Molting is energy intensive. Chickens therefore don’t normally molt during times when they need dietary energy elsewhere. For example, in the spring roosters use energy for fertility and hens use energy for laying eggs and hatching chicks. In cold weather chickens need energy to keep warm. During a molt, nutrients that otherwise go toward such endeavors instead go toward producing feathers. The sooner a molt is over, the quicker the chicken can get back to business as usual. Here are some ways you can help your chickens through a molt.
Feathers are 85% protein. Therefore a chicken needs more dietary protein during a molt. Otherwise new feathers may be slow to replace those that shed, a condition known as a hard molt. Further, the newly emerging feathers may be poorly formed.
One way to increase protein is to switch from the usual 16% layer ration to a 20% ration. Where high protein layer ration isn’t available, you could substitute a grower ration.
In fact, when a hen molts after hatching a clutch of chicks, feed her the same starter ration as you feed her chicks. The hen won’t begin laying again just yet, anyway, and could use the extra protein to regrow her feathers.
When chickens are about to molt in the fall, their plumage takes on a dull look. That’s the time to start transitioning to a higher protein ration. A gradual transition is important to avoid digestive upset that would make molting all the more difficult.
Gradually mix the higher protein ration into the new ration over a period of about a week, until the chickens are getting the full 20% protein ration. When the molt is complete and the hens resume laying, gradually transition back to the 16% protein ration.