Soon enough, the long, lazy days of Summer will shorten as we get closer and closer to Autumn. The shorter days have an effect on most all natural cycles. Chickens are no exception. Autumn is the time the hens will go into their annual molt. A molt is a period where the chickens undergo a loss of old feathers and regrowing of new feathers. In chickens, this process is usually about 7 weeks to three months.
If you have not experienced a molt before, I've outlined some highlights of that here along with tips to get through this natural cycle smoothly and without frustration.
A young hen will usually not molt her first year. On rare occasions, a hen may have a "mini" or partial molt in the fall of her first year, especially if she was an early chicken, hatched in Jan-March. Chickens typically molt at 18-20 months of age and once a year thereafter.
What to Expect
Beginning sometime in the late summer or fall-August through Oct, you will begin to notice a reduction in egg production. You will see lots of feathers in the bedding of the coop and in the run. The hens may become more quiet, not quite as enthusiastic about eating at feeding time, more timid and seem to be suffering from a general malaise. When you pick up a hen to check her condition, you may notice that she is losing feathers on her neck and breast.
|Molting Barred Plymouth Rock|
Differnt breeds of chickens go into the molt at different times in the fall. Some breeds molt early and others late. Don't be surprised if your hens are still growing feathers when the snow flies!
Hens do not lay during the molt, so stock up on those eggs! Come August 1 in Ohio, stop selling or giving them away and start hording them for yourself. Remember, eggs last 3 months in the frig, so plan accordingly. Once the molt of over, the hens will resume laying, but not as prolifically as before. Many, especially the rare and heritage breeds, do not resume laying until Spring.
Special Needs During the Molt
A chicken needs extra protein in their diet at this time. The extra protein is needed to grow new feathers. Switch hens to a chick or grower ration--some folks will use game bird or turkey feed during the molt. Meal worms are especially good for hens right now. Other protein ideas include live worms, cat food or dog food, meats such as browned hamburger, meat table scraps, boiled mashed eggs, grasshoppers and other insects, quinoa, etc.
When the Molt of Over
Having had an egg farm, I needed my girls to get back to work asap after their molt vacation. I used artificial lighting to bring them back into production. I kept lights on for 15 hours a day, year round to keep them in production. If you don't care about winter laying, keep them in natural light and you may get eggs here and there through the winter. If you are desiring eggs all winter, I strongly suggest putting lights on your hens after the hens have molted. 15 hours of light is less than the natural maximum of 16 hours and worked well for me. I used automatic timers to turn on lights in the morning and evening to extend the daylight hours to 15. A 40 watt bulb is all you need.
|Note two immature feathers|
Forcing the Molt
Most of the commercial egg production farms schedule their hens into molt. You can force a molt by withholding feed and reducing light to 7 hours a day. I never forced a molt, since my philosophy was to stay natural, so I do not have any first hand knowledge of exactly how to do it.