Kitchen Garden

What’s Growing on in January

I love writing these monthly catch ups on our kitchen garden, documenting the activities and plans. It’s a good excuse to get the camera out and really study the garden changing throughout the year. I use these posts as a reminder to look back on too.

January is usually a hard month for a lot of people, the weather hasn’t helped lift moods being so gloomy and dark. Threatening skies, murky and damp, I’m surprised some of our hens have come back into lay so soon.

But there are signs of good things to come. Take our rhubarb for example, it’s just starting to burst into life again after a brief moment of dormancy. It may not look much right now but in just a few weeks, it will. It’ll be all blushing stalks and leaves as big as dinner plates.

Go rhubarb!

If you want a super early rhubarb that tastes great and makes beautiful jams then Timperley Early is a great addition to your vegetable garden or allotment. It reappears soon after being dormant in autumn, pushing egg-like buds through the soil as early as December. Superb for forcing, it crops so early naturally you can pull it unforced late February to Early March. It’s not the heaviest cropping rhubarb but well worth growing for early cropping.

We’re still pulling some lovely roots from the carrot and parsnip beds. Autumn King carrots over winter in our garden and of course parsnips taste even sweeter after a good frosting. Long and straight parsnips from a no dig bed in its second year, not bad at all!

Kale ‘Nero Di Toscana’ (black Tuscan kale) has served us well throughout winter, the plants now resemble mini exotic palm trees with bare stems and leafy tops. Double rows of broad bean seedlings continue to grow well, protected under tunnel cloches from the destruction of chicken beaks and feet.

New growth sprouting at the base of the blackcurrants.

Our Brahma chickens enjoying some free time in the vegetable garden. When spring arrives and seed sowing begins the chickens are kept out using barrier mesh fencing.

I spotted some frogs in the wildlife pond preparing to attract a mate for spawning soon. We love the call of the males, we should start to hear it by next month.

We plan to sow chillies and tomatoes indoors in seed trays very soon, potting on throughout spring as needed. We do this every year with great results, eventually planting healthy and sturdy plants into the greenhouse towards the end of May, once night-time temperatures are steady enough.

I’m looking forward to putting a seed order or two in soon, it’s so exciting waiting for seed packets to arrive. I always try to grow either a new variety or something completely new to our garden each growing year, this year I’m thinking about growing Oca for the first time. Exciting!

Do you plan to grow something new this year?

Kitchen Garden

Sowing in the Wind

The weather has been very blustery since yesterday and it looks set to continue today. The chickens are not fans of the wind blowing up their skirts, especially the fluffy gang…

The sun was shining earlier so I got on with planting broad beans in the cold wind. I don’t mind so much when I’m working in the vegetable garden, it’s the only time the weather doesn’t bother me, although I had to hold on tight to my seed packet!

kitchen garden, vegetable garden,

Broad bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are a hardy variety, perfect for direct sowing in autumn right through to January if the soil isn’t frozen or water-logged. Our seeds go straight into the ground in a deep raised bed, the soil warmed with tunnel cloches for a few weeks before sowing. I sow double rows and use more seeds than needed to allow for failures, then cover with tunnel cloches to aid germination. The cloches remain in place and lifted only to water if the soil becomes too dry, as the seedlings grow taller we remove them.

The tunnel cloches are simply lengths of plastic corrugated sheeting slid into metal cloche hoops. The hoops are pushed down into the soil to anchor the sheets in place, keeping the soil warm and protecting the crop from weather and pests such as pigeons. Or in our case, chickens.

Seeds tucked safe and warm under tunnel cloches

The idea of sowing hardy broad beans in autumn is to get an earlier crop and avoid blackfly, in our experience we really only get a few weeks head start at most before the spring sown beans start producing. However I enjoy the anticipation of seedlings bursting into life through the soil, while everything else around them is taken by winters firm grip.

Growing broad beans from autumn onwards can be a challenge, nurturing the plants through the bleakest months can be tricky with cruel winds and heavy snow at the ready to scupper your plans. Some winters are easier than others, but I came up with a nifty idea for protecting plants through gales – wind break panels made from plastic sheeting, fashioned together using garden wire and garden canes. Heavy snow is far trickier to control if the plants are particularly tall, we’ve had plants literally collapse and snap low down during tough winters. When this happens the plants eventually produce shoots from the base and continue growing, but they’re never as good.

There’s always spring to fall back on of course, but I rather like a challenge.

Chicken Health

Poultry Worms

From time to time your chickens will get worms, and not just the juicy kind they find in the garden. They’ll also get intestinal worms. Icky. Poultry worms are a common occurrence, especially if your flock free range frequently. I realise this is a gross subject, but if you keep chickens then you should learn to recognise the signs of a worm problem in your flock and how to treat when it does occur. I’ve included a few tips on how to go about preventing them too.

How do chickens get worms?

  • Eating worm egg hosts such as earthworms and snails
  • Picking up worm eggs from the ground via infected poultry droppings

 

Signs to look out for:

  • Dirty feathers around the vent / diarrhoea
  • Anaemia (pale combs and wattles)
  • Visible worms in droppings
  • Drop in egg production
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of condition

Poultry worms you may come across:

Large roundworm is a very visible (when out of the body) and long worm that lives in the small intestine. We’ve come across them before when bringing new chickens in, they look rather like spaghetti – sorry pasta lovers! The worm burrows into the gut wall which causes inflammation and damage if left untreated, reducing the intake of nutrients. A bird passing live worms in the droppings is heavily infected.

chicken worms, poultry worms
Large roundworm passed a couple of days after worming with Flubenvet. I hope you haven’t just had your tea.

Hairworm is a small worm about the width of a hair, hence the name. Found in the upper digestive system such as the crop, hairworm can cause a lot of internal damage, even in small numbers. Signs are green diarrhoea and anaemia with birds hunched and looking unwell.

Caecal worm is found in the caecum of chickens. Tiny little worms, they can be seen wriggling in caecal droppings. They’re quite common and usually harmless to healthy chickens in low numbers. If a natural worming approach doesn’t clear them (see below) then a medicated poultry wormer may be needed.

Tapeworm rarely affect chickens, however they can and live in the intestine. Tapeworm segments can be seen in the droppings, they’re odd tubular things that sort of wiggle a bit, only once in all our years of chicken keeping have we seen this. The hen was treated by a vet for a stronger dose of wormer. If you are concerned your chicken has tapeworm then you should seek veterinary advice.

Gapeworm is commonly seen in pheasants and turkeys, but they also affect chickens. The blood-red worms attach themselves to the trachea (throat), causing gasping (gaping) and neck stretching as the chicken struggles to breathe. Left untreated, they can be fatal by suffocation. They can be picked up from other birds coughing up the adult worms or via hosts such as earthworms and snails.

Control and treatment of poultry worms:

  • Frequently move free ranging birds / moveable runs to fresh ground
  • Add a couple of crushed garlic cloves to the drinking water to create a hostile environment in the gut
  • Inspect droppings, including caecal droppings for visible signs of worms
  • Heat, drought and a hard frost can destroy worm eggs or prevent them from maturing
  • Keep grass short during summer to allow UV from sunlight to destroy eggs
  • Include herbs in your flocks diet for a natural approach to worming
  • Feed raw pumpkin/squash seeds, they contain cucurbitin, an amino acid that can eliminate parasitic worms such as tapeworm and roundworm. There are varying opinions on this method of worming, we don’t have much evidence it actually works.
  • If worms are frequently seen in the droppings or a faecal sample is positive for worms, we recommend feeding Marriage’s layers pellets with added Flubenvet for 7 days as a really easy way of worming your flock. Available from licensed stockists.

We worm our chickens twice a year with Flubenvet, usually autumn and spring when conditions are right for worm eggs to thrive (warm and wet). We always worm new additions to our flock as a precaution. A heavy worm burden will impair the health of the bird by robbing them of important nutrients, if left for a long period of time, worms can damage the digestive tract of the birds which can lead to other infections.

Chicken Health

Chicken Moult

Around this time of year, when our chickens are going through their late autumn moult, coops and pens resemble a chicken crime scene. Huge bundles of feathers strewn everywhere!

For the new chicken keeper, experiencing chicken moult can be alarming! When your flock decide it’s time for a change of clothes feathers literally drop out overnight – covering the bedding on the coop floor. Sometimes a soft moult is all that’s needed, just an area of the body here and there, these partial moults often go on unnoticed, but when a hard moult is going on your chickens will look really scruffy for a while, perhaps even naked. Late summer to early winter is usually the time for moult but it can occur at anytime of the year. Your chickens may all go into a moult together or just 1 or 2 at a time.

It may not be noticeable, but our Brahma girls are going through their first adult moult now and looking a little scruffy in places – feet included!

Moult is necessary to replace old and worn feathers in order to be in the best possible condition to keep warm in winter. Most chickens go through a moult without any issues but for others it can be hard going, thankfully there are things you can do to help your flock through it. Chicken feathers are composed mostly of keratin (a protein responsible for the strength of wool, hair, fingernails and hooves), so it’s a good idea to increase protein intake during the moult. Our girls love protein-rich dried mealworms scattered around or mixed in with the usual feed, we like to add them to a warm mash on a cold morning. Boiled eggs cut into chunks to disguise (you don’t want to encourage egg eating after all!), peas and sunflower seeds are good for protein too. These treats should be fed in moderation as and when needed for moulting chickens and not replace the usual feed. Adding tonics to the drinking water will help give a boost in vitamins and minerals, we recommend Life-Guard poultry tonic.

A hen going through a hard moult will either significantly reduce the amount of eggs she lays or stop altogether, putting all her energy into growing new feathers rather than producing eggs. You may even find the occasional soft-shelled egg while a moult is occurring, this should correct itself once the moult is over.

chicken moult
One of our Lohmann Brown hens going through a hard moult, she shed most of her feathers within 48 hours and now she’s covered with pin feathers. She’ll look beautiful again very soon, just in time for winter.

New feathers coming through are known as ‘pin feathers’, they look like blueish spikes pushing through the surface of the bare skin. Try to avoid picking your chickens up during this time, pressure on pin feathers can be quite painful for them. Pin feathers can be very attractive to other chickens, they really bleed if pecked! Keep an eye out for feather pecking problems and use purple spray (also known as gentian violet spray ) as an antiseptic and to help disguise red areas (chickens are very attracted to the colour red, particularly blood) to discourage further pecking, separate if it becomes a real problem to avoid damage or worse.

Kitchen Garden

A Quick Autumn Tidy Up

We did a spot of autumn tidying in the veg garden this afternoon. The weather has been so lovely and mild for the time of year and the garden still looks so green and full of life.

I really struggle to pull things out before the first autumn frost has a chance to claim its victims. We did just enough tidying to make life easier for when colder weather does finally arrive but not too much tidying, frogs and toads are still active in the garden and they need areas of cover. I’m not ready to put the garden to bed just yet.

Beds that lay empty were weeded and topped with compost for planting garlic and sowing hardy broad beans next month, we covered them over for now with pieces of chicken wire (held down with bricks) to prevent cats from ‘using’ them. We picked yet more beans for drying and storing and Rich cut down tired runner bean vines to add to the compost bins. There’s always a hen or two around to help out.gardening, chickens

The light started to fade very quickly due to clocks going back an hour, before long we were putting tools away in the shed and locking the chicken coops. Still, it was nice to be out in the autumn sunshine.

Uncategorized

Wordless Wednesday

apple tree garden hen ex battery hen eggs in a wicker basket hens in a garden light sussex veg patchImages from our garden smallholding.

 

 

Chickens

Pretty Pullets

pulletsWe collected a Light Sussex and a hybrid pullet named after the rather posh Clarence Court eggs from our friends at Cock and Pullet last weekend. Our Light Sussex is laying and there’s a chance of a green/blue or very dark brown egg from the other pullet when she begins laying soon.

hybrid pullet

They’re both friendly young ladies and settling in well. Welcome, Buttercup and Daisy, to our garden smallholding.

Chicken Health · Chickens

Chicken Colds – Mycoplasma

bubbles in chickens eye mycoplasma
Bubbles can clearly be seen in the corner of the eye, a symptom of mycoplasma respiratory infection in chickens. Note the slight facial swelling. Photo property of The Garden Smallholder Blog, photographer Karen Jackson.

Does my chicken have a cold? Sneezing accompanied by discharge from the nostrils are commonly referred to as a ‘chicken cold’. However, it’s very likely your chicken/flock are suffering from a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, often severe in winter. A fairly common illness (according to my vet) and contagious, mycoplasma is transmitted by wild birds, footwear, clothing and feeding equipment. The first time chickens succumb to the infection seems to be the worst, subsequent outbreaks seem to be milder. Early symptoms to look out for are bubbles in the eyes (see photo above), sneezing and facial swelling, left untreated this will surely result in rattles in the chest and eventual respiratory distress. Treatment of antibiotics such as Tylan soluble or Denagard prescribed by your veterinary surgeon will help, usually there’s no egg withdrawal but do check with your vet. Individual cases should be quarantined and kept warm, if the whole flock is affected then treat together. As always good hygiene is important to prevent disease or illness with poultry, however new birds brought in can already be carriers, becoming ill soon after arrival due to the stress of being rehoused or integrated within a new flock.

Stress is a trigger.

Sadly some chickens will die. Most affected birds do recover with treatment but will remain carriers (becoming mildly ill again during stressful situations or during winter) some never get ill at all having a higher resistance than others. Avoid overcrowding and keep up strict hygiene, it is important to treat at the first sign of illness. Any chicken can get a respiratory infection such as mycoplasma, even your ‘posh’ ones. ex battery hens

Regular readers of The Garden Smallholder blog will know I give a home to ex-battery hens when space allows, I have done this for many years and it’s a great joy of mine to watch them experience a different quality of life, for however long that may be. There are many people like me but there are just as many who believe that ex-battery hens are sickly creatures that spread diseases. In fact, ex-battery hens are covered by a strict vaccination schedule, they have to be, they’re in the food chain after all. I doubt very much that all hobby breeders vaccinate so strictly. Most of our ex-battery hens have been lost to laying related issues and diseases such as egg yolk peritonitis (EYP), also internal tumours due to faulty genetics caused by thoughtless breeding to create the ultimate laying machines. That’s not to say mycoplasma has never troubled any of the ex battery hens that I’ve kept over the years, it has but always easily treatable.

ex battery hen

I hope this post has been helpful for spotting the early signs of a fairly common respiratory infection in chickens, mycoplasma is not simply a chicken cold and shouldn’t be ignored, it is treatable. I’m not a vet and I don’t claim to be, I’m just putting my little bit of experience out there to help other chicken keepers.

Always seek the advice of a vet (avian or exotics preferably) for signs of illness in poultry.