Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chicken Molting: Top 3 Things You Can Do


What Is Molting

Feathers help birds maintain their body temperature and repel water. Like human hair, feathers are made from dead cells. Over time, feathers can break or the cells from which they are made wear down. When this occurs, a chicken's feathers don't function as effectively. As a result, chickens need to periodically shed their old, worn-out feathers and replace them with new ones.  The process is called molting and generally occurs in the late summer and early fall.



Pancake Looking Rather Tattered During Her Molt
Feathers are 85% protein, so during molting, chickens need to divert a substantial portion of their energy resources from egg laying to feather production. This is why during periods of molting, egg laying declines or stops entirely.  The time required to molt varies widely from bird-to-bird, but 2-3 months is fairly typical.

Top 3 Things You Can Do

  1. Increase protein in your chicken's diet. The easiest way to do this is to switch to a higher protein formulation like those sold for broilers or game birds.  These are normally 20-22% protein versus layer formulations that are 16-18% protein.  Alternatively, you can provide small quantities of other protein rich foods. Many chicken owners supplement with hard boiled eggs, cat food, or tuna fish. (Our lucky flock got treated to left over grilled salmon this week.) During molt periods you should also cut back on scratch as this is normally lower in protein.
  2. Lower stress - Since molting is a stressful period for a chicken, it makes sense to keep additional stressing factors to a minimum. Don't introduce new birds to the flock during a molt or change your birds living quarters. 
  3. Limit handling - During molting it is best to limit handling so you don't accidentally damage your birds new feathers. These new feathers are often referred to as "blood feathers" because blood is actually flowing through the shaft. When the feather is fully grown, the blood recedes and the feather becomes hollow. However, during the active growth period, it is important not to damage the new feathers as it will cause the feather to bleed.  Blood feathers are easy to identify. They look like porcupine quills. (see below photo)
Road Runner Molting With Blood Feathers Clearly Visible On Her Neck

1 comment:

  1. Pheasants become very shy during molt, almost like they are embarrassed.

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