Who loves the molt?
You won’t find me raising my hand. We currently have 30 chickens and are getting only 3-5 eggs daily. I am definitely ready for the girls to stop molting and produce more eggs. You’d think that after 5 years of raising chickens, I wouldn’t be bothered by this yearly event, but it gets me every time.
Chickens molt their feathers typically once a year (some a couple of times and others are in a constant molt). It usually happens during the transition of seasons from summer to fall, when the days shorten and there isn’t as much sunlight. This change triggers the chickens to begin molting their old feathers and regrow new ones that help trap heat and keep them warm in the winter. The molt can last anywhere from a two to six months. During this time, their egg laying slows down considerably or stops completely, depending on their breed. Some breeds molt quickly. They’ll lose their feathers at one time and will look like they’ve been attacked. While other breeds molt more slowly and you will only see a few feathers missing at a time. It is said that hard (or quick) molters are your better layers and get through the process faster in order to get back to laying, and that slow molters don’t lay as well, so they pretty much just take their time. From what I have observed in our flock, that holds true.
During the molt, chickens need extra calcium and protein to regrow their feathers, which is why they stop laying. Calcium and protein play a big role in egg laying, as well. They don’t have enough reserve to do both. You can help them through the process by feeding them more protein and offering calcium supplements. We feed crushed eggshells to our girls in a separate dish so they can eat it as they need it. As long as you dry your shells and crush them (so they don’t resemble an egg), they are a perfect source of calcium. You can also offer oyster shell as free feed. There are higher protein feeds, such as Nutrena Feather Fixer, you can give your chickens during the process to help them get the nutrition they need. You can also offer extra protein in other ways, such as leftover meats (chicken, burgers, etc)., scrambled eggs (if you have enough to share), meal worms (such as these), and black oil sunflower seeds. If your chickens are allowed to free range during the day (as ours are), this will allow them to scavenge for bugs and worms that provide extra needed protein.
If you have a garden and grow your own herbs, Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, has some great ideas for herbs that can help with the molt. She suggests adding anise, dill, fennel, garlic, mint and/or parsley to their feed. (Finding fresh herbs at this time of year can be difficult, so you can substitute dried herbs, especially if you’ve dried your own.)
Taking a few of these steps to help your girls along with the process will hopefully get them back to laying eggs, even though their production will still slow down through the winter. (That is a post for another day).
You can also check out my post on freezing eggs, which helps when production slows down.
*You are welcome to link back to my blog, but please do not use my words without written permission. All photos on this blog are the property of Prairie Gulch Farm.*