Leader of the Flock

Meet the new leader of the flock - Red Hen! The Wheaten is back with the group, but she's officially stopped being a bully. Red Hen the Red Sussex is finishing up a weird winter moult and has asserted her dominance over Wheaten. Yay! I still find Red Hen to be my favorite - she's the most friendly, curious, and outgoing of all the hens - the first out of the coop in the morning and the first to come up and say hi to me when I get home from work. Her comb turned pale during her moult - I guess that happens sometimes..... it's darkening now, and hopefully she'll be back to laying soon!

Speaking of moult, the two Black Copper Marans and Blondy the Buff Sussex are all going through a relatively heave molt right now. At first I was really perplexed about it - moulting is when chickens lose their old feathers and grow new ones - it's supposed to happen in the fall when they are 18 months old or so. These girls are just coming up on their first birthday, and it made no sense that they were moulting in February.

This girl is the worst off - her tail feathers are completely gone and her neck is almost naked. You can't see in this picture, but she has lots of nice pin feathers coming in and soon she'll have brand new feathers.

Blondy is looking a little worse for wear too. Her poor neck! Luckily we haven't had any subzero temperatures in the last few weeks. I'd be really worried for these poor girls!

Check out the pinfeathers coming in around her face and the back of her neck. They're little waxy tubes that the new feather grows into. They supply blood to the developing feather, and then when it's done the chicken gets rid of the tube by preening and the new feather unfurls.

After asking the group at BackyardChickens.com, I finally deduced why these hens were moulting at such an odd time of year. It's the light.

Chickens lay more eggs if they have more hours of daylight. I'd been supplementing their daylight with a bulb on a timer in the coop that came on early in the morning. When Dave moved out in January, I decided I didn't need all the eggs I was getting (about 4 per day), so I phased out the extra morning light I was giving the chickens. This effectively took 2+ hours of light out of their day. Their bodies thought that it was autumn since the days were getting shorter! Ah ha!

I feel bad for them - I thought taking the light away would let them lay less eggs and take it easy for a while - instead it's putting them through the stress of a late winter molt. Poor girls.

The Welsummer is the only hen still laying eggs. She's layed like a champ all through the winter - one egg a day for about 4 days, and then one day off. She's still got a pretty large bald spot by the base of her tail from the Wheaten pecking her a month ago - the feather's don't seem to be growing back at all. She holds her tail high and covers it well.

Here's the big bad Wheaten Marans (not to be confused with bad bad Leroy Brown) - she's been taken down a peg or two, but still all the hens other than Red Hen bow to her will. No doubt about it, she is a beautiful bird. I'm so glad I didn't have to give her away!

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