Captured on video – Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s rough molt, only on Too Many Chickens!
It has been an absolutely gorgeous Fall this year. It’s already November, but it’s been so warm, and full of my favorite sort of Autumn days. A little breezy, a little gloomy, but warmer than usual, so you can be outside without a jacket, hanging out and smelling the fallen leaves. What makes it even nicer is that I read an article saying that there has never been a time when the first week of November was warmer than average that didn’t result in a mild winter. I’m really hoping this is the case.
What’s been extra nice about it being unseasonably warm (aside from the fact that it makes up for June having been unseasonably cold this year) is that I don’t have to worry about bringing Boss Chicken inside yet. Since she is alone in her bunny hutch, when it gets really cold, I worry that without other chickens to clump with to stay warm, she might get too cold out there. When it dips below a certain temperature (and I don’t have a system for this, at some point I just decide, no, this is too cold) I bring her inside and put her in a dog crate in our storage room. It gets nice light during the day, and she’s close to all the chicken supplies. She kicks wood chips everywhere, but that’s what brooms are for. She’s also killed a number of mice that have gone into the dog crate to steal her food. Even with bum legs, she is not to be trifled with, and she’s helping keep the in-house rodent population down.
This system is breaking down this year with the addition of Spooky the cat to our menagerie. Spooky, being FIV positive, needs to be kept apart from our other cats in the main part of the house. (We’re looking into ways to peacefully integrate all the cats, but haven’t reached any that we feel confident in. There has to be no biting, and we suspect there will be biting.) Spooky will hopefully also help out with the mouse situation in that room, but my concern is that if you put a chicken in a room where there is also a cat who had been surviving on her own out in the woods, it may not go well. Spooky is a sweetheart, but I don’t know how she’ll behave around a chicken. Boss Chicken would be protected in her crate, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to get at each other (and Boss Chicken might just win that fight). On the other hand, both animals seem like they could use some company, so maybe this could actually work out. That seems a little too optimistic, though.
We have another, smaller storage room that I thought Boss Chicken could go in now, since she doesn’t get around much, and so doesn’t need much space. It gets less light though, which I think is kind of important. I could try putting her in there and seeing how it goes. I had also thought of switching out her dog crate for a big storage tub, in the interest of containing the wood chips some more, but that would leave her more open to attack from above, so she definitely could not be in the same room as Spooky. Spooky also knows how to open some doors, so she might even be able to get into the other storage room. So perhaps Boss Chicken needs more fortifications. There are a lot of ins and outs to this situation. Maybe if the winter is really mild I won’t even have to bring Boss Chicken inside at all, and I can put this decision off until next year. Who knew that collecting animals that have health problems was going to be so complicated?
We’re down to two eggs. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a couple more today, but between the molting and the shortened days, we’ve entered into the Zone of Egg Conservation. Luckily (I guess, not sure this counts as luck, really), we don’t have time during the week to have nice egg breakfasts. We save those for Saturday mornings, and then Sunday mornings we have waffles. Waffles take two eggs, our egg breakfast is usually five, though if I have to, I can get away with four. I prefer to not have to “get away” with anything, but what can you do? In the summer, we have enough eggs that I’d steam a bunch and have two as a snack every day at work. That seems like a magical time, now that we’re in a drought. I even worry in the summer that too many pile up, and I find excuses to give them away. Now, I have to think about scrimping so that the people I give eggs to will continue to get them (since it’s usually a trade arrangement, and I get something in return). This is kind of like looking for change in the sofa when you’re broke and want a candy bar or something. I have to think about who really needs the eggs, can I space out my interactions with these people so I have time to build up enough of a supply to share, and if I share, will I have enough for myself? I’m not very good at math, or planning, so this gets really tricky. If it was just eggs for us, we could get by on one egg a day coming in. That would leave us with our five for Saturday, and two for Sunday. But I have created a world for myself where I have decided to be generous, and so I have people who rely on me for the occasional egg handoff, and I don’t want to let them down. There’s a lot of goodwill built up around eggs.
Boss Chicken is always reliable with her eggs. I could usually count on her for one every other day. However, she is molting, and molting hard right now. I went out at night to check on her the other day, and all I could see in her cage was feathers, and so many, that I had a brief shock that something had gotten into her hutch and ripped her to pieces. There were that many feathers. She was fine, hanging out in the “back room” part of the hutch, but it was a scary couple of seconds. I know I won’t be able to count on her for eggs for a while. The others are touch and go. They started molting sooner than Boss Chicken, but since there is still the possibility of mites in the main coop, I really can’t predict what may happen. The average seems to be two a day, but sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s zero. Every so often, it’s three, and then we have a huge celebration in honor of the bounty. Not really, but we’re reaching that point.
I know this time of year is always coming, but I haven’t figured out a way to prepare for it yet. Stockpiling isn’t great, because I want the eggs to go to good use. When they stop coming, it’s usually pretty sudden, though I know this is the time of year for it. I’ll just have to hope for a quick molt, and a speedy return to regular production. Of course, that pretty much overlooks the presence of winter, which after last year, I’m pretending isn’t going to happen. It may just be another year of giving what eggs I have to the people I’ve promised them to, and then wearing a disguise to the grocery store to buy eggs for our home use. If I had just shut my mouth about having chickens, I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping up appearances, but here I am.
I was all at ease thinking the mites were long gone and once the molt was over, everyone would be back to normal. This is why I should never be at ease. The mites, I think they are back. I’m not 100% positive, but I’m maybe about 90% positive. What makes me slightly unsure is that they only seem to be affecting Suzy Creamcheese Junior, but at the same time, when they infiltrated the flock, they moved one chicken at a time. So maybe Suzy is holding onto the infestation somehow, and they’re going to begin to work their way back out, using her as a base station. I just don’t know. I’m still getting a handle on how these horrible things work.
Suzy has always been the one who seemed to get it the roughest. She didn’t lose quite as many butt feathers as Henny Penny, but she did also start to look like some chest feathers were being affected. One side of her chest got all ratty looking, but they never fully fell out, like on her butt, nor did they ever seem to recover. I wasn’t ever quite sure if this was just something to do with molting, or what the cause really was. It just sort of lingered, as a strange mangy reminder that feathers are a mystery.
She also seemed to be itchier about all this than the others. When I check them at night, I will often catch her picking at the edges of her bald butt, or under her wings. Under the wings seems to be a popular place for mites to gather, but she never seemed to lose feathers there. But, if she was picking at that area, it made me nervous that mites were present. I would get her under there with diatomaceous earth whenever I went in and gave everyone a dose of that. It just may not have helped.
What makes me think she still may be infested is that her tail feather growth not only seems stalled, but might actually be moving backwards. Even though all she had was new feather nubs, there seem to be fewer than before, and her bald spot in the butt area might be getting bigger. I can’t be sure, but I have some suspicions. Meanwhile, she is still picking at her underwings, and her chest tuft is still tufting. It could just be that with molting also going on now, that everything is going to take longer, since feather regrowth takes a while anyway, and a molt will just make it all go slower. Or she could have had it so bad that it never quite got fixed. What I think I’m going to have to do is try the mite poison again. There is a technique I have heard of in which you put the poison powder in a bag, and then put the chicken in the bag up to her neck, and then shake the whole thing so the chicken is fully coated with poison. This seems like a bad idea for a number of reasons, the least of which is trying to get a chicken into a bag. So I’m not going to try this. I’ll put on my contamination suit and head out there with the poison in the next night or so, and do it the old-fashioned way. I don’t like using poison, but I think in order to rule out further contamination, I have to. It’s getting colder, and she can’t be out in the winter with a bald butt. We don’t have much room in the house for chickens, though I do bring Boss Chicken in when it gets severely cold. I can’t move the whole flock inside, especially if they’ve got bugs. That would just create whole new worlds of trouble. Using the poison is probably the easiest thing at this point, and if worst comes to worst, I’ll get her a butt toupee.
The chickens continue to molt, but rather than get deeper into the mechanics of all that, I thought I’d share an exciting update with you regarding the “lover boy” cat who had been paying us visits, sometimes in the night, when I would be surprised by his glowing eyes. You may recall that I mentioned that I had seen this cat using our yard as a toilet, and it didn’t appear that he/she was healthy, based on my observations, and terrifyingly deep knowledge of animal poo. We had been wondering if we should try to catch him/her and pay a visit to the vet. Well, this past weekend, my wife did just that, and we have some news. (I suppose the most important part of the news is that the cat I thought was a lover boy is actually a girl. I’m leading with this information just so I can stop having to say him/her each time. Gender has been determined, now pronouns get easier.)
The mystery cat had been around the yard quite a bit in the last week or so, and ideas of how to catch her were getting tossed about, but we had trouble moving beyond getting a live trap and putting some cat food in it. The downside of that plan was that who knew what we might actually catch instead of the cat, since so many other critters are around? We never came to a full decision on technique, and then on Saturday she appeared on the steps next to the sliding door again. Later that same day, my mother-in-law came in to ask if that was our cat on the front steps. Apparently our visitor had been sitting outside the door, as if waiting to be asked inside. She ran off once my mother-in-law came in, but shortly after that, she was back at the sliding door again. We opened the door slightly and put a can of cat food on the steps. She moved away when the door opened, but only about 100 feet. As she returned to gorge herself on the food, my wife slipped out another door and slowly crept up beside her. The cat kept turning and checking her out, but the food was too good to abandon, and so once my wife was close enough, she slowly went in for the grab, and got the cat. She didn’t put up much of a fight, and we put her in a dog crate with some food and water, and then my wife took her to the emergency vet, as our normal vet was closed. In the meantime, it being so close to Halloween, my son named the cat Spooky.
The vet says Spooky is either a stray, or a very poorly cared-for pet. She has fleas (which they treated), worms (which we are treating), untold numbers of ticks which we are pulling off as we find them, is possibly pregnant, and is FIV positive. That last one is the big issue, since FIV is spread by biting, and if she joins our other cats in the house, there’s going to be at least a little of that. Our shyest, meekest cat has tried to murder Spooky through the glass when she would come visiting, so that doesn’t bode well for peaceful introductions. We’re going to talk to our regular vet to see what options we have, but chances look good that we may have to find Spooky a different home. This may not sit well with my son, who is madly in love with her. But we don’t want to risk the health of all our other cats, either.
Spooky is extremely sweet. It seems odd for a wild cat to be so nice, but perhaps she is an abandoned pet. I’m not sure how she’s survived outside alone for so long, since there are so many predators. The vet thought she might be three, and if that’s the case, we have no idea how she survived last winter outside, if she indeed was outside then. She’s very mysterious. But right now she’s snuggling up in the blankets we gave her, and eating all the food we can give her, so she’s quite happy. We even made “Welcome home Spooky” signs to greet her when she got back from the vet.
Spooky is not a chicken, but she probably went sniffing around the coop while she lurked the grounds. She’s kind of small, so I don’t think she’d win a fight with a chicken either, no matter how hungry she was. However, one less predator is out on the streets, and one more kitty is taken care of who wasn’t before. Now we just need to figure out where she’s going to live.
Fall marches on, and the molting continues. It always seems to take longer than I expect, but I’m still pleased they started before it got too cold. It’s been chilly at night, but not yet below freezing. They’ve begun to clump on the roost, which means they’re keeping each other warm when it gets a little brisk. We’re down to an average of two eggs a day, since growing new feathers takes a lot of energy, even more than laying eggs, so it’s one or the other. I’ve started giving them black oil sunflower seeds each morning in addition to their daily bowl of yogurt. Protein is something they really need during a molt, and the black oil seeds are a good source of that. I should probably also be giving them scrambled eggs, but then we get back into that whole “oh man, they’re eating their own eggs,” icky feeling. But it’s good for them, so I’ll do my best to get over it.
Most of them are having what’s called a “soft” molt, which means that they look a little threadbare, but otherwise fine. Maybe some feathers are sticking out at funny angles, like they just rolled out of bed and didn’t have time to do their hair, but otherwise you might not know anything was up if you didn’t know what to look for. One of the Mandrell Sisters, however, has entered the world of the “rough molt.” This is when they have big bare patches from a ton of feathers falling out. If you search the internet for rough molt pictures, you will find chickens that look way worse than she does, but she still looks pretty bad. It also seems like she doesn’t feel too great. It would make sense that the more feathers she loses, the more energy she needs to grow them back, so she’s going to seem tired. Her neck is pretty bare, and she tends to walk very slowly and seems kind of spaced out. If she wasn’t molting, I’d worry about her, but this all makes sense during a molt, so I just feel for her, and hope things move along. Of course, rough molts take longer to recover from, so she may be this way for a while.
One night recently I was checking on them before bed, and she was there on the roost, looking bummed out as usual. The pinfeathers in her neck looked like weird fish bones (new feathers look like little straws, and then eventually the feather pops out), and it just seemed like she needed some consoling. I was about to pet her and tell her everything was o.k., like I would a cat or dog, and then I remembered that molting can actually be a little painful, especially if you touch the molting chicken. I caught myself, reminded myself that she was not a cat or dog, and then just told her she would be alright. The tenderness of the molt also explains why I’ve seen her reluctant to get in and get at the sunflower seeds in the morning. The other chickens swarm the pile, and she just stands outside watching. I suppose if she charged into the fray, it would probably hurt, and apparently bad enough that skipping the treat is a fair trade. I’ve started spreading the seeds all over the run so everyone can have space as they feast. Hopefully this will assist her nutritional needs.
I’m getting used to dealing with molting now. It’s a part of Fall, just like the leaves changing. It’s not as pretty, and people don’t come around by the carload to look at the molting chickens, but maybe they should. Feather peeping could be the big new Autumn activity. But on second thought, traffic in our town is bad enough, I don’t need to make it any worse by attracting tourists.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Werdenfelser Trompeten Landler by Strassmeir Dachaur Bauernkapelle)
Rivaled perhaps only by the turkey.
I can’t believe I’ve never given a formal introduction.
I’m off to DC to talk to the FLOTUS, POTUS, and SCOTUS (FLOPOSCO for short) about chickens. Or not. However, no post this week due to travel. Next week I hope to have a nice surprise for you, so hang tight.