Never count your chickens before they are… Oh, wait. That saying speaks to something else. And yet, it’s a bit appropriate here. At the end of December, I was thinking to myself how fortunate we’ve been that our chickens have not had any trouble in the past year. Everyone is healthy and well.
But one day toward the end of December as I was feeding the girls, I thought: Gert (one of our Barred Rock chickens) looks off. And yet, it wasn’t enough to really register with me.
Then, I swear, I had a dream that very night. In it, I was standing in the coop run and Gert jumped up and bit my finger (she has actually done this before). The next morning, I took a better look at Gert.
I wasn’t sure what was going on at first. I called Mr. Gordon out to the run to look. Her comb was also very pale. Still, she was acting completely normal. Mr. Gordon jumped online and we checked out some reputable sites (mostly .edu sites). Yup, Gert was molting. No other chicken seemed to be losing a feather, but Gert was (is) going for it.
Molting. In winter. And it’s cold out. VERY cold. You’re killing me, Gert.
I was surprised. Gert (and the other chickens) are just over 10 months old. I assumed they would not be molting until fall 2021. Apparently Gert is “advanced” for her age.
Here are some photos.
All in all, I think this molt is not a “hard molt.” She has most of her feathers. When she really stretches out her neck, however, she looks like a turkey. It’s not a good look.
As you can see in some of the photos above, Gert’s pin feathers are coming in. These photos were taken about a week ago, and more pin feathers have appeared. We will keep an eye on her. We do not really want to bring her indoors for various good reasons (although we do have both a large cage and the oval galvanized tub we kept our chicks in when we brought them home).
Upping the Protein
When I was checking out advice for dealing with this issue, I learned that upping the protein level in their chicken feed was a recommendation. They already get Grubblies daily (a source of protein), but I also went out and bought a feed called “Feather Fixer” which is 18% protein versus the 16% protein found in layer feed. Unfortunately, the feather fixer feed is not organic, but I went with what I could get in the short-term from Tractor Supply. I also picked up a “flock block” that is supposed to offer additional protein. Funny, they are not too interested in it. I thought they’d all love that. (Although Gert WAS the first to peck at it.)
I made this video more than a week after noticing Gert’s molting issue. She’s actually always appeared to be one of our bigger chickens, but notice how small she appears with less feathers. Mimi, our tiniest chicken, has pecked at Gert more than once and one day I even saw Mimi grab a pin feather! That worried me because I’ve read that if pin feathers are pulled or pecked at, they can bleed. We don’t want to go there. Fortunately, Gert has been a more dominant chicken, so she’s pretty good at sticking up for herself.
But Wait, What’s Up with Zorro?
Zorro is our biggest Australorp. When she was younger, she looked a bit like a raven (her face), and we almost named her Nevermore. But, the name Zorro stuck.
She’s incredibly shy and we really can’t get near her. She scoots away. A couple of days after Gert’s molting issue was observed, we found Zorro standing under the coop ramp away from the other chickens, with her tail feathers drooping down. She was not moving from that area (she had been perfectly fine that morning). Again, I called Mr. Gordon over. I was worried about her being egg bound. I was able to reach in and lift her tailfeathers to see if I could… well, see anything. (She let me do this with no complaint.) Nothing.
We studied and watched her and then let her be. I checked on her every hour. Eventually, she moved out from under the ramp and I was able to pick her up from behind (again, with no complaint) and we eyeballed her, but couldn’t see anything. The decision was made to let her be for the night, then check on her in the morning.
In the morning, she was fine. I don’t know if we just got very lucky and if she was egg bound, things eventually just worked out, literally. We’ve had a few eggs laid overnight and in the wee morning hours, so we’re not always sure who is laying.
Hopefully whatever was ailing Zorro will not return or harm her. Poor girl. She’s so shy it’s hard to notice when she’s being herself and when she’s hanging back because she doesn’t feel well.
Chickens, always something!
So Counting Those Chickens…
As I sort of said at the beginning, don’t count on things always going smoothly. I’m not a fool and I know we might have issues that we’ll need to deal with over the years. Still, I’m an optimist. I also hope to get lucky. 😉
How is it going for your chickens?
Leave an update in a comment below!
January Blog Drop
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Our chooks have stopped laying altogether. Only two are molting right now, so it must be because of the lack of light. It’s so difficult to see Betty and Queenie without enough feathers, but it doesn’t get that cold here, so I know they’ll be fine. It’s a momma thing.
Hi Daisy! The egg laying definitely slowed down in January. They were going pretty strong almost until the end of December. We don’t use artificial light in the coop, so I was surprised. I have noticed some Australorp feathers (more than usual) so I am wondering if one of those girls is going to join Gert. Good grief, I hope not! The temps are supposed to plummet into the low 20s again. Hopefully they will hold off… Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Steph - Elder Oaks Farm
We’ve had pullets and hens that we raised in the spring go through their first molt during the fall of that same year as well! We always attributed it to them copying their older sisters haha. But it typically looks like a very soft molt just like Gert’s. We also use the 18% feather fixer during the fall and winter months because it’s the only high protein feed at our local Tractor Supply. Glad all is well with your girls! And you are so right – chickens are weird and anything can happen at any time. It’s usually after dark on a work night for us haha.
Hi Steph – so great to have you come by GCER! 🙂 Welcome!
It’s good to know about planning on feeding the feather fixer in the fall and winter months. Knowing what I know now, it makes sense. And I so get you on when the chickens suddenly have an issue at the worst time. In fact, the molting Gert and weird Zorro behavior happened right as we were getting ready to go back to work after the holiday time off. It’s like they KNEW. 😉
I find that most chickens will go through some sort of molt their first year. All of our girls did some type of molt/slow down on egg laying. You can’t always tell though. It seems like Gracie (the lowest in the flock order) molted for FOREVER!
I’m glad your girls are all okay. Sometimes they just do weird things. The best thing you can do is exactly what you did. Keep an eye on them and then intervene only when necessary. And keep that first aid kit on the ready! hehe.
Hi Kristin – yes on that first aid kit! I am so glad that you had offered that up as a guide on your blog. You know, I have not seen posts like that often on other homesteading sites. So, thank you again! (And hopefully I’ll never have to use it!)
Gert is still going through the molt. They look so pitiful, don’t they? It’s amazing hoe much bigger feathers make a chicken look. I keep looking at her now and thinking: what a scrawny little thing. With her feathers, Gert is one of the “biggest” chickens in the flock.
It’s funny but NOW I’m hearing from others: oh yeah, molting in cold winter months, mine too. (Throws up hands!) And here I was foolish to think it was only in the fall.
Anyhow, the temps are dipping back low again – Jan. and Feb. traditionally are so very cold. Hopefully Gert is growing more than she’s losing and will “weather” the weather. 🙂
Hi. I hate seeing it so cold. Glad it warned up earlier today before going down again. So sorry supposed to be cold tonight. Thank goodness it won’t be a long winter yet. Poor Gert. Stay safe. Love mom
Ugh, I know! It’s 6:40am now and I can hear the wind blowing. The temperature is in the teens, which means the wind chill is making it colder. I won’t be in a hurry to let the girls out of the coop this morning, but they will still want to be out as soon as they can. I wish they’d stay in the coop on days like this. BRRR!