Amino Acids: Helping Your Flock Through Molt

Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

You may have seen the words amino acids on labels of human dietary supplements that claim to build healthy muscle, lower blood sugar, or improve skin condition. What are amino acids, and why are they also important for your chickens?

What are Amino Acids?

You may remember from science class that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.chicken in molt They consist of about 20 different organic compounds that combine in chains to form complex proteins. These proteins, in turn, perform essential roles in living things. They form the cells of our bodies, transport materials to and from cells, help us move, protect us from disease, and determine the activity of our genes. Proteins and amino acids are essential to life itself.

There are two kinds of amino acids:

    • Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body and do not need to be part of the diet.
    • Essential amino acids, however, cannot be made by the body and have to come from food. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Of the essential amino acids, lysine and methionine play a vital role in feather growth. We’ll be looking at those in detail later.

Importance of Amino Acids During Molt

Chickens will generally begin to molt, or lose and regrow their feathers, in the fall. This is a natural process that begins after a chicken reaches the age of about 18 months. Old feathers drop out, new feathers grow in, and the whole process usually takes anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months. Molting allows chickens to replenish worn-out feathers and ensure they have a warm, protective coat before the cold weather comes. During this time, egg laying will slow down or cease altogether.

Chicken feathers are about 85% protein, so chickens need extra protein in their diet during this time to support healthy feather regrowth. Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it is important to ensure your birds receive the right amino acids in their feed.

Amino Acids in Feeds

Your birds need a high-quality diet with sufficient proteins (16% to 18%) and amino acidsbrown molting chicken during molt. During the molt, you should eliminate scratch grains from their diet; this provides primarily calories with limited nutritional value.

The bulk of the necessary amino acids in feeds come from the protein in the feed; however, a quality feed will contain two additional essential amino acids.

  • Lysine: The amino acid lysine is vital for overall growth, optimal digestion and use of feed, and balanced nutrition.
  • Methionine: Methionine is necessary for the development of the digestive tract, overall growth, feather development, and immune system performance.

NOTE: It is possible to have too much lysine/methionine in poultry diets, which leads the birds to eat less. Choose a commercial feed that is balanced to meet your flock’s needs.

Healthy Skin Helps Feather Regrowth

The health of a chicken’s skin also affects feather regrowth. Feather Fixer provides a combination of increased protein and fat levels along with chelated trace minerals to keep the skin healthy.

As soon as your birds show signs of molting, switch them to a commercial feed like Naturewise® Feather Fixer, formulated specifically for feather regrowth, to ensure they receive the amino acids and other nutrients they need to support healthy feather regrowth and get them back to laying.

As you consider your feed choices, think about amino acids and the needs of your birds. Naturewise® Layer and Feather Fixer provide all the nutrients your chickens require to live their best lives with optimal health, whether or not they are molting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essential Oils: Helping Your Birds Live Their Best Lives

While there is still skepticism around the use of essential oils and more research to bespring chicken bantam hen conducted, some poultry farmers have integrated essential oils and other natural ingredients into their birds’ diets to promote flock health. Let’s look at these amazing natural compounds and how they can help your birds live their best lives.

What are essential oils?

Essential oils are plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots and can be combined with a carrier oil or other liquid. They can also be used in dried form. In humans, essential oils are used as liniments (external) or infusions (internal/external).

Essential Oils and Chickens

Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.    

Essential oils are part of a class of plant extracts called phytogenics (FY-toh-JEN-ihks). Poultry farmers are starting to use phytogenics, including essential oils, in their feeds to prevent disease. They are also using phytogenics in feeds to support healthy growth. Proprietary research has shown that essential oils benefit the digestive, reproductive, and immune systems in laying hens. The following are a few examples of essential oils and their benefits. 

Oregano

oreganoStudies show that oregano oil extracted from two species, Origanum vulgare and Thymus capitatus, have antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. However, these oregano species are not sold in traditional grocery stores, so finding a source of the right varieties is important. 

 

Rosemary

A member of the evergreen family, this common medicinal plant can protect poultry livers from toxic molds. Other benefits to chickens include high levels of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, and manganese. Rosemary also contains carnosic acid, which protects the nervous system and promotes healing in the brain. It can be used to prevent (not cure) certain bacterial infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus, which causes bumblefoot.[1] Its strong smell also acts as an insect repellent.

Thyme

thymeThis member of the mint family is a medicinal herb in many cultures. In poultry it acts as an antioxidant that protects the intestine and boosts the immune system. As a hygienic environmental spray, it also has antibacterial properties, decreasing the number of Coliform bacteria. Other effects in poultry include improvement in growth and digestive and antioxidant enzymes.[2]   

Star Anise

Star anise is the seed pod of an evergreen shrub native to China and Vietnam. It is commonly used as a flavoring and a scent for products such as candles. Oils extracted from star anise were shown to improve laying as well as growth. The use of star anise oils in poultry also increases antioxidants in the liver and egg yolk and stimulates the immune system.[3] It also aids in production of digestive enzymes and increases liver function. 

Nutrena Introduces Essential Oils in NatureWise

Nutrena is now offering new feeds that tap into the amazing powers of essential oils. Using a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise, these new poultry diets support the digestibility of crude protein, amino acids, fat, calcium, and phosphorus. Essential oils and other phytogenics will maximize your birds’ laying performance and reduce ammonia emissions. New research shows that layers that were fed oregano essential oil produced 13 more eggs per hen over a period of 81 weeks. The overall quality of eggs improved by 1.6 percent. Cargill’s own research has shown that nutritious feed with essential oils results in healthy birds who lay eggs with a healthy weight and strong shells.

Giving Your Flock the Good Life

Our new product line with essential oils offers you and your chickens multiple benefits:

  • Better feed taste and resulting in better feed consumption
  • Enhanced freshness
  • Healthy digestion from increased enzyme production and nutrient absorption
  • Support for a healthy, strong immune system
  • Higher feed-to-meat conversion ratio in broilers
  • Support for healthy growth and bone formation
  • Promotion of healthy egg weight and size
  • Aids with maximum egg production
  • Stronger eggshells

You can read more about our new product line that includes essential oils at the following links:

[1] “Rosemary: Rosmarinus officinalis,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/rosemary; Jonatas Rafael de Oliviera et al., “Biological Activities of Rosmarinus officinalis L. (rosemary) Extract as Analyzed in Microorganisms and Cells.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 242, no. 6 (2017): 625–634.

[2] “Thyme: Thymus vulgaris,” accessed May 17, 2021, http://www.poultrydvm.com/supplement/thyme

[3] Caiyun Yu, et al., “Effects of Star Anise (Illicium verum Hook.f.) Essential Oil on Laying Performance and Antioxidant Status of Laying Hens.” Poultry Science 97, no. 11 (2018): 3957–3966. 

How to supplement calcium to your flock

The shell of each egg that your hens are laying is made up of nearly 95% calcium carbonate by dry weight. To produce hard eggs, your chicken will be consuming up 20 times the amount of calcium in one year than the amount of calcium that is contained in her actual bones. As their keeper, it is your responsibility to make sure each chicken is consuming a steady supply of calcium in her diet.

DON’T Feed Egg Shells
There are some chicken owners who swear by reusing eggshells and feeding them back to their flock. Some people may crush these before feeding. Feeding your chickens their eggshells may seem like a convenient way to recycle them, but there are several health risks that will be brought upon them.

1. Risk of salmonella for hens. Salmonella can be found on the inside and outside of eggs. The kicker? Salmonella can be on eggs that seem to appear completely normal. Feeding your hens eggshells infected with this bacterium can cause this sometimes fatal illness. Some people prevent this by baking their eggshells before feeding, however, that is not always effective and is a time-consuming process
2. Risk of salmonella for humans. This is where the “domino effect” comes into play. If a chicken is eating eggshells with salmonella and becomes infected, this affects the eggs they are producing, and any human consumption of those eggs.
3. Can teach hens to start eating their own eggs. When chickens start to recognize their food as eggshells, this runs the risk of them eating and destroying the eggs they lay.

DO Feed Them Oyster Shells or Limestone
Though this may seem like a higher investment up front, feeding your laying chickens oyster shells or limestone instead of their own eggshells with pay off in the end. By cutting out serious health risks to your chickens and to those eating the eggs they produce, feeding oyster shells or limestone is a cost effective and safe alternative. In addition, a little bit of these products go a long way – a 50 lb. bag of oyster shell or limestone will last the average flock an extended period of time – up to several months for a flock of 6 – 8 birds. Feeding these products is easy – simply put the oyster shell or limestone in a separate container and allow birds access free choice. Your girls will take what they need.

Just keep in mind that when it comes to calcium supplementation for your flock,  ground limestone or oyster shells are safer options than feeding eggshells back to your girls.

A Halloween Treat for Hens

‘Tis the season of treats – and while we don’t recommend fun-sized candy bars for your birds, the truth is that every once in a while a flock of hard working hens needs a diversion and snack. One treat your chickens will enjoy is a humble and inexpensive bale of straw or hay.

Put a bale in the chicken run and get ready for hen enthusiasm as they gleefully tear it apart. Each bale holds thousands of tiny tasty tidbits hidden amid grass stems. Insects, seeds, and bits of dry green leaves are devoured as chickens quickly convert the rectangular bale into a horizontal mass of vegetation. Leaving the strings intact (or just clipping one and not both) will help ensure your hens don’t act like grade school kids and overeat this “candy”.

Chickens readily attack either hay or straw bales.The former are usually more expensive and may hold more snacks, but straw bales are sometimes easier to find in suburban and urban areas where they are sold for decorations and mulch. Straw and hay bales are often sold in garden and farm supply stores. Prior to Halloween many grocery stores sell them as decorations, but usually with a healthy mark up.They may sell them inexpensively, or even give them away, the day after Halloween.

Not only is a bale a good treat, but your hens need something to do, especially during long winter days when there’s no greenery to scratch in or bugs to chase and snack on. Nothing relieves hen boredom or offers more interesting winter exercise better than tearing apart a bale.

Winter thaws sometimes turn chicken runs into gooey mud, but having an inch or two of fresh straw on the ground insulates the soil, keeping it frozen and reducing mud.  When the ground finally thaws the straw absorbs moisture and offers a better walking surface than gooey mud. By mid-summer the straw will have completely rotted into soil organic matter, leaving only happy chicken memories of tearing the bale apart and finding delicious treats hidden in the stems.

Molting: The Naked Truth

There comes a time in every chicken’s life (usually around 14 – 18 months old) where they start to lose all their feathers, look gangly and downright ugly. But don’t be alarmed! This is a natural process that occurs annually. This process is called molt.

example of a chicken going through a hard molt
This would be considered a hard molt.

What is molt? Molt is the natural shedding of feathers and regrowth of new ones. This usually happens in the fall as day length shortens. It is the chickens way to refresh old feathers and grow new ones for the coming winter. Molt happens in an expected order, starting at the head, down the back, breast and ending on the wings and tails.

There are two types of molt that chickens can go through, hard and soft. A hard molt means all feathers are lost at nearly the same time. A soft molt, however, means feathers are lost over a longer period of time. Chickens use molt to build up their nutrient reserves and typically slow or even stop laying eggs during this time. Though they are not laying eggs, it is important that your chicken continues to need a high quality diet since feathers consist of approximately 85% protein!

How to help your chickens get through molt
The best thing for your chickens in molt is to offer a feed that is high in quality and protein such as NatureWise Feather Fixer™. Feather Fixer™ is a complete feed, so you don’t have to worry about finding other protein supplements to feed along with layer feed during molt. It is simple and easy. In addition, Feather Fixer™ is optimized in other ways; it has organic trace minerals, which are more bio-available to the chicken than regular forms. Especially important are zinc and manganese which are needed for feather growth.  This is a newer feed, so ask your favorite retailer about their plans to stock it today!

Another way to help your chickens through molt is to reduce stress as much as possible. Try to avoid handling your chickens, and bringing new birds into the flock, if possible. Molt is a normal process, so your chickens shouldn’t act differently, even though they make look very different. In total, molt will take between 4-16 weeks, depending if it is a hard or soft molt. You do not need to add any medications or other vitamins if you are already feeding a high quality and high protein feed. So don’t panic the next time your chickens start to lose their feathers and stop laying eggs! Instead, use these tips to help ease the process.