Feathers, Freedom And The Nitpicking Bad Girl

This girl has an obsession. Or maybe she has an addiction. Or a deficiency that has led to an obsession or addiction. Yeah, that’s it. You see, some of my chickens are doing this thing called “molting” where they shed feathers like crazy. You would think it would only happen during the summertime and not the freezing cold of winter, but it happens at anytime of year.

This is another chickie that seems to be molting. I have three Rhode Island Reds and two of them are losing feathers in the exact same place – by the tail. I also have three Wyandottes, two White Leghorns and two Ameraucanas… but none of them are molting right now. And all are doing fine with nutrition and health.

So what’s the problem?

The first girl is picking out the fluffy feathers. Not just one or two here and there, but she’s picking at the other two Reds relentlessly. So at first I thought it had to do with nutrition. After all, these soft under-feathers are like caviar to the bird who needs extra protein. So was that it? Step up the protein? That’s what I thought at first, so I began to feed the hens chopped walnuts. I always turn to this site for help in what they’re allowed to eat and nuts are on the list. (Thank you!) I know that walnuts are loaded with protein so then all I had to do is see if they like ’em. And they do! And together with the expanded “free-ranging” area where bugs can be discovered they should have all the protein they need.

But the girlie didn’t stop. She then moved onto the other birds who show no signs of molting, so it seems that feathers are not the goal. Her whole attitude has changed. She’s been attacking the others for no real reason and so into the bad girl jail she went. A little while back I found myself making the choice to buy Purina feed instead of the organic feed I started out with. The choice was a matter of convenience since I was on the other side of town from my regular feed store. Big mistake. It’s obvious they don’t like it as much and there must not be enough protein and other nutrients in it, and could possibly have led to the bad girl issues I’m having. It’s something I have to seriously consider when it comes time to grow my own feed.

This is the bad girl jail. It is four panels held together by bungee cords. The hubby and I knew that this would be moved around and possibly configured in different ways so rather than building a cage, using panels made more sense. The end goal is to add two more long panels, two medium-sized panels and one more short panel to make it a big or small as necessary. I think it’ll come in quite handy when adding new birds to the lot.

So, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it typical to remove the “picked on” birds rather than the trouble makers? Well, maybe not. I’ve been using a method I call “go to the corner” where if you have one or two trouble makers in the flock, then they get sequestered to an area where all can see. Over the course of 3-5 days, the bird(s) will be knocked down a notch on the pecking order pole (for a little while) and that should fix the bad attitude. And it’s worked so far. The Leghorns were quite the bullies so I tried this method and I haven’t had trouble out of them since. But I’m a little worried about this Red not learning her lesson. She is very stubborn. I mean stubborn! She watches me and constantly tries to walk out of the gate with me every morning and will not take my boot as a hint to stay put. She isn’t happy with the tree branch some of the others like to fly up to, and she doesn’t play follow the leader. She likes to stand around and look at things… outside of the fence. Hmm, maybe I should rethink this.

So I decided to let her spread her wings. She seems to be the kind of girl that needs lots of room. It’s hard for her to coexist with the other hens and she just needs something to distract her. I get it. I don’t work well in groups either. Enter the movable fencing. It’s an idea the hubby came up with that allows me to expand their outdoor space to any part of the yard that I choose. And that was it! That’s what it took to keep her happy and believe that she’s free. Now she has so much to discover that she could care less about the other girls. So no more jail time for being a bad girl, just fun time.

Looking for a movable fence too? In the pet stores, they can get pricey and really aren’t built for chickens. So building it ourselves was our only option. We took the leftover deer fencing and cut it into about 15-20 foot lengths. We stapled fence posts to it about every 6 feet. (The hubby milled these himself! Makes me proud.) About a foot of fencing was extended to hang past the bottom of the posts.

The hubby added two 3/4″ pipe straps to the bottom of each post and made sure they were attached so they’d be slightly wider than the pipe. The hubby then made stands for each post using dado cuts and screwed on a 12″ pipe to each one. That’s it. I just place the stands where I want them, and slip the posts onto the pipes. Easy on, easy off. I use twist ties to attach it to the original fence. And since we sometimes get high winds in the evenings, I throw on a few (found) bricks to keep them stable.

We made two so far, extending the fencing about 30 feet. I used both to create this (really big) area for the girls to roam around in. They’ve already torn apart the compost pile and found a buffet to eat, including the biggest grub I ever saw in my life. (Where’s that camera when I need it?) And when they get close to completely scratching this area all up, I’ll just move it somewhere else. Cool. We also thought about making little tunnels to guide them to areas that are farther out still. We’ll see.

And all to make one hen happy. (sigh) Wait, what’s this?

She’s gazing out beyond the run again? Will she ever be satisfied?