Our chickens are molting.
This is a process that started back in November, just as the weather started turning truly crappy. Considering it involves the loss (and eventual replacement) of all of the chicken’s feathers, I don’t understand why it would happen in the nastiest possible climatic conditions, but that’s just me, and I clearly don’t understand Nature’s bigger picture.
Actually, it’s not like the feathers all fall out at once. They sort of dribble off the chickens, a patch here and there, getting dropped and growing back in over a period of weeks. This caused some serious confusion for a while, as the chicken coop pretty much constantly looked like a fox or hawk had been in there (feathers everywhere), though a head count always revealed the right number of birds.
The downside to molting is the lack of new eggs. This is not a huge issue for us right now, as we had built up eight or ten dozen in the cold room, on the basis of a Mother Earth News article that had concluded that unwashed farm eggs will store acceptably for months and months at cool temperatures. So far, we’ve had no problems with keeping eggs for weeks in the cold room, even in summer, so anything we put in there after about October 1 should be fine until spring. However, our egg stockpile is starting to look a little bare, and we’ll be in trouble (or out of eggs, at least) if they don’t start laying again by Christmas or shortly after.
The upside to molting is that our poor hens are getting some feathers back. Back when we first got the chickens, we got 50 “straight-run” chicks – that means they were un-sorted, and we got roosters as well as hens. Too many roosters, as it turned out, for the number of hens we had, and our poor hens ended up with all the feathers on their backs ripped out by the constant stream of over-enthusiastic roos. We did not worry too much about it, but it turned out that those feathers don’t just grow back at the time the way a dog’s fur will; rather, we (they) had to wait for a molt. Which means our poor hens were naked through last winter, and also through the summer, causing much shivering and also some sunburn. Poor girls. Now that we have culled the roosters, our girls will have a reasonable chance of keeping their backs covered, which is good.
We had planned to keep a fairly constant stream of new chicks coming in, either through hens going broody, or through ordering them from the Co-op. However, nature conspired against us on both counts this year, as nobody decided to set a nest, and additionally, I was hugely pregnant and not interested in dealing with chicks in the spring, so there are no new layers picking up the slack while the 2011 girls molt. We’ll fix that for next year, but this year, we’re kind of out of luck. I just hope at least one or two girls go back into production soon…