Your chickens start their natural molt around autumn. It’s a very beneficial stage for them where they stop laying eggs, shed their feathers and get ready for the cold. Once they’re ready, they will continue laying eggs.
But what if, during the year they’re not laying as many eggs as normal? Should you force a molt to ensure that they’ll start laying again?
What is forced molting?
The process of forced molting is a controversial one. It involves withdrawing food and water for a week or two. This causes weight loss and the loss of feathers, forcing them to molt.
The molting process forces the chickens to rejuvenate their reproductive tracks. Therefore, once the molt process is over, the egg production and quality increases.
Although banned in the EU, forced molting is regularly done in the USA as a way to reinvigorate egg production and keep it constant. It also increases the profitable life of a chicken since companies can force a molt to get another batch of eggs instead of slaughtering them once their egg production isn’t as profitable.
It’s easy to find guides like this one on how to force a molt and, at any given time, around 6 million hens are going through a forced molting process in the US alone.
Should you force a molt?
A forced molt is a controversial topic because of the physiological shock and toll it has on the chickens.
Keep in mind, despite its benefits, forcing a molt is basically starving a chicken for two weeks, forcing it to lose weight and feathers just so the chicken can lay more eggs in the future. It has no benefit for the chickens and, in fact, can be detrimental to their health.
If you have backyard chickens, you probably care about ethical production of eggs. You know that there are no better eggs than the ones that are laid by happy, healthy chickens. Your chickens probably have names and may be considered part of the family!
To starve the chickens just to have eggs is considered by many to be not only unethical, but plain animal cruelty, which is why it’s prohibited in the EU.
Now say you don’t think it’s animal cruelty. Is it still worth it?
The shock and stress of starvation lowers a chicken’s immune system’s effectiveness. This increases the chances of your chickens contracting Salmonella. It’s not only dangerous to your chickens, but since it contaminates the eggs, it can be dangerous for you and your family too.
To summarize, a forced molting is effective at making sure chickens lay as many eggs as possible. It’s also considered animal cruelty by some since it makes them go through a lot of stress, decreases their quality of life and can even be dangerous to you and your loved ones.
Starving chickens for profit may be normal in the industrialized world. It’s also normal to keep them in tiny cages with no sunlight and feed them as cheap as possible. However if you have backyard chickens, you may want to think twice about starving them for profit.