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Molting of laying hens

Each year chickens molt, or lose the older feathers, and grow new ones. Most hens stop producing eggs until after the molt is completed. The rate of lay for some hens may not be affected, but their molting time is longer. Hens referred to as "late molters" will lay for 12 to 14 months before molting, while others, referred to as "early molters," may begin to molt after only a few months in production. Late molters are generally the better laying hens and will have a more ragged and tattered covering of feathers. The early molters are generally poorer layers and have a smoother, better-groomed appearance.

Early molters drop only a few feathers at a time and may take as long as 4 to 6 months to complete the molt. Early molters are usually poor producers in a flock. Late molting hens will produce longer before molting and will shed the feathers quicker (2 to 3 months). The advantage of late molters is that the loss of feathers and their replacement takes place at the same time. This enables the hen to return to full production sooner.

The order in which birds lose their feathers is fairly definite. The feathers are lost from the head first, followed in order by those on the neck, breast, body, wings, and tail. A definite order of molting is also seen within each molting section, such as the loss of primary flight feathers before secondary flight feathers on the wings.

The primary wing feathers determine whether a hen is an early or late molter. These large, stiff flight feathers are observed on the outer part of each wing when the wing is spread. Usually 10 primary feathers on each wing are separated from the smaller secondary feathers by a short axial feather.

Molting birds lose the primary feathers in regular order, beginning with the feather nearest the axial feather and progressing to the outer wing-tip feathers. Late molting hens will lose primary feathers in groups of two or more feathers, whereas early molters lose feathers individually. Replacement feathers begin to grow shortly after the old feathers are shed. Late molting birds can be distinguished by groups of replacement feathers showing similar stages of growth.

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Dressed in a pink T-shirt and blue jeans, broiler grower Teresa Dyess stands next to two wagon wheels in front of a barn on her family farm.
Filed Under: Women for Agriculture, Poultry October 20, 2017

In three days, Teresa Dyess shifted her business focus from produce to poultry.

The change began two years ago with an offhand remark from her husband, Joe Dyess.

 “He told a broiler grower in Wayne County we wouldn’t mind building pullet houses because we wanted to diversify our farm,” she said. “We didn’t think any more about it, and then the next day a poultry processor called and offered us a contract. A banker came the next day, and everything fell into place.”

Lanette Crocker, coordinator for the MSU Extension Service in Wayne County, said Teresa Dyess’ adaptability has helped her maintain success through the farm’s transition.

Hen flock inventories grew after the poultry industry recovered from the 2015 avian influenza outbreak, increasing the number of eggs on the market and driving down the price. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)
Filed Under: Poultry August 4, 2017

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Mississippi's poultry industry remains healthy with a strong demand for broilers and a positive outlook for the remainder of 2017.

Filed Under: Avian Flu March 30, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- All Mississippians who raise any species of poultry are being urged to follow strict biosecurity practices and review new requirements regarding sales and exhibitions.

Tom Tabler, poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said that while avian influenza is not a threat to human health or food safety, an outbreak would endanger backyard flocks and the state’s nearly $3 billion commercial poultry industry.

Choosing the right breed of chickens for a backyard flock is an important decision. From left, Tripp, Luna and Charlie Sanders examine chicks for sale March 8, 2017, in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kat Lawrence)
Filed Under: Poultry March 16, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Families willing to host a flock of feathered friends reap the benefits of fresh eggs delivered daily just outside the door.

What started several years ago as an underground "urban chicken" movement has become much more common and widely accepted. Today, raising backyard chickens has gained popularity nationwide, boosted by interest in locally grown foods that avoid the energy use and carbon emissions typically associated with transporting food.

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