Over the weekend, my lucky chickens got a package in the mail from our friends over at Chubby Mealworms. Chubby Mealworms decided to throw the girls a coop warming party! I could not believe how many wonderful things were inside this box. I was especially excited for my flock to try three new product that they had never had before. I could not wait to see their reactions.
So something really weird happened to this cutie pie, Cuddles, one of our Easter Eggers. This past spring she turned one and went through her very first fall molt. She’ll be two in June. She lost all of her feathers and looked really mangy but finally come this January her molt was complete. She looks absolutely gorgeous, fluffy and silky. But the strange thing is that her tail never grew back in. We now have a tail-less Easter Egger in the coop.
Most of us in our lifetimes have had to deal with someone that we love suffering from a chronic illness. My heart has always found it more difficult to cope with chronically ill pets and children. I don’t think that they can completely understand what is happening, why they feel the way they do and why we subject them to visits at the doctors.
I can remember almost immediately after I had my first baby, our family dog became ill. She was at the near the end of the expected life span of a Schnauzer. Our little “fur person” was such a part of the family. She was a wonderful dog. Yet at this time in her life, she was suffering. She began to develop sores on her body out of nowhere, her appetite declined and she lost her peppiness. As I rocked my new colicky baby in my arms, I found myself sitting on the floor by her bowls feeding soft food and water to her with a spoon. We even had to carry her outside as her legs had difficulty supporting her down the steps.
I had thought for a while that she had become diabetic. We were now new to Cape Cod and we had to find a new vet. I became so sad. I was almost certain that it was her time. We spent the next couple weeks bringing her to the vet and soon it became apparent that there was nothing more to be done. We were going to have to let go and put her to sleep. Sadly, six months before our move, our other dog was put to sleep after a stroke. All I could remember was him licking me as I held him and he went to sleep. His rough sand paper tongue was thanking me and loving me. Slowly it stopped and he was gone. Two dogs in six months were so much for my heart to bear.
With time hearts heal and chicken soon entered our lives as well as another baby. A few months ago, Tilly became ill. My heart felt that familiar sadness. Proactively, I brought her to the chicken vet just to make sure. She had a full blown case of broodiness. It lasted for months. Her comb was dull and she lost almost half her body weight. As soon as she was through with the broodiness, she went into her fall molt. I wondered how much her body could take. Broodiness and molting are two of the most difficult natural processes for hens. Her comb, an indication of how she felt, should have been bright red. Instead, it was a limp pale pink like the color of the combs that you see in factory hens. I could do nothing but be supportive, not knowing if she would pull through. We spoiled her with high protein snacks to help her gain weight and replenish her feathers, sunflower seeds, meal worm, Worms and Harvest Flakes, scrambled eggs and the like.
Yesterday, she emerged from the coop with no tail feathers. She has reached the end of her molt. She was talkative, happy and her comb stayed a brilliant deep red every time I went out to check on her. Her crop was full and almost pendulous. All the while when she was ill, I had to come to the place in my heart where I could accept losing her. I was there. I also realized that my heart, after almost nine years, is ready to have a new dog in our lives. You see, the love and happiness that pets whether chickens, mice, guinea pigs, cats and dogs is magical. It is pure and true. I imagine this is why sometimes losing them can hurt so much. Yet, it truly is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
The big girls have resumed laying eggs. Over the past few months, I watched as the molting increased, the eggs slowly tapered off. Up until last week, I was discovering two eggs per day. Then all of a sudden, yesterday the girls presented me with five. The most amazing thing is that two of them were colored a deep dark brown. Tilly usually lays those. It is a new mystery who laid those sweet eggs I found together in the same box. In addition, the light brown ones have returned as well. These are the ones that take up my entire hand as I carry then into the house.
This week I had noticed some larger buff colored feathers in the run. I did not notice anyone losing many feathers until today, when I noticed Oyster Cracker. My most beautiful Buff Orpington, overnight lost most of her feathers! The best part is, she doesn’t even seem to notice. Still loving the camera, her curiosity could not stop her from posing. She is midway through her molt and it she will probably become worse before her new feathers arrive. It can take up to 9 weeks for her body to create new feathers. Even mid-molt, I still think she is gorgeous. Her spirit is infectious and her spunk can brighten any dreary day. Today her inner beauty sparkled with less feathers eclipsing her brilliance.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
Since spring, Oyster Cracker has been plagued with a bald spot on the back of her head. I kept hoping that feathers would soon grow in that naked little spot, yet none came. I waited for months. Then, through one of my blog followers, Matt, I learned that the spot would remain bare until she molted. Deep within the skin were portions of broken off feathers. Her body was fooled into thinking that those feathers were still intact. Yesterday, I noticed that her bald patch was finally showing tiny barbs of new immature feathers called pin or blood feathers. They are rolled into a cylindrical shaped tube wrapped in keratin. As the chicken preens, the keratin sheaths are removed and new feathers seem to bloom into existence. This could only mean one thing. The chickens are beginning to molt.