Moulting in laying Hens
Moulting is a natural process where hens shed and renew their feathers. During moulting hens reduce or even stop egg production. Many farmers are often left panicking when their chickens shade feathers overnight and stop laying eggs or drop egg production drastically. The bird’s loose feathers gradually and bare patches of skins in different parts of the body are always seen.
What causes moulting?
Whereas moulting is a natural process, there are number factors (According to British Hen Welfare Trust) that can trigger it. Namely;
- Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland
- Physical exhaustion and fatigue
- Completion of the laying cycle (birds lay eggs for a certain period of time)
- Reduction of day length, resulting in reduced feeding time and thus loss of body weight.
Moulting and egg production
During moulting, your hen requires a lot of proteins and calcium to facilitate new tissue and feather formation, this explains why her egg production declines due to the inadequacy of these nutrients. It is therefore advisable to feed the birds with food richer in proteins and calcium to ensure that moulting does not take longer than expected. Moulting has often time been used by farmers to tell good layers/high producers. Good layers take a longer time before they moult and the process itself takes a shorter time. These hens may even lay eggs during moulting and cease laying few days before moulting climaxes. Poor layers resume moulting after shorter periods and the process normally takes a pretty long time compared to the time taken by high producers. It seems poor layers like the moulting phase!
Moulting and cannibalism
Birds are left with bare patches of skins during moulting. This may tempt other birds to start pecking the moulting chickens and therefore causing physical harm. Deliberate efforts must, therefore, be put in place to ensure that birds do not harm one other during this inevitable yet natural process.
The moulting process affects egg productivity of your birds and therefore proper care must be taken to ensure this phase is managed correctly. If moulting is left to take longer than expected, the farmer will definitely incur more costs considering that hens will always record very poor production during this time. Proper nutrition should be given to the birds to ensure that they do not take to long in the moulting process since this can adversely affect their bouncing back to normal production.
Whereas this article has focused mainly on moulting in laying hens, it is important to mention that moulting affects even birds of other ages. So if you happen to see your cock losing feathers, it could be as a result of moulting. Nevertheless, moulting should not be confused with cannibalism. Next time you see your chickens losing feathers due to moulting, show them more love and kindness instead of rushing to your vet to get medication.