Chicken molting

We’ve got a severely naked chicken butt in our flock. I know it’s mean, but I can’t stop giggling when I see the poor hen walking around.

The Wyandotte is the latest of our hens to start molting. At least she seems to be doing it faster than some of our other birds. I’m thinking that we got some poorly bred chickens at our local farm store, as we’ve had at least one bird in molt since April. We had one full year from when they were hatched until they started to molt, followed by 7 months of molting chickens.

After having chickens for over a year and a half we are thinking about replacing our hens this spring and starting completely over. Our priorities have changed a little since we first started out. Originally we wanted dual purpose birds for eggs and meat (the homestead standard) … only we really just used the hens for eggs. Thus, it would make more sense for us to get smaller chickens so they eat less and therefore cost us less in feed.

The smaller chickens that I am looking at are not setters. I am considering getting a hen from a breed that could act as a broody mother for the others, because we would like to have some chicks every year that we personally don’t have to buy and raise. This year’s order is going to be mostly straight run chickens, so we’ll have some spare roosters too.

One of the funny things about small chicken breeds that are good at foraging (at least the ones I was looking at) is that they all lay white eggs. I don’t want white eggs because it reminds people of store bought eggs, so my solution to this problem is to add some Araucanas/Americana into the mix. They will still fit perfectly into my 4 to 5 lb weight requirements, but the greens and blues will make the whites seem more exotic.

For meat birds we are thinking about going a different route: geese. The Toulouse Goose breed is known for being gentle and reaching 15 to 20 lbs. Only thing is … I have never eaten goose before, so I am going to buy one at the local meat market. I figure you better like how the meat tastes before you actually start raising the animal.

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6 Responses to Chicken molting

  1. Leigh says:

    Interesting post Robin. My chickens have been moulting this month too, well some of them anyway, the Welsummers and Delaware. All my chickens are 10 months old. The Barred Holland and Ameraucanas haven’t moulted yet and are still laying, and here it’s the shortest day of the year! All of this has me rethinking our breeds too. I’ve been trying to talk Dan into some turkeys next year, but he thinks turkeys are ugly! We may order some meat chicks though, and if we do I’ll sneak in a few different egg breeds. Like you, I’m hoping to have a broody hen next year, but time will tell.

  2. Benita says:

    There ain’t nuthin’ wierder looking that a moltin’ chicken. I’ve never eaten goose either although my grandmother used to have them. We would get those huge Easter eggs from her each year from them.

  3. Christina says:

    When I first got chickens I chose Buff Orpingtons, Black Austrolorps, Rhode Island Reds and Araucanas. My Araucana only lays about half the eggs as the others. I did get eggs all through the first winter even with no extra lights but this winter not one egg at all. My hens all lost feathers at once so the yard looked so bad it had to be raked. 🙂 I love reading about other people and their farm adventures.

  4. lynn says:

    Some of my chickens have completed molting, some sadly are still naked. Its so cold out, I feel bad for those naked hens! My chickens are pretty small, the largest egg cartons we’ve filled weigh in at medium weight. Some of the pullets we hatched this summer have just started laying now, and if we include their eggs in the cartons we have to label them as small eggs because of the weight.

    Have you had any broody hens? Do you not have any roosters now? We always had at least one hen broody in the summer. They are great for sitting on eggs, but a major pain if you don’t want any chicks!

    Keep us posted about your spring chicks! Sounds like fun!

  5. Phoebe says:

    I chose Cuckoo Marans for the Homestead because they lay chocolate brown eggs. They are small dual purpose but are excellent layers most of the year. They are only slightly broody and easy to discourage, but I think they would hatch a clutch if left alone (we’ll see next spring). They also forage really well but are smart enough to go back into the hen house in the evening (not the trees) where they are safely locked each night. I have been really happy with them. I have had just about every chicken in the catalog in the past. I keep one breed now because the second generation crossed hens are not nearly as productive and now when I have a surprise batch of chicks emerge from the bushes I can put them on Craig’s List as pure bred.

    There is a very interesting method of learning which of your hens are the best layers by observing how they molt. The hens who molt completely and quickly are the best layers because the sooner they finish molting the sooner they begin laying again. Contrary to what you would think, the scruffy hens are the best layers. They use their protein for egg making. The beautiful, sleek hens who continually replace feathers are less productive because they are using their metabolized protein for feathers, not eggs.

  6. lee says:

    Leigh – We got our chickens late last year, around May 1st, so they didn’t molt the first winter. Recently, I read a post on Trapper Creek about using this in your favor to ensure a reliable supply of eggs over the winter without artificial light. We really had an amazingly steady egg supply until the ridiculously long molt started. I’ll be interested in seeing your turkey experience. I have to agree with Dan on their appearance. 🙂 One of our blog-neighbors had a rather less than successful experience with turkeys, but Robin’s been set on geese for some time.

    Benita – Well, the geese will definitely be a new experience for us too. I hadn’t thought about collecting the eggs … might be a good prank when we give someone a dozen eggs. (Watch out for the big one!!)

    Christina – Our Aruacanas have been our more reliable layers, but they started laying at least a month later than the other chickens. Your chicken lot of feathers sounds pretty funny. At least it sounds like you got decent genetics, since they all went into molt so abruptly.

    Lynn – We haven’t had any long-term broody hens. Over the summer a couple became determined to sit, but it didn’t last more than a week or so. They didn’t seem nearly reliable enough to actually hatch chicks. No roosters here. Our current chickens are from the farm store, and they were all sexed. Glad to hear you are producing medium eggs. I was a little worried about Robin’s new chicken breed selections, as they are supposed to produce ‘medium’ eggs only, so I dug through our egg bowl with a scale and found that the difference between medium and large was pretty small. Hard to tell just by eye. (I think I was picturing quail eggs when I heard “medium”).

    Phoebe – We wanted Cuckoo Marans the first year because of the brown eggs and foraging skills. Robin ruled them out this time because she wanted only really light breeds. I believe the catalog listed them as 1-2 lbs heaver than the breeds that she picked. A later post will list off the new breeds. She’s put in the order, but we won’t get them until around May 1st. Like you, I’d like to eventually get us down to just one breed, or at least one core flock of the same breed. I think Robin has plans to keep experimenting with different breeds for a while though.

    Yeah, we have a beautiful Barred Rock that hasn’t been laying in some time. It’s comb is bright red, and the feathers are flawless. I’ve been considering it for Coq au vin or something along those lines. 😉

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