Looking to learn how to help your chickens through molt, an annual event, listen in as Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart explains what molt is and how to help your hens through this lifecycle and back to laying eggs.
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. 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 acids 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!
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 the less-favorable chicken molting 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.
Are your chickens 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 molting process, chickens lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molting process to be complete.
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.
Additionally, educating yourself on the process of molt will help you and your flock get through this transition period seamlessly.
Take a look at the following resources to reference during molt:
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.
Why do hens stop laying eggs?
- 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
- Illnesses/parasites. The reasons above may likely be the cause but parasites or illness can also cause stress on a hen.
We’ve got a whole section on our blog dedicated to diseases and disorders of chickens.
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!