Avian Moulting: Autumnal Featherloss in Chickens – Why and When it Happens

Moulting: The purposeful loss (or shedding) of scales/hair/feathers.

In late summer or early autumn, chickens begin to lose their feathers. This is one of the most alarming things for a novice chicken keeper. This, however, is perfectly normal. It is called Moulting (USA spelling is Molting).

When chicks hatch, they are covered in soft puffy tufts of fluff, which is shed and replaced by small feathers in the first juvenile moult. After a few more juvenile moults, and a lot of growing, the chicks finally acquire their adult plumage. This is then moulted off again in autumn, and replaced.

Chickens moult to replace their old, worn, torn and no longer waterproof feathers with brand new, shiny, waterproof plumage to combat winter’s harsh weather. So, during September, October and sometimes even August, chickens all over the country will look ragged, and partially hair-less. As said before, this can be quite scary for a novice chicken keeper, however is 100% normal!!!

It takes a lot of energy to grow new feathers, and lots and lots of protein! During the autumn, chicken will stop laying to concentrate on moulting. At this time, changing feed from layers pellets to breeders pellets may be advisable, as rather than egg laying, breeders pellets target fertility and beauty, and contain lots of protein which helps hens grow new feathers.

Feather eating during this period may occur, this is also not a problem as the hen is only recycling protein! If you are worried they will choke, rake loose feathers away, but ensure you feed foodstuffs that contain plenty of protein.

  • Moulting is a natural process, not a disease. It occurs over a 6-8 week period, and gradual feather-loss is okay, whereas baldness is NOT ok. If a hen is completely bald, it may be a different problem besides moulting that requires investigation.
  •  More protein, less stress and good hygiene = good moult, and good return to lay.
  • Chickens should act normally while moulting, if they stop eating or drinking, something is amiss!
  • When returning to lay, eggs may be smaller than normal, however, they should quickly return to normal!

		

Mycoplasma – The Chronic Recurring Disease – Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD)

Mycoplasma

Mycoplasma refers to a family (also known as a genus) of bacteria that lack a cell wall. This means that common antibiotics such as penicillin, or other cell wall synthesis (the combination of several entities to form something different (such as the process by which amino acids form proteins, or proteins form an organelle)) targeting antibiotics (also known as beta-lactam antibiotics). They can be parasitic (living off other organisms) or saprotrophic (living off dead or decomposing matter).

Mycoplasma in Chickens

The most common type of mycoplasma affecting chickens is mycoplasma gallisepticum. This type of mycoplasma is parasitic, and affects chickens, wild birds, turkeys, pigeons and other fowl. It is the causative agent of chronic respiratory disease (CRD) in chickens and infectious sinusitis in game birds, turkeys, pigeons etcetera. It is transmitted either through the eggs of carrier hens, or by chicken to chicken (airborne) transmission. It is highly contagious and is spread rapidly when the birds sneeze.

Some breeders breed without the knowledge that their flock is infected, therefore passing the disease on. Stress is thought to lower the resistance to the mycoplasma bacteria, and the disease sets in and the birds begin to exhibit symptoms. Some people dismiss this as the ‘common cold’, or think its ‘nothing’ and the disease is allowed to run riot throughout the stock.

Symptoms

  • Sniffling
  • Sneezing
  • Rasping or rattling in the throat
  • Foamy eyes and nose
  • Yawning

More advanced symptoms include:

  • Loud, sharp ”Coughing” noise
  • Stiffness
  • Stretching legs and wings, sometimes trailing them
  • Difficulty balancing, sometimes even falling over

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is generally based on symptoms, and a blood test at the vets will give definite results. A course of medication will follow. Tylan is recommended for this purpose, but it is only available on prescription.

Some people recommend Tylan injections rather than tylan oral, as this is faster and usually more efficient.

Prevention

A  vaccination is now available. The F-Strain is a low pathogenicity strain which gives immunity to the  birds for the laying season, but leaves them as carriers. It is, however, fully virulent for turkeys. Recently, 6/85 and ts-11 were introduced. These two live nonpathogenic strains give immunity, without making the inoculated bird a carrier.

The function and science of the avian ear



Do Chickens have ears? Yes! And in this article I will explain how they work.

Even though chickens ears are seen only as small,  fleshy red or white earlobes, or auriculars (also known as ear coverts), the inner ear channels and amplifies sound, and plays a significant role a one of the senses.

Near the auriculars and below and behind the eye, the ear is located. The auriculars channel sound waves into the ear opening,  and towards the eardrum, a thin membrane that vibrates in accordance with the sound waves. The waves are passed down the columella, one of the smallest bones in the avian body, and transmitted to another membrane called the oval window via the cochlea in the middle ear. The cochlea is filled with fluid, and tiny hairs called cilia are attached to its walls. They move with the sound vibrations, as blades of grass do in the wind. Vibrations are translated into electrical impules, and sent to the brain via the auditory nerve.

When human cilia are damaged, they never re-grow, and so throughout life, hearing slowly decreases. The same happens in birds, right? WRONG!!! Birds can regenerate their cilia!!!

Avians also have semicircular canals, the saccule and utricle, which regulate balance, just as they do in humans.

I hope this was interesting, feel free to browse my website!

 

Chicken Housing

Chickens like to live a life of freedom and range where they choose, but in the modern day people interefere with this, and put them in cages to lay. People now also put them into there garden for a fresh supply of eggs, but for them to remain healthy and happy they have imporant requirements including good food, a foraging area, nutrient rich greens, space and good housing.

Runs and paddocks

Chickens like to range wherever they choose, but mostly this is not an option because people don’t like to have their flower beds in disarray, so an enclosure in the garden will do. They prefer to have a place with trees because they dont like to stand in a place where they are vulnerable to the hot sun. Our paddocks have apple trees so they shade the birds, and also give us a summer treat!
Fencing should be strong post and rail with chicken mesh, which should be checked regularly for holes.
Runs should contain a sand bath, which the chickens can use at will. It should contain sand, diatomous earth or both.
The term Free range is different to free to range, the latter refers to chickens which are not cooped up while the former is where each hen has a minimum of 4 metres square to roam.
The standard is 4sq ft in the coop and 10sq ft in the run in mainstream production.

Housing requirements
There must be at least 10in perch space for each hen and there must be at least 1 nest box per 5/6 hens. There must be at least 1 drinker per ten hens and, by DEFRAs regulations, 15cm of feeder per bird.
There must be sufficient ventilation, birds must be warm enough, but must also have fresh air available to avoid respiratory problems.
Contrary to what some people think, chickens only lay in their nestboxes, they dont sleep in them. Therefore several birds can share a nestbox, the box must be in a quiet, dark and fairly secluded corner.
Naturally, the place where droppings are at greatest density is in the chicken coop, where they poop in the same place every night. As a result of this, coop cleaning needs to be done at least once a week. A few small bantams in a fairly large coop need to be cleaned out once a week, while larger birds need cleaning out every two or three days.