Our chickens have gone off the lay. I wondered why and then on closer inspection I discovered the hens are moulting.
It's normal for chickens to start to moult at the end of summer. It takes a lot of energy to regrow new plumage, so they usually stop laying during this time. Once I found this was the cause of an empty nest box I relaxed and sought to make sure the hens stay in good condition through this time and support their system.
Although some chickens can end up almost naked during moulting, most chickens moult without any hassles. Many people simply leave them to it and continue to feed their normal diet, but I like to give them extra nourishment during moulting to ensure good health and also get them back into top condition again. It takes a lot of protein to grow back new feathers.
I consulted my favourite chicken keeping book for natural tonics and read that a brew of rosemary with a little apple cider vinegar added to it, mixed into the chickens water once a week is an excellent plumage tonic.
Since I have plenty of rosemary I harvested a large handful and made the chickens a rosemary tea. After brewing it for around 15 minutes I added the cider vinegar and then put a cup of the mixture into the hen's water. I'll repeat it next week, and as I haven't used this tonic before I'm looking forward to see what difference it makes.
Another moulting tonic is to feed linseed, although you have to be careful not to feed too much or it becomes a laxative. It's the only moulting tonic I've ever used, and the chickens certainly seem to love it. The linseed must be soaked for 4 hours and then cooked for around 20 minutes or until it becomes gelatinous. The cooking destroys the pyridoxine inhibitor contained in the grain - do not feed your chickens uncooked linseed. Alanna Moore recommends a dessertspoonful of cooked linseed per bird mixed into a wet mash, which is the way I have always fed it. I'll be cooking some up this evening and giving the hens some throughout the week.
Have you any natural tonics or remedies you always use with your hens? I'd love to know about them.
If you're interested in keeping poultry organically/naturally I highly recommend Alanna Moore's excellent book Backyard Poultry - Naturally. It's in it's third edition now and is a wonderful resource for both the beginner and experienced flock keeper.