I came home from hospital last weekend, my body is tired and sore but getting a little stronger every day. I ended up needing more surgery than expected which has set my recovery back with one thing or another but I am getting there, slowly. I miss spending time with the chickens and of course the day-to-day activities in the garden smallholding, family are mucking in and doing what’s needed. I long for the day I can join in rather than watch from the window but I’m not to lift anything heavier than a cup of tea for at least 6 weeks. Meh.
I guess I can cope with the tea bit.
After going through our seed stash last month we’ve ordered what we need for the new growing year with some new varieties to try, the rest will be our own saved seed. We will buy our seed potatoes very soon and set them out to chit in egg boxes.
We like to sow our tomatoes and chillies early, harvesting can begin as early as June/July depending on varieties grown. Chillies need constant heat to aid germinate so we’re using a seedling heat mat at the moment to help. We’ve never used anything like this before when germinating seeds such as chillies and peppers, we usually get decent germination results by using the warmest spots in the house but it can take up to a month to occur due to temperatures dipping at night. It’s a bit of a trial so we’ll let you know how the heat mat performs in terms of germination rate/time, and if we like it enough to recommend we’ll do a little blog post. Rich set everything up for sowing our seeds to avoid me lifting anything, all I had to do is pop the seeds in. It felt so good to be involved and gave me the lift I needed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.