The peaceful air of fall steps softly forward to shake the hands of summer. Trees sigh and shake off their leaves, the apples sweeten, carrots break the soil’s surface, a kaleidoscope of mums laughs in our yards, and the lawn and coop are strewn with wisps of feathers as if from a frenzied pillow fight.
Yup. It’s that time again, folks. THE MOLT. Just like the ever shortening days, you knew it would be coming. Molting is a natural process and if you have a clean, nutritionally balanced and stress-free flock, the molt is a blip in the year…albeit a messy one. You don’t need to go buy fancy feeds or vitamins or burn sage wands or hang garlic around your birds’ necks. Stop worrying. Humans try to one-up thousands of years of natural courses of action. Nature knows best.
This is a time when your birds cease reproduction (humans call this laying) and focus on some self-time. The hens turn their energy supplies into growing new feathers for the winter. The old feathers are kaput. This feather loss and regrowth is controlled by avian thyroid hormones. Fun.
You can offer a little extra protein (if you think your gang needs a bit “extra”, try these supplements). Just be careful, because if you are a good poultry man your birds are already fit as a fiddle, and it is important not to let your birds become overweight. Molting birds will usually drop a few ounces, but for most of our flocks – this is not a bad thing! Provide fresh and plentiful green forage, use the glut of apples this year to provide fruit and always allow birds access to safe pasture. Pasture and free-ranging is the BEST health tonic for your birds. The BEST!
Breeds molt differently
Those of you with a collection of chicken breeds will have noticed a variation in the molting standard. As with anything in nature, the critters haven’t read the expert texts. Observe your flock and record your own excellent evidence! My flock (and clients’ flocks) will have a noticeably staggered molt. Some birds will molt in the summer while others are de-leafing in the early fall. Silkies do not molt in a ,œregular fashion. Silkies don’t do anything in a standard fashion. Silkie hens tend to do a more dedicated molt after laying and brooding a series of clutches. This molt generally occurs in the summer ,“ as this breed lays and (famously) goes broody year round.
Some birds drop feathers in a miserly fashion. Others do the traditional patch molt. These are the birds that have read the scientific manuals. The ,œcorrect way to molt is to lose your head feathers first, then the neck, breast, rump and back, primaries, tail and secondary feathers. Some of the less productive members of the flock will be “early molters”, meaning they’ll begin their molt in late Summer and take up to 4-6 months to complete a molt. The more productive hens will usually start later and only take between 2-3 months. For more details, check out MSU Cares.
Feeding and handling
Same as always. Follow the three musts: Good nutrition, clean (oh, did I say clean?) immaculate housing and safe pasture time. As mentioned – a bit more protein is appreciated (foraged protein or good quality, cooked grocery proteins). You can add organic immune system supplements – Kelp is great! Try the kelp, probiotics and other herbal additions such as oregano oil or turmeric packaged for poultry use.
Handling the birdies? New feathers are sensitive. Birds usually begin to exhibit “feather guarding” actions. Friendly birds tell you that they feel “picky”. Handle molting birds gently and avoid holding and grabbing them if you can. Carefully grasp the bird and have them stand on your hand or arm. That way you can carry them without irritating the growing feathers.
NEVER induce a molt. Unless you are under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, this is a sure way to cause serious physical and mental distress. If your bird is on hormone therapy because of life-threatening reproductive disease, you will notice that the hormones may induce a molt. This is fine.
There are lots of issues caused by forced molting. You can learn more about this practice right here.
If you notice unusual molting patterns or generalized, unwell behaviors in your birds, consult with a veterinarian. If your birds stand ruffled without the patches of healthy pin feathers, or if they have rough-looking feathers you are dealing with a serious illness and not normal molting.
Molting birds may become slightly withdrawn from the gang. This is normal. Your feisty Francines or bossy Barbaras may become less “obnoxious”. This is all normal. The birds’ appetite won’t be as hearty as they no longer have the nutritional demands of laying. Remember, as the birdies lose their feathers and their new blood-filled and delicate pin feathers emerge they feel sensitive and picky. Ouch.
Well, friends thanks for reading. We want to hear from you. Share your stories and questions with our fun, feather-loving community. Click on the comment link below and we will lend an ear, –ummm, an eye? Got ducks, guineas, turkeys? Give us an update on their molts too!