That makes me think of the Wicked Witch Of The West from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, I guess that was melting. Well, when your chickens or ducks start to molt they kind of look like they are melting. But I digress.
If you walk into the chicken yard and see feathers everywhere you might think you are looking at a predator attach. But on closer inspection you see that all of your flock is present, they just look very bedraggled. And you are not getting as many, or maybe any eggs. You are probably dealing with molting.
The feathers of a chicken or duck (or for that matter turkey goose or any other bird) play a very important role in the birds health. Their role is to keep the bird warm and dry. Over a years time they take quite a beating. They get rained on, preened, and bathed in either water or dirt. They get pulled on by other birds and end up broken and bent. When they are in this shape they no longer protect the bird from the elements like they should. So what’s a bird to do? This is where molting comes in.
Feather molting is a natural process that all birds go through to replace these old and ineffective feathers with new feathers that lay nicely together to insulate and protect the bird from the elements. Often in the fall, but sometimes in the spring after hatching out a nest of eggs, the birds start loosing their feathers and getting new ones. With some breeds the loss is dramatic and with others it is a little slower process. But they all must go through it. You will gradually notice new feathers coming in.
Handle With Care – Molting time is a very stressful time for your chickens and ducks. A lot of their skin is exposed to the elements, mosquitoes and to other pecking birds. Also the new feathers, as they start to come in, are very tender. A new feather has blood flowing through it until it is fully grown in. And during this time it can hurt the bird to be picked up. If the new feather is broken it can bleed a lot. An old feather is dead much like your hair. But unlike your hair that keeps on growing, a feather, once it is full grown, stops growing and the blood recedes as does the painful feeling.
A Peaceful Environment – A Molting Chicken or Duck is under a great deal of stress during a molt. It will be anxious about being attacked. Not only are their bodies tender during a molt, but they are also unable to fly to allude a predator. This can cause anxiety. They need to be watched for bullying and even moved to a different pen if necessary.
Extra Nutrition – It takes a lot of protein to produce feathers. A feather is made up of about 85% protein. Chicken feed is not made to provide that much protein. A typical layer feed has about 16% protein. You can switch to a broiler feed which has 20-25% protein. You can also supplement their feed with high protein sources like earthworms, meal worms (grown yourself or purchased dry) or any type of bug. You can also mix up special feed like Lisa from fresh eggs daily did with her molting meatloaf. And they need healthy fats from pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or cod liver oil. You need to cut back on non protein treats. Watermelon is great in the heat of summer, but not while they are trying to grow feathers. Don’t forget to go back to a low protein diet after the molt as too much protein is not good for their kidneys when it is not needed for making feathers.
Supplements – A molting bird will be more prone to illness. Adding Apple Cider Vinegar or probiotics to their water is a good idea to support their immune systems.
Cleaning The Coop – Now is a good time to clean the coop. Do this not only to reduce the bacteria the stressed birds are exposed to but also to combat any pests, bugs or parasites that may be lurking in the corners.
Be Patient – Your wonderful egg layers will get back to providing you with the bounty of eggs you are used to in no time.
Remember this is a normal, natural process. With just a little extra attention and care your flock will come through the molt happy and healthy and more protected from all the elements than ever.
Hope you have a Ducky (or Chicky) Day!
Leave a comment and let us know what experiences you have had with molting.