Turkey Molting: Causes + When They Molt

Every year, turkeys shed their old feathers to create space for new ones to grow. Growing new feathers is a natural process designed to maintain its overall well-being. Molting also protects them against cold winter conditions.

Turkeys in the northern hemisphere will start molting in December, while those in the southern hemisphere begin in June. Annual molting can last 2 to 3 months, depending on a turkey’s environment and species. Poor nutrition and stress from predators or pests can also cause sudden loss of feathers and irregular molting.

Turkeys can also molt their tail feathers as they grow. This always happens when they are 16 weeks old. Sometimes, the loss of tail feathers for new ones to grow will be delayed until they are 21 to 22 weeks old. The short ones are then replaced with longer ones.

Turkey Molting
Turkey Molting

What moths do turkeys molt?

Mild molting in turkeys starts in September and hits harder in March. Seasonal molting in turkeys happens from September and may continue to march depending on how long winter lasts in an area.

Turkeys molt once a year under natural conditions, though it may happen twice a year with certain species. In rare cases, it may happen once in two years.

Molting occurs heavily during spring and fall due to changes in daylight hours. When days get shorter, molting is heavily stimulated. The molting process can vary from 2 weeks up to 12 weeks.

Signs of a molting turkey

The major symptom of molting is loose feathers that are easily dropped as the turkeys move around. However, you need to know that there is annual molting and sudden loss of feathers due to poor eating habits, diet, or predators. Pests like termites can also infest a turkey, and they will lose their feathers.

1. Loss of feathers

The first and the most obvious sign of molting is the loss of feathers. During the molting process, feathers are confined to definite areas of the body surface with patches of skin that are bare in between. Feather loss starts from the head and the neck, then the breast and abdomen, and finishes at the wings and tail.

You will also notice heaps of feathers around the floor or even at the corners of the coop.

2. Aggressive behavior

Turkeys may present aggressive behavior during molting. This process is usually stressful for the birds and may result in aggressive behavior towards their fellow turkeys and even the handler.

3. Feather scratching

The molting process usually creates a lot of irritation in the birds. The slow loss of feathers is uncomfortable. The turkeys will attempt to remove the feathers by scratching and pecking their backs and wings.

Also, exposed bald spots on the turkey will make them susceptible to pests such as fleas and ticks, which bite them. The turkeys will scratch themselves to remove these pests.

Causes of molting in turkeys + why they lose feathers

Many factors may cause turkey feathers to fall during winter, confusing the molting process. Here are some factors:

1. Fighting and pecking

Fighting and continuous pecking may cause feather loss. Some are often aggressive and may attack each other. Turkeys may attack each other for many reasons, such as territorial usage and mating rights. Turkeys peck each other to establish social dominance.

These attacks may cause the feathers to fall, resulting in bald spots on the turkey. One may easily confuse this with the molting process.

2. Attack from other animals

Animals such as cats are notorious for attacking poultry, and turkeys are no exception. Cats have natural hunting instincts, which may be directed at turkeys. Cats will scratch the turkeys, which may cause their feathers to fall during winter.

3. Poor nutrition

Turkeys need good, nutritious food to maintain a good body. Poor nutrition and little food may make their feathers fall off. The lack of a balanced diet may lead to feather loss during winter.

4. Stress

Turkeys may lose their feathers in winter because of stress. Stress can be caused by inappropriate handling, movement to another shelter, vaccinations, and wet litter.

5. Mating

Turkeys may lose feathers when they have rough mating mates. When the gobblers (the male turkey) are mating, they usually claw the back of the female, which may result in feather loss. This may be confused with the molting process.

Turkey molting during winter: is it bad?

Turkey feathers may start falling during the winter season. This may be caused by a prolonged brooding season, which inhibits molting up to late fall. However, if the turkey was not brooding, there should be a cause for concern.

The molting process is supposed to protect the turkey from cold conditions during the winter season. So, if feather loss occurs during winter, there should be no problem. However, you may need to keep turkeys out of the yard if they shed too many feathers that look ugly on the lawn.

How to deal with feather loss during winter

There is seasonal molting in autumn and summer and sudden molting due to factors like termites or nutrition. Seasonal loss of feathers is okay and should never bother you as a farmer. However, sudden molting should be contained before the turkeys are compromised. Here is what to do:

1. Provide sufficient space

Ensure that the turkeys are placed in a shelter with enough space. This will eliminate the need to fight for territory. You should also monitor them to identify the bullies and separate them from the rest of the flock.

Enough feeding units should also be provided to avoid overcrowding while feeding. Overcrowding may cause pecking and fighting, which may cause feather loss.

2. Keep predators away

Keep the shelter safe from invasion by other animals, especially cats. You can install a wire mesh around the shelter to prevent cats from entering the shelter. You should also monitor the shelter to find loopholes that cats and other animals may use to enter the shelter.

3. Proper handling

Ensure that you handle the turkeys appropriately. Do not force or subject them to loud noises that may trigger stress.

Additionally, avoid transferring them to new shelters during this period. Transferring a turkey to another shelter may cause stress because they are unfamiliar with the place.

4. Proper nutrition

Nutrition is key in ensuring that the feathers are well maintained. Therefore, ensure that the turkeys have a balanced diet daily. Also, ensure that you provide enough food for all of them.

You should also feed the turkeys enough proteins to speed up healing. Proteins help in the forming of new feathers if they fall. Adult turkeys require around 16% to 20% protein content in their food.