The Chickens Are Molting!

January was an especially bad month around here – not because of the pandemic or because of drought or fires or power shut-offs – or even because of the lingering political malaise.

It’s because we didn’t have eggs from Sandy and Stacey’s backyard hens.

Being in a pandemic-induced foul (fowl?) mood, I was inclined to march over to these normally-sweet hens and reprimand them. How could they possibly do this to us?! Don’t they know that everyone is feeling pretty grumpy at the moment – and we don’t need unexpected food shortages? Don’t they know that we don’t like to buy eggs at the grocery store? Don’t they know that we can barely get through breakfast without an egg – or two?

I guess creatures are behaving more normally than we humans are at the moment. Molting is a natural yearly occurrence for hens. And – in Andy’s Corner today – you’ll learn that hens aren’t the only ones enduring this yucky “clucky” experience. And, just so you know, I’m pretty sure my beloved Pecker never molted.

When the days grow shorter and chillier, chickens need to replace their old, scruffy feathers with new, tight, shiny ones to protect them from winter’s cold and rain and snow. Doing this requires lots of protein from their body; producing eggs also requires lots of protein. During a molt the hen’s body directs all the protein toward feather production, so egg production ceases. Interesting, huh?

HA!

Learning about that made me wonder why we can buy eggs in the grocery store all year long. Do commercially-raised hens not molt? The answer is a little complex and not all that appetizing. Here’s a good article from the University of Kentucky about it. Suffice it to say that commercial egg producers carefully regulate the light and temperature and food to control and shorten their hens’ molting.

According to the blog found on Nature.org, bird owners know that the “mood” or “personality” of their bird — whether it be a chicken, parrot or darling starling — can change dramatically during molt. The birds often retreat to quiet spaces, reduce their activity and just want to be left alone.

Maybe the pandemic is bringing out a molt in us!

The pandemic – and vaccines – also have an interesting tie-in to eggs. Apparently 82% of flu vaccines are egg based – and are produced from hens kept in highly secure – even secret – locations. According to CNN, every day hundreds of thousands of eggs are transported to vaccine-makers where the virus is then grown in the eggs.

Rest assured, COVID vaccines are not egg-based. At least a shortage of eggs due to molting is not something that will interrupt our COVID vaccinations! Thank goodness for little things.

Just as I was immersed in my research about molting, my friend Susan sent me a favorite recipe which came from her Granny. Susan promised me that everyone she’d ever served this cake to loved it. Now Susan and I go way WAY back, having grown up together on little South Shields Street acreages in Fort Collins, Colorado, back when South Shields Street was still country. I know she raised Jersey cows (Susan reports she milked four cows twice a day!) but maybe Susan and her mom and Granny didn’t raise chickens, because her cake recipe has no eggs. I was sure Susan had just left out that seemingly-crucial cake ingredient, but when I did some checking I found those egg-less cakes used to be called “Depression” or “War” cakes, since they were baked a lot during times when eggs were either expensive or hard to find (or maybe it was November in Colorado and – like all smart hens – they were molting!).

The cake is delicious as is – and also perfect for anyone who is vegan, but it’s February and Sandy and Stacey’s hens are back on my good side. I may even try Granny’s cake with an egg added and do a taste test.

If your local hens are molting and breakfast is looking grim, we suggest Overnight Steel Cut Oats, Ginger Scones, Andy’s Biscuits, and Deb’s Granola. But if you’re craving dessert – and have no eggs – well, Granny’s Applesauce Cake will be your go-to.

Granny’s Applesauce Cake

Granny's Applesauce Cake

The recipe can easily be doubled.  If doubling, use a greased and floured bundt pan and bake for about 1 hour +  or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  If you want to be fancier, put whole pecans in the bottom of the bundt pan so that when the cake is removed from the pan, the top is decorated with pecans.  And, yes, there are no eggs in it.

  • 1/3 c butter, softened (I used 1/2 c to keep it simple) (to make this vegan, simply substitute oil for the butter)
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c sweetened (or unsweetened) applesauce; use unsweetened if you’re keeping sugar at a minimum
  • 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cloves (I used 1/4 tsp, since I’m not a big fan of cloves)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (optional)
  • 2 c chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts work well)
  • 1 c raisins
  • whipped cream or ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter and flour an 8″ cake pan.

Beat the butter and sugar together with a hand mixer.  Stir in the applesauce and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.  Stir that into the applesauce mix and then stir in the nuts and raisins.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Recipe brought to you by Susan in Fort Collins, BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

2 Comments

  1. Robert Carleton says:

    The cake looks great… will have to try it this week… love the idea that it’s an 8″ cake, so the downside (diet wise) is limited.

    Regarding the molt: many birds molt twice a year. Ducks (of the migratory sort) molt after the breeding season – and males are really unable or nearly unable to fly at this time and their eclipse plumage (after the molt) is drab.. Then there’s the late-winter/early-spring molt that results in the resplendent nuptial plumage. This can be spectacular, and if you have access to flamingos or peacocks, they are extravagantly beautiful. Even the pea hens are especially pretty this time of year..

    Like

    • theRaggedys says:

      Thanks for the molting info. If ducks can’t fly during a molt, I sure hope they can continue to swim. It would be pretty bleak for them if they couldn’t. And, although we don’t have access to flamingos or peacocks in Glen Ellen, we do have lots of wild turkeys. I wouldn’t say they are extravagantly beautiful, but they are an impressive lot (unless they are digging up your garden or pooping on your deck).

      Like

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