Managing Molting Layers
Molting is a natural occurrence. All hens have a timer in their head that tells them when they should take a break, quit laying and change their feathers. For most hens the timing for a molt comes in the fall when the lights are declining. This is natural. To start laying in the spring is also natural instinct for all poultry. Therefore, some hens that started laying in the fall and winter may get confused about when to molt. Some hens start laying automatically when they reach a certain age. Some hens start laying when the daylight is increasing. Some hens start laying when we stimulate them with artificial light. All is normal and acceptable. The hens that start based on age or artificial light stimulation outside of the normal springtime stimulation are more susceptible to molting out of instinctual declining light in the fall. Triggers that can initiate molt could be lack of water access, feed quality or access issues, heat stress, predator attacks, sudden environmental changes, and any other significant stressors.
I would like to make a suggestion that you plan the molt for your flock. This would be managing lights, feed and housing to help your birds through their natural molt. I would suggest trying to manage your flocks molt to occur starting near October 23rd each year. Why October 23rd? it is 60 days from the winter solstice of December 22nd. This is when the days start getting longer. Ah, did the light come on? This schedule will take advantage of naturally occurring increasing daylight. Easier on your flock and you!
Keys to managing the molt that you should consider are:
- Managing the lights. Remove all artificial lighting. Perhaps consider keeping the flock in a light tight housing where you can reduce the lights down to about 6 hours for a few days. Or manage the lights are at a low enough level to not stimulate the birds laying instinct.
- Managing feed. Change the feed to a high fiber, high calcium and low energy feed. Shooting for 12% protein with an energy around 1000Kcal per pound. This could be easily accomplished with a whole oat diet. Be sure to provide plenty of grit so the birds can digest the whole oats. While feeding the whole oats you should also feed plenty of free choice oyster shell or calcium chips. Oyster shell or Calcium chips are NOT a replacement for grit. Grit is granite and much harder than calcium sources. You should plan to feed 3-4 oz of whole oats per bird per day. To do this you need enough feeder space for ALL of the birds to eat at the same time. They will all be hungry at the same time and it’s only fair that all can eat equally. Please do not free choice the oats so that they can eat all they want.
- Managing body weight. Weigh your birds prior to starting the molt. Compare starting weight with your target pullet weight expectations. The biggest purpose of chicken molting is to reduce body weight down to near pullet weight. The other reason for managing the molt is to reduce the layer’s ovary size. This will help reset the ovaries to lay plenty of eggs in the next cycle. Reducing the ovary size will also get the egg size back down to medium, large and extra-large, which are the target sizes for eggs for good hatching. These sizes are also the most desired size for eating eggs.
Molting doesn’t have to be cruel and inhumane. You can help your birds through this natural instinctual change of life. If you think about this from a natural standpoint, in the fall, food becomes scarcer. The birds in nature will bulk up and store fat for the long winter ahead. Then during the winter, they would lose body weight naturally due to the lack of available food. Then in the spring when the bugs and food start emerging, they start eating and start laying eggs. It’s all natural! You can help them be more successful.
Jeff Mattocks The Fertrell Company