Wednesday, November 09, 2005

And Now, Molting

OK, so you're enjoying your first season of small scale urban poultry farming and then in the Spring or the Fall after your birds have been around for about a year, you go outside one day to find your hens look a little shaggy...and seem to be losing neck and tail feathers...until one day they look almost exactly like Harriet, pictured above.

Is it some bizarre parasite or mite? Does your hen need medication or a good bath? No, it's just a molt, the shedding of old feathers and replacement with new feathers. Quite frankly we haven't figured out what the cycle is, because half the flock molted in the Spring, and some unlucky few are going through it now in the Fall--while it's rather chilly out!

Although Harriet looks pretty raggy, she's actually on the feather growing side of things, thus all the weird pokey looking things on her neck--those are called pin feathers. She still losing a few of her body feathers, but for the most part that has slowed down and new feather growth is beginning.

During this phase of feather growth, chickens require more protein to support the additional feather development, and they usually stop laying during molting. We typically try to increase cultured dairy, give more seeds, and also supplement with occaisional raw meat. (If you're a new visitor, please see my previous posts on this--chickens are not vegetarian. They will eat any protein they can beg, steal or hunt.)

I remember a more experienced chicken enthusiast warning me about the first molt--but even so, when our first hen began molting I was worried it was feather mites or some such thing. At night Michael and I went in to the coop, and while the poor molting hen was sleeping we accosted her with diatomaceous earth (like forcing a dust bath). In the end she didn't really mind it, and probably enjoyed the mid-rainy season dust bath--but it didn't stop the molting!

Posted by Picasa

It Was a Dark & Scary Night...

Talk about a scary night! It's getting dark much earlier now that fall is here--and with some of the hens still practicing their Houdini tricks, it can be a challenge to make sure we get home in time to put them in before the raccoons begin to prowl. And finding a missing black hen in the dark can be a real trick.

(It might be helpful to note that our part of town is technically in the city, but in some ways underdeveloped--we have a high raccoon population, and see many of them wandering our neighborhoods in search of eatables. Some of our friends had a taken from their coop and eaten by a raccoon, and the same raccoon later returned trying to drag another hen out through a hole in the coop roof.)

Puja (pictured above) is my daughter's favorite hen, and ours as well. She's pleasant, smart, doesn't screech, lays reliably, and best of all, seems to tolerate if not enjoy my daughter's special attention. If all Black Australorps are this pleasant, then perhaps we need a few more.

Last night it was already dark by the time we got home, so with my flashlight in hand I rushed out to the coop to lock up the door and do the nightly head count. Although I counted several times over to be sure, I seemed to be missing Puja, the favored black hen. I then went outside to see if I could find her, and no luck. After 40 minutes of searching I went and got my daughter to see if perhaps her young fresh eyes might spot Puja, but again no luck.

Finally, as we were getting ready to get in the car and go house to house on the street behind us (thinking Puja had jumped over the back fence perhaps), we checked one last time and found Puja on the cinder blocks bordering our neighbor's compost pile! Naughty Puja for continued escapism, but we were so relieved to find her!

The shot above is one relieved child, walking her favorite chicken back to the coop for a safe night of sleep.
Posted by Picasa

Autumn is Here Again

Autumn is here, and the big maple in the yard is beginning to drop leaves. The hens love to scratch in the leaves. We also like to gather the leaves and put them in a large mulch pile mixed with poopy hay from the straw. Over the rainy winter months the worms take over and break down the leaf pile--and the chickens venture in and eat the worms! Posted by Picasa

New Improved Access for Egg Gathering

Our daughter demonstrating the special access for the egg laying station. We've seen nicer nesting access, but it's pretty good for our needs--and it's easier to clean. In the summer we may put in special raccoon proof screens for improved ventilation. Posted by Picasa

Coop Renovation or One Big Happy Flock

Our other big news--the entire coop is finally integrated. We cut a hole in the wall separating both coops, and turned the back half into the nesting box/egg laying station, with a separate access for gathering eggs. Initially the roosts were all 2 X 4's but the hens hated this. Every morning we found most of them crammed on one roost that was a tree branch, so we took the 2 X 4's out, and put back in tree branch roosts. The back section has one remaining 2 X 4. Posted by Picasa

Naughty Mary has a New Home!

Many exciting changes since we last posted--the change I'm most happy about is that Naughty Mary, our New Hampshire (looks like Rhoda, just much smaller, and much more difficult) has found a new home.

Naughty Mary pioneered the finer points of chicken run escapism, repeatedly decimating our neighbor's garden, as well as ours. She also developed the uniquely annoying habit of roosting every single night in the maple tree, forcing us to use the ladder to retrieve her every night--before the raccoons could get her. And then, who could forget her primary method of communication, a screech that sounded like fingernails on a black board? For all these reasons and more, we found Mary another home. (In fact, it was the day we discovered Naughty Mary had eaten the neighbor's winter garden starts again that I looked at Michael and said, "That's it--we're getting rid of her tonight!")

Our friend Joe, who has a 5 acre property with a free range small flock, adopted both our Naughty Mary and a friend's highly aggressive auracana rooster, Mr. May. Joe reported, "Yeah, Mary is a hellion, but I don't understand why you think she's difficult." That is a sure sign to us that Mary was not cut out for the city chicken life. Initially her introduction to the new flock was tough, but then Mr. May arrived and levelled the playing field.

Apparantly Naughty Mary (who is now not so naughty), Mr. May, and all their new flock mates are doing well.