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 their 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.
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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!