Most of my chickens experienced a light molt this fall, went through their awkward stage and are back looking shiny and new. However, a few of the girls are molting later than I’d like this year. Thankfully, they’re molting lightly and don’t seem to be bothered by their patches of spotty growth.
That is, except for Olivia. She’s undergone the worst molt of the bunch and has been looking downright scruffy for awhile. I didn’t realize until this week that the poor girl is half naked! Brrrrr. It’s the week before Christmas! When I saw her shaking and standing on one leg, I picked her up. Her top half is made up of old feathers and new, tiny ones that are coming in. Because of this, I thought she was on the mend from her molting. But her whole underside? Just tiny little sprouts of new feathers there with lots of skin showing through. No wonder she’s cold.
I’m too much of a softy when it comes to the chickens and I couldn’t just leave her out there shivering to a slow, miserable death. So, inside she came. Into the toasty, 68 degree living room (in a crate), to warm up. It took her almost an hour to quit shaking and stand on both legs. In that time, she warmed up, but the outdoors didn’t.
So, I made an executive decision and looked up the pattern for a fleece sweater from the Hen Rescue people, grabbed some black fleece (hoping to have it blend in and not cause pecking by the other girls), some velcro, a tape measure (yes, she got a custom made garment) and some scissors. Fortunately, the pattern is a NO sewing one (because I’m terrible at it) and I had a toasty warm cover for Olivia with about five minutes of effort.
However, the making of the garment went much smoother than the intial trying on and fitting. In short, Olivia freaked out having the fleece on. It threw her whole system out of balance, and she (apparently) didn’t think her wings had enough flap room. It distressed her to no end.
So, off the sweater came. I cut in around her wings and cinched it up between her shoulder blades. And back on it went. She still didn’t love it and wobbled a bit when she walked, but it seemed more do-able. I took her back out to the coop and bribed her with chicken candy (cracked corn) to help her practice flying up and down from the roost in the chicken run. Not as graceful as usual (she’s my smallest hen and best flier under normal circumstances), but no major crashes.
Neither her nor the other hens picked at the fleece one bit. It doesn’t even seem that the others even notice it. I had to help her get up on the coop roost (which is higher than the run roost) that night after several failed attempts on her part. I wanted to be sure she was snuggly wedged in her normal spot between two bigger birds, and not stuck off somewhere by herself, so I helped her out.
The next morning, I picked Olivia up and she was warm. Yay. She was walking better and seemed less baffled by her new threads. By the second evening, she was able to get up on the roost without help.
Believe me, I’ve NEVER in a million years thought I’d be making sweaters for my chickens! But a five-minute, almost free solution to a freezing, bald chicken gave me a change of heart. Olivia might not be thrilled about the coat, but she’ll thank me some day. Well, maybe not…but I’m relieved and she’s warm. That’s good enough for me.