Chickens Need Rest Too!

I just got home from my summer vacation.  I imagine my brief hiatus in blogging has left a huge void in many of your lives, and for that I apologize.  It makes it easier to come back to work and I feel more productive.  It’s amazing what a little rest can do for you.

Many people forget that chickens that are laying eggs regularly are working hard too.  They need rest periods as well, or they burn out, the same as us.  Problem is, high producing hens don’t like to take breaks, and need to be convinced.  I was going to make a comment about them being “bird-brained”, but my wife insisted we go to a place where I couldn’t even use my Blackberry, and I didn’t like the implications.

I was sent a question by a vet friend of mine on behalf of a friend with a small flock of hens.  I was sent a few pictures, and was asked why the hens were balding.  They looked like this:











Upon further questioning, I was told that the hens had been laying for over a year, and had been acquired as mature birds.  They were fed feed from the feed store, and whatever they could scrounge (horse manure, scraps, tomatoes, etc).  There were other, younger hens in the mix, and their feather cover was good.

Because there were no wounds, the distribution of the feather loss, and the fact that there were no roosters in the mix, made me think that these hens needed a rest, and were in the process of partially molting.  The way to achieve this in a flock of hens is to fully molt them.

The way to do this is to feed a low-calorie diet (such as alfalfa, wheat shorts and barley hulls), decrease the calcium level, and enclose the hens and give them a lot of darkness each day (20 hours if you have the ability to put them in a light-tight enclosure).  Once the hens stop laying (or decrease to negligible amounts), replace the normal feed, give 12 hours of light, and increase the amount of day length by 1/2 hour per week until the hens come back into production.  They will look like new pullets, and will have a new lease on life.  Molting is a normal process for hens, and allows them to “reset” their metabolism and gives them a chance to regain body stores and rebuild bones.  One word of warning though, the hens will look worse, before they look better….they will lose more feathers, and look really scraggly until they start to rebuild.  Most birds, including wild geese, swans and others will stay on their nests while they molt….this gives them lots of feathers to line their nests, and since they are sitting on the nest a lot anyway, it is a great time to re-boot.

Mike the Chicken Vet


4 responses to “Chickens Need Rest Too!

  1. Holy cow! My pullets haven’t gone through this yet. Will all stages of molting look that severe, or is that normal?

    • This is a fairly typical case of molt…..they will look worse before they get better. It’s a little like a dog blowing his coat in the fall….during it, they look ragged, but its normal and healthy. Some breeds of chickens (decorative breeds…the ones who look great, but lay few eggs) may not even go through it. Commercial breeds of hens will usually get “used”, and need a reset time. Remember that these birds have been in lay for over a year straight….thats a long time.

      Mike the Chicken Vet

  2. Thanks so much Mike! These are our chickens. We’ll send you a picture when they look OK again. Cheers, Lynn

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