Well there I was saying how lovely our hens eggs were when the production line stopped. One quick look inside the hen house determined why - they are moulting.
Chickens moult for a number of reasons but the annual moult usually occurs in the autumn and is triggered by a decrease in daylight length (less feeding time thus reduced feed intake), combined with the end of an intense laying period.
During the summer months the hens lost the smaller feathers closer to their body in an attempt to cool down. The larger feathers will usually have been developed in the previous moult and after a summer's use they begin to look rough and lose some of their colour. The shorter day length is a natural trigger to renew all their feather in preparation of colder times to come. In this way the moult is a way of conserving energy over the winter period that would otherwise be spent keeping warm.
The renewal of feathers requires protein. It is not possible for the bird to assimilate enough protein to maintain egg production as well as renew feathers. With the onset of winter there would naturally be less food available to support chicks, so it is therefore a good time to close down egg production, renew feathers and build up body reserves for the following spring. Hens that have been laying heavily for 11 months will moult easily in the autumn since this is the natural moulting time. If they have had artificial lighting and finish their intensive laying period in the spring, they do not moult as easily and may carry on egg production until the following autumn...jury still out on the artificial lighting, but for now it will be vitamin supplements for the gals and lots of lovely food.
Apparently dried cat food is good for them! Yes - it contains the essential amino acids required to keep the girls healthy - will have to give it a try! Watch this space!
This morning I mixed some dried cat food with the hen's porridge and corn. They enjoyed it - so much they stepped on their food dish and scattered everybody away a couple of times. Mabel (large dark brown one) showed she is moulting by the absence of clumps of feathers.