Chickens Molting or Mites
When you have chickens, you know that there is a lot of work to keep them healthy and fit. You need medication, vaccination, proper feeding and cleaning techniques to help them increase their number by laying more eggs and thriving the way you want them to be.
But just like other occupations, there are also some professional hazards when you rear chicken for breading, laying eggs, or just as a hobby. Of course, the most annoying and teasing thing for both chicken and the owners is to see the feathers of the chicken gone for a substantial amount in just a matter of the night.
The most common reasons behind the feathers falling off are moulting or mites. So let’s discuss these two menaces separately.
First of all, we are going to elaborate on what moulting means, how it happens, what the age for a chicken to moult is, and how you can help your flock in this process:
Science of Chickens Molting
Dog owners are aware of the shedding season; the same is the case with chicken. When a new owner looks at the sight of molting chicken, he or she will get frightened to the bones as what the crazy disease has infected the flock. Well, it is not a thing to get afraid.
The molting is a biological process; just like in the autumn, the trees get rid of their barren leaves the same way chickens get rid of older feathers to get the new ones to stay fit and healthy. It is a seasonal process triggered by hormones in both male and female chicken. When the environment stats changing and seasons get towards a little cool, the hormonal change in eh chicken will start the molting or feather shedding process.
The molting will start from the head of the bird of both males and females. Mostly the bird starts shedding feathers from the head towards the body, and at the end, the tail gets free from a load of old feathers. During the molting process, the hen decreases the number of eggs or, in some cases, stops laying eggs. And the plumage grows out of the skin to make the chicken look like a bird once again.
What does Molting mean for Chickens?
Molting is the process of giving off old feathers to allow new plumage to grow back and make the chicken look new once again. The molting process happens once a year, and there are various types of molting which are written below:
- Hard molt: When you see a lot of feathers in the coop, it is a sign that your chicken has started molting. Both males and females will start looking bald and featherless with various bald patches and exposed skin in a matter of days. This process is triggered by hormones and is referred to as hard molt.
- Soft molt: When the tail is mostly missing and there are no substantial bald patches on the bird’s body, it is called a soft molt. This type of malt doesn’t make the chicken suffer from complete baldness. Mites, fights, and stress are some of the various reasons for a soft molt. You must look for the signs and symptoms of soft molt and try to eradicate the factors that have caused soft molting.
- Forced molt: The most inhuman practice banned in the European Union but still in practice in most of the areas of the world is called forced molting. This is the technique of forcing the chicken to start molting by giving them stress to stop feeding them or not providing them water for days. The commercial producers use forced molting to increase the egg-laying span of the chicken. This process may kill many birds by weakening their immune system, but it still seems profitable to some inhuman farmers.
Why do Chickens Molt?
Molting is a natural process that occurs a minimum of one time a year. The molting starts with the changing weather, and hormones trigger the falling off of feathers. This feather shedding process has various types and different factors that start molting in chickens. Let’s have a look at these factors and reasons as to why chickens molt:
- Renewing Plumage: The old feathers and covering of the chicken cannot provide insulation to the chicken body. The change in weather triggers the natural response of the chicken body to shed the older plumage and uneven feathers. The rusty and unsettled feathers are shed down to allow the new and beautiful ones to grow and provide perfect protection against winter and cold situations.
- Reproductive rest:Chicken starts molting at a certain time of the year. During this process, hens stop laying eggs, and rosters give a break to their reproductive sprees. So when molting starts, all the reproductive organs of the chicken take some rest and get ready to keep working for the rest of the year.
- Stress: If the chicken is under stress because of extreme noise, fear, or uncertain condition in the coop or at the farm, they will start losing feathers, and you might consider it as molting. Molting is different from stress feathering. The whole body feather shedding is molting, and various bald patches could be stress or some other reasons that might have triggered it.
- End of the broody cycle: When a chicken gets free after rearing the clutch to make them independent, the molting will make it possible for them to get ready for another brooding spree. Molting will provide rest to the chicken’s body and make it ready to go for the same incubating process of the clutch once again.
- Diseases and parasites: Like other animals and birds, chicken can also fall prey to various conditions and get infested with different parasites. Mites (we will discuss mites later in the same article) are also an important factor to cause molting in chicken. Various diseases and mites can trigger bald patches and molt in the chicken without this process. You can use medicine and different techniques to protect your chicken from the harmful effects of pests and diseases.
What age do Chickens Molt?
The molting process starts at a different time for various chicks, and it keeps changing throughout the year. These birds are not machines and programmed to do multiple tasks at a certain period. Molting is a natural process that is affected by numerous factors and variables in the environment.
The First Molting
Chicks mostly don’t start molting the same year when they are hatched. The chicks take time to grow up and get mature. Most of the breed which is available and common, start molting when they are fully grown up at the age of 14 to 16 months. After one and a half years, when they are fully grown up, they shed all the down layer to start locking fresh and mature.
The regular molting starts once the bird has reached the age of maturity. At this age, the bird will start the feather shedding process every September. However, the months are not certain for every bird. Hormones and season trigger molting, and different birds respond to these factors differently.
Molting Related Issues and Confusions
Is Molting Painful for the Birds?
Molting is not a painful process that harms the birds. On the contrary, like hair shedding in dogs, this process prepares the birds to cope with the chilly winter. The old feathers get rough and lose their perfect alignment over time to provide excellent insulation to the birds. Before the arrival of winter, the chicken tends to lose the old feathers and grow new plumage to get a full coat of fresh and perfectly insulated feathers to keep them warm and cosy in chilling winter.
The black pin feathers, or in other words, blood feathers, are the base of the new plumage that has blood in it. When a bird is molting, you should avoid touching it or putting pressure on the pin feathers. These porcupine-looking birds are very vulnerable because of these pin feathers. You must wait 5 to 7 days to allow the plumage to start growing and make it possible for the birds to stay comfortable in your hands.
What to do if a Chicken Bleeds During the Molt?
This mostly doesn’t happen, but in some cases, if there is damage to the pin feather or the pin is stuck in the wrong direction, it will make the chicken suffer blood loss profusely. You must keep a vigilant eye on the molting birds. The chicken is notorious for being ruthless, and they are attracted to the red color of the blood.
When there is blood on a chicken, the other birds of the flock will start pecking with beaks, and if you don`t intervene, there are high chances that the bird under wrath might suffer death or severe anaemia.
If you see damage and blood on one or two feathers, intervene right away, use cleaners and cover the blood with blue-kote. If the damage increases and other birds make it worse, you must isolate the bird right away and heal the pain and wounds.
Wings after the Molt?
When you have chickens fond of flying, you have to cut this practice by clipping their wings. You must give it a second thought after the molting has been completed. Like other feathers, chicken shed wing feathers, and when all eh plumage comes back to make every feather look fully grown and beautiful, the wing feathers will also grow back to original, and the chicken will start short flights once again.
You must clip the wing feathers to stop these flying sprees but be careful not to cut the pin feathers as there is blood in them, and they will cause pain to the bird. If you want to cut the feathers, you must wait for the feathers to grow fully and reach the stage when they turn white or pale. The dark roots of the feathers are the sign that there is blood in them, and they are haven’t reached their full potential. Cutting these pin feathers will start bleeding, and your birds will suffer from pain and other issues. Wait for a week or two, and then cut the white and pale pin feathers to make your birds flightless and safe.
Do Chickens lay eggs when they Molt?
Feathers are made of protein and keratin, and the 13% portion of the egg is composed of protein. When your chicken is molting, they need all the protein from the food to grow new plumage and feathers. Therefore, the body will automatically stop laying eggs, and all the protein will be used to develop new pin feathers and plumage.
Most of the time, some commercial bird keepers start force molting by making their birds hungry for a week or so. Of course, this inhuman practice will begin the molting process in bids and make their immunity weak to suffer various issues. But this force molting will make the birds stop laying eggs, but it will ensure a longer egg-laying span for the entire year.
Another reason behind the feather loss of the chicken is mites. When you look at the picture of mites, you will start to feel an itch on your head and body; that’s what happened to us when we saw them for the first time. Well, you need to know that chicken mites are responsible for your chicken to pluck the feathers and have blood on the skin. Be careful with this situation since chickens are attracted to red colour, and they will love to poke their beak on it.
In some cases, these beak picking behaviour on bloody patches can make your chicken seriously injured and, in less obvious cases, could lead to death by continuous attacks on blood spots from other chicken. There are various reasons for a chicken to get infested by mites.
These reasons could be dirty farm conditions, infested new birds, or other birds or animals on the farm. You must remain careful regarding the signs and symptoms of these menaces before they decrease egg production and harm the health of yore chicken. Before going towards signs, symptoms, and how to treat them naturally, let’s discuss some common types of chicken mites.
Types of the Most Common Chicken Mites
Are there more than one type of chicken mites? Well, you are not alone to ask this question to yourself. Most people cannot stand only a kind of chicken mite, and here are three notorious ones.
Rest assured, contrary to the lice, these mites will not infest your children and other family members. But they will still bite you and go back to the chicken. But still, you need to take precautionary measures and keep them away from your flock. These common types are:
- Northern Fowl Mites: This type is the most common one in the chicken, and it is also the most difficult to detect in the early stage. These mites lay hidden in the form of eggs on the shaft and in the chicken’s feather. When there are white eggs around the shaft or in feathers, this is your cue for the northern fowl mites.
- Red Roost Mites: These mites are somewhat similar to the previous northern fowl mites, but with one exception. These mites are nocturnal, and when your birds are infected with them, you will notice their presence at night to feast on your birds.
- Scaly Leg Mites: Now, this is a scary name for the mites. But it is a situation of your chicken after these mites have infested your birds. These mites are impossible to be seen by naked eyes. These parasites hide under the chicken scale and create tunnels to do their business, their faeces will create infection on the chicken scale, and you will see more crusty and scaly legs at the beginning of the whole infestation process.
Signs and Symptoms
Even the thought of mites makes one feel the itch. Imagine what your birds have to go through when they are infested with mites. When you see that your birds are pecking on their feathers more than usual, this is the sign of something bad. Start inspection of the birds right away and look for the following symptoms in them:
- Egg clusters: When you look closely around the shaft or in the feather, you might notice a cluster of white-coloured tiny balls-like structures. This is the early sign of an infestation that your birds have been fallen prey to mites.
- Feather loss: If it is not a molting season and your birds show you feather loss, it is your cue to start the inspection for mites’ infestation, and you must look deeply.
- Anaemia: A reduction in the numbers of eggs and pale wattles signifies that your birds suffer from blood loss, and the most evident reason is mites.
You must not leave this situation untreated; the mites will make your chicken suffer the most. The blood loss, reduction in the number of eggs, and decreasing health will make them weak over time, and in most cases, the birds will reach death because of ever-increasing stress and decreasing blood level.
How to Treat Mites
There are various methods to treat mites, and you must be cautious of choosing only the natural ways that are safe and healthy for your chicken. Going for chemicals and other artificial ingredients will make your chicken suffer from the side effects of these harmful chemicals.
You must focus on keeping your birds healthy by offering them natural and environment-friendly methods to stay fit and healthy for the rest of their lives. Following is the natural means and methods you can provide to your chicken to ward off mites and stay away from these parasites.
1. Dust Baths
A dust bath is the most favorite activity for the chicken. If you don’t have a place where your chicken can have a dust bath, you must create a place. The dust bath of natural dirt and sand will help the chicken ward off these blood-sucking parasites and stay fit. This natural process has no side effects, and it is always helpful in keeping your chicken happy and healthy.
2. Diatomaceous Earth
These words might seem over-rated, but the real meaning of these words is that a type of sedimentary rock becomes powered like when ground. You can use this powder to ward off mites in two ways. One is to sprinkle this powder directly on the feathers, and the other is to mix this powder in the dust in the dust bath area.
3. Keep it Clean
Keep the coop clean, especially in the summertime when the mites and other parasites love to infest your chicken. A clean environment will ensure safety and protection against mites and other parasites. In addition, when you keep the bedding clean, you are increasing the chances of happy and healthy chicken.
4. Mite Spray
Various natural ingredients are used to make a mite spray for your chicken. When you use natural mite spray in the coop, you ensure your chicken’s safety and well-being without any side effects.
Over to you
Molting is a natural process that makes the bird shed their old feathers and grow new plumage to make them feel warm and cosy in winter. When you see that the birds are shedding feathers, you must remain vigilant to look for blood on the birds and isolate the affected ones. Molting happens once a year, and for other reasons like stress, the disease also starts involuntarily. Mites are the most notorious reasons to start moulting your birds, followed by increased pecking, bloody feathers, and anaemia. Therefore, you must look for the signs and symptoms of mites and provide extensive care to your birds. Natural dust baths and various products with natural ingredients will help you ward off these mites from the birds, and you get safe and healthy chicken that will keep increasing its weight for meat and the number of eggs for your egg farming yield.