Chickens go through several moults in their lifetime. Poultry expert Clare Taylor discusses the steps you can take to support your birds through a stressful period. A chicken’s first moult is shortly after hatching and they will have two, sometimes three moults before they achieve their adult plumage. Thereafter, 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, even in the summer” says Clare.
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!
“A heavy moult takes up a lot of energy, using a lot of nutrients and can have an adverse effect on the immune system” Clare notes. “They may look withdrawn, paler in the face and will possibly have stopped laying eggs so it is essential to support them through this difficult period with extra care and high-quality nutrition.”
“I usually take them off layers rations as 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. I add some extra powdered Net-Tex Biotin (a product often used to strengthen hoses' hooves) as this also contains the ‘building block nutrients’ for forming feathers, and I also add a measure of Net-Tex Vit Boost to their water every day. The Vit Boost helps support condition, and the B vitamins helps manage stress levels”, she notes.
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 may 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” she continues. “Taking that extra time and effort to reduce the stress and discomfort associated with the moulting process and adjusting their diets for this brief period will help keep your flock healthier and happier for longer”.
The moulting process is completely natural and happens on an annual basis. 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.