Moulting: Chickens stopped laying? Feathers everywhere? They may be on annual leave!
Did you know that eggs are naturally a seasonal food?
Shorter autumn days signal all poultry to shed their feathers, to go into winter with thick warm plumage. This process is called moulting. It may be hardly noticed on some of your chooks or ducks, and very obvious with others. It also depends on the age of the bird and the time of year they were hatched.
Your best layers in the flock will actually be the last to moult. They will look very rough and tattered; having dropped most of their feathers all at once. So take note, despite their looks, the scruffiest chooks are actually the hardest working; these are birds you actually 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 selves. It’s believed they feel unbalanced when their tail feathers fall out, and can feel frightened and insecure.
During a moult, the bird’s energy is diverted to making a body of new feathers, so 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.
Old breeder’s tip – eggs laid after a moult tend to be bigger, making them great to hatch. Bigger eggs means bigger, stronger chicks.
Egg laying doesn’t usually resume until early July or later, but this varies a lot – pullets may be back laying within 2 months. This is a huge frustration for many chicken keepers. I often here "We had eggs, were going well, and now we're down to one or no eggs." One way you can work around this is to buy two pullets (for example) that were hatched in early spring, and therefore should commence laying in autumn and lay right through.
To help your chooks through a heavy moult –
Up their protein - Protein content is essential during a moult for feather development. I really like Laucke Showbird Breeder MP, Barastoc Champion Layer (my birds aren't fond of Barastoc Goldren Yolk, but many commercial layers like it), and am yet to try Laucke Red Hen Se17enteen. If you can't get these, look for a good quality feed with minimum 16% protein.
- 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 (an amazing probiotic complex) and AllFarm Solminavit liquid or powder. I use both of these together as a maintenance (once a week year-round) and a booster (up to daily) as required.
Shell grit 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.
Seaweed meal – with 80+ minerals it’s a great all-rounder for your girls to peck as they need.
Cooked eggs (which I know you’re unlikely to have in a moult!) mashed up, shell included, are great for struggling birds. Cooked, mashed up egg will not teach your birds to eat their eggs, by the way!
Chooks go crazy for mealworms and sardines - an amazing 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.
Apple cider vinegar helps calcium absorption. I'm a big fan of 'free-choice' feeding as chickens know what they need mineral wise. Simply add 1 tablespoon per 2L of water, but also give them the option of fresh water; and let them decide.