How can nutrition support a healthy moult?

Andrew Fothergill, National Poultry Advisor at Farmgate explains the difference nutrition can make for your hens during moulting season.

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As we head into early Autumn with the shorter days setting in, your hens will start their moulting season. This is the annual process where they lose their feathers and go-off lay whilst regrowing a new plumage. Your flock will go through moult at slightly different times, typically lasting 6–8 weeks, although the exact length and onset will vary for each bird. During moulting, your hens may not look in their best condition, but it is a natural process as they exchange their broken, loose feathers for new ones, ensuring they have a good coverage for the winter months.

Hens tend to stop laying during moult as they need to conserve their energy to produce new feathers. When your birds start moulting, they will go out of production and their reproductive tract will shrink to the size of an immature pullet. Caring for our birds during moult is important to maintain their year-round health and encourage laying once the season comes to an end. Protein is a key nutrient to pack into your hen’s diet and this needs to be maintained during their moult. Just like in a human diet, protein supports growth, repair, and body building. In extreme cases if chickens are not getting enough protein, they will peck at other bird’s feathers and eat them to satisfy their perceived requirements.

Moulting hens naturally divert the nutrients digested from their laying diet into feather growth and restoring body condition. Farmgate’s Layers Pellets and Mash provide all the nutrients required to support this redirected productivity from egg to feather, it is just used by the hen in a different way. By continuing to feed a layer diet fortified with calcium, any individuals within a flock will be able to return to egg production as soon as they have restored their feathers and body reserves. Scratch feeds can still be offered to maintain your hen’s normal routine but remember that feathers are primarily made of protein and so be mindful not to dilute your bird’s protein intake during this period.

The moulting period is an ideal time to do a bit of housing maintenance that can interrupt laying when birds are in production, thorough cleaning and perhaps treatments for parasites such as worms and mites - all the tasks which you might feel will interrupt a bird in a laying cycle. After moulting, it is usual for eggs to be slightly reduced in number, but typically larger and with stronger shells than those laid before moulting.

The final factor to take into consideration during moult is keeping hen’s stress levels low. Try to avoid introducing any new hens to the flocks or any big environmental changes during this period. Also be mindful that they can be very sensitive where their feather shaft meets their skin so keep handling to a minimum, provide frequent clean bedding and give them lots of space to rest and roam.

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