Molting

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Molting is the annual process chickens go through to replace their dirty, broken feathers with new, shiny, healthy ones, before Winter sets in. However, chickens molt not for aesthetic reasons but to keep warm through the cold months. Healthy new feathers trap warm air against their bodies, better than old feathers do. A chicken will fluff their feathers up, especially at night, to help keep warm in Winter.

The first adult molt a chicken will go through generally occurs at about 18 months old and then will occur annually after that, usually in late Summer or Autumn. (A molt is normally triggered by the shorter days in the Fall, but stresses such as heat, overcrowding, predators or poor nutrition can also cause a hen to start molting.)

Good layers tend to molt more quickly - often taking just a few weeks to grow in their new feathers - while poor layers can sometimes take up to 6 months to complete the entire molting process. Since growing feathers requires an abundance of energy and nutrients, a chicken will generally stop laying at some point while she’s molting so she can concentrate on growing new feathers.  Good layers may continue to lay during the initial part of the molt, but then stop once they are fully immersed in the molt. Once they’re done molting, they will return to laying eggs. Generally egg production won’t be quite as robust after the first molt, but the eggs will be a bit larger. Roosters also molt and will generally lose fertility or experience a drastic drop in fertility while they are molting.20140816_080149.jpg

While the actual length of each hens molt can vary widely, the pattern is always the same. The feather loss and regrowth starts at the head and neck, then moves to the saddle, breast, abdomen, wings and finally the tail. It's fairly easy to recognize a molting hen versus one who is being pecked by other flock members or a victim of feather pulling because during a molt, the new feathers literally push the old feathers out. You will be able to see new shafts or quills already popping through the skin where the old feathers are missing.

New feathers grow in covered in a waxy coating initially. This coating helps to protect the blood-filled "pin" feathers. The blood in the pin feathers nourishes the growing shaft and feather. As the feather grows, the wax casing breaks and falls off to allow the new feather to unfurl and emerge and the blood supply dries up. You might see the cast off waxy casings in your nesting boxes or on floor of your coop.20151207_080432 (1).jpg

It’s normal for a molting chicken to act listless and unhappy, almost as if she’s sick. She might hide out in the coop or under a bush and won’t want to be held or picked up, so it’s best to leave your molting chickens alone until they are done with the molt. They are extremely sensitive to touch while they are growing in their new feathers. Since feathers are up to 90% protein, adding some extra protein to a molting flock’s diet is beneficial.

Good protein choices include dried insects, sunflower seeds, cook canned fish or Calf Manna Performance Supplement 10 lb front.jpgmeat scraps.  Manna Pro offers two great supplements as well: Calf Manna and Poultry Conditioner

Calf-Manna® has been part of the community for over 80 years, helping your animals grow healthy and strong.  Formulated with 25% protein, this supplement provides a wide array of essential amino acids that meet the needs of many different animals. More proteins equal more growth and better muscle development.

poultry-conditioner-5-lb-front.jpgManna Pro Poultry Conditioner offers 22% protein along with complete fortification for vigorous, healthy birds, and brilliant high-quality plumage.

 

 

 

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