Don’t panic if you find your chickens are moulting, they go through several moults in their lifetime naturally, here Clare Taylor (aka The Chicken Whisperer) discusses the steps you can take to support your birds through what is a stressful period:
- A chicken’s first moult is shortly after they hatch and they will have two, sometimes three moults before they achieve their adult plumage.
- They will moult once a year, usually in early autumn although this can be dependent on the amount of daylight available. “An early moult, or perhaps an interim small moult, can be triggered by a sudden change in the daylight hours or temperature.
- Typically, as the daylight hours shorten a chicken’s metabolic body clock changes.
- They eat less and they start to moult. Some birds will experience a gradual moult, replacing feathers progressively, working down the body from head to tail, whereas others (the best layers can often be the heavier moulters) can experience a ‘total feather-drop’ and be virtually naked, which can look alarming!
“From the bird’s perspective a heavy moult takes up a lot of energy and nutrients and can have an adverse effect on its immune system” Clare notes. “It may become apparent that they look withdrawn, paler in the face and will possibly have stopped laying eggs so it is essential to support them through this difficult period with high-quality nutrition alongside vitamin tonics or powdered minerals. I usually take them off layers rations and my pure breeds are producing very few eggs by this time anyway” she continues, “and I feed them on growers’ pellets, which have more of the protein that they need to grow new feathers.
- During moulting your chickens may benefit from some extra powdered Biotin as this also contains the ‘building block nutrients’ for forming feathers
- It can also be advised to add a liquid vitamin tonic to their water everyday during the moulting period.
- A vitamin tonic can help support condition, and B vitamins help to manage stress levels.
It is important to remember that during the moulting period your flock should be handled less frequently. “The emerging feathers in their quills have a strong blood supply and are very sensitive, so handling them will cause some discomfort” Clare notes. “I avoid any unnecessary handling at this time and hold off on routine medication such as worming until they are fully feathered again and I try not to move any birds to different pens around moulting time as this adds to the stress on the birds. Hens will typically all start to moult at different times (well mine do!), and it can take up to a month for them to all finish the process, and a further 3 weeks or so to start to lay eggs again”.
The moulting process is completely natural and happens on an annual basis but some simple management, and nutritional, adjustments can help support your birds at this key time to keep your flock comfortable and productive for as much of the year as possible.
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