop and your hens are 18 months or older, chances are good that one or all of your hens will experience molt in the coming months. Preparing for this transition now will help you stay ahead of the curve.
Feed appropriately. Now is the time to dial up the protein and cut back on the treats. A higher level of protein is required in birds who are molting so that they can replace those protein-rich feathers. Treats like scratch and straight grains dilute protein content and should be avoided, or fed at no more than 10% of the birds’ total diet. NatureWise® Feather Fixer™ from Nutrena®is a feed designed specifically to help your birds get through molt quicker. It has elevated levels of protein as well as a mix of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help maintain healthy skin and develop strong and beautiful new feathers. Start to feed Feather Fixer™ at least 30 days in advance of anticipated molting for maximum benefit to your birds.
Clean the coop thoroughly. This is a great time to get you coop and run prepared for winter by giving everythig a thorough cleaning and disinfection. Include nest boxes, perches and cracks and crevices in your cleaning plan. Having your facility as clean as possible will help reduce the bacteria and chance of infection for birds with bare skin due to molt.
Check for creepy crawly critters. Because molting affects your birds’ feathers, it is important to make sure that molt is the only challenge that is presented for feather regrowth. Parasites like mites and lice will affect feather quality and will be an added stress on birds who are molting. Examine your flock and their housing for any parasites and treat accordingly, repeating treatment as necessary.
Monitor aggressive flock mates. If you have a flock member that has had a history of being a bully or acting in an agressive manner, you may want to take this opportunity to decide whether or not the bird should be kept in the flock or not. Tender, exposed skin and blood filled pin feathers can become prime targets for aggressive birds.
Alert the neighbors. If you are in the habit of giving away or selling your eggs to neighbors, friends and family, you may want to alert them as soon as you see the drop in egg production that usually goes along with molt. They’ll appreciate being given a heads up that they’ll need to source their eggs elsewhere for a while.