This is the time of year when the air turns cooler, leaves are changing colors and many animals prepare for winter.
I opened my chicken coop early one morning and was surprised to see feathers everywhere. It looked as though a pillow fight had taken place.
The change of the season from summer into fall brings shorter days resulting in fewer fresh eggs and irritable, molting chickens.
Molting is a natural process in which birds lose old, broken, and soiled feathers for new plumage. The most common trigger for molting is the decrease of daylight hours.
New feathers act as insulation which helps keep a chicken warm in the colder weather. It takes a lot of energy to build new feathers; therefore, it can result in an ill-tempered hen.
The molting process or “bad feather days” are comparable to the familiar saying of a “bad hair day” for humans. These types of days are hard on everyone!
Starting from the head and neck, the progression of the feather loss continues in sequence down the back, next the breast, thighs and finally the tail feathers. Chickens each have unique personalities and likewise apply this individuality to their molting technique. Some chickens lose fewer feathers and grow them back in 3-4 weeks, while others lose a lot of feathers and stretch the process out 12-16 weeks.
During the molting process it is important to make sure each chicken is getting plenty of protein. Layers feed which is 16 percent protein can be changed to a 20-25 percent protein, found in a broiler blend feed. Protein rich treats like sunflower seeds, peas, soybeans, cooked meat, oatmeal, or meal worms, a favorite snack for my girls, can be given. In addition, be sure to provide plenty of water to keep the chickens healthy.
Although molting is a messy production, it is necessary seasonal ritual for the chickens. I am looking forward to chicken business as usual. Friendly, healthy birds with a new look to their plumage are more fun than balding, grumpy birds.
Lisa from the Fresh Eggs Daily Blog has developed an easy recipe for Molt Meatloaf. She says, “My Hens love it – and the eggs, oats and ground beef provide protein while the milk product provides added calcium, both of which help their molt go faster and more smoothly.”
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
¾ Cup water
2 T Molasses
2/3 Cup Old-fashioned Oats
2/3 Cup Layer Crumble (or pellets moistened in a bit of water)
¼ Cup Wheat germ
¼ Cup Powdered Milk
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped
¼ Cup Fresh or Dried Parsley
1 T each Fresh or Dried Basil, Dill, Marjoram and Tarragon
1 ½ Pounds Ground Beef
In large bowl, combine eggs, milk and molasses. Stir in oats, crumble, wheat germ, powdered milk, garlic and herbs. Add meat and mix well. Pat mixture into a small casserole or loaf pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Cool, slice and serve. Leftovers can be frozen and then defrosted as needed.