Moulting

As the days start to shorten, many of our backyard chooks will be starting to moult to put down new feathers for winter. This can be a stressful time for our egg layers, but there are a few things we can do to help them get through the change.

What is moulting?

Moulting is a natural process in birds where old feathers are shed and replaced with new ones. It happens each year and it helps maintain feather health. In chickens, it usually happens in autumn. 

How can we help?

Moulting is a stressful time for the bird but there are things we can do to help.

Pump up their protein

When hens moult, they can become anaemic and look tired. Feathers are mainly made up of protein so her protein requirements increase as she produces new feathers. One way of helping with this is to up her protein intake. If they eat commercial food, maybe go for one with a higher amount of protein until the new feathers start to grow back in. Or consider topping up their usual diet with some meat, fish or nuts which can be beneficial for upping their protein levels.

Avoid handling

Avoid handling your hens unless absolutely necessary. When the hen is moulting, the area where the feather shaft meets the skin can become incredibly sensitive, so handling them can cause discomfort or pain. We can help them by having plenty of soft fresh bedding if they are indoors.

Avoid stress

Our chooks can feel off-colour when they are moulting. Moulting hens need plenty of space, so try not to have them confined, they need room to move. Adding new birds to the flock is not a good idea either as this can cause more stress on an already stressed flock.

Hard moult or soft moult?

Different birds will moult in different ways. Some will go through a soft moult, where they only lose a few feathers. They will replace them quickly and the moult might only last a couple of weeks. Some will have a hard moult, where the majority of feathers fall out and the chook can end up looking plucked. These hens will be the most stressed and sensitive, so if it's possible to keep them in an area where they are by themselves or with another hen for company, this can help them recover more quickly. Hard moulting hens may take up to four months to grow in their new full set of feathers. Moulting takes place in a precise order, starting from the head and working down the body.

Supplements

Supplementing with Biotin, vitamins and minerals can help reduce the stress and physiological changes moulting brings about. There are tonics available to boost the moulting hen’s immune system which can be bought online or from a stock firm.

Covering a moulting hen

Don’t! As mentioned before, where the feather shaft meets the skin, it can be very painful for the hen. The urge to put a jersey or something else on the hen to keep it from getting cold should be ignored. By “clothing” a moulting hen, its pain can increase from the fabric rubbing on the sensitive skin. It is best to just let the hen be a hen!

Egg laying during the moult

During moulting, you may get fewer eggs or no eggs at all. This is because the energy and nutrients that normally go into producing eggs are redirected towards the growth of new feathers. Once the moulting process is complete and the new feathers have grown in, egg laying should resume.

Recap

In conclusion, caring for moulting hens requires attention to their nutritional needs, stress management, and overall well-being. You can help by providing a diet rich in protein, minimising stress, and offering supplements if needed. At this time allow them space to move freely and avoid handling unless necessary.