10 Healthy Sources of Added Protein for Molting Chickens


The first time your chickens go through a molt, dropping their feathers all over the coop and run, you'll likely do a quick headcount, sure some predator got in. While it seems that some chickens lose their feathers all at once, while others barely show any signs of molting, the first molt will be triggered by the shorter days in the fall, when your chickens are about 18 months old. And there's no need to worry, it's perfectly normal and in fact gets the chickens ready for winter.

Chickens fluff their feathers when they get cold to trap air warmed by their bodies between their skin and feathers and create a buffer against the cold. If their feathers are old, broken or dirty, they don't fluff as well, so by growing in a whole new set of feathers just before winter, chickens ensure they'll have nice new feathers to keep them warm. 

Since chicken feathers are about 90% protein (actually they are made of keratin, the same protein fiber that makes up hair, fingernails and the hooves of other animals), 8% water and the rest water-insoluble fats, adding a bit of protein to your flock's diet during molting season can help them grow their new feathers in quicker to prepare for the winter  cold. 

Normally, chickens will get the protein they need from a good-quality commercial layer feed, supplemented by the bugs, worms, slugs, grasshoppers, snakes, lizards and frogs they find to eat. There are also lots of plants that are high in protein that can be offered as treats all through the year, but are especially beneficial during the fall molt.


During the molting season, adding some high-protein treats can be beneficial. I keep my chickens on layer feed year round, although some suggest switching to a high protein gamebird feed, and instead add some healthy protein-rich treats to my chickens' diet. (Remember to limit treats to no more than 10% of their total diet.)

10 Healthy Sources of Added Protein for Molting Chickens

Eggs
Cooked eggs are extremely high in protein and chickens love them.  You can feed your chickens raw eggs as well, but some thing that might lead to 'unauthorized' egg eating, so scramble or hard cook the eggs to be on the safe side.

Poultry
Cooked chicken or turkey (yes chicken!) is a great source of protein. You can give your chickens the whole carcass to pick at. There's no worry of them choking on splintered bones like there might be with dogs or cats. You can also give your flock the little bag of organ meats that comes with your Thanksgiving turkey.

Meat
Beef, lamb or pork scraps and bones can all be given to your chickens as well, along with organ meats if you have them. Meat can be raw or cooked. After all, your chickens likely eat small birds and mice if they can catch them.

Fish
All types of fish, either fresh, cooked or canned, are great sources of protein for molting chickens. You can give them the entire fish - head, guts, bones and all.  If you fish, your chickens will love you! Canned tuna or mackerel is also a healthy treat.

Shellfish
Shrimp shells, raw or cooked, lobster shells and innards,  plus the shrimp and lobster meat can all be offered to your chickens.

Mealworms
Dried mealworms are one of the best sources of protein available, and chickens go nuts for them! You can also grow (raise?) your own live mealworms if you are so inclined. 

Nuts and Seeds
Seeds can be a great protein source. Pumpkin seeds, both fresh and dried, as well as sunflower seeds, shelled or unshelled, are both great choices. Nuts including walnuts, almonds and peanuts can all be chopped and offered as a treat. Just be sure they are unsalted.

Oats 
Oats can be fed either raw or cooked as a healthy protein-rich treat that chickens love. Either rolled oats or whole oats are fine.

Sprouts
Sprouted beans and legumes are another favorite treat that is a good protein source. Mung beans, peas or lentils are all great choices. Growing sprouts is easy and a good way to provide added protein. 

Chick Feed
Chick feed, which is usually fed to baby chicks for the first eight weeks of life, is higher in protein than chicken layer feed. While I wouldn't substitute it completely for layer feed for adult hens, even during a molt, if you have a partial bag of chick feed leftover, offering it to your molting hens in addition to their regular feed is a great way to get rid of it. Or you can even mix it into the layer feed.


So there you have it. Ten healthy sources of protein for your molting chickens. Don't panic when you see all those feathers all over the place, just get busy adding some protein to their diet. 

One final caveat: I've read that others often recommend feeding chickens cat food during the molting season because it's very high in protein. I personally don't recommend doing that. Cat food is formulated for cats not chickens. You'll be better off just buying cans of sardines or other canned fish for your chickens. It will likely be cheaper too! 

References/Sources
http://www.fresheggsdaily.com/2012/07/molt-meatloaf.html
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=textiles_facpub
http://file.scirp.org/pdf/MSA20121200010_16107995.pdf

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