Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Molting Observations and End-of-Year Thoughts...

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by Rebecca Nickols

I'm going into my second winter of chicken-keeping, but this is the first molt I (or my chickens) have experienced. What I have observed is a splotchy, tousled appearance, and it may be my imagination but it seems that they're more nervous, panicky and fearful of everything. However, the most apparent observation is that the egg laying has halted ...



My beautiful Buff Orpington has gone from this ...



















... to this.




















Henrietta, my Buff Orpington, is over a year old and her molting was expected, but what's weird is that my 8-month-old Plymouth Barred Rock is also loosing feathers. Her molt is not nearly as impressive as my older hen, but she's losing her share of feathers also. At first I thought my Buff might be plucking out the young pullet's feathers in some sort of a stressed reaction to her own molt, but that wasn't the case. After searching the Internet and chicken forums to see if she could possibly have some sort of ailment that was causing her feather loss, I came to the conclusion that, although it's not common, an early molt can happen.


An increase of protein in the diet is recommended for new feather growth, so I'm giving the molting girls more than their share of mealworm treats and I'm also trying to be patient with their nervous dispositions and lack of egg laying. I do wish this feather losing process could happen in the warmer months instead of the fall and winter, but hopefully by spring their beautiful feathers will have regrown and they'll be back into their normal egg laying schedule.

Here's some odd end-of-the-year thoughts I've been pondering ... I started out the spring of 2010 with four Buff Orpington chicks. Everything went well for the first six months, then I lost two girls expectantly. Recently, another Buff died, leaving me with only one of the original four. The remaining (surviving) Buff, Henrietta, became ill close to the time I lost the first two, but a quick trip to the vet spared her from her sisters' fate. I wonder if they were exposed to something before I purchased them that weakened their immune system or did I just have a run of bad luck with my first flock? Their symptoms (if any) were vague and didn't signaled any obvious disease and I suppose that since I didn't have some sort of post-mortem autopsy performed, I'll never know the cause of their deaths. I hope my luck has changed, as I've grown rather attached to my new flock and would hate to have a repeat of last year... Anyone else out there in the chicken-keeping world have any thoughts or a similar experience?

To view what else is happening at our southwest Missouri property, visit the garden-roof coop.

8 comments:

  1. So far the only hen I've lost (touch wood) has been a hybrid brown due to an egg breaking inside her. Very upsetting, but just one of those hazards of chicken keeping I guess. My Marans have all molted this year and stopped laying during this process. Took about a month or two - quite a long time to have no lovely dark eggs from them. They're on a pellet tonic for winter now to give 'em a boost.

    Today I am covered in chicken poo! I've just introduced two Light Sussex poults into the part of the orchard where a rather randy Copper Blue Maran rooster has had his lusty way with one of them and left poo-ey marks on her back (it's very muddy here).

    What's the best way to clean her up in the cold weather Becks / anyone?

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  2. Chris:
    Poor girl... Not sure how you would clean her up (in the cold weather) other than taking her inside to bathe her and wait until she's dry. Wouldn't it be a hoot if you took her to a pet groomer.-Ha!

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  3. I have one out of 6 molting and they aren't even 1 yr old in human years yet. I went from 5-6 eggs a day to 2. Red Stars lay really well in cold weather so my remaining 2 Stars not molting lay pretty regular. Easter Eggers do not. I barely get 3 eggs a week from 3 easter eggers. However I found an egg this morning from the remaining 2 hens that is starting to look like the eggs of the one molting a couple weeks before she molted so I'm guessing maybe another hen is going to molt soon. Not sure. It's an experiment for me to see if molting and egg color/shell consistency is an indicator of molting.

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  4. Carla:
    It will be interesting to see if you do find a change in the appearance of the eggs as a molting indicator. I'm trying to decide what breed to add to the flock this spring and I've heard before that Easter Eggers are not the best egg layers. I'll have to decide if I want colorful eggs over quantity... Thanks for the info :)

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  5. I can tell you that Easter Eggers have medium eggs the first year. Not sure about next year but was told they will eventually get extra large and that green color becomes boring next to those nice large brown eggs after a little while. But I'd rather have hens that lay better than be so pretty and less productive so I'd definitely by a sex link chicken over a egger in future. I also have no experience with black sex links but I love my red stars...they are the ones with Rhode Island Red dad and Delaware mom. Very quiet even with laying. Hardly hear a peep except when they hear me coming out to see them and they'll honk or squawk a little. The Eggers can get pretty noisy with egg laying. I have 2 that are loud for a couple hours at a time 3 or 4 days a week (well not right now when they aren't laying they aren't) and 1 that is not. The Reds come to me but the EE'ers are more skittish. I hear Golden comets which can be found in most local chick stores in spring are similar to the Red Stars. I think they have a different breed mother. I can't remember.

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  6. Some of my hens are also 2 years old and have gone thru a couple of molts. The first molt was light and the short. The hens recovered fast and eggs started coming. The eggs were even bigger after the first molt. After the second molt, the hens took longer to recover and to look good again. The eggs were slow to come back and were smaller and further apart. From the articles that I find online, I understand that the average chicken has about one and a half useful egg laying years. After the first molt, I started getting a few new girls each year. I have a few girls that are pets and never will be considered for the table. They will be around until they expire naturally. The rest are on a rotation plan and become dinner on their one and a half birthday.

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  7. Molting makes me sad. Not only do the girls look terrible, the egg production nearly screeches to a halt. Our hens have finally started laying again even though the beautiful feathers are still missing in many. We have 21 layers of various breeds and 1 rooster. Senor Oro (rooster's name) is an Easter Egger breed. I like him for my area because he has a very small comb and no wattle which is great for roos in Iowa. The previous roos all had large combs and wattles and every winter they froze, swole up to the size of golf balls, turned black and fell off eventually. Luckily, none of them got infections from the freezing and falling. I tried with the first one putting on some antibacterial ointment as suggested in a reading somewhere, but between the straw getting all over his head and the girls picking it (ointment and or straw) I finally gave up trying. Anyway, back to the molting issue, that is a natural part of the chicken package, and we as humans have few choices when it comes to molting. I still freak out every time it happens and can't seem to remember that in about 6 weeks, things (eggs) will get back to "normal". Some of us are just more forgetfull than others and I for one fall into that group with many others. It's all fun though isn't it? Enjoy your hens and roos! Kornmamma

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  8. Thank You!!!! For the info!! now i know why my chickens do this. thanks again

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