Hen have about 8,500 feathers. After a year of hard use – dust baths, pecking, roosting, getting sun-baked and rained on – the feathers wear out and so chickens molt. Old feathers fall off and new ones grow in. Age, breed, health and laying history all determine how each hen experiences the molt. My very old hens, Twinkydink, Eleanor and Edwina, who between all of them laid one egg in the last two years, have yet to look unkempt. I know that they’re molting, as I see feathers on the coop floor, They will molt slowly and ever more slowly grow in a new coat. On the other hand, Betsy, who is five years old, looks rather like a dinosaur. Her glaring red eye completes what would be an excellent Halloween costume.
Young Garnet is experiencing her first molt, and it is the classic one that the books describe, what with the feathers on the wings going first. She’s a good layer and she’s young. Her entire coat of feathers looks loose. You can see bare spots and quills coming in.
The Speckled Sussex are also going through quick and easy molts. Agatha is already regrowing feathers on her head. They come in as short quills. I imagine it’s quite itchy.
But alas for Onyx! She’s lost her tail.
She is literally rudderless. Poor Onyx has lost all self-confidence and has been scurrying about, avoiding the other girls.
Jasper, too, has lost her butt feathers. Of course, she’s the one who hasn’t had much of a tail to start with, because the other hens pluck the long feathers out. (She lets them, and no blood is drawn.) I recently sprayed her with Blu-Kote to darken the skin purple. This reduces pecking. So, right now, she has a purple, bald bottom. Unlike Onyx, Jasper is not at all self-conscious.
Her rear end is all spiky, violet quills. I haven’t seen her being pecked at in ages, and It looks like Jasper is going to grow in a fully feathered tail. She’s going to be beautiful without a naked tail stump. Than again, that Blu-Kote doesn’t wear off. But, if any hen can handle the fashion-forward purple-plumed look, it’s Jasper!