As the days become shorter and we head into winter, your hens will loose feathers that will be replaced by new ones. This is called ‘moulting’. During this change, hens will often take a break from egg-laying; as their reproductive system takes a rest so their body can build up a store of nutrients for laying eggs during the rest of the year. A late ‘hard’ moult means they quickly return to laying eggs. An early, slow ‘soft’ moult means the hens won’t lay for a longer period.
Help Your Hens Through A Moult
There are a few ways you can make sure your hens come through a moult as healthy and comfortable as possible. Moulting always starts at the head and moves down the body. Observe your hens and when you see they are beginning to moult, put into practice the following tips:
- avoid handling them during this time as their feather follicles are very sensitive, even painful
- make sure they have good protection from the wind and cold weather
- feathers are made of keratin, a protein, so boost your hens’ diet with high protein foods.
Managing The Stress Of Moulting
Hens can get moody during the moult and their immune system can be depleted. Giving them extra nutrients, by adding apple cider vinegar and seaweed to their food, alleviates the stress and boosts their immune response.
If hens aren’t getting enough protein they may peck at other birds’ feathers and eat these, to increase their protein levels. It doesn’t take much for a wound to appear and hens love to peck at red blood – this makes the wound worse. You should always separate birds if this starts to happen.
Add Extra Protein For The Moult
You can give your hens extra high-protein treats during their moult to help them build new feathers. Ideally, start feeding the extra protein early, just before or as the moult begins. Hens are greedy, so remember high-protein foods should only be fed as an occasional treat.
Don’t overfeed your hens; only give them treats during moulting and hard winters. Overweight hens will develop health problems and won’t be good egg layers. You will still need to supply everything else for their usual diet – their normal food, shell grit and water.
High Protein Food Choices
There are some common sources of protein to help your hens get through a moult. New foods will be eyed with great suspicion at first, until your flock decides those strangelooking fish pieces or mealworms aren’t going to kill them after all. Use corn sparingly – it is best fed in a grain mix because it can affect the overall protein intake of your birds.
- Hard-boiled eggs: 91% protein – never feed your hens raw eggs, so they don’t develop an egg-eating habit.
- Fish or fish meal: up to 70% protein – sardines have high levels of omega-3 oils; any oily fish is excellent.
- Mealworms: 53% protein dried; around 30% protein alive – buy online.
- Pumpkin seeds: 31–33% protein – fresh is best, chop the seeds to edible size.
- Sprouted lentils/buckwheat: 26–30% protein – tasty, high in minerals, low in fat.
- Cat food: 26–30% protein – yum!
- Sunflower seeds: 23% protein – disease-preventing phytochemicals – smash the seeds, this helps in eating and digesting them.
- Garden peas: 23% protein – frozen peas are great.
- Parsley: 21% protein – must be chopped; is a good source of calcium and anti-carcinogens.
Combine some of these high-protein foods and roll spoonfuls into protein balls to feed as treats to your hens. Place protein balls close together on a baking tray. Bake at 170 C for an hour or longer, until the balls are dry and hard. Feed the protein balls in broken pieces to your hens.
For more tips go to www.naturalchickenhealth.com.au