Day: November 19, 2011

Molting backyard chicken

So, according to my dashboard, most of the people who check out my blog through a search do so because I have written about raising chickens.  I thought I would share this new chicken event through my blog in case you are raising chickens too and this has not happened to you yet.

About a month ago [?], not really sure since time sort of jams in and collapses in on itself lately, I noticed that there were no eggs in the laying box.  I thought this was because my hens had begun to roost in the Rose of Sharon tree [that is a whole other story related to a rogue, tree roosting rooster who no longer resides here], but I was not sure.  We set about looking for the eggs in case she was laying someplace else.  Right now I have two hens.  The Rhode Island Red the kids called Chipmunk is less than 6 months and has not begun to lay and my first-born Ameraucana, Uno, who is a beautiful gray who lays blue-green eggs is a year and a half.  I did have another RIR named Moe, who before she was attacked and had to be put down, laid brown eggs or brown speckled eggs.  So, there I was hunting for eggs in October like it was Easter.  I offered to pay my children if they could find where the eggs were being laid.  I was more than a little irritated not to have my daily egg from Miss Uno, but I was really too busy to put a lot of energy into solving the mystery.

Cut to this week, a cold snap following a very balmy spell, and I come home to find the porch covered in fluffy light gray feathers. I take a look at my girl, and notice they are missing around the neck area and ask my teenaged son if he knows what is going on with Uno.  He says ‘I think something got a hold of her and snatched the feathers out of her neck; look at her.’  I go out to pick her up and have him look and he says ‘gross… it is just yellow prickly chicken skin with some feathers poking through.’  We don’t see an injury, so we conclude that Chipmunk is plucking them out or something and I isolate Uno in the closed pen.  Normally Uno will pace back and forth when placed into the pen and make lots of noise because she hates to be confined, but this time, she just heads upstairs and rests in the straw.  I am very worried.

I start googling and I am struck by a thought– molting!  I google chicken molt and get all kinds of pertinent hits.  My chicken is molting and I am quite relieved!  I seem to have solved both the feather mystery and the missing egg mystery.  Apparently, chickens will molt after about a year of heavy laying, which fits exactly because Uno laid her first egg for my birthday in October 2010.  They will stop laying during this time, because the nutritional requirements for laying are the same for molting, so the protein and energy is going into making a fabulous new set of feathers instead of eggs.  This could take a month or up to 6 months but averages about 3 months from start to finish.  The molt starts about the head and neck area and goes down and ends in the tail feather area, so by looking at the balding areas and new growth you should be able to tell about how far into the process you are.  During the molt, the chicken is feeling stressed, as we would if our skin just started falling off in big patches and we looked crazy and left skin everywhere.  Just picking her up, feathers fly.  She seems irritable, more tired, and just plain frustrated with the whole process.  The end result of this horrible process should be that she ends up with a whole new set of prettier, fluffier, and warmer feathers.  She will commence laying again, and these new eggs will be of higher quality than her first year of eggs, although the quantity may be very slightly reduced [she may lay 5-6 a week instead of 6 or 7].  I will try to take a picture of her and upload it, although I am sure she does not want you seeing her like this.  She is starting to look pretty shaggy.

I feel really sorry for her, so I am about to go out and give her some bacon pieces and some cut up apple as a treat.  Hopefully, Chipmunk will lay before Christmas and they will both return to the coop to do their laying.    Leave a comment if you have some extra info about molting or if your chickens have been through it.  I am not sure if it is different for roosters, since I don’t keep roosters.