Written by: Amanda B.
OH MY GOSH, EVERYONE! MY BIRDS LOOK AWFUL!!! I hope you are all staying strong through this time when you look at your precious birds and not cringe! I have been learning more and more on how to care for my birds through the colder weather, but NO ONE ever explained the molting process to me! Shame on all my chicken friends... because this year, Handsome looks like his name is Coopless! He looks like my husband ran him over with his zero-turn mower and he survived! I’ll share pictures... he doesn’t even have a tail! Eek! So! Let's get started...
When the seasons change, we often notice our beautiful birds have started to look sickly or even in an odd sense, “ran over by a lawn mower!” You will notice several factors during this time such as losing their feathers, loss in egg production numbers, they can even display signs of being lethargic. In Michigan, our fall molt is the hardest on our flock. Let’s cover some common things that should be done during this time and take a look at what things can go wrong and what to focus on.
Molting is so important for chickens, during this time their bodies are working 5x as hard to prepare for the colder weather and these new feathers will help protect them during those nights that get below freezing. The core temperature for a chicken is between 104-107 degrees depending on the breeds. The ones who run higher temperatures tend to be the breeds that are hardier for the winter weather and can lay eggs almost all winter once a molt has passed. Because the core temperature is so high you do not need to provide a heat lamp for your hens. I know because we feel it is necessary for us to have heat during the colder weather, that they would, but the whole point of the molting process is so we do not have to give them a heat lamp. Their bodies are telling us, “We got this, we will be warm!” Providing heat is not necessary, but blocking wind and snow from entering the coop is! During the molt they will move slower and if your flock does not free range, please provide some safe spaces to hide from heavy snow fall or cold rain and winds. Trust me, your half naked birds will be grateful for that.
Many feel that growing feathers is no big deal, their chickens handle it great, but let’s dig a bit deeper. Did you know there is an actual enzymatic process that your chicken goes through, using up important trace minerals such as zinc, selenium and manganese?
Zinc: during this time your hen will be using the zinc she once used for reproduction of eggs to help build the feather follicle stemming from the skin, also known as a pin or shaft, and what once was used to help metabolize feed will be used for this as well.
Selenium: is literally what is used in chicken feed to help your hens and roosters with hatchability, semen quality and more. During molting, this is being reserved and is why you will see a lack of interest in your roosters on your hens, as well as lack of egg production. Supplementing this during the process can be helpful with mood enhancement, if your hens seem sad or lethargic, add some in their water with electrolytes!
Manganese: is used during this time to build up the feather strength, ability to provide a thicker feather as well as a stronger follicle. I usually recommend options such as peanut butter (or any other nut butter), whole nuts with no shells, oatmeal, beans and more.
I do believe in supplementing their bodies during this time. It is the least we owe them for their companionship, eggs to eat, and if you butcher, you’re improving the meat that you will consume one day in a healthy way!
Supplements Recommended During Molting
· Trace minerals mix or block- if you purchase mix, just sugar coat pellets before feeding
· Oyster shells and grit- add a full bowl amount for free picking, available 24/7
· Electrolytes- add into water or use powders on feed or make into a Jell-O as a treat
· Protein- add 1/3 of a cup more per feeding per chicken or increase feed to a 20% level
· Warm bowl of oatmeal- add cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper (this is necessary to activate the health benefits of turmeric called curcumin*) and thyme or oregano and basil, warm not hot! Great for a snack and helps hold weight and boost immune system.
· Keep a first aid box in case of blood feathers, plyers and witch hazel, cotton balls and corn starch
*Curcumin helps the body manage inflammation occurring in the muscles and the skin tissues. It will help during the molting process by reducing the amount of soreness and any irritation occurring. SO DO NOT FORGET THE BLACK PEPPER! LOL
I am sure if you are a first-time chicken owner you may have no idea what a blood feather is, which is okay! It took me 6 years to see one and it wasn’t in my flock. Our neighbor called me after we dropped our kids off at school and said “Mandie, I have a chicken emergency can you come over ASAP!” UMMMM, YES, I CAN AND I DID!! I grabbed my first aid box and loaded my toddler up and off we went to see what emergency was amongst us. When we showed up, Tammy was holding a bloody hen who looked lethargic, skinny and just down right exhausted. She told me about how lately she has been just not feeling well, she’s losing feathers and weight. Once I held her, I noticed she had several large feathers bleeding. (I do not have photos, so please google this so you can see and notice it when or if it does occur) This is why I recommend having witch hazel and plyers with corn starch.
1. You will want to clean the hen off, by either by wiping her with the wash cloth or use cotton balls and witch hazel. The witch hazel is very gentle on their skin and will clean the area very well.
2. Gently wrap your hen in a towel and grab your plyers and corn starch
3. Remove by pulling the feather out towards the tail, basically in the direction the feather is growing. It will bleed more and be very painful if you pull straight up or towards the head.
4. Wipe area clean with the witch hazel and cotton ball.
5. Pinch some cornstarch and cover the pore that is bleeding, this will stop bleeding faster (if you want a recipe for your own styptic powder mixture to keep in your first aid box read my other blog coming soon (My Flocks First Aid Box)
Technically, all new growth feathers are considered a blood feather. When first year birds or during a molt process when the new growth is replacing the old feathers lost, these feathers have an excessive blood supply within the shaft (the part of the feather growing from the follicle). If the feather breaks it can cause infection so clean it well and keep her in a clean area, if you have one available.
Once we got Tammy’s hen cleaned up and her few bleeding blood feathers pulled and corn starched, I went over the molting process and what she should add to the coop to prevent this from happening. By adding the protein and trace minerals, this will prevent blood feathers by at least by 75%. Never let anyone tell you, you’re just spoiling them, BECAUSE YOU ARENT SPOILING THEM, YOU ARE TAKING CARE OF THEM! It is so important to give them the best life we can. If you can’t do that then why bother having them!
During this process feed more, love more and try out the supplementing list! This can become one more thing that you prepare for before the colder weather comes! Cause yah know!? It is never ending these days! Lol
These are Shadow and Mama, they are officially almost done molting and have their new beautiful feathers! Just wanted to share how cute they are getting each season! They run our duck flock. Shadow took over with taking care of babies, because Mama needed a break! 25 babies can be a lot!
Stay tuned for “My Flocks First Aid Box” Blog too... this little box will be your best friend during emergencies.
Until next time,
Happy to bring you information!