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Poult Sci. 2003 Jun;82(6):971-80.

The physiology of induced molting.

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Department of Poultry Science, 232 Upchurch Building, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849, USA.


The initiation of seasonal feather molting in wild avian species frequently coincides with incubation of eggs and brooding of offspring. A period of natural inappetence or anorexia usually accompanies this molt. This is particularly true of the jungle fowl, the wild ancestor of the domestic chicken. Brooding of eggs by the jungle fowl is accompanied by spontaneous anorexia, with little food or water consumed throughout the period of egg incubation. During this time, the reproductive tract regresses, and feather molting is initiated. Selective breeding for a high rate of egg production has blunted the response of the commercial laying hen to exogenous environmental cues and reduced or eliminated the endogenous biological cues that coordinate initiation of seasonal molting. However, commercial layers retain in their physiological repertoire the ability to tolerate prolonged fasting and to undergo a spontaneous regression of the reproductive tract and feather molting. Induction of a coordinated molt, by manipulation of environmental and nutritional cues, or endocrine manipulation, can be used in domestic hens to regress and regenerate the reproductive tract. This improves subsequent egg production and eggshell quality. This process also induces temporary recrudescence of lymphoid tissues and may alter immune function in hens. The process of molting, and the subsequent recovery from the molt, may be viewed as a complex physiological constellation, induced by environmental and nutritional cues, involving endocrine systems, reproductive tissue structure and function, lymphoid structure, and immune function.

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