5 Tips to Help Your Molting Chickens
Now that you have the 411 on molting, you can imagine how much extra protein molting chickens needs to help regrow their feathers.
Did you know that a chicken feather is composed of over 80% protein?
With that much protein in each feather, we need to make sure that our chickens get some eggstra help during their molts so that they grow protective and strong new feathers!
Here are some tips for you to help your feathered friends through their little rough patch.
Tip 1: Avoid that “Sweater Weather” Urge
There are some cute memes and photos on the internet with chickens in sweaters. There’s no denying how unbelievably adorable your little fluffy butts will look in a mini sweater, but our first tip is sadly NO SWEATERS! Let’s save it for our doggies and cats (if you insist).
Seeing our ragged birds, especially the ones experiencing hard molts, can be heartbreaking. We have to fight the desire to anthropomorphize our birds and avoid putting them in little sweaters. They’ve thrived for thousands and thousands of years without sweaters... and can remain so.
Regrowing feathers is an uncomfortable process, and their skin is ultra-sensitive with the pin feathers poking out. So, handling them too much or forcing them to put on a sweater will be painful and uncomfortable for our sweet little molting chickens.
Tip 2: Hold the Hugs
For the same reasons our chickens won’t want a sweater, they also don’t want hugs… even if they look miserable and sad.
In fact, our cuddly and friendly chickens may even run away from us if we reach out to touch them.
Growing those feathers back out can be quite painful and irritating. Let's pick them up only if absolutely necessary, and make sure our children also know that the kinder thing to do is feed them a healthy snack rather than touching their painful spots accidentally.
Tip 3: Increase Protein in their Diet
Normally, we should be feeding our chickens a quality feed at about 16% protein. During molting season, consider switching the feed to a formula that is a bit higher in protein, to at least 18%. Another option is to supplement your flock’s feed with a protein-rich healthy snack (see below).
In her book “The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock,” Anne Kuo recommends that you purchase a chick starter or grower formula in your preferred brand, and either mix that with your flock’s naturally-balanced feed, or feed the chick starter or grower formula to your flock.
A chick starter or grower formula is higher in protein than a regular layer feed. Depending on the brand and formula, they range from 18% to 20% in protein content. You can also switch to (or mix in) a broiler formula, which typically consists of 20% to 25% protein.
Make sure you also always provide a free-choice source of calcium to your flock every day, especially if you switch to, or supplement, a non-layer formula.
Hens will need less calcium when they stop laying, but they will still need some.
Tip 4: Provide Protein-rich Snacks like Black Soldier Fly Grubs
Protein-rich snacks are essential for molting chickens, especially if you do not wish to switch their feed.
Rather than choosing a “treat” that should be using sparingly, provide a healthy snack to supplement your molting chickens’ diet. Black Soldier Fly grubs (Grubblies) are both high in protein, and have 50x more calcium than mealworms.
Give your flock a couple of handfuls of Grubblies daily to help provide them with a healthy boost they need. Grubs are a reliable source of the essential proteins that promote healthy feather production, and are especially important when molting. A daily boost of protein from Grubblies (32% guaranteed analysis) helps speed up the molting process, which will help your chickens grow new beautiful feathers and help them regain normal levels of energy and egg output.
While it’s more natural for your chickens to forage for protein-packed grubs (and other insects like they would get in nature), you can still try other healthy snacks like cooked meats, peas, and cooked beans. Do not give your chickens raw beans. Some beans in their uncooked form are toxic!
In addition to healthy snacks, you can also supplement with some treats, such as sunflower seeds, unsalted nuts, flax seeds, or sesame seeds. While your chickens may love the nuts and seeds, please give them sparingly because these treats contain large amounts of fat. For example, sunflower seeds (depending on the type) contain approximately 18% to 21% protein and 46% to 51% in total fats.
While all chickens need dietary fat in their diet to help the processing and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, there’s a limit to how much fat they need. Laying hens should not have more than 4% fat in their total diet. Too much fat could lead to obesity and complications like fatty liver disease.
For this reason, it’s important to distinguish between healthy snacks versus treats:
- Snacks are things they can have more often and frequently, like Grubblies.
- Treats are things they can have in moderation, like nuts and seeds (high in fat).
Tip 5: Limit Stress
Another way to help your flock through their molt is to limit their stress. They’re already going through lots of physical stress while molting, so try to do what you can to limit their stress levels.
Continue to provide them a healthy diet with plenty of clean water available.
In certain parts of the country, heat waves or freezes can still occur in the fall, and these temperature spikes can cause excess stress.
If you can help it, try not to introduce new chickens to the flock. Adding new chickens changes the flock dynamics and triggers a restructuring of the pecking order, all of which adds potential stress to the harmony of the flock.
Another tip is to try not to make structural changes to the coop. This is not a good time to remodel the coop while your little ladies (and gents) are molting. Chickens like routines and dislike changes. A coop remodel will certainly stress them out, and also cause potential discord in flock harmony, because a remodel could mean that they have to re-establish their sleeping arrangements and possible other daily activities.
Of course, if any remodeling or adjustments are a necessary part of keeping them safe, such as winterizing the coop, or repairing damages caused by a storm or predator, then the necessity to ensure their safety certainly outweighs any stresses caused by the remodel.
If you’re still reading this, you’re already one big step ahead of the game to helping your feathers family during this time. They’re so c-lucky to have you!
Be sure to check out our list of recipes and snack ideas to help your molting chickens!