I wasn’t the only one wearing my pajamas this morning. And there is not a more frightening feeling than a wild chicken loose in your shirt.
I’ve had a lot of new experiences in the 2 years we’ve been farmers. Some good, some frantic, some scary, and some funny. And I’ve had to nurse a few chickens back to health, mostly minor injuries and maladies, some more serious. Of all my feathered patients thus far, only my current one has proven to be part demon.
I believe the strange weather has thrown my chickens’ internal clocks haywire as here we are in the dead of winter and still experiencing molting. Normal chickens molt in the Fall (dropping old feathers and growing new ones). Molting causes them to stop laying eggs, but I don’t mind. They’ve lain hard all Spring and Summer, so I don’t mind if they take some time off. We all deserve the break and I’m certainly enjoying mine. For the new chicken keeper, experiencing that first molting season, it can be a little nerve-wracking walking out to visit the chickens and seeing a big poof of feathers laying on the ground. In my case, I thought I had lost a bird. But after counting heads a few times I realized what was going on. For some reason, they don’t molt gradually. I honestly think they just sneeze and all their feathers fall off. When several were doing it at once the ground resembled a violent pillow fight. So long as it was happening while the weather was nice I didn’t worry about them. Of course, they all looked quite pitiful. My once beautiful, fluffy birds were tail-less and thin looking and when it rained they all just walked around looking like drown rats. But by the time the weather turned cold it appeared everyone had suffered the worst of it.
Opal was inside recovering from a foot infection when she suddenly sneezed and *poof*.
December saw a big drop in the temperature and suddenly four more chickens started to molt! Francis was by far the worst. Typically, in the mornings when I open the coop there is a chicken stampede to get outside and eat. I make my spoiled little birds a yummy, soupy breakfast and they all half-fly, half-run out of the coop as though it’s on fire. I’ve learned to open the door and quickly step to the side (a chicken to the side of the head is a quick lesson that only needs to be taught once). When Francis walked down the ramp she was quite wobbly and disoriented, and then she started walking sideways. It took a little chasing to get my hands on her, but once I scooped her up I realized her underside was completely naked. No wonder she was wobbly, the poor girl was hypothermic! I brought her inside for a couple weeks while she regrew her feathers.
You would think a cold chicken would appreciate being brought inside where it was nice and warm and food was constantly being put in front of her. She wasn’t very grateful. Once a day I would let her walk around inside to get some exercise, and to evaluate her progress. She did a lot of sidestepping, and really, it looked like she was trying to line dance. You would also think a side-stepping, line dancing chicken would be easy to catch. You are wrong. It’s even more difficult to catch a side-stepping, line dancing chicken when you are tripping over an overly excited dog and a nosey cat. One evening after I had cleaned out her cage I was having trouble catching her. David, sitting quietly on the couch just trying to watch the news had to duck because Francis was flying right at his face. That man is a saint. We were all relieved when she was feathered enough to return to the flock. Now that we’re in the dead of winter, I thought for sure we were done with molting.
I was wrong.
About a week ago Flavia (or Olivia – they look the same, but I gave one away and I don’t know which one so I’m just guessing I still have Flavia) started molting. I was worried as the temps had been dipping into the negatives and that is just not a good time to be naked. It finally became obvious she needed to be brought in and thawed out and placed on a high protein diet to encourage quick feather growth. Of all my feathered (and partially feathered) patients, Flavia has been the worst. She’s not happy about being a jail bird and tries to make a break for it every time I open the door. The first day I was putting a food dish in the crate for her and she bit my hand. That is when I started calling her my little pecker. I’ve had to learn to feed like a ninja and she hasn’t gotten me again. To tend to her, I grab her as quickly as possible and use my upper arms and body to contain her on the floor in front of me while simultaneously replacing the puppy potty pads in her cage. To say it’s a challenge is a bit of an understatement. Each time has been different and this morning I learned wearing a loose flannel pajama top is not the ideal attire for crazy bird handling as somehow she ended up in my shirt and trying to get out the neck hole. Meanwhile, I had my hands full of soiled potty pads and didn’t want to let go of them and make a mess. The feeling of cold chicken claws on bare, sensitive stomach skin is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I hope to never experience it again. And the whole time I had a chicken squawking and flapping in my shirt, I had an excited puppy right behind me waiting to grab a new squeaky toy. It was the most frantic 20 seconds of my life. The weather is going to warm this weekend, and naked or not Flavia is going back out with the flock. Maybe next year I’ll just put a sweater on her and hope for the best.
Here is the demon chicken with her missing tail feathers.