Feathers Feathers Everywhere

by Joan on November 1, 2012

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series Chickens

Sometimes nature gets it right, sometimes maybe not so much.  Seems like fall is a common time for chickens to shed their feathers, or molt.  Molting usually happens after an extended, intense laying period (summer) and is also triggered by decreasing day-length. Losing your feathers in autumn in warm weather country wouldn’t be too bad.  But we’ve had our first snow and freezing nights – wouldn’t molting during a hot summer make more sense? As a newer chicken farmer, I’ve not experienced this first hand before.  It’s startling how many feathers fall off.  No, it’s frightening!  (For a few days every time I walked into the barnyard I thought a predator had gotten one of the hens and the mounds of feathers all around were the result.)

There’s at least this many feathers every morning…

Even with all those feathers everywhere, you can barely tell some hens are molting.  Chickens have A LOT of feathers.  But some are not so lucky.  Poor Sarah looks embarrassed all the time.  She’s been molting for what seems like forever – seven weeks is the average for most, and she’s going to be above average, I think.

This was Sarah in better days.

Oh my.

Scruffy does not begin to describe it.

Hens don’t lay eggs when they’re molting.  Our egg count is WAY down.  Some days I only gather two.  I haven’t gotten more than five in one day in over a month.  We were used to eight or nine.  This is sad.  Every day I encourage them to get over this molting thing and give me more eggs!

They’re beautiful, but two is just not enough!

The process of growing new feathers is fascinating.  It starts with the feathers developing inside a pointy sheath, and at this point it’s called a pin feather.  A blood vessel in the shaft of the feather keeps the feather “alive” and growing.  (Apparently if a feather at this stage breaks or is pulled out it’s a bloody mess.  Yuck.)    As the feather grows bigger, the sheath loosens and falls off.  This causes what looks like “chicken dandruff” everywhere. (This again frightened me.  There are white flaky bits all over the coop every morning.  I first thought there was some kind of parasite or disease in the flock. Oh, and I’ll spare you a photo – all that dandruff falls onto the poop on the board below the roost. 😕 )  Once the feather is fully grown, the blood vessel recedes back into the body and the feather now is considered “dead”.  Cool, huh? That concludes our science lesson for the day, kids!  Now go out and play in this beautiful fall weather, will ya?

These guys have been drinking the bird bath dry daily. We must be on the migration path to somewhere! Note Cindy Lou looking like she would love to join them!

I shared this at the Clever Chicks Blog HopTilly’s Nest and at Backyard Farming Connection!

Series Navigation<< Goats (And Pigs and Chickens) Have Feelings TooWell, That Was Surprising! >>

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tammy November 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm

We have several molters right now too and it is scary how many feathers they lose! They always look so pretty when all their new feathers are in, though! I agree it would make more sense to molt in the summer when they are hot, but oh well!
Tammy´s last blog post ..Guinea Surprise

Jessy at Our Side of the Mountain November 9, 2012 at 4:32 am

I’ve got a flock of scruffies too! ::sigh:: And no eggs in 6-7 weeks. Totally missing the fresh eggs! I had to buy some store ones! Ew! ::wink:: I think we’re finally nearing the end of molting for 2 of the 6 and the others (who started later) are about 2/3s complete. More feathers growing now instead of flying off in the breeze. Poor things! (Stopping by from Tilly’s Nest!)
Jessy at Our Side of the Mountain´s last blog post ..It’s a Wrap: Session 2 Week 1 – Back from Break

Joan November 9, 2012 at 8:03 am

Ladies, here’s to hoping that our hens will kick it into high gear and grow those feathers faster!
Joan´s last blog post ..A Tale of Two Purses

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