A feathered nest (box)

It’s that time of year when hens are transformed from from feathery egg-producing bundles to walking oven-ready chickens… or at least it is for Tiffany. Lorna, Anna and Esme moulted last month, but this month it is the turn of our best egg-layer… which means that cakes are currently off the menu.

It's hard to believe there are any left on the hen!

It’s hard to believe there are any feathers left on the hen!

Moults can vary in their extent, with some hens losing a few feathers and some going all-out to replace the lot. The latter is what Tiffany is doing at the moment – the garden looks like it has been the site of an almighty pillow-fight and the hen house looks like a fox has been in there. In fact it’s all because of a single moulting hen. The feathers fall out because new ones are growing underneath – a bit like when baby teeth are replaced by adult ones. But all this new feather growth requires lots of energy and protein. So resources are diverted from egg-production to feather-production… leaving hungry humans!

Bare-back chicken

Bare-back chicken

Hens can get quite under the weather during a moult, so it’s important that they get plenty of good food. Ours are currently enjoying rummaging about in the fruit cage (from which they are banned during the summer), eating any leftover berries and scrumming slugs and the like. In addition, they get the usual layers’ mash, organic corn and a generous serving of apple cores on a regular basis (yes, I’m still processing apples). I always worry that they will get cold during a moult, but they snuggle together at night and their house is dry, and they seem to cope ok,

Although we miss the eggs during a moult, we do benefit from all those feathers, which go into the compost and break down over a long time, thus acting as a slow-release fertilizer. I like this sort of connection to the seasons and natural cycles… something we miss out on if we don’t produce any of our own food.

Spreading feathers all around the garden

Spreading feathers all around the garden

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26 Comments

  1. FASCINATING! Never having chickens or even a place to grow my own food has left a large hole in my education. I’ve learned something very interesting today. Thank you.

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  2. I liked this country style post, a piece of life I don’t get yo see often. While a child, I went to a babysitter who lived in a farm. She only had a few chickens and roosters. My favorite part of this was the pretty Close up of the bare back hen, pretty “bird of a different feather.” Smiles, Robin

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  3. Your photos took me back to our hen keeping days 🙂
    I never regretted the laying off at moulting time – as you say, the feathers were always good for composting or, for our fly-fishing friends, a good source for their home-made flies 🙂
    I have to admit to a few chuckles as our ladies got the ‘more and more bedraggled’ look, too 🙂

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  4. Mine are finally done molting, what a mess that was!

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  5. I did not know you could compost feathers. Learn something new every day. Something to keep in mind for when I have chickens.

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  6. They are sad creatures indeed when they moult. Ours are into full “CLUCK!” at the moment. I have been too busy to check the hen coop myself and count them and Stevie-boy only does a rudimentary check to see if ducky is inside so who would know how many hens are outside hunkered down on a clutch of 40+ eggs o_O. Mr and Mrs Curry must have found one of the laying nests (we haven’t yet!) as there are egg shells all over the top end of the Auld Kirk Church graveyard. They are seasoned egg pinchers and even though last year I got shirty about it, this year I recognise the value of eggs being eaten prior to the “cluck” being turned on in one of those tiny minds. If I can’t find the nest, I am now VERY glad that Mr and Mrs Curry can. Waiting on one hen who has hidden herself away in the blackberry thicket to bring out a clutch. First she has to march past the feral cats. Best of luck with that chook 😦

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    • Because of the space available, we only have girls… if we had babies, the local cats would be all over the garden despite Sam’s best efforts!

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      • We would have been happy to go just girls too but nature threw a Paxo in the works and it seemed a shame to top him when he could just take over from Yin. He spends his days running around like the road runner growling at clouds and weeds and herding the girls (if they listen to him which isn’t often. It would be like taking orders from your nephew!) all over the place. You turn around and his beady little eyes are watching you. He is a good rooster though so we give him his dues (and his neck remains intact 😉 ).

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        • If we had the space, we’d probably have a rooster, but you can’t have everything!

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          • Roosters are funny buggers but they guzzle their weights worth of food on a regular basis and the only thing that they do for a flock of chooks (aside from aHEM* “rooster business”) is make a LOT of noise. They joy of owning a rooster wears thin after about a day and then you just learn to ignore them. Paxo, our new boy, does a sterling job of growling to warn his girls. Only problem is he growls if he sees an earthworm or if a shrub blows in the breeze and he goes OFF if one of the hens lays an egg and he is still squawking LONG after she has stopped telling everyone she has laid. He isn’t called “Paxo” for nothing ;).

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  7. You are so right – what we miss out on when we don’t live with nature and the seasons and our food producing friends! It is so nice to have the opportunity to share in your good fortune and lifestyle! ❤

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    • For many years I thought I didn’t have a suitable garden to keep chickens… I’m really glad that I finally worked out how it could be possible. We’ve had them for more than 5 years now and I still love keeping them.

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  8. They find it so stressful, poor girls, and having lost my hair at one point, I have every sympathy! I used to keep the small downy feathers to fill small cushions and the larger quill type ones for composting, but then I had 6 dropping their feathers at one go, so there was quite a lot of feather to pick and choose over…

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  9. I love seeing this. It’s knowledge that needs to be out in the world!

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  10. If they threw out enough feathers during the moult to fill a small cushion, you could do a new one every year embroidered with the date and maybe the chicken’s names.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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  11. My Bluebelle goes for the full oven ready look but she looks fabulous when her new growth comes in – and its fascinating to watch the new feathers coming through. My seven girls are a variety of breeds (Maran, Welsumer, Buff Sussex, Silver Lace Wyandotte) and i use the feathers to decorate dreamcatchers (the hoops are made from willow from the farmlet) which I sell at craft fairs.

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    • What a lovely use of the feathers.
      I’m always delighted to see the new plummage whatever the breed, but the blue colouration is so lovely. I also have a Calder Ranger and a Speckledy, but I do envy you your Silver Lace Wyandotte!

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  12. I can completely relate to this post. My husband and I only just finished renovating our chicken coop this weekend! Definitely a bigger project than we were expecting. I think a lot of our new chickens are in a molt stage as well. Access to the post is here. http://livingechoblog.com/reclaiming-the-old-chicken-coop-pt-1/

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