Finally, we’ve had a couple of frosty mornings this week at the Smallholdings in our patch of Essex. The recent mild spell was pretty disconcerting, wasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever been more glad to wrap up in warm layers than now. Pacing down to the chicken runs in the pre-dawn dark through crystallised grass has been especially lovely – and today I saw the rather endearing faces of two muntjacs starting at me. Though while I’m swaddling myself in wool, the hens are doing quite the reverse: some are going through the moult just as the cold has set in.
I opened up the house the other day to see dark feathers scattered everywhere. A sense of alarm spread through me and I searched the floor for any sign that the fox had broken in (he’d be highly cunning if he had because we’ve an electric fence and the chicken wire dug well under). But no, nothing thankfully: just the result of rejuvenation. The Black Rock is looking particularly ropey – feel like I tempted fate when I hailed her the Helen Mirren of the hen world in a blog a few weeks back. I’ve never seen her shed feathers like this before – being a hybrid, she isn’t really meant to, but perhaps it’s the fact she is half Rhode Island Red (our Rhodie is also shedding plumage) that she performs the ritual, starting with the neck and head feathers, as is the custom.
They are already resembling porcupines, as the stubs of replacment plumage are emerging. Next with be the breast, petticoat and tail. Let’s hope they re-feather quickly – it can take up to three months, which would be a bit sad as they’d only be fully clothed, as it were, in February when it starts warming up. Plus, we’d be eggless till then and that will never do.