Fall is molting season for poultry. A molt is a natural process in which hens will begin to lose and then regenerate new feathers and many hens will stop laying eggs. Depending on where you live, molting may start as early as August or as late as November. Most of us are going to be right in the middle of molting season in late September and October.
Factors that Affect Egg Production During the Molt
Many poultry owners expect egg production to stop completely during the molt. In many cases, this does happen. However, there are many factors that determine how the molt will affect egg production. There are many times when egg production may continue even during the molt and during the winter months.
#1 – Lighting
Egg production is a light-sensitive biological function. Chickens typically need between 14-18 hours of light per day to stay in peak production. Once the day length starts to drop below 12-14 hours per day, chickens will often have a natural drop in egg production. Molts may also happen slowly within your flock so most poultry owners will experience a gradual reduction in egg production instead of an instant change.
If you’re interested in more information about why chickens molt, check out our article Molting Chickens Guide – Why Do Chickens Molt?.
Many poultry owners – me included – will allow their birds to molt naturally. However, if you’re interested in keeping your birds in egg production, the best way to continue getting eggs is to provide extra hours of light to your birds. Lights can be placed on timers or manually controlled so that birds receive 14-18 hours of light per day. Lighting does not need to be bright or excessive. Generally, if there is enough light in the coop to read print on a page, there is enough light to help keep your birds in production. A single light bulb or even a single strand of white Christmas lights is often enough.
#2 – Environmental Factors
The proper amount of day length is arguably the most important factor. However, lighting alone won’t keep your birds at peak egg production. There are a number of different stressors that will pull nutrient resources away from egg production. If it’s very cold outside, your hens will need to use lots of nutrients to help keep themselves warm. This will leave less nutrients available for egg production.
If your birds are stressed (dominant hens, feather pecking, predator challenges), your hens will also pull nutrient stores to deal with those stressors. Any time they are using their nutrients and energy to fight a challenge, they have less to put into egg production. Staying warm and fighting challenges will always get first priority when a bird is using her nutrients to survive. So, it’s important to control these factors if you want to make sure she has enough nutrients and energy to stay in egg production.
#3 – Age and Breed
I believe age and breed are very important factors to consider when we try to predict what kind of egg production we will get from our hens during molting season and over the winter. Young hens in their first winter are often at their reproductive peak. They are young and they are fit and, thus, they will often keep producing eggs during the molting season and even all winter long! In fact, I often refer to the age of a hen not in years but in winters. First-winter hens are often excellent egg producers! By their second winter, you can expect a slight decrease in egg production, but you will probably still be getting eggs. By their third winter, you can expect to see a significant decrease in egg production. Because of this predictable correlation between age and production, it is common practice for many poultry keepers to add new, young birds to their flock every 1-2 years. This is a great way to make sure you keep getting eggs even when your older girls are molting.
Breed also plays an important role in how your hens produce eggs in the off-season. Some breeds are just better layers than others. It’s important to consider this factor when deciding what types of hens to add to your flock each year. A lot of our colored-egg layers (olive, pink, blue, green eggs) are actually not our best layers. They are usually the last to start laying and will often take longer breaks during the molt than some of our stronger layer breeds. This is perfectly normal, but something to make sure you consider when setting the expectations on egg production throughout the year.
#4 – Feed and Nutrition
Choosing a high-quality feed is an essential factor in helping your hens stay as productive as possible. Think beyond just the price of your bag. All feeds are not created equal. Nutrition is extremely important and being in good physical condition with some nutrients cached in body stores will help your hens deal with the challenges of the changing weather, the demands of replacing feathers during the molt, and bouncing back to their full potential.
Full Plume® Feathering Feed has 20% crude protein and higher levels of amino acids to help your birds produce beautiful and healthy new feathers. Full Plume® Feathering Feed is also a complete layer feed so you can use it all year if you are really feather-focused. Any of our great line-up of poultry feeds would be excellent options to consider during the “off”-season. If you need help deciding which product is best for you, please contact us. We are always happy to help.
Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many! At Kalmbach Feeds, we are always here to help. If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know. We are so excited to continue writing about all of the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks. Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds!
The most important thing to remember for molting is to enjoy the season! This is a wonderful time of year for all of us – our feathered friends included!