All About Molting

An Informative Article on Why, When, and How Molting Effects a Hen’s Egg Production.

Every year your chickens will molt, in other words, lose their feathers and grow new ones. Unfortunately, it also means most hens will not lay eggs until their molt cycle is done. However, there are exceptions to that rule. There are hens whose rate of lay is not affected, but you can expect their molt time to last longer.

Late molters will lay eggs 12 to 14 months before they molt, and early molters might begin to molt after only a few months after their point of lay. Late molting is preferred; those birds usually have a more ragged feather appearance, but will generally be your better laying hens.  Early molters are just the opposite; they have a smooth and tidy appearance, but are usually poor layers.

Late molters will lay eggs longer before molting, and within 2 to 3 months will have completely shed their feathers. Their loss of feathers are replaced at the same time, this means a hen will return to full production quicker. Early molters lose their feathers just a few at a time and will drag out the molting process for as long as 4 to 6 months. These hens will generally be the poor producers in your flock.

There is a definite order in which feathers are lost, so it gives you a general idea of what molting stage they’re in.  Chickens lose their head feathers first, then those on the neck, breast, body, wings, and the tail is last.

Hen Molting

Here in Phoenix, the molt season begins in early September and I’ll be raking up feathers all the way through October. The particular time of year your birds will molt depends on the climate of your geographic region.  Wherever you live, your chickens will not so subtly inform you when you can expect this yearly process to occur.

Note: A little crimped or rolled oats added to your chicken’s diet during molting may assist in feather growth.

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Phoenix Winter Chicken Coop

Cooler weather is on the way and that means it’s time to prepare the chicken coop for inclement temperatures. Arizona winters are mild, I use an elevated dog house packed with hay for their shelter from wind and rain. As an added measure of protection I hang tarps on three sides of their run. They are free run during the day, but come night they all return to the coop and the gate is closed behind them till morning.

This is coop is considered adequate for mild winters where temperatures rarely drop below freezing.

South coop with new tarps…
and of course, new fall flowers!
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Top Chicken Predators in Urban Phoenix

Here in urban Phoenix there are two major enemies occupying the top spots on the list of chicken predators. The Coyote and two hawks in specific.

coyote

Coyotes aren’t usually seen during the day, sundown seems to be when they’re most active. They’re rather greedy too, seldom  stopping at one bird. It’s not uncommon for them to wipe out half the backyard flock. Not only should the chicken yard be secured with a fence buried at least a foot in the ground. Concrete around the bottom as well would be ideal.  Don’t assume that a six or seven foot block wall perimeter fence will keep out a coyote, it won’t.

If at all possible, having a raised chicken coop that can be completely closed up at night is the best way to protect your birds. The top of your chicken yard or run needs to be enclosed with aviary netting, because in-flight predators are next on the list of chicken enemies.

The Red Tail Hawk is not fussy about what time of day they snatch a chicken from the flock. These birds are very intelligent, so you’ll need to be creative if you’re going to outsmart them. They are indeed capable of carrying off an average size chicken.

Red Tailed Hawk

Below is our resident Harris Hawk, smaller, and not capable to carrying off an average sized chicken. However, be aware that these birds work as a team. Where there is one, there is usually two more. They are patient and relentless towards their goal, give them the slightest invitation and they will take it. Once they find a flock, they will circle over head, then sit on a nearby roof, or fence. This could go on for days while they intelligently calculate their plan of attack.

Harris Hawk in Phoenix, AZ

Don’t Forget this Guy…

There is at least one Bull snake slithering around our ranch. These predators are more of a problem with chicks or very young birds. Keep in mind when reaching to collect eggs that they have the same agenda! Look before you reach! They are harmless to humans, but they can be quite startling just for their size alone!

Bull Snake

Remember, respect predators for their place in society, your job is not to prove where your place is on the food chain –  it’s merely to prove you are smarter.

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Chicken Keeping in Triple Digits

Surviving Phoenix, Arizona

orphington & sliver laced polish

Shade is hard to come by in Phoenix,  but not impossible if you’re creative. If your chickens are in a small coop they are unlikely to survive triple digit temperatures, I know that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true.  June will most likely exceed 110, that means 120+ in the coop, and that’s a death sentence.

Your birds will fair well in temperatures up to 105 if they are not confined, have shade, and a place to dig a hole in the dirt. Make sure they have cool water available, if the water is too hot they won’t drink enough to stay hydrated. Make it easy on yourself, use buckets instead of those chicken drinkers that are impossible to clean and a big hassle to fill.

When temperatures reach over 105 in the shade it’s time to introduce a fan to the chicken yard.  I don’t use anything fancy, a $15.00 box fan will do the trick. Hang it from a fence (wreath hangers work nicely) or anyplace where it won’t tip over. Your birds will stand in front that fan like they were watching a movie!

Gavin Flock, Summer 2011

June and July are the worst months for excessive heat, 110 -115+ and this is when you really have to stay on top of your chicken keeping responsibilities. Mist systems help cool the air, especially with a fan to keep the air moving. I like the standing misters ($10.)  that attach to a hose. Place it right in the chicken yard, dig up a small area near it so the moisture forms a little mud pool for the birds.

If you free feed your chickens, don’t in summer.  Feed produces heat, so feed early morning and just before they return to the coop at night.  Never offer scratch feed in summer, it’s a hot feed and completely unsuitable  for your feathered desert dwellers. Offer your flock a watermelon, or a head of lettuce instead, this will help keep them hydrated.

Danger Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Dark red, then a pale comb and wattles is the first sign of trouble. As their condition worsens they will become unstable on their feet, lethargic, wobble, even fall over and lie lifeless. They will die quickly if you don’t act fast.

Note: Heavy or Meat Birds such as Orpingtons are the first to show signs of heat intolerance, watch them closely.
Chickens will hold their wings out from their body,  pant, and lay in holes on their side  – all normal behavior when they’re very hot.

What to Do

Submerge the chicken in a 5 gal. bucket of warm water and place the bird under a shade tree.  Don’t bring the bird indoors to air conditioning, this will only make matters worse when you return the chicken to the outdoors. A fan on low will help cool the bird quickly, they usually recover within 15-20 minutes.

Ideas for Providing  Shade

  • Shade Cloth
  • Mesh Tarps
  • Lattice
  • Palm Fronds
  • Shade Sails
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