Are my chickens moulting?

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

Chooks not laying?
Feather explosion in your backyard?
Half bald patches on your girls?

Moulting is a natural process in chickens over six months old where they lose their old feathers and grow new ones. This process occurs annually and can your flock will normally experience a period of staggered moulting - last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. In Australia, the moulting season typically takes place during the beginning of the cooler months, often starting in late Feb-early March when the daylight hours decrease.

When chickens moult, the severity can differ widely. Some chickens can lose a handful of feathers and look no different, others will look like they survived an attack by a determined plucking machine. Either way, during this time you will notice that there will be a sharp decrease in the egg numbers you will get each day/week and sometimes wonder what is going on.

Feathers are mainly made up of a protein called 'keratin' at around 90% and in order to regrow the feathers needed to survive the colder months, chickens mostly redirect the protein from their food into feather regrowth instead of egg production. protein from food is prioritised into growing new feathers over egg production. Commercial layers may keep laying (with decreased frequency) but suddenly look raggedy and horrible, stressing out their poor owners with their frazzled appearance.

It is important to note that while moulting is a natural process, chicken require extra care and attention to ensure that they remain healthy and comfortable. This includes providing a clean and dry coop (topping up their deep litter in the coop or cleaning out and providing a clean sleeping area) as well as access to dust baths which can help to remove old feathers and promote new feather growth. 

One of the key things to consider during the moulting season is to provide chickens with a balanced and nutritious diet. This includes ensuring that they have ad-lib access to high-quality protein sources, such as a good quality, high protein chicken feed (or fermented grain). We prefer to feed Laucke Showbird Breeder MP but any food that has over 17% protein should be fine. You can also give them a temporary boost by providing extra vitamins and minerals to aid in feather growth.

My chicken is half bald! What happened?

Some chickens go through what is called an 'explosive' moult and the first time you see this in your chickens can be quite confronting. They will literally go to bed looking relatively normal, then the next morning they may jump off their perch and lose a HUGE chunk of feathers. They might have a shake and lose more. And then walk out of their coop looking almost naked!

It is extreme but it is just up the shocking end of the moulting spectrum. Check out these pics of Rusty the Gold-laced Wyandotte hen who does exactly this every year. If you are on social media, lots of chicken owners share images of their chickens who are experiencing extreme moults and it can be funny, once you get over the shock. 


Moulting Myths 

Feeding your chickens/poultry fish-based cat food or tins of tuna/sardines is a great protein boost

FALSE - Most fish or cat food contain around 8% protein, which is actually significantly less than a good quality chicken food so you are actually decreasing their overall protein level. Also dry cat food is quite high in salt, which is dangerous for chickens. Salt cannot be excreted effectively in chickens and is stored in their kidneys, which can easily be overloaded and cause them to die of kidney disease. So that’s a definite no-no.

It is perfectly acceptable to give fish products to chickens, and they love it and will love you for it, but just be aware that this is more of a treat than something beneficial re: protein levels. 

Boosting Protein will help them return to laying

FALSE - In so far that after a few days of boosted protein, your flock will start laying again? No, not directly. A return to egg laying will occur when the feathers have grown back to a degree where the chicken may have enough protein to satisfy both demands on their bodies, but it not a direct correlation. 

Chickens need around 12-14 hours of daylight to stimulate the hormones necessary to lay eggs. This is why chickens will start/resume egg laying in the Spring months onwards. Most chicken keepers are familiar with the lack of egg production during the colder months and accept that their chickens will have a rest from laying until they naturally resume in Spring.

Chickens need a jumper to keep them warm during moulting. Poor things.

FALSE - Growing new feathers is actually a painful process and chickens are very sensitive during this period. You will notice pin feathers growing through, which look like feathers growing through a milky white straw casing and looking a bit spiky. Chickens do better when this growth is unobstructed by jumpers. 
It is also best to minimise handling to avoid causing them unneccessary pain also, and they will also be stressed at trying to avoid you which can exaccerbate their smooth transition to full health. So jumpers are off the list, despite how cute they look on social media. If you are concerned, give your flock a protein boost to help them regrow their feathers faster but they definitely don't need clothing.


Can moulting make my chickens sick?

As much as moulting is a natural process, it is stressful for chickens and can sometimes be a trigger for a respiratory-based illness to take hold.

How do I support my flock when they are moulting?

If you are open to the idea of supplementing their diet for a protein boost, the addition of Meat and Bone Meal or Dried Mealworms or Black Soldier Fly Larvae, all of which are over 40-50% protein, either added into their food or as a daily treat is also very helpful.

Adding Allfarm Solvita Powder or Anitone Wellness & Vitality liquid will give your flock a boost of vitamins, minerals and amino acids if you think they need it also.

If your chickens are showing signs of stress, adding Aussie Chook Supplies Healthy Chook Spice Mix to their food provides great benefits also. Healthy Chook Spice Mix is a highly palatable, all natural feed additive which provides a great protein boost, immune boosting properties to assist with stress and Allfarm Probiotic Flakes help with improved gut health.

Eggs are important to us. How do I get them laying ASAP

Let's be honest, most of us did get chickens for the eggs, so if eggs are important you and you want to kickstart the return to laying there are proven strategies to help this happen. Commerical egg farms keep egg laying consistent throughout the year by controlling the environment they keep the chickens in, and the most important factor for this is controlling light.

In a backyard or farm setting, providing an artificial source of light for a few hours extra every day to mimic natural light and they will continue to provide eggs during the colder months. A popular, low cost option for most stand alone coop setups are solar lights on a timer that start in the early morning hours to extend the daylight hours.

Your management of your flocks moulting will be as individual as your preference for feeding treats. Many people leave them be to do the process unaided. Many people give daily treats to encourage new feather growth and monitor their stress levels closely. And others boost their protein through food supply and use lights through the shorter daylight hours. There is no right or wrong way. What is important that your chickens are happy and healthy.

Happy Chooking!