During their moult, chickens shed their old feathers and grow new ones. They usually stop laying eggs at this time, or reduce their laying rate, and this gives them time to rest and prepare themselves for the next laying season.
Moulting occurs every year, sometimes twice, and it can kick in at any time; although in the UK, most hens moult in late summer. Occasionally, an early moult can be brought on by stress. The process varies in length, but is usually complete after four weeks. In some cases, it can be three months or more before the new coat of feathers is complete.
When Do Chickens Moult?
Young chickens frequently moult as they shed their baby feathers and grow adult ones. The first moult occurs before they are six weeks old, and there is a second moult before nine weeks and a third at 12–13 weeks. The last of these ‘chick moults’ occurs between 20 and 22 weeks, at which point the bird is an adult and is laying eggs. She will moult once or twice every year.
How Do You Know if Your Chicken is Moulting?
Chickens will lose occasional feathers at any time of year, and that’s nothing to worry about. These are the obvious signs of moulting:
- A messy appearance, with bald spots
- A dull-looking comb and wattles
- A sudden stop to egg production, or a reduction in the usual number of eggs
- An increased appetite, with a hunger for protein (the hen may fight other birds away from food or scratch frantically for bugs and worms)
The moult usually starts at the chicken’s head, and travels via the breast and legs to the tail. By the time the tail is bare, the head feathers have started to regrow.
If a hen is losing feathers and doesn’t grow new ones, there may be a problem with feather mites or some other illness. Watch out for any unusual behaviour in your hens – listlessness or a hunched posture, for example, are signs of an underlying problem. If you are in any doubt about your chickens’ health, speak to your vet.
Similarly, if the laying cycle is severely interrupted and the hen is not laying several days after the end of the moult, contact your vet.
What to give chickens to help with moulting
Moulting is not an illness, so there is no treatment required as such. However, changes to the birds’ usual diet help them through the moult. Their taste for protein will increase during this time, as new feathers need lots of it. Indeed, feather growth will eat up all the usual protein you give your hens.
To add extra protein to the chickens’ diets, give them a feed that is at least 18% protein. Give them more protein rich treats, and if your hens have access to bugs and worms, all the better. Giving your chickens some extra treats during the moult can be helpful, but make sure the treats you choose are high in protein and low in fat.
To ensure general health and a robust immune system, add some apple cider vinegar to the hens’ water to boost their digestion too. Otherwise, simply continue with the healthy feeding regime, and make sure their diet has plenty of vitamins and minerals.
What to do when your chickens are moulting?
Do not handle your chickens during the moult, and resist the temptation to cover their balding bodies with chicken pullovers or jackets! The hens’ skins are tender and itchy during the moult, as hundreds of pin-feathers are pushing through. Handling them or dressing them up will only add to their irritability!
To ease the hens through their annual feather makeover, make sure they are in a stress-free environment. New birds should not be introduced during the moult, and coop renovations or changes to your henhouse setup should be put on hold until the new feathers are all in place.
Wild chickens were happily moulting for millions of years before we first domesticated them, so this is one of those cases where it is best to let nature take its course. With a little dietary help from their human friends!
This entry was posted in Chickens
Chickens pretty much take care of themselves from an early age. However, there are certain things you need to avoid if you want your baby chickens to get the very best start in life.
In this article, we present six easily preventable pitfalls.
1. Not Having The Brooder Ready Before The Chicks Arrive
You need to sort out the chicks’ housing – known as a brooder – before the birds arrive. Otherwise, there will be nowhere to put them, and that would be disastrous.
You can buy brooder boxes made specifically to keep chicks in, or you can make a DIY brooder using a cardboard box or plastic bin with holes in the side. Only choose the DIY avenue if you’re 100% confident you know what you’re doing.
The important thing is to keep the birds in a warm and well-ventilated space, but protected from drafts. As a rule of thumb, allow two square feet per chick – this is more than enough space for fluffy newcomers, but remember you will also need to make sure they have enough room when they get bigger – which they will do very quickly!
A chicken wire covering for the top of the brooder is advisable. Chicks can easily ‘fly the nest’ if the sides of the brooder are less than 45cm high. Older chicks need roosting poles for perching when they sleep, and will appreciate the inclusion of these in the brooder.
2. Not Getting The Temperature Right
Too much or too little heat can kill chicks, so this is another life-or-death issue. The chicks need to be kept in a temperature of 35 °C (95 °F) in their first week. The heat should then be reduced slightly every five days or so until you’ve reached room temperature.
The source of heat is an important detail too. A heater designed explicitly for coops and aviaries is the best option, or a red heat bulb. You should not use a white heat bulb, as these produce glare that keeps chicks awake at night. This will make them irritable, as a result of which they may start pecking each other. Standard light bulbs are not suitable either.
Even the correct type of heater or bulb will need some adjusting in terms of where it hangs, and how high it is from the ground. Watch how the chicks behave in relation to the heat source. If they crowd together directly under the bulb or in front of the heater, it means they’re too cold. Lower the heat source or add an additional one, depending on the situation.
If the chicks cluster away from the heat source, they’re probably too hot. In this case, the heater or bulb will need to be moved further away, or its temperature reduced slightly. The chicks’ behaviour may change as they grow larger and the space becomes more crowded, so watch them carefully each day.
3. Using The Wrong Type Of Bedding
With chicks, it’s not a case of “any old bedding will do”. Use wood shavings or other non-toxic, absorbent material recommended for baby chickens. Avoid newspaper or shredded magazines, and don’t use aromatic, oily woods such as cedar. A 2.5cm layer of this bedding will be enough. If you omit the bedding, the chicks are in danger of slipping and sliding on the surface, which can lead to an injury called “splayed leg”, which is a life-threatening condition. The bedding should be changed at least once a week to prevent sticky droppings from accumulating.
4. Getting The Wrong Type Of Feed
Starter feed – in the form of either ‘crumble’ or ‘mash’ – is the essential basis of a chick’s diet. If your chicks have been vaccinated against coccidiosis, you will need to buy an unmedicated feed. The starter feed will double as a ‘grower’ feed, intended for chicks for up to 16 weeks. Some varieties, however, are for the first four weeks only, after which you can switch to a ‘grower’ feed.
Chicks will also enjoy a bit of fresh food as a treat, either vegetables or worms and bugs. These should never replace the starter feed mix, however. Chicks only eat as much as they need, and there’s no danger of them over-eating. So all you have to do is make sure the feeders are topped up at all times.
Like adult birds, chicks require grit to grind up their food. It needs to be sand grain-sized rather than the small pebbles and shell fragments that grown birds require.
The chicks will need food and water dispensers. Buy custom-made ones rather than improvising with dishes and trays: these inevitably end up fouled and/or spilt. Very young chicks will need to have their water changed at least twice a day, as they very quickly dirty it.
5. Forgetting To Perform Daily Health Checks
A chick health check is a simple case of looking at the young birds and making sure they look as lively and alert as usual. A chick that sits alone and looks lethargic or fluffed-up when the others are active may be unwell. An ill chick will deteriorate very quickly and die.
The most frequent health issue encountered in young chicks is ‘pasting up’. This is when their droppings become encrusted on their bodies, preventing them from pooping. An affected bird can be cured by wetting the pasted-up area with warm water and wiping it clean. You may occasionally have to use tweezers to remove a plug of poo from the vent. The chick will need holding securely during this rather delicate and undignified procedure. If left blocked, a pasted-up chick could quickly die.
Note: if there is a thin dark strand hanging from a chick’s rear end, this is NOT pasting up. It’s the dried up umbilical cord that attaches the bird to its yolk inside the egg. It will fall off in a few days.
6. Moving Chicks Outdoors Too Quickly
Chicks can spend up to three hours a day outdoors once they’ve reached two weeks, as long as there is someone to supervise them. A large wire cage or portable run will do the job. The birds should only be placed outside if it’s at least 18 °C (65 °F), dry and not too windy. They will need food, water and shade.
Note: If you take the chicks outdoors before two weeks old, or if you leave them for more than three hours, they may catch a chill or sunstroke (depending on the prevailing weather). These shocks to the system can kill a small bird.
By 12 weeks, the young hens are old enough to move into an Eglu coop and run. They will still be too small to negotiate the roosting bars, so these should be removed until the chicks are big enough to perch and walk across them safely. If you have an Eglu Cube, the chicks may have to be lifted in and out of the roosting and laying area, as they often struggle with the ladder. This can be converted into a ramp during these early weeks, to make things easier for the hens.
The roosting area of the Eglu – or any other walk-in coop and run set up – should have lots of bedding to ensure the hens stay warm at night. The bedding should also be replaced at least twice a week.
Chicks soon pick up the dos and don’ts of life from your other birds. A lot of their behaviour, remember, is based on instinct, so as long as you give them the right environment, nature will take care of the rest.
This entry was posted in Chickens
Note: from 14/12/2020 all chickens in the UK should be kept indoors to prevent the spread of avian flu. For more information, please see these articles: https://blog.omlet.co.uk/2020/11/26/
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced chicken keeper, we have put together a list of 10 essential products you should consider having to hand if you decide to keep chickens in your garden.
Image by Xuân Tuấn Anh Đặng from Pixabay
Certain accessories and equipment are essential to keep your chickens safe and healthy.
The products to have on your shelves
- Diatomaceous earth: a must! Diatomaceous earth is a natural and completely organic product which can be sprinkled in the chicken house to prevent the proliferation of red mites. You can also treat your chickens by mixing it with their feed, or dusting them with the powder and incorporating it into their dust bath.
- A coop disinfectant. The shelter, equipment and accessories of your chickens must be cleaned regularly to keep their home hygienic and healthy. Use a pet safe disinfectant, like Battles.
- Cider vinegar has many benefits. A little cider vinegar in your chickens’ water will help to improve their respiratory system, boost their immune system and maintain a healthy digestive system. Warning: do not use cider vinegar in metal drinkers. This breaks down the metal and can create a toxic chemical reaction for your chickens. Want to clean your eggs but water is not enough? Use the cider vinegar by dipping your eggs in it for 10 seconds. They will be impeccable! You can even add cider vinegar to the water before washing your chickens. Finally, clean your drinkers and equipment with apple cider vinegar to remove traces of limestone. Vinegar is a whitener and a very good disinfectant.
- Grit: Having grit on your shelf is essential. Your chickens don’t have teeth, so grit helps your chickens digest the grains and other foods they eat more easily. The ingestion of grit is a physiological need essential for the good health of your flock.
- Food supplements: A chicken eats an average of 120 g of food per day. Food supplements can be great for maintaining your chickens’ health and egg production, and providing them with their daily dose of vitamins. For example, chickens need calcium and phosphorus to produce quality eggs which can be supplemented with Equimins Egg Shell Improver. This is ideal for ex battery chickens.Garlic powder is recognised for its many virtues. Added to the daily feed of your chickens, it will improve their immune system, deworm and eliminate red lice and mites.Did you know that herbs are great for their immune system and that it protects your chickens from infections and intestinal parasites? A herb treat mix will support their health and happiness!
- Vaseline/Petroleum jelly: If your chicken loves going out for a run in winter. It is advisable to coat the comb with petroleum jelly/vaseline to prevent frostbite.
- Scaly leg spray: To prevent unwanted parasite invasions on your chickens and particularly leg scabies, do not hesitate to invest in a scaly leg spray. This form of mange is caused by a mite and can kill your hen. As soon as symptoms appear, growths, yellowish legs, deformation or enlargement of the leg, treat the affected areas immediately.
- Gentian Violet Spray: It is necessary to have a small first aid kit on your shelf in case of small injuries. An antiseptic spray is very effective against small abrasions or wounds from feather pecking.
- Egg boxes: Having chickens is great, having eggs is even better! Keep them safe after collecting them with egg boxes, just like in the supermarket, or stylish Skelters where you can display them proudly in your kitchen, and keep them in date order.
- Bumpa bits: Pecking in chickens is quite common. They can sting with their beaks on the heads of other hens, pluck the feathers, or simply sting the other hen until they bleed. It is a habitual and frequent behavior, it can be caused for the sake of hierarchy or for any other reason: heat, food… In the event of a big crisis in your flock, you can opt for an astonishing solution: bumpa bits. Installed on the beak of your bird, the clip will prevent your hen from pecking and harming the other birds. The end of the spout does not close completely and allows your hen to drink and eat safely.
If you are worried about running out of a product or are unsure of what to buy, we have specially collated packs with all the essential products for the good health of your chickens:
Chicken Keeping Ultimate Starter Pack – Omlet Ultimate Chicken Health Pack – Omlet
This entry was posted in Chickens