The Dashwoods are two and a half years old now and Marianne has the distinction of being the first of them all to molt. It started about a month ago. I noticed an increase of Marianne feathers around the run but figured she had gotten in a kerfuffle with one of the other chickens so didn’t think much about it. A few days later, I let them out to roam the garden on a mild Saturday afternoon. I was indoors folding laundry when I heard a strange chicken noise outside. I looked out the sliding glass door onto the deck to see Elinor in a panic trying to press herself through the deck rails. What in the world? And then I looked out into the garden.
Sitting atop the clothesline pole was one of the largest hawks I have ever seen. I flung open the door and ran outside in my slippers, waving my arms and screeching at the hawk. At first she just sat there. Not until I was a few feet away did she lazily fly up to the wire above the chicken garden. No way was I going to let her stay there. I started looking around for things to throw at her and all that came to hand were wood chips. Wood chips are not among the most effective weapons being generally light and soft. I yelled and threw them up at the hawk anyway. They went about five feet up in the air, dispersed and drifted back down to the ground. I yelled my frustration and frantically searched for a few rocks. By the time I found a couple and turned back to the hawk, she had flown away.
I scanned all the tall neighboring trees until I was satisfied she had truly gone. I hurried back into the garden to count chickens. Elinor had disappeared from the deck and I found them all beneath it plastered against the side of the house. When I called to them they refused to come out. Who can blame them? I cooed at them and coaxed but they were too shaken up to leave their safe place.
Since they appeared physically unharmed, I went in the house for a little while. After about 30 minutes I made them up a treat and went outside to lure them into the run where they would be completely safe. They refused to follow me. When I put the plate of food down in the run I had a bit of panic. The number of Marianne feathers was alarming. Had the hawk attacked my chicken?
I crawled partially under the deck and after gently talking to them all for a while, they came over to me. I got a good look at Marianne. No, she hadn’t been attacked, she was molting. Nothing to worry about. It took a long time and a lot of encouragement to get the Dashwoods to follow me to the run, but eventually they did. I think we were all relieved when they were inside and protect by a roof and wire siding.
The Dashwoods have since become more wary when out in the garden. Now that everything is bare, they realize they are easy targets and hang out under trees or the edges of the deck for safety. The molting continues.I always imagined molting would result in a nearly naked chicken before new feathers appear. I worried molting would happen in winter and I would quick have to knit up some horrendous chicken sweaters to keep them warm. Chicken sweaters are a thing, in case you don’t know, and even chickens who aren’t molting are subjected to them by their caretakers who think chickens wearing clothes is hilarious. Even though early winter is settling in and there are patches of snow on the ground, in the case of Marianne, as the old feathers fall out, the new ones are already sprouting. It is oddly shark-like; you know, how sharks have rows of teeth growing behind the ones in front ready to fill in as soon as one is lost. So Marianne’s dark and shiny new feathers seem to appear as soon as the old dull ones fall out. She just sports a constantly roughed up look instead of her usual sleekness.
Not to be outdone, Elinor began molting ten days ago. She looks worse than Marianne because she has no pattern to hide the rough patches. Her red-brown feathers stick out at odd angles and there are obvious bare patches. Still, she carries herself with an unconcerned sassiness and pride that is admirable, daring me to laugh and promising that if I do she will make me regret it.
And a couple days ago Mrs. Dashwood feathers were all over the coop and run. Friday I noticed she no longer has a tail. Now I have my eye on Margaret. Will she be joining in the group molt or will she choose to opt out?
Since this is the Dashwoods’ first molt, we checked in with the urban farm store where we buy their food and bedding in case there was something special we needed to do. They told us not to worry about chicken sweaters but the Dahswoods should get extra protein. Protein helps the feathers grow. So we give them warm soybean mash now and then after we make milk, and we bought a bag of freeze dried meal worms.
These meal worms are one of the most disgusting things ever. Because they are freeze dried they look just like they do when alive but crunchier. When I pour them out on a plate for the chickens my stomach turns over expecting the meal worms to begin writhing around at any moment. It’s a horror movie scenario waiting to happen. The Dashwoods, however, think they are grand. And because they aren’t wriggling around they eat them at their leisure, unlike the feeding frenzy the big dishes of Japanese beetles plucked fresh from the garden plants incited every evening over the summer.
Bookman and I put the finishing touches on winterizing the coop and run today. Everything is ready for bitter cold and snow even if none of us are.