The Moult and Animal Protein

It’s that time of year again when chickens go into moult. This signifies the end of the laying period and can be quite alarming the first time you see your hens almost ‘oven-ready’ but there are a few things you can feed to encourage quick feathering.

My hens feathers have been looking rather scruffy for the last couple of months and about a month ago, I separated the hens from the cocks so they cannot cause damage to the backs of my rather sparsely feathered hens.

Chickens Moulting

Moulting Hens looking scruffy!

After noticing rather a lot of feathers blowing around their runs, I have inspected a few hens and found they have gone into moult (slightly earlier this year, could this be as a result of the warm weather or their coops being full of red mite when I returned from holiday?)

Stressing chickens can cause them to go into an early moult so I am always careful about changing things around at this time of year. Chickens will normally moult between July and October, so it’s not unusual for them to be moulting now, it’s just earlier than they would normally moult.

Unfortunately during the moult, egg production is also at a low with only the odd egg or two being laid each day. Like eggs, feathers are made up mainly of protein, so it’s no wonder hens stop laying eggs when they go though a moult. A full / true moult can occur quite quickly and means the hens will be out of action in the laying department for about 2 months. Hopefully, they will come back into lay after this; sometimes they don’t when the daylight hours are too short (I don’t use artificial light here but believe my ‘girls’ deserve a rest in between laying).

Moulting or bullying?

Tips of new emerging feathers will push out the old ones so it is always possible to tell whether feather loss is caused by moulting, or by some other means, such as bullying. You can see the feathers coming through on the neck of my light Sussex hen below.

Moulting Hen showing Pin Feathers

Animal Protein

Many old-timers and texts suggest providing additional animal protein during the moult and some have recommended a handful of crushed, dried cat kibble to provide this since it contains a high percentage of animal protein.

Proteins are built from different amino acids and many can be created in the body, some however can only be acquired through food and these are called ‘essential amino acids’. Two of these that chickens require are lysine and methionine and unfortunately the best sources of these come from animal protein, which in the wild would be obtained from insects, slugs, snails etc. even small mammals such as mice.

Some people are surprised and usually look at me in disbelief about mice being part of their free range diet and I’m not sure what DEFRA would suggest to stop my hens from gobbling up the odd field mouse. When they catch one, there’s usually a long chase across the field with other hens in hot pursuit, trying to steal their snack!

Chicken Eating MouseOne of my light Sussex hens eating a mouse she found in the long grass.

Poultry keepers are not allowed to feed animal protein to their chickens (after foot and mouth and BSE, much of the legislation changed).

Some old texts also suggest feeding soya bean meal, linseed meal, sunflower seeds and cod-liver oil, to help chickens re-feather quickly and get back to laying.

I provide cod-liver oil mixed in with their feed (about 1 capful per kilogram but it’s not an exact amount) and have also had some good results with Country Living Omega Oil which contains a mixture of cold pressed oils, including Linseed Oil and seems to help them regrow feathers and get back to laying quickly.

Often I have growers pellets left over at the end of the season that I mix in 50/50 with layers pellets to give them some additional protein in their diet. I leave them to catch their own mice!

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Tim Daniels

Tim is the founder of the poultrykeeper website and lives in Herefordshire, UK. He keeps Cream Legbar chickens, Silver Sebright bantams and hybrid layers for eggs, Abacot Ranger ducks, Brecon Buff geese and some quail.

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