Possumhaw: 'I'm molting, I'm molting ... '



Shannon Bardwell



"If you go out to tend your flock this morning and see feathers floating everywhere, don't panic. It may just be molting." 


Jessica Lane, at 104homesteading.com  




While Sam shopped for tractor parts, I hung over the enclosure of baby chickens. Tiny little creatures pecking around. A few sprawled out, looking exhausted and reminding me of Wilhelmina as a kitten when she over-played. At first, I thought maybe the resting chickens were not faring well, but soon they were up pecking around with the others. 


I heard chickens were easier than ducks. Raising three ducks in the upstairs bathroom when it was too cold for them to go to an outside pen was exhausting. Ducklings don't know the difference between their food and water bowl and the toilet. It became a merry-go-round of caretaking. Once outside, things were easier, but then you have to wait for their body oil to come in. The body oil keeps ducks from getting waterlogged and drowning. Had the ducks had a duck mother, she'd preen them, drawing out the oil. Later I put the ducks in a baby pool and taught them to swim; then they were ready for the lake. All this a mother duck would have done. 


Right now, we're in a season of molting -- ducks, rabbits and cats. Everybody is getting a new coat as we ease toward winter. August is a big season for duck molting. Ducks lose all their down feathers and most of the tail feathers. They are constantly grooming. Where they preen it's like a big pillow fight happened, or maybe a night of predators stole a duck or two.  


Our ducks, Hilda and Helen, walk around with downy feathers stuck on their bills, and they won't let you snatch them off for anything. Eventually new white pristine feathers come in. Pekin ducks don't fly, so losing "flight feathers" is not an issue. Wild ducks lose all their flight feathers in the fall. It's the one time drakes band together for safety on the water.  


Rex and Hatcher, the rabbits, are molting also. Mostly due to heat and drought. Hatcher's hair is red and coarse and there's little shed. Poor Rex has soft, downy brown hair and sheds profusely. Some call the major molting a "coat blow." Rex doesn't feel well and mopes when he molts. Sometimes, he'd rather not eat. I comb him twice a day and it comes off in rolls. The loose hair sticks out on his head, over his eyes and in odd clumps across his back. His eyes look sad. At first, he may preen, then he gives up.  


A website suggested feeding Rex papaya, banana or pineapple so the enzymes will dissolve potential hairballs. Rex's meals already look like a deli salad; I don't think Sam would go for buying papaya for rabbits.  


Harry and Wilhelmina are losing hair as well. It could be they are shedding also due to heat. Like the rabbits, the two cats differ. Wilhelmina has coarse short hair while Harry has thick, soft longer hair. Harry preens obsessively while Wilhelmina, not so much. 


Sam found his tractor parts and then found me hanging out with the chickens. No chickens, he warned. "Free-range dogs and coyotes will just get them."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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