Autumn is well and truly settling in and winter is knocking at the door!
For many of us, our hens are off the lay, still and/or just starting to moult. This is a natural occurrence for all birds. With chooks, it usually takes place now. Moult is naturally bought on with a reduction of daylight hours (Not the change in temperature like many believe) Moulting can also take place during times of stress like during a heavy mite infestation, being broody or predator attack etc. Moulting can take up to several weeks to complete. If your hen is a prolific layer, she is likely to have the heaviest moult – some cases she could be totally naked, within a week or two look a lot like a hedgehog as her new pin feathers emerge and with the right care and diet will have a lovely clean new plumage again in no time at all. Some hens however will only partially moult, usually only replacing a few of her feathers which can be quite obvious when looking at your hen’s plumage closely, you will see nice new clean feathers emerging between the older duller sun faded feathers. This is normal if your hen is not a prolific layer or if her diet is that of a higher protein.
Autumn is a very important time for you to take note or your poultry’s overall health and wellbeing.
Whilst moulting and off the lay, have you considered worming your chooks? Personally we don’t worm as we understand that poultry have a natural ability to control intestinal worms themselves, especially with careful management – However, this doesn’t mean to say your hens are totally worm free. In some cases, a hen can have a heavy infestation and will need worming regularly – she may have come from a breeder where their stock is overcrowded, not raised free range or their land has a high worm count? Popular worming products available are Aviverm or veterinary prescribed meds such as ivomectin or similar which have quite a long withholding period. However, natural products with nil withholding such as BetaDrench (which is Herbal & Organic) & our personal favourite Stockmans Friend AHE which is a Natural Unfiltered ACV base tonic with Garlic, Honey and Seaweed. (Please note; Stockmans Friend AHE is not an all-in all-out wormer) However from our own research, extensive vet trials plus the enormous amount of scientific studies done on how beneficial natural ACV will assist with keeping all animals healthy plus keeping a potential worm burden at bay, we can honestly say from our own experience that the AHE helps keep our birds in tip top condition year around.
Diet - Many poultry keepers change their hens diet at this time of year, reducing their birds layer pellet or mash intake and replacing this with cheaper grains such as whole wheat or crushed barley - The attitude is, they're not laying so why waste money on expensive feeds? This is wrong - Think about what your hens have produced for you probably non-stop since last spring? They're likely very tired and deserve a rest and have exhausted all of their vitamin and mineral reserves during their long laying season. So now is the time when you should really be spoiling them.
When birds are moulting, you need to increase the protein level in their diet. Fact! Feathers are approx. 80% protein! If you reduce a hen’s protein during moult and replace her diet with just grains, (Whether milled, kibbled or whole) it’s a big ask considering grains are only around 12% protein, where as a hen’s requirements especially during moult is around 16% to 18% protein (per day). A few grains are OK, but they are just a treat – Personally we use Feed-o-matic auto feeders and our hens are free to graze on Peak Layer pellets from their feeders whenever they want – In the cooler autumn and winter months, we like to treat our hens – But not too much. Scratch and Lay grains are great for this and its entertaining for them at the same time. If it’s raining, we throw a few handfuls on the coop floor where we run a deep litter system. This works great as the hens scratch around for a treat and turn the wood shavings over at the same time which helps break up any hard, caked up area’s on the floor also assisting with keeping the coop fresh. There are plenty of other treats available which are healthy and beneficial to your hens and make great boredom busters such as Poultry Pecker blocks and Hentastic Chick Sticks and a real favourite is Dried Meal Worms which are packed with protein. Another treat for your poultry is to add a vitamin mix to their drinking water, a good all-round mix is Agrivite Poultry Drink, which is a high-energy mineral supplement in a sweet sorbitol base.
Clean your coop! An Autumn clean is of equal importance to diet. Your hens are going to be spending extended hours in their coop from now on. Days are getting shorter and nights longer. Make sure your coop is mite free and clean and dry from mould and germs. A thoroughly good clean with Smite Professional Mite Killer and Disinfectant will kill any lingering bugs and germs. Once your coop is clean, give it a really good dusting with Smite Organic, paying particular attention to all of the joins, nooks and crannies – ends of perches and nesting boxes. Once cleaned and dusted, replace with clean dry wood chip or shavings.
Now you’re set for Winter with very happy and healthy hens!