Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Florence and The Molt

Poor Flo... she looks like this right now:

She looks awful. Her feathers are completely jacked up... well, the ones that are still there, anyway. I've been trying to get photos of her for a couple of days, but she seems to know how bad she looks and won't hold still if I come anywhere near her with a camera. I can't say I blame her, really... I wouldn't, either.

Molting varies from chicken to chicken, it seems. Some of my birds- the Americaunas, specifically, just lose a few feathers at a time, and simply look a little ragged for a couple of weeks. Last year, the Barred Rock lost almost all of her head and neck feathers at once, but that was pretty much it for her. Historically, Flo just loses her poofy nether feathers, and runs around with a bare bottom for a couple of weeks while things are growing back in. This year, however, she's jettisoned easily a quarter, if not a third, of her feathers altogether. She's got a strip missing down the back of her neck, as well as a matching one on the front. Her rump is mostly bare, her tail is long gone, and I've even found primary flight feathers scattered around. She looks moth-eaten, to be nice about it. (But not so bad that I'm knitting chicken sweaters, or anything.)

It's completely normal (however abnormal it may look) and is something that happens to chickens around this time of year. Personally, I think that seems like poor timing, but I'm sure there has to be some genetic or evolutionary reason for ditching all the outerwear just as colder weather rolls in. If I had to guess, I'd say it likely has something to do with ditching external parasites, or maybe just trading out the old feathers for newer ones, before the weather gets really bad. That's just my supposition, though... I haven't found any definitive answers, yet.

Along with molting, comes a cessation of egg laying. Flo hasn't laid an egg in at least two weeks, because her body is putting energy into making new feathers -fast- as opposed to making eggs. So, if you have a chicken that's molting, make sure you're getting extra protein to them, to make the process go as smooth as possible. Once her feathers are back in, she'll start laying again- but at a much reduced rate - maybe one or two eggs a week, now that the dark days are here. Since the egg-laying cycle is governed by hours of daylight, chickens naturally decrease production in the winter.

Commercial egg producers (and some home chicken keepers) use supplemental lighting in the coop to keep eggs coming through the winter. We don't do that here- I believe that if a system is designed with a built in rest period, there's probably a good reason for that and it should be honored. I stockpile eggs when everyone is laying daily, and if we need to ration them towards the end... well, so be it. I'm not running a sweatshop, after all. Besides, now that the girls aren't foraging as much, the eggs aren't as awesome as they are in the spring and summer months. (They're still great; much better than store bought, though!)

What's happening in your chicken run- are your feathered friends molting now, too?

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