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Poultry - winter moults

PUBLISHED: 17:58 25 April 2014 | UPDATED: 21:06 29 April 2014

Q - We bought some Wyandotte bantams in early August last year at six-seven weeks old. We started them off on chick crumbs (they also have a source of grit), as that was what they had been used to. After about a month, we gradually introduced rearing pellets. We are about to change to layers pellets, and they get a little mixed grain. They started to lay about a month ago, and things went well. Then my partner noticed the Gold Laced and one of the Silver Laced were missing feathers on their necks, right below their beaks. They have a dust bath made up of fine wood ash and sand, and fresh water is always there for them. I would appreciate any advice you can offer.
 Gareth Jones

Q - I am a novice chicken keeper having four hens since the spring. One of my girls has no breast feathers – she has been like this for several months. Her breast is plump and the skin soft and smooth. She seems very happy and healthy - bright and alert, eating well and still laying every day. A veterinary nurse I know, whose family keep chickens, said she can find nothing wrong, but I am really worried about her in the cold weather. Can you help me by either telling me what it might be, or what I am doing wrong, or tell me the best way of looking after her in the cold.
Sharon

A - Both Gareth and Sharon have experienced a part moult with their chickens. It can look very alarming when a bald patch suddenly appears, but generally there is nothing to worry about. If all the basic needs are being taken care of, and it is not a case of bullying, which can be serious, then your hens will soon recover their good looks.
One out of about 15 of our Light Sussex hens did a similar thing this year – she lost all her neck feathers. She did look a fright! Here is a picture of her (right) growing them back; you can see from the background that she chose the snowy weather to expose all that flesh, but came to no harm. Soon she will have feathered up and be looking like her sister again.
As far as the issue of cold goes, as long as the birds have a dry, draft-free house, and they can cuddle up on the perches and share body heat, they will cope. In the last bout of snow, we took the precaution of blocking up some of the vents to avoid drifting snow blowing into the houses.

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