Birds of a feather don t always flock together

Winter hen apron

Hen with bare backLast spring I purchased
several Rhode Island Red laying hens.  Four of the hens I
purchased had varying degrees of feather damage.  The two chickens
with the worst de-feathering have not healed.  These two hens have
improved, but not substantially enough to protect themselves from the
bitterly cold Colorado winter.  With our first snow usually
occurring in October, it was time to act for the two little hens.

Having heard that a hen
apron, also known as a chicken saddle, is the best method for
protecting a chicken’s bare skin I set out on a search for the highest
quality chicken apron available.  I needed something that would
provide enough warmth to keep the hen’s bare skin from being further
damaged by frostbite.  I also have one hen with fairly substantial
damage to the feathers on her shoulders, and I had no idea what to do
about that.  I found a product on-line called Hen Saver that
looked promising.

Hen apron with eye spots

The Hen Saver hen apron
comes in a variety of sizes and colors, which is all well and good but
of little interest to me.  What was of great interest to me was
the Winter model, a hen apron that comes with a soft fleece lining on
the inside.  Not only is the inside of the apron soft on the
chicken’s exposed skin, but the fleece will take the place of their
feathers to keep the hens warm.  What was also of great interest
to me was the shoulder attachment option.  As mentioned earlier
one of my hens has bare shoulders, a problem I did not know how to deal
with.  When I discovered that a shoulder covering could be added
to the apron I was thrilled.  This combination of fleece and
shoulder coverings might just get the ladies through the winter.

Hen apronThe
Hen Saver apron has two additional options.  There are options for
the straps (how the aprons attach to the birds), and there is the
option to have “predator eyes”  placed on the back of the
apron.  The straps come in two varieties.  There is a
single-strap model (easier for you to put on, and easier for the bird
to take off), or a double-strap model (harder for you to put on, and
harder for the bird to take off).  Because my chickens aren’t
necessarily pets, and they can sometimes be tough to catch, I opted for
the double-strap model.   This type of strap crisscrosses the
bird so the apron really stays put.  However all of the strapping
can be uncomfortable for the hens and in rare cases some birds will
simply not tolerate them. 

The second option,
“predator eyes” are round yellow and red circles that are sewn on to
Hen apron with shoulder padsthe back of each apron. 
They are intended to look like eyes staring up from the back of the
chicken, hopefully scaring hawks away.  The makers of Hen Saver
aprons indicate on their web site that they have anecdotal evidence
that the predator eyes are a deterrent, but that they do not have
substantial proof they do work.  I opted for the “predator eyes”
anyway, thinking a little extra protection from aerial predators can’t

Holding aproned henI ordered the Hen Savers and
waited patiently until they arrived; having the custom “predator eyes”
sewn on the back of each apron slows down the order.  When the
aprons arrived I scheduled a time with my husband to put the aprons on
the birds.  This project struck me as a two person job, and indeed
with the crisscrossing straps that we opted for, this was a two person
job.  We started with the bird that had the most damage, feeling
an urge to take care of her first.  My husband held the bird as
she stood on a table.  I wrangled her head through the straps,
then the first wing, then the second.  It really wasn’t too bad
getting the apron in place.  The shoulder protector slipped over
her head and secured in place with a large Velcro patch.  And just
like that, in less than two minutes, the Hen Saver apron was on our
chicken.  We set the first bird aside and proceeded to suit up the
next chicken – she was ready to go even faster than the first
bird.  Wow – too easy.  I was feeling quite confident at this

Naughty duckWhich is right about the time
our story takes a turn.  I picked up the two newly decked-out
chickens and headed over to the poultry pen.  We keep an
assortment of chickens and a trio of Cayuga ducks, and for the most
part everyone gets along pretty well.  I placed the two chickens
back in the pen, shut the door, and turned to walk away.  As I
turned away a commotion of squawking, flapping, quacking, thrashing,
and thumping broke loose.  I turned on my heel and headed back
inside the pen.  What I saw was memorable.  Both of the
chickens wearing the aprons were not happy with their new outfits, and
they were trying to get out of them by backing up at high speed, with
much flapping and chaos.  Remember that each
Hen apron with predator eyesapron has “predator eyes”
sewn on the back, and picture yourself as a chicken or duck in the pen
with this “thing” with huge eyes coming at you fast.  The chickens
without the aprons were in complete panic, running for their lives,
flapping to get some height, squawking, and trying to hide behind
anything that wasn’t moving.  The ducks, on the other hand, took a different approach.  Rather than turn and run the ducks decided to stand and fight. And what a fight it was.  Three organized ducks
against two flailing, confused chickens – it was a mugging.

The two chickens wearing
the aprons have been sequestered to safer quarters, and the ducks are
being mulled over for a post on Craigslist.  I have been
unsuccessful getting the ducks to accept the chickens wearing the
aprons – they attack any time the chickens turn their backs and flash
the “predator eyes.”  My last-ditch idea to keep the peace is to
remove the “predator eyes” from the back of each apron, which I hate to
do considering the up-charge for this feature.  While the makers
of the Hen Saver aprons cannot be
Christine Faithcertain that the “predator
eyes” deter hawks, I can say with absolute certainty that ducks have no
doubt.  To the ducks, the yellow and red circles of fabric are
clearly the eyes of something menacing.  Without hesitation I
would recommend the Hen Saver apron if one of your chickens has feather
damage.  That being said, if you don’t want additional feather
damage done to the bird wearing the apron, and you have ducks, I would
pass on the “predator eyes.” 

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