Penelope is a popular lady. In fact, she’s the top hen in the flock and Lazzie’s favorite. These days, they snuggle next to each other on the roost each night and often range together. She is also the recipient of most of his, er, affections, and the other cockerel is not even allowed near her.
As a result, the feathers on her back have become a bit worn, as is especially apparent on a drizzly, rainy day as pictured below. But this is not her only problem. Penelope, an Easter Egger, used to have a fine, black beard that any lady would be proud to sport. Now, her chin is bare.
I noticed this one night while counting heads on the roost. It must have happened all in one day – her entire beard, gone! I looked closely with a flashlight and saw that she was not bloody, just plucked, which was somewhat of a relief. But, what could it be? I wondered. I high-tailed it back down the hill to ask Google.
I looked up mites, thinking that some sort of parasite was surely to blame. I looked up pox, and I looked up nutritional deficits, but nothing fit what I was seeing. Finally, I typed something like “bald face no beard” into the BYC Forum search box – and found my answer.
One of my other chickens must have picked it off. Breeders said that it was common in overcrowded and bored birds, especially those with beards, if something gets stuck in the beard feathers and the others start picking at it. Overcrowded and bored! I tried not to be insulted: Although it is winter, my birds have 6 square feet apiece in the coop, about 20 square feet each in the run, and spend half the day ranging! So, I decided that it was probably just the rain and mud that were to blame.
I am not going to worry about the beard – she doesn’t seem to care, although it has gotten even worse since this picture – but I have been considering a chicken saddle to protect her back. I wonder, however, if a saddle would prevent her from properly preening her feathers, oiling and maintaining them with oil from her oil gland. Yet, if it goes too far, she could be cut on her bare sides by Lazzie’s spurs, which could end really badly.
After looking at her further, I’ve decided to buy her a saddle. I considered making one myself, but my semester is starting up next week and I want to trim my apple trees this weekend (a bit early, but I don’t want to forget again), so I decided to just purchase one from a small retailer. I’m worried that, if I don’t, her poor little back will be completely bare!
I poked around on the net a bit and decided to purchase from fellow BYCer Louise’s Country Closet. Now, we are not affiliated, but I have to say I was really pleased with her store. Not only did I like her saddles, but she gave me the three things most important to me when shopping online: 1) guest checkout, because I hate creating an account with a username and password 4,000 times a year; 2) free shipping, which I did not even expect, but was thrilled not to have to pay a big extra fee for; and 3) PayPal checkout, so I don’t have to give out my credit card information to a small site with questionable security. Seriously, people, this kind of stuff is a big deal to me. I buy a lot of stuff online because I live in the country and don’t really like stores. This is the kind of thing that makes my evening.
Hopefully, Penelope will be feeling better soon, and the saddle will give her poor back a rest and allow her feathers to start growing back in. Maybe it will even keep her bare back a bit warmer in this chilly weather.