Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Lot of Fuss and Feathers

At just over twenty weeks of age, my six Girls are coming along just fine.

Miss Lynn, so far, is the only one laying any eggs (click here for more on this) , and the others are gearing up to start soon (hopefully). The roost I constructed from discarded tree limbs seems to be used quite a lot, based on the pattern of chicken droppings below it. And all day a steady cooing, clucking, and buk-buk-buk-bukawwing emanates from The Run.

But there is one thing that bothers me.

I noticed Bronny (my Dark Brahma) has a patch of feathers missing from her neck. Curious. And I also noticed that when Bronny jumped up onto the roost inside Coopenhagen ready to turn in for the night, Miss Lynn hopped beside her and immediately started pecking at her neck.

Poor Bronny.

The next day when I examined Bronny's neck, I saw this...

Again. Poor Bronny.

It looked like Miss Lynn pecked the feathers all the way down to the quills. How painful must that be? At least Bronny's skin wasn't broken.

Then I did some research. On Google. As usual.

What I thought was chicken-on-chicken abuse was simply part of the molting process. Even Miss Lynn's feather pecking.

Now what exactly is molting? It's when old feathers are lost and new ones grow in to take their place.

According to this website, there's a specific order in which feathers are lost and regrown. First from the head and neck, then from the saddle, breast and abdomen (body), then from the wings and finally from the tail.


And what I thought was pecked-away quills is actually the new feathers growing in. They're called 'pin feathers' and they're what pushed the old feathers out.


Now why the feather pecking?

Well, feathers are about 85% protein. And to regrow lost feathers it takes protein, so eating them makes sense (to chickens). And where's the best place to get nice fresh feathers? From other nearby chickens.


This, by the way, is also why egg production goes down during molting. All the protein that's usually used to make the eggs is now used to make the new feathers. A good idea during the molt is to up protein foods and treats to supplement what the chickens lose while their new feathers grow in. Meal Worms, anyone?

Having taken all of this in, I think it's safe to say: Chicken Mystery solved.

And as I said before, at just over twenty weeks of age, my six Girls are coming along just fine.

--Chicken Dup