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Moulting -Now you see them now you don’t

What is a Moult?

Moulting is an annual phenomenon in approx 18 months and older hens. In reality, she will experience her first full moult in her second Autumn, and then every year after that.

What happens?

Bam! At a time when you think that hens actually need a good feather covering, almost overnight, the coop looks like an explosion in a pillow factory. The girls drop feathers like it’s a drunken pool party in Ibiza. They also renew the scales on their legs too. It can be quite upsetting for people who have not kept hens before, to see how sad they look when they are stripped of their finery. Hens can look really unkempt and uncared for when this happens. The reverse is true, as they are provided with more protein and are not handled too much to avoid pressing the newly forming quills back into their skin. This is the reality of keeping hens.

Once the feathers start to regrow, the hen will look like a pincushion. The incoming feather shafts are called pin or blood feathers. They are dark and look almost blue. In reality, they are filled with blood which is nourishing the newly forming feathers within the shafts. The pin feathers are very easy to damage and can bleed profusely if broken.

Her comb will shrivel and become pink instead of red. Her face will also go pale. This is in response to the reduction in hormones.

A moulting hen will lose condition, she will look quite dejected if she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order.  Other changes in her body will occur such as reversal of the bleaching phenomenon which removed the colour from legs, skin, and vent areas. Legs, skin and vent will return to the original colour as occurs in a non-laying hen.

This affects the pecking order

When a hen moults, her status within the flock plummets, and hens who were once high up in the pecking order will find themselves struggling to find any peace. They are often in hiding places and are unable to eat when they want. This becomes an ideal opportunity for a lower ranking hen who may not yet be moulting, to seize power. Sometimes these once meek hens, turn into little monsters and can really give the shrinking ex-head chickens a really hard time.

In the normal ranking or pecking order the head chicken (always a girl by the way) eats first, then number 2, then number 3 etc. The lowest ranking hens must wait until all the others have eaten and even then must be given permission by those of a higher rank. Such is the life of a lowly hen.

Why do the hens stop laying

A moulting hen needs good quality protein in her food as protein makes feathers, to conjure up new growth. Egg production also uses a lot of protein, therefore, no eggs will be laid for the duration of the moult. Something has to give, as all the protein has to be diverted to their feathering needs. A full moult can last 8 weeks with some hens taking much longer. The moult coincides with the shortening of days which in itself can trigger a shut-off the egg-laying hormones. These will normally be reactivated once the days start to lengthen again after Christmas. Lack of eggs seems like a sort of curse, but it is a good thing. It gives the hens a well-deserved break from the rigours of laying for a few weeks.

Keep your hens on layers pellets during the moult as the calcium will help top up her depleted reserves and the additional protein it contains will be beneficial for the feather production.

Moulting at other times

A mini or partial moult, usually a neck moult or a chest moult, can occur due to stress. Stress can anything from a predator fright, or extremes in the weather, too hot, very wet, very windy. Firework, loud banging, DIY, dogs, or cats will take their toll. It can be caused by you wearing the wrong wellies, or a change in the environment. Getting the picture? Chickens are stressy creatures. Stress can depress their immune response and egg laying can also be interrupted or erratic for a while.

Internet Rat Trap shopping till I drop

Rat Trap Internet Shopping

I like to internet shop. I hate drudging round shops unless its a camping or outdoor gear shop. I can then bore my husband to death pointing out some really naff “must have” gadget to make our camping lives so much better.

Today however was all about shopping for rat traps and rat removers. What a minefield. I now know how to psycho-analyse the little furry bar steward and get inside its devious little head to outsmart him (it surely must be a him – sorry guys) into getting into my traps. I will be wearing some fetching gloves so as not to transfer my “human” scent onto the means of their destruction and they will meekly submit to my wrath. Here’s hoping I get it right. Today I spent the grand total of over a hundred quid on rat traps, bait, and other little ratty things so I can rid myself of this rat problem I am having. Apparently rats send a taster rat into a strange place and get them to eat the bait. Then it is told, that this taster rat, lets call him Nobby, gets to huff his breath all over the other rats so they can smell the good stuff (assuming Nobby is not dead). Now the other rats seek out the same smell now that Nobby has done his ratty duty. The rats will how happily gobble up your bait. I think for this to work you have to bait your bait with more Nobby style bait so you don’t kill Nobby but you kill all the others. A bit of a flaw in the old logic there, but hey ho. I am thinking that as my rats (notice I am now claiming ownership) like the smell of chicken poop that I will smear it over the traps and job done. Nobby is now a dead rat if the theory pans out.

Normally as with internet shopping you get excited about your parcel arriving. I have to confess to being a little excited to received my new rat traps which probably makes me rather a saddo but a girls gotta get her excitement where she can. Especially as Uhtred son of Uhtred or Poldark is not likely to come calling around very soon.

Have I seen a rat – well no – or droppings – but I have seen a hole big enough for a rat. The bait is going missing so hopefully I have e-raticated some already. My carefully placed netting “doors” have all got more than one rat sized hole appearing nightly that my chickens are using as escape hatches, so I must have quite a problem.

Rat problem, drat and swearing

Rat problem, war is on the cards

Today I think I have a rat problem. In the chicken run, I noticed a hole, not a mouse hole but big enough for a rat to get its grungy little body though. Now I hate rats and I know that rats are a severe threat to my beloved chickens so I needed to attack. First of all, I armed myself with a trusty garden spade. Then I decided to find out how far had that rat needed to dig to get into the run in the first place. I dug and felt a real sense of evil pride that I was demolishing the tunnel that little fiend had dug. Que evil laughter here….. All the while being on high alert in case one popped its head out, and I needed to run, screaming girlie fashion, to the nearest high spot. I am that brave!! After inspecting the rat traps I noticed that they were empty of rat bait, so being a girl who excels at delegating, I got my man to glove up and fill all the mouse and rat traps up with poison. I am usually quite a caring person who respects all animals, but not the rat I am afraid. They spread disease and will show my hens no mercy at night when they are at their most vulnerable. Rats will also severely p*ss my neighbours off if they think that I am attracting them.

What should I do

Rats are vile creatures (in my humble opinion). They will contaminate my chickens feed and water and now they are munching holes in my netted segregation areas. Also more worryingly, rats are known to munch on chickens during the night. Ratty is not getting away with that especially as I have just cleared my bedroom of chickens and the house smells nice again.

Moral of the story

Remind yourself to keep on top of your inspections. This way you will quickly notice any strange holes or gnawing appearing and tackle them straight away.

Hopefully, I have done enough to protect my lovelies from becoming victim to the vicious teeth of these nasty beasts. I am most definitely on the case.

Our world of chicken keeping

Doris our first head ex-batt chicken

Welcome to our world of chicken keeping. A place where everything is not quite what it seems. A world where once there was no noise in the garden, where no crooning from contented voices happened and where chicken poo seemed something only mad people even looked at – let alone touched. This has become our world and we welcome you to it.

Now I am not the most prolific blogger in the world as you may find out but I do have an enduring passion for these lovable and interactive creatures. So much so, that I could not imagine life without them.

This is Doris. She is a Lohmann Brown. She was one of our first chickens. A very lucky girl as she was rescued from a battery farm existence and was destined for the knackers yard. She came to us virtually oven ready, with two friends that we called Queenie and Beryl, and she blossomed into the lovely hen you see here. We are so lucky to have rescued her as she taught us a lot about chicken-kind and so our story began….