Every now and then I receive a frantic call from an anxious new poultry customer to tell me that something terrible has happened to one of their hens which has resulted in “all their feathers falling out!” I of course inform them calmly and confidently that their hen is merely moulting and no matter how alarming this sight may be for them, this is simply a normal part of a hens yearly feather regrowth cycle.
I explain that this process is uncomfortable for the hen and that it places high nutritional demands on her in terms of protein levels. So although a little extra high protein ration won’t go amiss along with protection from severe weather, the hen will feather up in no time without requiring any special treatments.
Having kept hens for a number of years it’s easy to get a little complacent with your poultry and your customers, as experience can trick you into thinking that you have seen it all before. So occasionally nature takes things to the extreme and teaches me that there is always the exception to the rule and a little more to learn.
I have seen some pretty severe moults over the years in both my own birds and particularly in rescued ex battery hens but Blossoms moult this year has really blown me away. November is a little late in the year for my girls to moult but it does occasionally happen and the moults can be quite heavy but never as late and as heavy as this one!
Poor Blossom has lost so many feathers that she has had to be brought indoors to keep warm and recover. Every time she moves a shower of feathers fall from her bald little body and settle on the floor around her. As result she is in rather a terrible state and has no way of keeping warm without her plumage. So I put her in a guinea pig cage with a nest made of sheep fleece and a dish of tasty, high energy snacks.
|Blossoms fleece and feather bed is looking a bit the worse for wear|
Although Blossom usually takes every available opportunity to dart into the kitchen and eat the cats meat, she is clearly not enjoying her indoor confinement and is very gloomy.
Her appetite is poor and the sensation of all these feathers forcing their way through her skin is clearly making her feel uncomfortable. Despite my attempts to entice her eat with the offer of all manner of exciting treats she is struggling to enthuse about any of them.
|Poppy was more interested in eating Blossoms porridge|
than cheering her up
So today I decided to invite a couple of her friends in to cheer her up in the form of Buffy and Poppy. Buffy had a bout of egg peritonitis a couple of months ago and also lost a large amount of feather. Having made a full recovery she seemed like an excellent choice of visitor to inspire Blossom in her convalescence.
Poppy does not have the same experience to draw from as Buffy but is the kind of visitor who sits quietly by your bed side, oozing sympathy while eating all your grapes. So I was hoping that a visit from Poppy might spark Blossoms apatite and competitive
Sadly the visit from Blossoms feathered friends did little to cheer her. So I waited until the the sun had melted the morning frosts and took Blossom out for a walk in the garden.
The sun was warm and the wind was still and although Blossoms scant plumage was a cause of great interest to the other hens she was clearly bald but proud and glad to be out and about.
We headed towards the greenhouse and as I slid open the door Blossom slipped quickly inside. With a flightless hop she took up a sunny position on the staging and set about trying to release her tiny new feathers from their sheath of waxy dander. At tea time she ventured out to join the others for afternoon corn but a brief spell of scratching around in the shade soon sent her purposefully trotting back to the warmth of the green house.
As the sun began to set I gently carried her back inside to her makeshift coop and she eagerly set about filling up on corn and pellets before settling down contentedly on her sheep fleece nest. I have a feeling that she might just become a little too accustomed to all this TLC......Well...wouldn't you?