Looks Like a Molt, or Winter Lay-Off

I’m afraid many of my chickens have actually gone into a molt, or a winter lay-off because of the stress of the evacuation.

We first got them home on September 29th.  None were laying.  Within a week, 6 hens started laying (out of 15 total).  Because of egg differences I am able to tell exactly which ones are laying.  The ones laying are Salt (unknown bantam cross from the Ragamuffin Hen group), Goldie (Buff Orp), 2 Barred Rocks, Bindi (Easter Egger), and Ruby (RIR).  And their comb colors are confirming that as well.  It has been almost two weeks since those girls started laying, so 3 weeks total of being home, and no others have started.  All of them are completely settled in and happy to be home, no signs of anymore stress. All the non-laying hens have light pink combs and are showing no signs of even considering getting back into the nesting box anytime soon.  😦

We think with the shorter days, and cold weather, what started out as a stress shut-down, has transitioned into a full-blown winter shut-down.  This is such a bummer as I have egg customers and the hens usually earn their keep, and then some, for us.  Now it looks like it will be at least a few months before they get going again.

The only good news is that the Brahmas should start laying Nov/Dec, so that should add 7 actively laying hens to our flock.  But we are not sure exactly when to expect the Brahmas to start since they are a heavy breed and we have heard that heavies start later than average.  However, we did see the rooster breed the Buff Brahma a few days ago.  The last time he was living with the adolescent hens he started breeding them about 3 weeks before they started laying.  So we hope this is an indication that at least the Buff is getting close to starting.

I guess we just need to focus on being thankful that we are getting enough eggs for our own use, at least we don’t have to buy them at the store.

Does anyone have any experience with chickens stopping laying because of stress?  How long does it usually take for them to get back up and running again?  Is this likely more than just stress now?

10 thoughts on “Looks Like a Molt, or Winter Lay-Off

  1. It only took mine a week or two to recover from the stress of being moved from their old home to where they are now. But that was a pretty short trip: less than an hour roost-to-roost. Sounds like yours went through something quite a bit more traumatic, so perhaps it will take them longer to settle back down?

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  2. It took our hens 3 to 4 weeks to start laying after a major raccoon attack that slaughtered quite a bit of our original flock. If they still aren’t laying in another week, you might try adding a light and see if it is weather related or not. Of course if they are molting you just have to wait it out.

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    • That’s encouraging. Maybe they need just a couple more weeks. We have been discussing using a light. Our goal this year with the breeding program was to not supplement light nor heat so we could select birds that did well without. But now, with this mess, we are reconsidering. I have marked down which hens pulled out of the stress well, so now we just want to get them back into production and earning their keep at least partially.

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    • Yes. However, this is their first laying season, and in our experience the slow down is minimal their first year and we have never had chickens stop completely in their first winter, just slow down. And it normally happens in January and February in our area. So, this is unusual.
      I think that it is either just stress and they will start soon. OR the stress started them down this path and now it pushed them into a winter shut down early and to excess.

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  3. My chickens are molting and they are first year hens, in fact they were born last October. As far as stress goes, we’ve had plenty around here. Stress does not affect my Ameraucanas at all, they keep laying regularly. But the others anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. It seems that different breeds vary…

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    • Sorry, I wasn’t specific enough when I said first year. From what I have read (I think it was in the Encyclopedia of Country Living), hens hatched when the days are getting longer (approx Jan to June) will not molt their first fall/winter as adult laying hens. Your birds were hatched when the days were getting shorter, and this is their first fall/winter as adult laying hens (technically this is their second winter alive, but they weren’t mature during the last one), So yours should be molting. That has always been true for our birds until this group, which was hatched the end of last January, and therefore, according to what we read, shouldn’t molt. So either the stress messed them up and caused them not to follow that rule, or that rule is not accurate.

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      • I think I’m learning that they always keep you guessing…;) Thanks for sharing the info on the molting. One of the hens out of the group I am talking about is still laying and I don’t know why just one out of the four would be? I hope yours start laying soon. 🙂

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      • Yes, it seems that any “rule” that we humans make about animals and how they are “supposed” to act is never 100%. I guess it just comes down to that I hope this lack of eggs doesn’t last long, and I am thankful that enough are laying that our family has the eggs we need for eating.
        I hope your one keeps going so you can at least have some eggs. 🙂

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      • I got out my Encyclopedia of Country Living this afternoon to see what exactly it said. I don’t want to be steering anyone wrong :-(.
        I was wrong, it doesn’t have to do with when they hatch, it has to do with when they come to maturity.
        “If you buy pullet chicks in Jan-April, they will mature while the days are still getting longer…They will continue laying through winter and on to the end of the next summer. Or they may have a late molt that first year.”
        Not that it really matters at this point in the conversation, but I wanted to correct myself.
        Either way, hopefully more of mine will start up again soon. I think we will probably go ahead and leave their coop light on until 9 each night and see if it helps.

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