Molt: The great equalizer

The autumn equinox has just passed, bringing falling leaves, too much zucchini … and molt. There are feathers everywhere. Egg production is down. And rampant crankiness prevails in the coop.

Chickens molt every year at about this time. Some go through a “catastrophic molt,” where they lose nearly all their feathers and run around looking like pincushions as the pinfeathers, or waxy tubes containing the new feathers, protrude through their skin. I can’t imagine how painful and itchy this must be. All I know is that trying to hold a bird covered in pinfeathers will make her screech and flap to escape, no matter how gently you  do it.

Some birds molt in patches. Kirby loses the fluff on her bum first. Copper’s neck is the first to go. Millie just loses patches all over her body, so she looks raggedy and unfinished. This is her first molt, too. My baby is all grown up! (That’s her in the picture, at about three months.)

At the moment, Aida is so sensitive that she can’t even sleep with the other birds for fear someone will jostle her and make her hurt. So in the evening when I tuck them in, she gives me a speaking look and glances up at the storage shelf, where I keep the spare cages and feeders. I lift her up there, and with a sigh of relief, she settles down to sleep knowing that nobody is going to mess with her in the night—even accidentally.

Penny, who passed away a couple of years ago, was a gorgeous wheaten (gold) Ameraucana. She was a beauty queen and she knew it. Molting season was a trial to her soul—there were days she wouldn’t even come out of the coop because she looked so bad. She would wait it out until her feathers came in, and then she’d take her place again in the flock.

Molt. It happens. And when it does, there’s nothing you can do but live through it.

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