Monday, August 8, 2011

My Chickens are Molting

As a new chicken caregiver, there are many unfamiliar terms associated with "hen handling".  I've heard of molting and broody hens but was not exactly familiar with the details as to what occurs.  Ones first thought when they see a chicken molting is that they are ill or mite infested or even dying.  These thoughts ran through my mind several days ago as I noticed the white feathers accumulating in the grass and one chicken acting skittish.  Wanting to be left alone, pulling out some feathers, and strange holes on her pink neck all made me become fearful. 

Digging a deep hole underneath the chicken coop didn't help matters.  Initially Rainbow, the White Leghorn, appeared to be making a nest, complete with a rock as a fake egg.  I thought possibly she was becoming a broody hen, a hen that wants to sit on an egg and not get off the nest.  A broody hen can be a problem as they can not want to eat or drink water.  Even dying from thirst or starvation.  Fortunately, Rainbow does come out of her hole and has fairly normal chicken behavior; scratching, eating and drinking.  So I am guessing that she is just trying to hide not brood a baby chick (from her rock).

Quills growing back in, the "porcupine look".
Confirmations of molting:
No mites present.
No other hens attacking her.
No rooster on premises to cause feather pulling.
The quills are growing back in (the porcupine look).
She is eating and drinking.
She is hiding at times and skittish.
Egg laying has halted.

Rainbow b4 the molting began.
It takes a lot of energy to molt feathers.  I'm hoping this is a half-molt in that only the neck and tail feathers will drop.  So far, so good.  You do not want to handle or scare a molting chicken.  I've read that when the quills come back in, it can be painful, making for a cranky chicken.  I'm trying to direct black sunflower seeds to her specifically for nutrition but this is always a challenge with other "piggie" chickens nearby.

Pretty chicken feathers on one of our Comet breed hens.
Molting is a normal chicken process, renewing feathers for the winter.  It typically happens when the days shorten after summer but can be stress induced.  I am sure the transport to our coop almost a month ago didn't help matters and imagine that is what switched the molt process on.  There is another Leghorn that has begun molting and that would make sense since we're short two eggs each day - two birds at a minimum will go through this process, may be the entire flock.  Our three comets are not showing any signs as of yet and their feathers look lovely, so far...


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