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.
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!
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.
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.