Molting is the process of shedding and re-growing feathers. Both female and male birds molt. During the molt, egg production and male fertility decrease or cease. The first molt doesn’t occur until the birds are going through their second autumn as adolescence is the start of adult feather growth. Molting is a time of rest in addition to a time for the bird to build up its reserve of nutrients. Growing new feathers is a natural process, timed to maintain the birds’ ability to escape predators by flight when predator risk is great and to provide greater protection against cold, wet and windy winter conditions. Natural molting begins in autumn, beginning of September and typically ends by the end of November. Natural molting is triggered by a decrease of the number of hours of sunlight.
Some birds will take only six weeks to go through this process and only partially molt, while others take twelve through sixteen weeks and fully molt. If you are breeding your birds, select breeding stock which molts appropriately for your environment. Cold long winters? Select birds which do a full molt and take about twelve through sixteen weeks to complete the molt. Your birds will need all new, fresh feathers to survive chilly temperatures. Are you in a temperate climate with mild winters? Select birds which only partial molt and complete their molt within six to eight weeks. In a temperate climate, your birds have a greater risk of predators for a longer period of time and need to drop old, damaged feathers and grow new, fresh feathers quickly.
The molting process goes in a particular order. The first feathers to be shed are those on the head and neck. Next, the saddle, breast and abdomen and finally the wing and tail feathers drop. As the feathers drop, new quills start to grow and are called pin feathers. The regrowth process takes anywhere from six to eight weeks. The new feathers of the molted bird are large and full, soft, clean, bright and glossy in contrast to the old feathers which were small, dry, dirty, frayed and tattered.
Increasing your poultry’s nutrients during a molt prevents your boys from going sterile and your girls from a permanent decrease in egg laying. Your now naked birdies should have access to more protein and good fats and less carbohydrates. Offer your birds a good, balanced feed with at least 20% protein. For the best results, sprout barley, peas, lentils and black oil sunflower seeds for your birds so that the majority of the nutrients are available for their bodies to use (bio-availability of sprouted poultry feed is between 85% – 95%).
It is very important to provide a great dust bath for your birds during their molt. Autumn seems to give us more fleas, mites and lice; ewww! In order for your birds to maintain good hygiene during the molt, give your birds’ access to a great dust bath. The dust bath should be made up of one part sand, one part diatomaceous earth, one part wood ash and once part peat moss. Add a half cup of 100% neem oil and mix well. Put mixture in a box, place in a dry area and allow your birds to do the work.
These tips will keep your birds healthy and happy during their molt.