My very first chicken was a hand-me-down from a neighbor, who after a 4-H project with her daughter was left with one small white bird. I said I’d take the hen if she was done with chickens, and so I got Buk-Buk and a dilapidated coop (which was mostly a box with a small wire pen attached.) Buk-Buk was the gentlest, sweetest hen. She was a Cochin, which is a breed with masses of feathers, all the way down to its toes. I loved Buk-Buk, but not her feathery feet, which got muddy in the spring and fall and encrusted with snow and ice during the winter. I haven’t had a cochin since her. Still, when I placed the hatchery order in the spring, I asked for two blue Cochins. (Blue means grey in chicken talk.) I was yearning for blue birds, and liked the idea of the mellow cochin personality.
One of the chicks didn’t survive, but Pearl kept growing and growing. Cochins have layers of downy underfeathers, and more layers of primary feathers, all of which are softer than the average chicken’s. An adult Cochin takes up space. But, size doesn’t determine pecking order, and with her gentle demeanor, Pearl is at the bottom of the pack. That isn’t a big deal in my flock, as it is a peaceful group of girls, but it does mean that Pearl sleeps on a lower rung of the roost. The roosts are ladders, propped up against the wall. Somehow, I installed them at just the wrong angle – the hens above poop onto the backs of the girls below. The other hens, with their tight feathering, were able to shake the messes off, but the manure sank into Pearl’s pillows of down. This past weekend, in the midst of making pies, I picked up Pearl and realized that she had poop all across her back. You can see the discoloration of her feathers in this photo. What you can’t see is the mess underneath. (Yet another reason to handle and inspect your birds!)
Disgusting, and not at all healthy for her. I didn’t have time to give her a full bath. I had pies to bake. Bathing a regular chicken (video here) can take a half hour, but double that for a Cochin. Instead, I hosed Pearl’s back end off in my laundry room sink, then soaped up the offending area with ivory and hosed her off some more. Next she was ready to be blow-dried. She sat on my leg while I blew. And blew. After thirty minutes she was almost dry – good enough to go back outside. Luckily it was a surprisingly warm day for November. If the temperatures had been normal, I’d have been drying her another half hour, and I hadn’t even gotten her whole body wet. (Anyone out there show Cochins? Keeping them in show feathers is a whole other story!)
Just look at those pantaloons. On the left is Pearl all fluffed up and clean. Next to her is Opal, a big Delaware. Opal weighs more than Pearl, but you have to pick them up to know that.
I’ve moved the roosts down so that the angle isn’t so steep. That should take care of the problem.
Pearl still has a manure stain on her back, but she’s clean and I’m sure a lot more comfortable. As long as I was giving her a spa day, I trimmed the feathers on her feet. It’ll be easier for her to get around on icy ground without snow clumping on them. Her dense coat will keep her toasty warm this winter. However, in the summer she has a hard time regulating body temperature and is susceptible to heat stroke. Cochins are gorgeous, fancy birds; they’re not sensible barnyard chickens and they need extra care. But, in a flock of a dozen, isn’t it nice to have one that looks like this?