Pearl Gets A Bath

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?


  1. She’s such a lovely girl and even prettier after her wash. Well done you! We have a Lavender Pekin who looks very similar, with feathers down her legs and covering her toes. If there’s a tiny patch of mud, she’ll find it and get it all over those feet feathers. Should we consider designing wellington boots for them?

    • And it’s the feathered-feeted birds that get mud on the eggs. Sigh. Beauty at a price. I’m afraid that if Pearl had Wellies, they’d all want them.

  2. I had a darling bantam cochin frizzle named Babe, who was the uberbottom of the pecking order. So much so that she was practically bald by the end of last winter. I gave her away to someone with a bigger run, an odder flock (mixed bantams, silkies, Polish, all colors) and no bullies. She is doing fine there, and has regrown her darling feathers. Sigh. I love cochins, but the only way I’ll get another would be a standard. Happy Pearl — and what a beauty.

  3. I LOVE my little white cochin…She is small but mighty. Funny thing is that she has figured out to go to bed early and gets the top railing to sleep on…BTW she is 8 years old! Pretty old for a bird!

    • Buk-Buk was also a bantam. The little ones do know how to squeeze in there. Watch Betsy this winter -she’ll be on the top roost between two big birds.

  4. Cochin are beautiful birds. I agree about them not being sensible, I’ve had them, sometimes there lack of chicken “common sense” would drive me crazy.

    If the angle of the roosts still is not correct I have two suggestions. 1. remove every other rung. 2. lay them flat on something like an old pair of saw horses.

    • And with those feathers, they’re not as good at foraging. My big clean-legged hens scratch deep to find bugs. Pearl follows them and eats what’s leftover.

  5. Cochins are one type of chicken I’m thinking for my flock. I love the regular size chickens. I FINALLY saw a full sizecochin in person at a poultry show (the county fair had only bantams) I fell in love! Thank you for sharing your flock!

    • Impractical but beautiful. And those show Cochins are bathed and fluffed. Like seeing a show Old English Sheepdog as opposed to a working, tangled-fur sheepdog! If you live somewhere that gets really hot and humid in the summer I’d advice against Cochins. Pearl pants even when the other girls are fine. She is so insulated that cool earth doesn’t bring her temperature down.

      • Thanks for the warning. I live in Utah so we do get extreme summer and winter temperatures. I also love the austrolorps, brahmas and orpingtons. It’s such a hard decision of which breeds to choose! Just looking for some hens that lay good eggs!

        • Australorps are nice sturdy hens and good layers, though often not as people-friendly. Can’t go wrong with Orpingtons. I’ve never had Brahams. If you want good layers, go with a hybrid, like the Golden Comets (RIR X Leghorn). Excellent layers, active and friendly birds.

        • Turkens might be a good breed for you. Though they are ugly as sin, but they do very well in both extreme heat and cold. I like them because they are so ugly. I go for the really weird birds Polish and Turkens. Living in Va we have such hot humid summers and only have cold winters in January and Feburary. So they would do better in my climate than other birds because it gets so hot and humid. And they are easier to pluck. Brahma’s and heat though don’t go so well. And boy are they big birds !!!

  6. I love the big fluffy chickens but I too have found with my 3Brahmas that when it’s wet those feathers on the feet are really miserable looking. I have 2 brahma hens & a rooster. I didn’t want a rooster as I heard they could really be aggressive but my ‘Big Boy’ is really sweet & very sweet to his girls. He has a soft crow & is really quite handsome. I also have a comet hen, a white leghorn hen and 3 barred rocks. They get along very nicely.

  7. I have a sweet, if dull-witted, buff bantam cochin who has a perpetually worried look on her face. If she had hands she’d be wringing them, I’m sure. I do pick her up and check for whatever is surely embedded in those feathered feet and clean them off often. How far can you trim those feathers back? I’ve also got a little Mille Fleur that I’d love to trim the feet feathers on, but I don’t know how far I can go. Those are stiffer feathers than the cochins have. Your Pearl is a beautiful girl and like the rest of the flock, so lucky to have such a caring owner.

    • I trimmed them back to about where the toenails are. I was careful to not trim so far back that I hit the hollow quill part that does have blood vessels. Pear is walking easier and was scratching in the leaves with the others yesterday, so I think she liked the pedicure.

      • The polish almost seem easier to take care of them then the Cochins !!! Alot easier to cut head feathers, than feet feathers.

  8. The high-maintenance hens are so beautiful. I love watching them, but I don’t have to put in the hard work to keep them healthy and well groomed. My grandmother said “Pride must suffer” and it appears that holds true for hens as well as people. Thanks, Terry. Your site is the best blood pressure medication ever.

  9. My pearl, is looking rather cute after her bath. I would like to own a beautiful chick like her. When i log on to your site it makes me so happy to see such lovely chickens and cocks that you have. Also your goats looks rather tastie aswell, give them my love.

    Stephen x

  10. I love my blue cochin, Baby, but I wish she were as tame as yours. She would never sit on my leg much less let me blow her dry with a dryer! She would be totally freaked out! Hearing how gentle and tame cochins are, I got her as a 3 mos. old chick last July and loved on her but as she got older she wanted nothing to do with petting and love and is now very skiddish. :( I believe she got this idea from our crazy americauna chicken who is her BFF and actually kept her safe from our dominant chicken, Meanie. And yes, Baby, had a very difficult time last summer in this Atlanta heat. In fact, I was very worried I would lose her. She is now enjoying the cooler winter temps very much, but I fear for her next summer.

    • Tina- I don’t cuddle, hug or hold my chickens much. I think that’s why mine are so tame! What we see as loving, they interpret in a different way. A chicken who sees the other hens finding nice things in the dirt doesn’t want to be kept from it by a human. Many hens don’t want to be separate from the flock. That said, there are hens who like attention and like laps (Agatha is one) but I let them do it on her terms. Betsy, for example is wonderful with children – but does not like being held with her wings at her side. Coco used to be equally wonderful with children, but she liked the security of me holding her gently with her wings tucked. They’re all different! Sit with your cochin, hand feed her, and let her come to you.

  11. My granddaughter use to raise silkys and I can certainly relate to yours. Hers were the hardiest of the flock. Out in the cold weather, heat didn’t matter to them. They were very productive too. Always sitting on eggs and having hatchlings. They were an entertaining breed to have around.