Chicken Coop Chatter©
Molting is a natural process that both hens and roosters go through typically in late summer or the fall, however they can and do molt at other times. Some may have significant feather loss, while others may have little loss. During molting, chickens are under a certain amount of stress and you may find they will lose weight. During that feather loss, they are also losing protein, calcium and other nutrients. You will want to increase their protein intake in the form of meats, sunflower seeds, protein rich grains such as chia, cooked eggs, and layer feed with at least a 16% protein content. Calcium can be provided with plain yogurt, or a mixture of yogurt with grains, fruit, oatmeal or wheat flakes, once or twice a week. See my instructions for making your own yogurt: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/recipes-for-self-reliance/category/homemade-yogurt
If weather has changed dramatically during molt, you need to be observant of respiratory illnesses because of the stress and the vulnerability to chills when feathers are lost. Be ready to treat at the first sign of any illness, do not wait until the entire flock succumbs to an illness before treating, and be prepared to treat them all if any fall ill. Due to additional stress, keeping the body in balance will be very important to maintaining good health.
Providing electrolytes to their water will help maintain that proper balance. You may notice during molt the chickens are less friendly, shy or even elusive, which is all part of the stress they are going through, not necessarily illness, though it can lead to illness. There is no way to hurry the process of molting. Some chickens molt and are finished in a couple of weeks, others may take several weeks and up to a couple months to fully feather again. As chickens start to molt, they lose feathers from their head and neck toward their tail, they follow this very same sequence when they re-feather. Some will molt from high stress, such as predator threat or attack, they will also discontinue laying. Treat for those stresses with high protein foods and treats as you should for a normal, annual or bi-annual molt. The earlier you provide these protein and calcium rich foods, the easier the transition for your chickens. See our handy electrolyte recipe you can make with everyday household ingredients: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/homemade-electrolyte-formula
Winter lighting is not necessary, and in fact we fully discourage it. Winter is a time of rest, so the chickens can rejuvenate to build up the calcium and proteins needed for their own health and strong, nutritional eggs. If they are not allowed to rest, you will shorten their egg laying years, if not their life. Chickens will only lay regularly for 3 or 4 years, so expect to shorten those years significantly if you are not allowing them to rest naturally. When they start laying again, they will be healthier, happier and lay more consistently. Chickens do not lay eggs every day of their lives. They are not intended to. Granted there are some breeds that lay more often than others, but the average chicken will lay 4 to 5 eggs per week, not seven. Some will lay more, some will lay less. Even the most prolific layers such as Leghorns will not typically lay seven eggs per week and if they average 300 eggs per year, there are 65 days they are not laying of which some is molting and some is the simple fact they will not lay every single day. Rather than supplement light, we advise having known winter layers, such as Brahma and Orpingtons that are heavily feathered to maintain body warmth in winter. The reduction of egg performance in winter is as much about body heat as it is about low or reduced light. Other winter layers like our Icelandics and Swedish Flower hens by nature are accustomed to the lower light even though they are not heavily feathered, they originate in countries that have shorter days much longer than we experience in this country.
We realize everyone wants their farm fresh eggs every day or several times a week for baking and cooking for meals, but the more you manipulate the normal cycles in a chickens life, the more you reduce the number and duration those eggs will be laid. We suggest, in order to have eggs daily, that you freeze, dehydrate or pickle the eggs when they are in abundance so you will have them when the hens are resting. If you refrain from washing the eggs, you can keep them long term in the refrigerator. See the link for my instruction to preserve eggs: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/recipes-for-self-reliance/preserve-the-bounty
Washing removes the natural *bloom* that seals the pores to prevent bacterial entry. There is also a product called *water glass* (Sodium silicate), that was used by your great grandmothers to preserve eggs for long periods of time. This product is used in wine and beer making and can be purchased from those suppliers. It's used in many other industries as well, but food grade quality is for use in the alcohol industry. Eggs are submerged in the *water glass*, 6 months and longer and may have been how eggs were transported over the plains by the early pioneers. This product seals the natural pores in eggs so bacteria and spoilage cannot occur. Some suggest coating eggs with vegetable or mineral oil for longevity, but I worry that you are sealing bacteria in the naturally porous egg shells reducing the longevity, rather than extending it. Regardless of how you choose to preserve the eggs, you can have them on hand when the chickens are not laying, without forcing them with supplemental lighting through their natural resting period. I did some experiments with pickling lime to preserve eggs with success, and other methods such as wood ash. The eggs are buried in the substance and left for up to one year and in my research found that some claimed the eggs were still good well after 12 months.
So allow your chickens to rest in winter, they are hard working girls the rest of the year and need that vacation to continue to be healthy and vibrant for the next laying season. They also need to store up the energy and vigor for the long cold months ahead.
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