By Lisa Steele, Brand Ambassador
In the life of a chicken there’s a very important season that occurs between summer and winter, and that’s the molting season. Shorter fall days and fewer hours of daylight trigger the chickens to start growing new feathers to replace dirty, broken plumage with glossy new feathers in preparation for the winter.
Chickens fluff their feathers when the temperatures drop to trap air warmed by their bodies in a sort of insulating layer between their skin and the outside air to keep warm. Having their feathers in tip-top condition is critical.
The process of molting can take weeks, or even months, but always follows the same pattern: starting at the head and working its way down the neck, along the body and finally to the tail. If you look closely, you will be able to see the new feather shafts pushing up through the skin. Each is encased in a waxy tubular coating in which the new feather is just waiting to unfurl when the coating cracks open.
Since the new feathers push out the old ones, you will rarely see bare patches of skin, instead your chickens will just start to look kind of moth-eaten, raggedy and generally unkempt. They will likely shy away from being picked up or handled – I can only imagine that growing in the new feathers is uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at times.
Molting takes a lot of energy out of the chicken, and as a result most hens will slow their laying when they begin molting and then stop entirely for the duration of the molting season. Others may continue to lay sporadically throughout, but most do cease laying as the molt progresses. Good layers will usually molt faster and get right back to laying while poorer layers might take their time with the whole process. Roosters molt also and are often infertile during that time.
Offering some protein-rich treats such as sunflower seeds, fish or meat scraps and nuts are great ways to help your chickens through their molt.
Molting also requires a lot of other nutrients to grow in the new feathers, specifically protein. This fall Kent Nutrition Group is launching an exciting new product called Home Fresh Better Feather, specially formulated for a molting flock. It’s a balanced feed with adequate calcium levels for your hens that are still laying (or new pullets that have just begun laying and won’t be molting their first fall). It also contains 18% protein with essential amino acids, which is higher than a standard layer feed to support feather regrowth, and egg production in layers as they go through a molt. It also contains higher levels of vitamins and a touch more fat to prepare for the coming cold winter months.
Like all Home Fresh products, Better Feather also includes NutriVantage, a research-driven feed supplement which works to optimize the nutrition in every beakful of feed.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com.