Hens: broody and balding

Left: small white caterpillar. Right: large white caterpillar

Left and centre: small white caterpillars. Right: large white caterpillar

I don’t seem to write about the chickens much these days, even though they are still an important part of our garden and supply us with valuable home-produced food. Over the summer  I have discovered that although they won’t eat caterpillars of the large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae), they are rather partial to those of the small white (Pieris rapae). Since the adults of these two butterfly species look so similar, you would expect the same from the caterpillars, but as larvae they are totally different. Small whites lay individual eggs that hatch into juicy green caterpillars, whilst large whites lay clusters of eggs that hatch into black and yellow hairy caterpillars that are gregarious. The chickens have the right idea – the hairy large white caterpillars accumulate poisonous oils in their bodies whilst the small whites do  not.

Lorna looking a bit the worse for wear

Lorna looking a bit the worse for wear

Anyway, at the moment two of our ladies are doing what chickens typically do:

First, Lorna is moulting – there are feathers strewn around the garden, and she is looking rather scruffy. I’m always surprised that chickens tend to moult in the autumn – you would think they would do it in the summer, when the bald patches don’t matter. But, no, they wait until the temperature drops and then lose their feathers. Usually chickens only do a partial moult, but Lorna seems to be going the whole hog, meaning that she will grow new wing feathers and we will have to keep an eye on her ability to fly once more.

Aliss: she always gets very red when she is broody

Aliss: she always gets very flushed when she’s broody

And then there is Aliss, who is broody for the fourth time this year. She is our best layer when she’s laying, but the broodiness tends to disrupt laying for a couple of weeks. Currently I am being kind to her and simply putting her in the fruit cage every day so she doesn’t upset the others and she can’t sneak into the laying boxes, but if she doesn’t improve tomorrow, she will be in the dog crate so that she can’t make a nest and get overheated. I don’t resort to plunging them in cool water as some people do to bring their temperature down, but I’m beginning to be tempted! Actually, I really like the fact that they are able exhibit this sort of natural behaviour, it makes me feel that they are real animals rather than just egg-laying machines. I just wish they would remember to eat when they are broody!

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  1. Very good post!


  2. Luckily only one of our chooks, Butter, (Butter chicken, of course) moulted over Autumn. I felt sad every time I looked at her, she looked like she had her neck only half wrung and all the neck and head feathers were gone. That and her back end was completely bedraggled. Thank goodness the rest of them held off and thank goodness she didn’t go the whole hog like your Lorna!
    When she was moulting she wasn’t eating much either and seemed to be getting very much the worse for wear. I ended up making a special trip into the garden each day to find juicy slugs and snails etc and feeding them to her. It helped very much, the others stopped picking on her and now her feathers are back and she looks as good as new.
    I agree with you about it being nice to see them being normal creatures, they might look awful but they just get to go on and be natural rather than being production line layers.


    • If Mr Snail had got to name ours I’m sure we would have had a ‘Kiev’! As it is Lorna is Lorna because she is a Calder Ranger and therefore The Lorna Ranger (groan).
      Interestingly, Lorna seems to have been the most voracious when it comes to the green caterpillars… she obviously knows what’s good for her!


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