Chickens Without Tails

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!


  1. We too are having bad hair days! My sons think the girls look like porcupines with the quills! The girls are very self conscious and grumpy .

  2. Wow!! I was wondering why my one molting hen has gone a little crazy…..*she lost her tail feathers, during molting*..She looked like a pin cushion for weeks..and avoided the other chickens…flying around acting totally off the wall…hummmm now I know…poor girl..

  3. I hate the molt more than anything..the birds look dreadful.. Not to mention, I go out and spend hours cleaning the coop and it it littered with feathers. Now I keep a bucket on hand and just gather up as many as I can so It does not look so messy. And the birds act grumpy too! It is like they know they look awful…kind of like when you wake up with a big pimple on the end of your nose????????

  4. I never realized how beautiful Onyx’s feathers were. I love that close-up shot.

    I made the Toad in the Hole last weekend, half recipe in a tiny casserole because only for my husband and me. I only had diced onions in the freezer but it still turned out delicious. The one good egg stole the show by making the batter a beautiful rich golden yellow. Husband thanks the “hencam lady.” ;)

  5. Is there any way to get all those feathers out of the hen house? I chase them around for weeks!

  6. Poor Onyx. If only she could understand how gorgeous her remaining feathers are.

  7. Onyx looks like one of those rumpless chickens! It looks as if Garnet tried to shake her body like a wet dog, feathers would fly all over the place! They all are still beautiful though. It’s amazing to me that their self confidence and personality changes. It’s not as if they can see the changes in a mirror?

    • They can feel the changes, and when skin shows they know the other birds will peck at them, so the naked tail birds become skittish.

  8. I have skin problems myself, and those zits and other bumps itch me to death. I was reading about a woman who has hens and parrots and she always removes the keratin sheath gently from both her cockatoos and hens. I asked her if hens seem to hate it or prefer it. And she replied that her hens seemed to enjoyed. They would just sit in her lap with their eyes closed as she gently rubed and scratched the sheaths off their feathers. And then she was done, they would get up shake themselves and go on. Do you think any of your hens would tolerate this ? I know they are feeling grouchy, and irritable but maybe your more hand tamed hens like Agatha and Betty won’t mind it as much.

    • The silver tags are put there by a state worker to show that my flock has been tested negative for pullorum (a disease that affects only chickens.) The colored rings are on to help me to identify individual hens that look alike (like my RIRs that are very similar.)

  9. I rather like the tail-less look – I call my hens the “little fluffy butts” while they are molting. :)