Sunday, December 12, 2010

There's a naked chick in my back yard

Can you pick out the molting hen?

People always are interested - or at least politely feign interest - when I talk about the quirks of having chickens.  For example, many are suprised by the following factoids:
  1. Some types of hens don't lay eggs in the winter while others do. 
  2. Chickens will eat nearly anything, including meat.
  3. Chickens molt (shed all their feathers) and get new ones in the late fall or early winter.
  4. A molting hen doesn't lay eggs.

Croquette (center) is supposed to look like Miss Piggy (left)

About 2 months ago I opened the coop one day to find a "puddle" of feathers under one of the girls.  She trailed feathers after her like Pig Pen from Peanuts trails dust.  It was weird.  One after one, each of the girls molted.  Egg production tanked and at one point we were getting just 3-4 eggs per week.  Mind you, we have 9 hens.  After Gwen, one of our favs, molted, I thought they were done.

 The silvery things are called "pin feathers".  As they grow, feathers emerge from the skin in a sheath, which eventually falls off to expose the new feather.

I was wrong.  Croquette started to molt in earnest. 

What's funny is that her feathers are coming in the same way they did when she was a chick: in 2 vertical lines that look like suspenders.

Croquette, who'd had a light molt earlier in the fall, must have decided that her plumage need a total revamp after seeing how great the other girls looked.  As an australorp, she's got the softest feathers I've ever felt.  They're not coarse, as are Curry's feathers (our buff orpington).  They're even softer than Animal's, our blue cochin.  But now they're all over the yard... and very very few are on her.

The brown areas are the old feathers & the black areas on her wing are the new ones.  Her neck is covered in pin feathers.

Of the 9 molts we saw this fall, Croquette's has been the worst by far.  She actually has exposed skin, which none of the others had.  The poor thing, I picked her up the other day and she was shivering.  I've been thinking of going to Goodwill to grab a cheap stocking hat, cut holes in it for her head & wings, and put it on her.  If it weren't raining so much I would.

The poor girl.  If she didn't crap everywhere, I'd let her stay in the laundry room to be warm & dry.

I'm eager for her feathers to grow because I cringe every time I look at her.  If you looked like this, you wouldn't want to lay eggs, either.

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