Fuss and Feathers: Day Length, Molting and Egg Production in a Small Flock

| 4/10/2012 8:43:59 AM

We are nearly two years into raising our Flock-of-Four: Amelia (Barred Plymouth Rock), Ruby (Rhode Island Red), and Buffy and Dixie (Buff Orpingtons). Hatched in May 2010, they spent their first summer as pullets in the Eglu which we moved around the backyard, shifting its position every day as the birds scratched up the lawn. We were amazed at how quickly they grew from fuzz-balls into handsome birds with distinctive plumage.

As they were nearing six months, we moved them into our garage to provide them greater protection from the New England winter, putting the Eglu on a tarp covered with a 3-inch layer of hay, which we changed weekly. We added a light to give them 14-hour artificial day-length to encourage egg production. That turned out to be quite a winter in New England! With record snowfall outside, the Flock-of-Four, cozy in the garage, averaged over 2 dozen eggs per week. We figured the abundance of fresh eggs more than made up for shoveling out the car that no longer fit in the garage.

The ease of keeping the Eglu in the garage vs. moving it daily onto fresh grass led us to leave it in the garage permanently. We let the hens (now the “garage girls”) out each day to free-range the property and they always returned to the coop at dusk and also during the day to lay their eggs or to drink water and consume the feed that we provided.

Photo of chickens by Pam Art 

Molting Begins 

As summer gave way to autumn with its shorter day lengths, we decided not to add artificial light and to see what happened with a natural daylight cycle. It didn’t take long to find out. One morning in mid-October it looked like a poultry crime scene in the coop. Golden-tan feathers everywhere, yet all of the flock was present, strutting about and making their customary morning clucking sounds. What happened was Buffy had abruptly started to molt. Feathers were falling out by the handful and her comb and wattles were distinctly paler than the week before. She was a rather bedraggled version of the elegant Buff Orpington she had previously been. For the next month of molting her egg production declined to less than half of what it had been, and continued to be vastly reduced through the winter, even after she had regained her full plumage by mid-December. By then Dixie, the other Buff Orpington, started her molt. Through the molting the combined egg production of Buffy and Dixie was an egg or so per week, but picked up to an egg or two per day with the advent of spring.

Doreen Mateicka
4/10/2012 5:07:28 PM

Our six Barred Rocks did a slow molt over the winter and continued to give us no less than 2 eggs a day. Since then, they're back up to their usual 4-6 daily. Don't know how long this will continue, as they're just about a year old right now. Here's hoping.

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