Have you noticed that as the weather is getting a little colder (or warmer in some cases) that your hens are not laying as many eggs and there are feathers EVERYWHERE?
It is quite probable that your hens are moulting. Moulting is something that chickens go through and it usually is no reason to panic. Of course, you will need to know why they are moulting and what you can do to make this process as easy as possible for them.
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Why Your Chickens Are Moulting
There are a few reasons why chickens moult and you need to know why your chickens are doing it this time. Certain types of moulting will need to be cared for in different ways.
The annual moult
The most common type of moult is the annual moult.
Once your chicken reaches the age of 18 months, they are going to start moulting once a year.
This will generally happen during the late summer or early fall and is triggered by the shorter days. This moulting process occurs to replace the worn-out insulating feathers to provide your chickens with new outer feathers which will protect them from the colder weather.
The juvenile moult
If your chicken is younger than 18 months, it is possible that they are going through a juvenile moult.
The first juvenile moult will be when the chicken sheds their chick fluff and get their first real feathers. After this, they will go through several smaller partial moults as they grow. This is a natural process and you should not be too worried about it.
The stress moult
The last type of moult that you need to know about is the stress moult. Chickens can become very stressed when their environment changes or new members have been added to their coop.
Severe weather, illness and shortages of food and water will also cause a stress moult. Many chickens will also moult after brooding because of the limited water and food they feed themselves over this time.
What to do when your chickens are moulting
While moulting is a natural process, there are some things that you can do to help speed up the process, and make sure your hens get through it healthy and ready to start laying again when the days get lighter again.
1. Increase The Protein
Regardless of why your chickens are moulting, you need to increase the protein in their diet. Protein is a key nutrient for birds when they moult because it will help them grow new feathers. The reason for this is the fact that feathers are primarily made up of protein.
It is recommended that you increase the protein to around 20% in their feed. It is possible to get special feed that has been made to help with feather growth.
If you are dealing with a juvenile moult, you will need to look at high protein formulated feed for young chickens that have added calcium sources. This is important because feed mixes for these chickens will not have calcium in their layering.
To increase the protein in your flocks’ diet, you can also increase the amount of high protein treats you provide. Some of these treats will include free-range insects, mealworms, and black oil sunflower seeds.
2. Reduce The Stress
If your chicken is going through a stress moult, you need to try and reduce the stress they are under. While it might be impossible to remove the original stressor such as the new chicken added to the coop, you can make your chickens more comfortable.
During a moult, the new pinfeathers will be very sensitive and you could increase stress levels by touching the hens or picking them up.
It is recommended that you reduce the amount of handling of your chickens during the moult and provide them with soft and clean bedding.
As moulting often occurs as the weather changes, you may be tempted to put some chicken sweaters on your flock to keep them warm.
This is something you should avoid with moulting chickens because it could damage the new feathers and cause discomfort.
Rooster collars should also be avoided during any moult as they will increase the stress your chickens are under.
3. Move The Moulting Chickens
As skin is exposed during a moult, it is possible that your chicken will be pecked by the other chickens. This does not always happen, but you do need to keep an eye out for this. If you see that a moulting chicken is being targeted, you will need to separate them.
If you leave the moulting chicken with the rest of the flock, you will increase their stress levels and prolong the moulting period. They can also be injured by the other chickens. Keeping your moulting chicken comfortable is important and keeping them safe will help with his.
When Moulting Is Caused By Mites
If your chicken is only losing feathers in one area, it might not be going through a moult. Mites and other parasites can cause chickens to lose their feathers, but this will be restricted to one or two areas, usually on their backs and around their vents.
When this happens, you need to carefully check your chicken or contact the vet. Leaving this for too long is not recommended and action should be taken as soon as possible. Usually the whole flock will need to be treated for mites, as well as the hen coop. You can use natural methods to deal with mites, add a natural dust bath or opt for a mite spray.
Moulting is a natural annual event for chickens to provide them with the feathers they need for the colder weather. Stress or parasites can also cause a moult, but there are steps that you can take to make your chickens as comfortable as possible during this process.