Your hens may be reaching their annual moult where they lose their feathers and often go-off their lay as they regrow a new plumage. This biological process normally occurs towards the end of summer or start of autumn when the days start getting shorter. Your flock will go through moult at slightly different times and it should take around six weeks for a healthy pure breed hen. Although they may not look in their best condition, it is a beneficial process as they exchange their broken, loose feathers for new feathers ensuring they have good coverage prior to 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 that of an immature pullet. Moulting is a crucial time for your laying birds to have a break, so continuing to look after their health and wellbeing is crucial to maintain healthy hens all year round.
Caring for our birds during moult is important to maintain their health and encourage their 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 in an attempt to satisfy their perceived requirements.
It is unlikely that your flock’s moulting season will be completely in sync, and some hens may even continue to lay, so finding a feed that supports their nutrition all year round should give you the peace of mind that your hens are getting what they need. During moulting, hens naturally divert the nutrients digested from their laying diet into feather growth and restoring body condition. Farmgate Feeds Layers Pellets and Mash provide all of the nutrients required to support this re-directed productivity from egg to feather, it is just utilised 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 also an ideal time to attend to any housing repair projects that may interrupt laying when birds are in production, thorough cleaning and perhaps treatments for parasites such as worms and mites, all of the tasks which you may either not have time for when birds are productive, or which you feel will interrupt a bird in a laying cycle. After moulting, it is usual for the production of eggs to be slightly reduced in number, but typically larger and with stronger shells than those laid before moulting.
Another important factor during moult is keeping your hen’s stress low. The area where their feather shaft meets their skin can be very sensitive so ensure you change their bedding more regularly, keep handling to a minimum and give them plenty of space to rest and roam. Also try to avoid introducing any new hens to the flock or any big changes to their environment during this period, alongside nutrition and keeping your hens hydrated.
Nutrition is key as you reach your hens moulting season as their main diet will have a marked effect on their health during moult and beyond as they start to lay once more.