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Garden View
Hello and Welcome! I decided to start this blog for everyone out there who has an interest, or WANTS to be interested, in living a life that is a little more sustainable. I am still learning, and invite you to follow this blog to learn along with me. I will share what I have learned as we go, and hopefully you will pitch in and share what YOU are doing to live a little more off of what you can grow and DO from home. PLEASE BELIEVE ME when I say, if I can learn how to do this on a very small backyard plot in a city, then ANYONE can do this!!

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Winter Molting? WTH!

WTH (What the HEN)?!  This expletive resounded when I made my daily visit to the girls and found that the scrawniest of them all had decided to molt during the throws of winter.  This is the first year the girls were due to molt and only one of them accomplished this during the Fall like they were supposed to.  Molting is typically triggered by the shorter days/light as the season changes from summer to Fall.  However, major temperature swings can also trigger molting.  Here in Colorado, we have definitely seen some bi-polar weather this year; going seemingly straight from summer to fall with flooding involved (??); then a strange winter cycle with snow, then temps back to the 50's for weeks before winter showed up again.  When it finally did rear it's frosty head, we had the coldest sustained temperatures in a long time, breaking records that were made in the 70's with 15 and 20 below!  Two weeks later (or so), we had temperatures reach 64 degrees.  No wonder these poultry pals are confused.

Needless to say, I kept a close eye on the smallest of our hens for a few days to make sure that this was nothing to worry about, since she didn't molt when she was SUPPOSED to!  Shortly after, the other 2 hens began to molt and the run certainly looked like a couple of chickens spontaneously imploded leaving only downy evidence behind.  Feathers abounded in the run, coop and nest box.

It's amazing how their behavior changes during this time as well.  I give them regular free range time in the yard, and they have only been spending a short time out, then they will hunker down and hide underneath the coop.  The smallest hen retires to the coop for good portions of time, no doubt due to the fact that it's insulated and much warmer than outdoors when you are nearly naked in the winter!  "They" say that the better layer the hen is, the quicker her molt will be.  I am seeing that in my flock as well; the Rhode Island Red is molting very quick, as well as the Barred Rocks. Then there's the Andalusian....she's taking her time and definitely looks it!

Seriously though, molting causes extra stress on a hen and there are some things you can do to help them out in their time of need.  Here are a few things I am doing to help them through the molt:

-Extra Protein: Making fresh new fluffy feathers takes energy and requires protein to develop.  Great sources of protein for them are leftovers of your scrambled/boiled eggs, meal worms, black oil sunflower seeds, sardines (they love 'em!), leftover meat scraps (as long as it's not heavily seasoned).  I also give them regular free range time in the yard so they can continue normal chicken behaviors such as hunting and scratching for bugs.  

-Make Molt Muffins as a supplement (find the recipe in this necessary natural chicken keeping book Fresh Eggs Daily by Lisa Steele).  This provides extra nutrition and protein as well as something for them to do and peck at besides each other.

-Supplemental Heat:  This will be a personal choice for you based on your geographical location and weather, as well as your 'position' on the matter.  We do NOT add supplemental light for our chickens in the fall/winter so as to give them the natural break for their bodies.  However, we set up a very small, crude, heating 'device' inside the coop to provide a small amount of radiating heat.  We have a light bulb inside a clay pot set up inside the coop for this purpose.  We use this during only the coldest nights/days in the winter.  Truthfully, we probably wouldn't have it at all if we didn't own a Mediterranean breed (Blue Andalusian) that does not do well in colder temperatures.  There are some great, safely designed heating devices to have inside your coop such as this Heat Lamp I found available from Premier1 supply.

Important things to consider if adding supplemental heat:  

1.)  You are conditioning them to 'need' the heat so they will, in turn, not be as hardy with the colder temperatures.  If you choose to do this, you must be consistent with when and how much you supplement.

2.)  What about power failures?  Do you have a back up generator or other plan to keep the heater running?  As said previously, the chickens won't be as tolerant of the colder temperatures if you are giving them added heat, so if the power fails you may be facing illness or even death in your flock without it.

3).  Fire Hazard.  Supplemental heat sources can be a fire hazard.  Make sure you triple-quadruple check and plan out the safety part of this.  We lock our chickens in the coop at night and there is no way I would want a fire to develop inside with no escape route for them.  Tough to think about, but you must think through these things if you want to be a responsible chicken keeper.

Would my chickens survive without the small amount of added heat?  Absolutely.  This is not something that chicken keepers have to do (think of the people that have chickens in Alaska!), but it is something we chose to do to keep them a bit more comfortable.

Nice single tail feather Tina!
The 2 hens on the right are molting
And last, but certainly not least, give them plenty of alone time since they seem sincerely embarrassed at their pitiful condition!  They don't seem to want you to see them in less than tip-top shape!  They are a bit more sensitive to touch during their molt, so on behalf of the hens, don't force any snuggling.  I might have to take up knitting chicken sweaters if they decide to molt during winter next year (Kidding...I think)!

P.S. Odice the Bunny doesn't mind the molt.  'Course he doesn't mind much of anything, really.
Bandit running from the camera

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