Maureen has perked up a little over the past day. As per my last post, she’s not been a particularly happy chicken, and we weren’t exactly sure why. In fact, we’re still not sure, but we think her moult has something to do with it.
I thought I would post a little bit about chicken moults. mainly because my knowledge of chicken moults has been collected over a couple of years, from snippets on various websites and from different books. And my experience sometimes differs from what is considered ‘normal’.
Our ex-batts had already moulted when we got them, and we pretty bald in places to start with. We think this is because they had a forced moult (where the farmer withholds food to induce a moult, which eventually keeps egg production high after the moult has finished); I suspect they do this before slaughter, or in our birds’ case, their release to freedom.
The first thing about chicken moults is the fact that in the UK, we spell it moult. In the US, it’s molt. Small, but significant fact I think!
When Does a Chicken Moult?
As far as chickens are concerned, from the age of about two, a moult is usually an annual happening. I’ve read that moults are most common during autumn, and in my experience, it usually happens between October and November, just before it gets really cold. They never seem to moult at the same time, it always seems staggered. Our chicken Maureen arrived from the battery house pretty well feathered, she was the only one that was in a ‘good’ state, and didn’t moult for the first 18 months that we had her. As a chicken or hen ages, they’re more likely to moult and sometimes the moults become more severe. However, a couple of my chickens have moulted at random times during the year, for no apparent reason.
Chicken Moult and Egg Production
When a hen is approaching a moult, it’s very common for her laying to slow down, and stop for a while. There’s no set time that they stop laying, but I’d say that our chickens stopped laying for around 2 or 3 weeks during the moult. This year, Maureen, who is around 3 and usually lays around 4-5 eggs a week, slowed her laying for a good month before she approached her moult, and stopped altogether around 2 weeks before she started showing signs of shedding feathers.I think I’m right in saying that a hen (your common ‘brown hen’) who is in lay has whitish coloured skin on their legs, whereas a hen not in lay with have more of a yellow hue to the skin on their legs. This is at least true for my lot.
You might find that after the moult, egg production starts and stops again. There might be a few dodgy eggs, but as long as it’s not an ongoing problem, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
What Does a Moult Look Like?
The first real indications of a moult, are of course the shedding of feathers. It might start with a few, followed by a heap of feathers being shed left, right and centre, or may appear to happen out of the blue, and all at once (providing, of course, that it’s not the result of feather pulling or a fox attack – always check a hen over if loss of feathers is truly unexpected). It’s only in the past few days that mounds of feathers have started to appear under Maureen’s perch, and where she hangs around during the day. Her head feathers look normal, but underneath she’s started losing a lot of feathers. Yoko, on the other hand, usually starts moulting from her head first, at least, it’s more apparent there. Then she sheds from her body and undercarriage, and occasionally will lose a wing feather. Last year she completely lost all of her tail feathers, and took on a ‘bobbed’ appearance for a week or so – that was quite a strange sight!
The new feathers usually come through quite quickly, if not straight after the feather is shed. The first sign is a darkening of the skin just under the surface, before a ‘needle’-like tube breaks through. In this tube, the feathers are growing, and eventually start to protrude out of the end like small paintbrush tips. Eventually, the feather emerges, beautifully fluffy and glossy.
Chicken Health During the Moult
Hens can seem quite under the weather during their moult. Even before the feathers start to fall out, they can appear a little hunched or grumpy. If their laying has reduced they may eat less too. However, even you think your hen is approaching a moult, you should still keep an eye on them; make sure to check that nothing else is causing the ‘off’ behaviour. I always check their crop,undercarriage, feet, eyes and bottom to check everything is normal and they’re not in fact ill.
Extra Supplements During Moult
During the moult, all the protein that hens eat goes towards producing new feathers, hence why egg production drops or stops altogether. To help them along during this time, you can add some poultry spice or poultry drink to their water. They might also appreciate a small measure in their food – try making a layers mash porridge and mixing in the appropriate amount of poultry drink supplement in the water. We use Battles Poultry Drink, but some people prefer Poultry Spice. We also stick a clove of garlic in their drinking water, as it’s said to help boost their immune system to stave off colds and things that they can become susceptible to during the moult. A few dried mealworms, cheese or cooked egg also wouldn’t go amiss – but not too much. All the nutrition they need is in their layers mash and mixed corn.
Keeping Out the Weather
The last point is important – a chicken during their moult will not have their normal ‘weatherproof’ aid…feathers! Usually when a hen is in moult, the weather is rubbish. So it’s important that they have somewhere that’s sheltered from the wind and rain, where they can keep themselves warm and dry whilst they’re a bit bald.
Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now off the top of my head. Any questions, don’t hesistate to leave a comment. Similarly, if you’ve any extra tips or info about moults, I’d love to hear. Chicken keeping has been a continual learning curve and I’m always looking to improve my knowledge.