Making it Through Molting Season
Are your chickens (or turkeys or ducks) looking a little worse for wear? Missing lots of feathers for no apparent reason? Don’t worry! They’re most likely molting, which is totally normal and natural as Summer turns to Autumn.
First, what is molting?
When the days start getting shorter at the end of summer, the lack of light signals to your chickens that they should start getting rid of last year’s feathers in order to make room for nice new ones that will better keep them warm through the cold weather to come. Growing new feathers is pretty uncomfortable, and takes a whole lot of effort, so your chickens won’t be acting quite right. Aside from the missing feathers, you’re llikely to notice lethargy, fewer eggs in the nesting boxes (as they’ll be focusing their energy on growing those new feathers, instead of egg production), and a general somber atmosphere in your coop. But that’s ok, take good care and they’ll be back to their happy, chattering selves in no time.
The molting process can take weeks to months depending on the chicken. Each one is different, and factors like, breed, genetics, age, and overall health all make a difference.
Second, what can you do to help your hens through their molt?
1. Make sure there are no other reasons your flock may be experiencing feather loss: mites, predators, a stealthy feather pecker, etc..
2. Provide access to clean water, and plenty of food for everyone (to discourage competition)
3. Add extra protein to their diet: a higher protein layer feed, meal worms, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sprouts
Feathers are 80-90% protein, so during this time, the majority of the protein they digest is sent right to feather production.
4. Check your coop for drafts, and seal them up so your chickens can stay warm and cozy while they fill in those bald spots.
5. Keep bullies at bay: aggressive hens may take advantage of their more docile coopmates while they’re molting. Provide enrichment (scratch grains, treats, toys) to curb pecking behavior, or make use of blinders (like Pinless Peepers) to keep particularly pecky birds in check.