Forced Molting In Hens

Free Ranging and Training Chickens...

“I’ve heard that large egg producers will cause their hens to molt early. How do they do this and what is their reasoning? Why would they want their hens to go out of production? Aren’t they in the business of selling eggs?” ~ David Horton, Marana, Arizona

Thanks for the question David.

You can induce a molt although I’m not sure why the typical backyard farmer would have a need for it.

It is my understanding also that many large, battery farms practice molt induction.

The reason this practice would appeal to a large egg producer has everything to do with making money.

Once a pullet has gone through her first molt, she lays larger eggs than in her first season. Larger eggs bring a higher price. The earlier she starts to lay the larger eggs, her more profitable egg laying life span increases.

By inducing a molt, the egg producer can increase his profit margin.

Basically, you force a molt by creating environmental stress. This was most often done by withholding food from the hen for a few days.

As knowledge of this practice gained public attention, the public outcry forced producers to look for alternatives to food deprivation. Legislation has been passed in the UK and Europe, making this practice illegal.

One alternative has been the use of alfalfa pellets or meal as a replacement for usual feed. The energy available to metabolize from the alfalfa is very low, it produces the same effect as food deprivation while still giving the hens feed each day.

There are other diet specific induction methods as well, most of which are designed to provide poor nutrition, mimicking food deprivation without the psychological effects associated with food deprivation.

Again, I’m not sure why the typical back-yard farmer would choose to induce a molt unless you live in an extreme climate where the flock would benefit from being fully re-feathered when bitter cold temperatures arrive.

The only other reason I could see the benefit of a forced molt would be if you were planning on combining flocks and wanted everyone to be fully feathered at that time. It would be less likely that blood would be drawn, due to pecking, if the hens were without any bald spots.

Other than that, I can’t think of a reason to induce a molt for the small scale hobbyist.

Thanks again for the question David.

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