For some reason, molting season always catches me off guard. I think that maybe the chickens are conspiring against me and have moved their nests to exotic locations such as between the big round hay bales or in the grass behind the corn crib. Maybe the dogs have decided that their usual “cut” is too small and they’ve taken it upon themselves to increase their protection payment. Then, one day, it hits me: the chickens are molting!
You’d think I’d notice that the girls are starting to look a bit rough and have cut down on oyster shell consumption. Oh, no! I don’t notice until I’m down to a dozen or less eggs per day (from about 40 hens) and feathers are drifting in the corners of the coop.
Molting, the annual loss and regrowth of feathers, is an entirely natural process that seems to vary in degree from year to year. Some years I don’t notice a marked decrease in production and there aren’t all that many feathers floating in the air. Other years, such as this one, there are feathers EVERYWHERE, not only in the corners of the coop, but under the lilac bushes, around the water hydrant, and in my hair. Egg production has gone down from 18 – 20 eggs per day to 6 – 10. This is not helpful when I have a large order to fill by the end of the month!
Feathers are 85% protein, so chickens’ nutritional needs really increase as they go through the process. I give a layer feed with increased protein, vitamins, and minerals to make sure they stay healthy throughout the molt. It’s no wonder they stop laying while molting – an egg contains about 15% protein, so is much less demanding on the bird than growing feathers.
Even the young birds go through a kind of mini molt as they mature from non-producing juveniles to productive adults.
Molting takes anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the chicken. It is tied to day length, so usually happens in the fall, but sometime occurs in the spring. Their nutritional needs go up, they’re stressed, and are super sensitive to touch. Although it’s inconvenient for me, I’m sure it’s much more so for them!