Trouble With The Molt

Yesterday morning when I went to open up the Little Barn,  I noticed that Buffy was on the bottom rung of the roost. This is not her usual place. She hopped off and joined the others outside, but I knew that something was amiss. Late in the afternoon I found her out in the run. She tried, but she couldn’t stand up. I checked her over and there was nothing obvious. Whenever I have a hen that is showing signs of something wrong, the first thing that I do is put her in a safe and comfy coop so that I can observe what she eats and what comes out. I have a little rabbit hutch in the pen for situations like these. Because the hen can still see the flock, and they her, there’s no separation distress and no pecking order issues when she returns to the group.

I put down fresh bedding and placed Buffy facing out, with her beak close to the feed and water dishes. She immediately started eating. She was bright-eyed. This was encouraging. I decided to leave her there for the night and see how things progressed. This morning I noted normal manure. Buffy looked fine – except that she still didn’t have the strength to stand up. It was time for a Spa Treatment.

Buffy settled right into her warm epsom salt bath.

She rather like the blow-dry, too.

I noticed two good signs. The first was that Buffy was free of lice. A hen that has been sick for awhile always has lice because she can’t dust bathe and groom. This told me that her leg weakness had only recently come on. I also noticed that she had a clean bottom with no signs of diarrhea. I was becoming more optimistic.

But, I also noted that Buffy was skinny and her crop was empty. Then, the final clue fell into place. Although Buffy looks lovely fluffed out after the blow-dry, I realized that she was molting as her larger feathers were in the process of emerging from their sheaths. She had not gone through a scruffy-naked phase, so I was surprised to see this. This is why it’s so important to observe your birds closely and handle them when something looks off. If I hadn’t bathed Buffy, I’d never have known that she was at the end of her molt.

Buffy is six and a half years old. She’s a very old hen. The molt is a hard drain on a hen’s body. The feathers are 85% protein, and in order to build them the hen has to extract protein from what she eats and from her skeletal system. A hen as old as Buffy is sure to have tumors on the intestinal tract and is thus is not digesting food efficiently. She also doesn’t have the strength to forage for bugs. The Gems, being young hens, eat all day long. The old hens spend their time napping. Buffy eats only enough to get by. Buffy needed a boost. Epsom salts do wonders in these situations. They are absorbed through the skin during the soaking bath, but I decided to dose her with them as well. I wanted to give Buffy a jolt of energy, too. So, I put 1 teaspoon of epsom salts into one ounce of V8 Berry juice (it’s what was in the pantry. A sport drink would also be a good choice.)

I held Buffy in my lap, and, using a small syringe, I opened her mouth and dropped some in.

I let her swallow.

Even chickens make faces when made to take medicine. I repeated this until I got about a half-ounce down her throat.

Finally done, I put Buffy back out in the hutch. I filled her bowl with laying hen pellets and hulled sunflower seeds. She set right to eating.

I don’t know if this will work, but I am confident that this treatment is what Buffy needs to recover. It might be that she’s too worn out. It might be that she has cancer or something equally serious. But, as I’ve said before, this hen has had more lives than a cat. Several times now I’ve thought she was a goner and she proved me wrong. For now she’s clean, she’s fed, and she’s loving her sanitarium, where the other hens can’t bother her and food and water is within easy reach.

I’ll be off-line for most of the weekend, so don’t worry if you don’t get an update until Monday!


  1. Keep us posted on Buffy! I have learned to follow your lead in these situations. Sometimes during the molt I have noticed a bird or two not acting quite like their regular routine….It always is because of the molt and they seem to perk up when it is almost over. Thanks for this post.

  2. P.S. I am jealous..I see RAIN!!!!! OMG! What I would do for some of that here in So. Cal. Brown right now!

  3. Any story about Buffy really tugs at my heart. I just have such a soft spot for her. I am going to be thinking about her all weekend and hoping that her spa treatment is just what she needed. Comon Buffy, you’re a fighter!

  4. I saw her the other night trying to roost and was concerned. Then when I didn’t see her last night, I thought oh-oh.

    Thanks for the update on my girl, Buffy. Good luck to her. She’s certainly receiving the best possible care she could receive anywhere!! Old animals all act the same way, don’t they? Just enough to get by and a nice nap the rest of the time.

    Good luck, Buffy. We’re all pulling for you!

  5. As always, thank you for this timely post. Our girls are all molting (they seem to like to all do things at the same time). I think I will give them baths and juice some broccoli (high in protein) for them and add the salt the way you did.

    • Anabel, I’m sure your hens would like all of those things. If they’re young, though, they’ll probably weather the molt just fine. It’s my old girls that get stressed.

  6. I always get worried when I don’t see Buffy or Betsy Ross. Betsy’s been in the nesting box lately and you can barely see the top of her little head! My prayers will be that Buffy makes a full and speedy recovery.

  7. Terry,
    I’ve taken your lead about handling and checking my girls every day. It seems their health can turn on a dime at any time. My Charlotte is a case in point. Your Epsom salts bath did wonders for her and she has been in a slow recover. just this week: whamo! her summer molt and as she is still not fully recovered, I’ve been giving her extra protein in the form of beef heart, cut into small strips. It has worked wonders on her. I’ve been trying to get a usable colony of mealworms going but that’s slow as the dickens to get enough to feed regularly. Charlotte’s molt is an all or nothing affair: one minute all feathered, the next naked as a jay. Her sister has taken all summer, one feather here one feather there, with a final drop just this week too. In my area it’s cool all summer and it seems it’s the change in day length that gets them molting. Good luck with your girl!!! Thank you again for your blog and experience!!!!

  8. I am a big fan of Buffy as well as dear Betsy. I love the way you treat all your pets with such dignity and care. Such lucky animals. I will be thinking of all of you this weekend. Thanks for keeping us all updated as the information is useful for animal owners and those of us who tune in for the fun and entertainment.

  9. Thinking good thoughts for Buffy. That look on her face when you gave her the medicine is priceless. She’s had quite a year that gal Buffy. The comb attack and now this. As previously noted, she is getting the best care, having you watch after her Terry. I have an 18 year old cat who is teetering, I’ve been prepared and keep watching for that look or behavior that says “enough.”

    • It’s hard to make those decisions, but part of what we take on when we live with animals. When the time comes, I wish your cat a peaceful passing.

  10. Best of luck with Buffy, I hope she pulls through. How do you make the epsom salt bath, how much salt to water? Thanks Terri.

  11. I want to be a chicken at your house! Thank you for the pictures and info. Crossing my fingers for Buffy! You have given me a great idea for isolating a chicken within the coop. Thank you!

  12. Buffy is truly an amazing bird, and she’s getting the best possible care. Sending positive, healing thoughts for her. I’ve got a soft spot for her, too!

  13. I sure hope Buffy feels better soon. She’s such a pretty girl!! And thank you for the response to my question about why hens don’t peck each other’s combs. I learn so much from you!

  14. I love your idea of the rabbit hutch for a low stress infirmary. It looks like it would protect well against wind, yet still provide openess for visual freedom and air circulation. Thank you for sharing this info and my best to Buffy.

  15. First Pip now Buffy. Your animals are so lucky that you know how to treat them when they are sick. Glad to see that Pip is doing better and I hope so much that Buffy will make a full recovery too

  16. Hope Buffy recovers…thanks so much for sharing the good and the not-so-good!

  17. Ah Buffy is so sweet. My old girl Bertha died on Wednesday and I did the spa syringing on her in May, she recovered but then popped off this week :o( I do hope Buffs can recover once more, I have a little soft spot for her too…..

  18. Buffy…sweet sweet girl! She is so fortunate to be a part of your flock and receive such TLC! My flock of 6 has been infected with Marecks. I lost two over the past year. I was heartbroken. I cannot introduce any new members. I do love the 4 girls that I have and take very good care of them. I hope that Buffy is OK.

  19. Amazing how a chicken can take over a part of your life….I never would have thought I would be so attached,,,,BUT I AM !!! I love my girls, my cats love them and even my gold fish, all 50 of them…Hope Buffy gets better….she has the best mother possible to nurse her back to a happy healthy chicken (Bawk) life!!!!

  20. Bless you for the care you take of your animals. Makes me feel sorry for those that don’t have such a responsible, caring keeper.