chicken moult
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.

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November in the Garden Smallholding

The mild weather continued this month, right up until last weekend when we saw the first real hard frost. Leaves of beautiful autumn colours are blowing around the garden, swirling in circles and settling in corners by the fences. Now is a good time to start the process of making leafmould. It’s brilliant for improving soils or for use as a mulch and it’s easy to make too. Apparently, the best quality leafmould is made from Oak, Beech and Hornbeam leaves. Seeing as my garden is surrounded by magnificent Oak trees and a few Beech I should be making lovely stuff for my soil. I collect leaves this time of year and put them into a hand-made leafmould bin made from four sturdy posts and chicken wire, then I pretty much ignore it for a year or two. It takes a long time for the leaves to rot down but it’s worth putting a bin somewhere in the garden or allotment, this method of leaf collection certainly cuts down the need for a bonfire and risks of harming wildlife.You could use sacks or pierced bin liners to make your leafmould or add some to the compost bin if you wish, just to address the balance.

So what has been happening in the garden smallholding this month? Well, I’ve been planting garlic using home-grown bulbs (Cristo) rather than buying seed garlic as I usually do, hopefully I’ll get a good crop and save a few quid too.The raspberries were still going great guns although they look a little sorry for themselves now, since the frost hit. Fresh raspberries late in the year has been wonderful and I will miss popping outside to pick them. For me, the most noticeable difference of having a mild autumn has been the strawberry patch. The plants are still green. They’re usually displaying their wonderful autumn tones of red, orange and golden-yellow leaves by now. 

The hens are all in moult and laying has dropped considerably, only one hen is still laying every now and then so we have resorted to buying eggs again – free range of course! Touch wood, all seems well at the moment considering that moult can weaken their immune systems. One hen did become ill a few weeks back but a course of antibiotic and feather supplement soon cheered her up and helped to speed up her frantic feather growing.

Now is a great time to place a bug box in your garden, this will provide insects with shelter and a place to hide away from the winter chill. I have some boxes in my garden including one that I made, it was very easy to do and I will post details about that soon. Ladybirds in particular seem to like using the bug boxes, being an organic gardener I welcome their presence and voracious appetite for aphids. If you’re still doing your autumnal garden tidy, spare a thought for hibernating creatures and try not to be too tidy. Try to leave a dense pile of twigs or a few logs somewhere out-of-the-way, scattering leaves on top or nearby might help to encourage creatures to use this as a safe haven to hibernate. 

Enjoy your November garden!

Chickens, Fruit Garden, Harvest

August in the Garden Smallholding

August is the time to reap the rewards, a time when the garden really starts to give back what you so carefully and lovingly put into it, providing regular harvests of fresh fruit and veg, packed full of flavour. An array of crops are ready for harvest this month including sweet corn, golden-yellow cobs bursting with sweetness, a flavour so intense to rival any shop bought produce. Pick them and enjoy straight away, I guarantee you will always find the space to grow them year after year.

The fruit garden will spoil you for choice now too, jams, jellies and chutney are just crying out to be made, a great way to use up a glut of vegetables. Add apples or plums to chopped vegetables and make tasty combinations, a reminder for months to come of the wonderful produce your garden/allotment provided. August is a good month to plant a new strawberry patch using well-rooted runners, a great way to gain more strawberries for free. Perpetual strawberries will extend the picking season until the first frosts, sadly they don’t produce runners freely but it’s well worth buying plants to keep you picking strawberries much longer than usual. Autumn fruiting raspberries are kicking in now, big dark red (almost plum colour) berries are a welcome treat. The summer raspberries are still producing but are noticeably coming to an end.

The temperature has dropped quite a bit recently with a distinct autumn ‘nip’ to the air, leaves are beginning to fall from trees that have taken on a rusty autumn appearance already. I certainly think autumn is creeping up on us faster than usual. Even though I’m enjoying late summer flowers, the occasional warm day and mouth-watering fresh food, now is the time that I start to think about what I can plant or sow for the coming months ahead. Garlic can be planted out from October through to winter as long as the ground is workable, as well as autumn peas (under cloches) and broad beans. I’ve decided to sow Meteor, an autumn variety of pea in the greenhouse from October time, field mice are plenty here due to being surrounded by farmland – my peas don’t really stand a chance otherwise.

Our hens have been laying well considering they are quite old, well, in ex battery terms they are, we’ve had a steady supply of lovely eggs since early spring. Each morning for the past week the floor of the coops have been littered with feathers, a sign that moult has begun and laying will decline soon. Poultry spice added daily to the mash or pellet feed is really useful at this time of year, it helps birds get through the moult and gives them a bit of a boost during cold weather.

Don’t forget natures free kitchen cupboard, elderberries are ripe now and can be used for jelly and jam making, we’re lucky to have a free supply growing wild as well as uncultivated blackberries. Enjoy your August garden!

Chickens

Scruffy, Rebellious or Something Else?

Rose Running

At the end of last year I blogged about one of our chickens, Rose, the fact that she seems to have been stuck in some kind of strange moult since like forever. I’m afraid to say she still has not feathered up. In fact, she is worse than ever. Now I don’t know whether or not she is just one rebellious old boot, preferring to be a scruff monster, or, that maybe just maybe she is on the change. OMG.

I have noticed that she now has tiny spur like knobbles on the back of her both her legs, the very part of the leg that spurs would be present if on a cockerel. Also, her wattles now hang much lower than before, they are noticeably bigger and boy like. When Rose came to us in April 2008, although a tatty teddy she was pretty well feathered for an ex batt, OK apart from missing neck feathers but still not bad at all. Not long after her arrival she just went into a permanent state of moult. All different parts of her and stages that have seemed to take such a long time to finish, so much so that she would start a new moult somewhere else on her body before she had. She lost all her head and neck feathers, regrew them but then lost them all straight away. This has been going on for some time now. She has this habit of over preening herself, pulling and plucking new feathers as she does it. But then again she does have a twisty beak so perhaps preening is just not easy for her.

 I can rule out  a few potential reasons such as being bullied, boredom, lice, mites, lack of protein, poor quality feed etc but I still cannot work out why she is like this. Right now she resembles a scrubbing brush. She is healthy, laying OK (but not as often as she was for that matter) and doing everything that chickens like to do. I cannot work it out. If someone out there has the magic answer I would dearly like to know. I would love to see Rose fully feathered and looking beautiful. Perhaps she is just, well, getting on a bit?