Chicken feathers lining the
ground don't necessarily mean that a fox got one of your hens.
Chances are, you're just seeing the most obvious sign of the annual
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Chickens start molting
when they're about 18 months old, usually in late summer or early fall,
but some birds will molt in the spring. In addition to seeing
feathers all over the ground, you'll notice that your chickens look
bedraggled during the molt and have stray feathers sticking out in all
directions. Old feathers are being dropped while new feathers
slowly grow back to take their place, a process that is repeated
annually, usually at around the same time of year. Different
varieties and ages of chickens will molt at different times, though, so
you may see one chicken molting in your flock while the others are
happily going about their daily business.
Unfortunately for the
chicken-keeper, molting chickens tend to slow down laying or perhaps
stop egg production entirely for the entire two to four months that
they are regrowing feathers. Looking at it from the hen's point
of view, the egg-laying break makes sense --- it costs a lot of energy
to make feathers and to make eggs, and it's just too much to do both at
once. This is the one place that our cochin really shines --- although
she's not a very good layer, she does tend to molt much earlier in the
fall than our Golden Comets, so we continue to have a
few eggs to cook with during the main flock's molt.
Although chickens will
naturally end their molt and ramp up egg production again on their own
schedule, you can help them out a bit by boosting their protein rations
when you start to see feathers lining the coop floor. Some
chicken keepers add cat food, meat, eggs, or yogurt to their feed
during the molt while others simply switch their flock over to the higher
protein chick starter feed (with the addition of oyster shells to
provide the calcium missing from this alternative diet.) Digging
up some worms and grubs might be the most natural way to keep your
flock in prime condition during the molt.