Why Your Backyard Chickens are Losing Their Feathers
Updated: 5 April 2021
Have you noticed your ladies are looking a little lacklustre in the feather department?
Are there fewer eggs in the chicken coop?
Did you know that eggs are naturally a seasonal food?
Shorter autumn days signal backyard chickens that it’s time to shed their feathers, so they head into winter with a lovely, thick, warm plumage.
This process is called moulting.
Why Do Chickens Moult?
Backyard chickens moulting is a perfectly natural cycle that all chooks go through. You may notice the following changes:
Perhaps you won’t notice some of your chooks or ducks moulting, but it will be undeniable with others. It also depends on the age of the bird and the time of year they hatched.
Your best layers in the flock will be the last to moult. They will look as though they’ve gone through a tough day at work. They’ll appear rough and tattered, having dropped most of their feathers all at once.
The scruffiest-looking chooks are the hardest working; these are birds you want to keep!
You may notice your moulting birds’ behaviour change. Mine have been putting themselves to bed extra early and are not their usual bossy and sassy selves. They may feel unbalanced when their tail feathers fall out, leaving them feeling frightened and insecure.
In Egg Production
During a moult, the birds concentrate their energy on growing a brand-spanking-new body of feathers. This time off gives their reproductive organs a vacay, so don’t be concerned if they’ve stopped laying - it’s normal for them to take a holiday from laying eggs!
During this time, they are replenishing calcium stores in readiness for another season of laying.
When Do They Start Laying Again?
Egg-laying doesn’t usually resume until early July or later, but this varies greatly – pullets may be back laying within two months.
This is a huge frustration for many chicken keepers. I often hear;
"We had eggs, we were going well, and now we're down to one or no eggs."
You can work around this by buying two pullets (for example) that hatched in early spring. They should start laying in autumn and lay right through.
How to Help Your Flock
What to feed backyard chickens to help them through a heavy moult? Add the following to their diet:
Eating a diet high in protein is essential during a moult for feather development. Try the following types of protein-packed chicken feed:
- Laucke Showbird Breeder MP
- Barastoc Champion Layer
- Barastoc Goldren Yolk. My birds aren't fond of this, but many commercial layers like it.
- Laucke Red Hen Se17enteen. I haven’t yet tried this.
If you can't get any of these, look for a good quality feed with a minimum of 16% protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
A good vitamin & mineral supplement that's highly bioavailable will help your birds to get through the stress of moulting. I recommend:
- Natural Vet Co Resistance Assistance - a unique probiotic complex, and
- AllFarm Solminavit liquid or powder.
I use both of these chicken supplements together as maintenance (once a week year-round) and a booster (up to daily) as required.
Mealworms and Sardines
Chooks go crazy for mealworms and sardines - they’re a fantastic source of protein. Leftover fish or whole carp are also popular choices amongst other breeders I know. Don’t fret about the bones; the chooks work that out.
Fine shell grit for chickens is critical at all times of the year, but especially now. Keep about half to a cup full of shell grit in a container that they can’t scratch at. They refuse to eat it if it’s dusty, so wet slightly to keep it sparkling.
Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV helps calcium absorption. I'm a big fan of 'free-choice’ feeding as chickens know what they need, mineral wise. How much to feed chickens? Simply add one tablespoon per 2 litres of water. Also, give them the option of fresh water, and let them decide.
Yes, I know you’re unlikely to have eggs during a moult! However, mashed up, shell included eggs are great for struggling birds. Oh, and cooked, mashed up egg will not teach your birds to eat their eggs!
Seaweed meal is packed with over 80 minerals; it’s a great all-rounder for your girls to peck as they need.
Prepare yourself for the change in season and learn how to keep backyard chickens healthy. Buy your poultry supplies in Australia direct from my site! I only sell products I know and trust. Shop Solamnivit, Shell Grit and Seaweed Meal.
Check out my backyard chicken online programs for all chook lovers - families, schools and free-range egg farmers.
Drop me a line - firstname.lastname@example.org, comment below or visit our Facebook page.
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.