|Posted by sycamorevalleyfarm on August 22, 2010 at 10:56 PM|
This time of year birds shed their old feathers and put on new clothes for the winter, the process is called molting. They do this once a year, typically at the end of summer. When they get stressed, they will often go into a molt early. The extreme heat we have had this summer has put our birds into an early molt. The heat has caused them to eat less feed, so they have lost weight which stresses them enough to start molting. Since growing new feathers takes energy and protein, the birds will slow down or cease laying entirely. Their bodies can't make feathers and eggs at the same time, or at least very efficiently. Our production is down quite a bit for this time of year. As a result, we will only be attending the farmers' market once a week on Thursday mornings.
Molting takes a few weeks, so our production will be down for a least a month. The bad thing is that with decreasing daylight, production will be slow for the rest of the summer and fall, most likely. On the plus side, the hens should lay a little better through the winter. Commercial producers use forced (or as they like to say "induced") molting to get better production out of their birds, this wears the birds out fast. Most commercial flocks are sent to slaughter at 105 or so weeks of age. Now, most chickens hit their best laying age at around 2 yrs, so they're squeezing more eggs out of the hens in less time. But as our hens have proven, they continue to lay pretty darn well in their 3rd year with good management and can serve more functions in their later years. I was surprised to just read a guide to induced molting by the North Carolina Extension agency (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/induced_molting_commercial.html) that makes it sound as though they suggest witholding feed from the birds for up to 12 days! Now, I may have misunderstood this, but read for yourself. If that isn't cruel, I don't know what is. I understand that farmers need to make money, believe me I do, but at what cost? Also, keep in mind the reason you can buy eggs at a supermarket for .99 cents a dozen is because large scale commercial farmers get about .19 cents a dozen. Why can they afford that? Because they can produce hundreds or thousands of dozens a day. Just imagine what that operation looks like, the quality of the product is going to be worth about that. (Not to mention food safety. With that many birds, you can't test them all or notice who is sick and who is not.) And believe me, most of them are not doing well financially. I do feel sorry for them. I have never understood how scales of economy made any sense. I could go into a rant, but I won't for now. So in conclusion, we do not intentionally force molt our birds but sometimes nature will do it for us. Our birds often live out their natural lives (6-10yrs with the exception of culling ill birds with certain diseases as they would become carriers of diseases even after recovering themselves, but that's a topic for another blog).