by Meredith Chilson One feather amongst many. The ground in the chicken yard and the floor under the roosts in the coop are littered with feathers this week, as the chickens shed their faded, tattered plumage, and the annual molt begins.
This feather was different than the others. Larger, longer, and imbued with a sun catching sheen. A rooster feather!
In all the years I’ve kept chickens, this is the first time I’ve kept a rooster long enough for him to molt. Frankly, I never thought about it.
I know hens use their molt “season” as a time to rest their bodies from daily egg laying. As the year old weathered feathers drop out, the hens become quieter. Egg production slows down or ceases for a few weeks. They have no interest in a rooster’s “activities”.
It makes perfect sense that this would, then, be the same season that a rooster’s worn feathers drop, and that he, too, would use the shorter days as a pause in routine. With the male bird, levels of testosterone drop, his comb may become less red, and as his feathers fall he becomes quieter—perhaps in part because he is more vulnerable.
This is the time, too, that farmers traditionally cull their flocks. Cockerels from the summer hatches and older non-productive hens all go into the canner to add protein to family diets as they, too, spend quieter hours preparing for another busy season. Fewer chickens to keep over winter lowers the amount of feed to be purchased, too. A healthy rooster or two (depending on flock size), the good layers and dependable broody hens make up the over-wintering flock.
Here in our coop, there is no artificial light, so the annual molt is not forced to begin, or end, at any particular time. I do like to add extra protein to the chickens’ diet, though. It takes a lot of energy/protein to grow new feathers!
As the leaves drop from the trees, signaling the change of season and allowing the forestland a winter rest before another year of activity, so do the feathers fall from our chickens—including the roosters. This yearly pause gives our birds’ bodies the opportunity to gear up for another busy season of egg laying, chick raising, and yes, fertilizing eggs.