Poor little Pippa! She is molting (or moulting – either spelling is correct) with a capital M. Little thing looks like she’s just a few feathers away from being fully plucked and casserole ready.
It’s a sure sign of fall when the hens start to molt. According to the “experts” (this means anyone posting on the Internet) it is not so much the season that determines the timing of a hen’s molt, but the interval of time that has passed since she first began to lay. In general, they say, a hen will first molt 12-18 months after point of lay. The more prolific the layer, the later the molt, or so the conventional wisdom says.
All I really know is that from mid-summer to early winter, our chicken pen tends to look like the scene of a giant pillow fight. All the girls seem to molt around this time, some more subtly than others. Pippa’s molt has been anything but subtle.
Here she at least still has a tail feather:
But it got worse – she lost them all!
Little Pippa has a big handle: she is officially known as a Belgian Bearded “Mille Fleur” d’Uccle bantam. The breed was developed in the Belgian town of Uccle in the 1800’s by crossing the Booted Bantam with the Belgian Bearded d’Anvers. There are several varieties, including the lovely porcelain d’Uccle, but the “Mille Fleur”, translating as “thousand flowers” in reference to the bird’s colorful spangled appearance, remains a favorite.
Unlike most breeds, a Mille Fleur’s molt actually results in a “makeover”, as each successive molt adds more white to their feathers. Opinion seems somewhat divided as to whether this is an improvement in their appearance, and perhaps it varies from bird to bird. It will be at least a few weeks before we know how Pippa will look – I’ve read that a molt can last as long as six to twelve weeks. It is a natural process that allows a hen’s body to rest; egg production ceases during a molt since feathers are comprised of 85% protein and it takes a lot of the bird’s energy to re-grow them. The flight feathers are shed at different intervals to allow the bird to continue to escape from predators during her molt.
If it’s any consolation, Pippa’s molt is not the worst one out there. Backyardchickens.com often has a “worst molt” thread contest and you can find the latest one here. Pippa looks positively fluffy compared to some of these birds.
Hang in there, Miss Pips – it will all be over soon!