Horror in the Henhouse, or, The Molting Season

My girls are nearly two years old, which means it’s time for them to molt. For those not familiar with the life cycle of the Gallus gallus, that means they lose their feathers and grow new ones, although not neatly or in a timely fashion. So several of the girls have been losing a feather here, a couple there.

And then there’s Bernice.

I had to shut the chickens into the henhouse for a few days and let them fend for themselves during our ice storm a couple of weeks ago. I loaded them up with food and water, fluffed their bedding, turned on some lights, and closed up the henhouse to wait out the ice storm.

When I was able to get back out there a couple of days later, I was horrified to find that one of the girls looked like she had developed mange. She was missing feathers from her tail (notice the pathetic space in tail above), and had lost so many feathers on her back that I thought the other girls had passed the ice storm ripping into Bernice, Mean Girls-style.

In this other photo, you get a better idea of the sticking-out-like-post-electrocution number the feathers have been doing as they grow back in. And I’d like to emphasize: she actually looks better than she did. Apparently, however, this is normal, and Bernice is just going through the chicken version of my terrible junior high acne-glasses-and-frizzy-perm stage.

In other fun chicken-related news, we have a galloping case of poopy butt in the henhouse. Chickens normally sleep on a roost. Most chickens notice the sun going down, file into the henhouse, jump on the roost with their butts hanging freely over empty space, and settle in for the night. My girls, however, have never gotten the hang of timing the roost jumping so that they have enough light to see. When this happens, they cram themselves into the nest box instead, settling down on their haunches and creating mounds of poo.

The result is a fairly nasty mass of dried chicken poo hanging like a rock from the girls’ rear ends. It’s not blocking their vents (the hole the egg comes out of) so it’s not dangerous, but it sure is gross. I’m going to put some apple cider vinegar in their water and see if that helps. Regardless, come spring, I’m going to have to corral all of them and either clip the poo off (not fun) or try to bathe them and soak the poo off (really, really not fun).

Egg laying drops way off in winter and picks up with longer days. Chickens also lay less when they’re molting; they need to put their energy into growing new feathers. I suppose it’s just as well we’re getting few eggs, since I can’t keep the nest boxes clean, which in turn leads to slightly poopy eggs.

To sum up: my girls are dumb, they look terrible, and they’re not laying much now. But I love them anyway.

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Categories: Animals, foreign and domestic, In the garden, The garden year | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Horror in the Henhouse, or, The Molting Season

  1. Oookay thanks — now i’m sure i don’t want chickens 🙂 I had enough poopy butt with angora rabbits to last a lifetime!

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