Amber’s Bald Head

I have three Buff Orpington hens who, at sixteen months of age are at the end of what will be their most productive laying season.

Being Buff Orpingtons, the “laying season” doesn’t entail much laying. They are prone to broodiness. Beryl and Topaz have been on and off broody all summer. When a hen is broody she doesn’t lay. She looks like this:

Even with that maniacal glint in her broody eye, Topaz is a beautiful bird. Buff Orps have a sleek outer feathers, with soft and fluffy undercoats. They are the golden girls of the flock.

But Amber has not gone broody all summer. She has laid eggs day in and day out. Her head looks like this:

Notice, too, the sparsity of feathers around the neck. Sometimes red skin and feather loss are signs of mites or disease, but not in this case. Topaz is a hen who has worked hard all season and is starting to molt. It will take her a good two to three months to grow back her feathers and rejuvenate before laying resumes again next spring. (This is why I don’t push egg production by adding a winter light. Pullets, who don’t molt in their first year of laying can handle that extra push, but the almost-two year olds need a break.) In any event, this is not a chicken that I would enter in a poultry fair as the goth vulture look is not in the “standard of perfection.” But if I were judging a show, I’d mark give her the “best in breed” blue ribbon.


  1. Just like your Topaz, our buff, Goldie, has the same bald head, and has just come off her 2nd laying season without going broody once! These girls are the best!!! We love buffs (when they aren’t broody of course) and have 3 now. Goldie, who has never gone broody, Mazie, getting ready to lay any minute now, and Buffy, the most vile broody hen ever. In fact, in just the last couple days Buffy came off her unrelenting summer-long brood. She is a real sweety when she isn’t broody, but as soon as she starts setting, her evil personality comes out! I’m crossing my fingers that Mazie turns out like Goldie and Topaz, and not Buffy!

  2. What a hard worker that gal is. She DOES deserve a vacation. I’m torn now for my chick order I want to place. To Buff Orpington or Not. They are beautiful but after watching/reading about your broody gals I am hesitant. Thank you for sharing Terry.

  3. Love the pictures of the girls. I’m so glad to see Betsy out and about this afternoon. She is often my favorite… I think.

    • Betsy has been getting up and out in the morning, rasping warnings to the other girls in typical bantam White Leghorn fashion. I think this broody spell will be over soon.

  4. I wonder why she doesn’t get her head pecked by others, considering how red it is. Come to think of it since combs are red why don’t they get pecked all the time? Do you know, Terry?

    • Great question, Mary! I don’t have a based-on-research answer, but I have a good guess. First of all, chickens have very, very good eyesight and color vision. They know the difference between red skin, comb and blood. They also identify each other by their combs (this is backed up by research) and so they know to leave it alone. Blood, however, appears out of place. Anything new and different is a trigger to behavior. Also, being omnivores that love meat, I’m sure that blood smells and tastes really good to them. Yucky, but true. Jasper also has a lot of exposed red skin on her tail base, and yet she’s not viciously pecked at either. Partly this is due to good management. I sure it would be if my girls were crowded or stressed the sight of bare skin would trigger cannibalism (as seen in the CAFOs.)

  5. Is it only the buff Orpingtons that tend so much to broodiness? My group of five buff hens almost constantly included at least one broody (who then got a 2-3 day solitary confinement in “broody prison”) in their first year. And they really didn’t lay that many eggs either. Now I have added a new, young group of black, white, speckled and red Orpies and wonder if they will also be so broody. They are such lovely birds and so funny — we love to watch their waddly “chicken run” from one end of the property to the other, looking very businesslike in the process.

    • You must have a beautiful flock! I’ve never had anything other than a buff orp, so please write back when you have the answer :)

  6. My buff orp, although has gone broody a few times this year is my favorite. We’ve had many other breeds and found even when she’s crabby during this time she makes up for it when she’s not. She has the most personality in our flock… (although we did get a black sex-linked this spring, she’s in close second).