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Backyard Chickens, Part 14 (or Why are my chickens bald and not laying?)

September 19, 2011

Raising Chickens

chickens molt in the fall

The change of the seasons often bring welcome reminders of times past.  That crisp fall air with a hint of woodsmoke may remind you of campfires and marshmallows.  The piles of pumpkins at roadside stands may bring to mind Thanksgiving pies and extended family rarely seen.  The first frost makes me giddy with the possibility that the ragweed will die and I will be able to breathe freely again, no longer dabbing my raw nose with tissues.

How Chickens Celebrate Fall Fest

As the days become shorter and the air cooler, however, chickens do a counterintuitive thing-  they lose their feathers.

Not every single one, mind you, and not all at once, but slowly they become more and more straggly looking.  Initially, it just looks like a series of “bad hair days,” but then it goes down hill.  They may get entire large bald patches that make you wonder if they have leprosy.

Then they get become a different kind of ugly as new feathers grow back in.  They begin as pimply dots that eventually sprout into mohawks of stubby paintbrushes.  After several weeks, they finally begin to resemble an animal you intentionally keep around again.

In the meantime, unfortunately for the egg-lover, you are largely on a diet.

The Biology of the Molt

Feather growth is protein intensive.  The birds will need these new feathers to get through the winter.  Think of them as a new winter coat.  During that time, the eggs are few and there isn’t much you can do about it.  Continue to feed the birds as usual to help speed this along.

After a month or so, the egg production will pick up a bit, but with the waning number of daylight hours, it will not be at full steam again until the following spring.

The Benefit of a Young Flock

If you began your flock from day-old chicks over the late spring or summer, you may be in luck!  Often, late season chicks skip the fall molt their first year and you get a pretty steady supply of eggs until winter really kicks in.

In a future piece, I will discuss winter time issues for poultry.

In the meantime, how are your chickens laying?

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