If you’ve never seen a chicken moulting in Autumn before, the sight of a partially feathered, plucked looking chook can be quite confronting. I have to explain to chookless friends that come to visit this time of year that ‘No, the chooks are fine and healthy and no, a fox hasn’t got into the pen and attacked them’.
So why do chickens moult? Well, as daylight hours reduce and the weather cools, most chickens will take a few months off from laying. They also renew their feathers and as the new feathers come through the old ones get pushed out. For some chickens this process is quite gradual and they may loose a few feathers here and there while for others all the feathers seem to suddenly fall out overnight. This can result in a partially naked chook and a chook pen full of loose feathers. Once they’ve completed their moult they’ll be all set for the colder weather in winter and it is said they are also more resistant to disease.
While the chooks are going through their moult they will require more protein in their diet as their feathers contain more than 80% protein. You can buy higher protein chook pellets, but I like to up the protein in their diet by giving the chooks plenty of access to insects. I do this by allowing them more time free ranging in the leaf litter under our trees, feeding them some worms from the worm farm and providing more sunflower seeds in their diet.
I also like to feed them a general health mash which I make up from yogurt or milk mixed with weetbix, grated carrot, finely chopped garlic and turmeric. I feed this to them warmed up once a week and they absolutely devour it. Once the chickens have finished their moult I also like to give their pen a good clean out, change their bedding and scrub their nesting boxes and put in fresh branches for perches so that they are all set to face the winter months.