How to Prepare for Autumn as a Chicken Keeper
Autumn is a season of change for chickens. They will usually molt at this time of year, which will make them a little uncomfortable when the temperature dips. They will be hungrier than ever while the new feathers sprout, and a few added treats in their diet will be well received. As ever, though, it’s a give-and-take situation when you’re keeping chickens, as the hens will repay your kindness with lots of droppings and soiled bedding, which are great fuel for your Fall compost.
Keeping chickens in the autumn
Autumn is the time for backyard bonfires, as the year’s dead vegetation is consigned to the flames. Chickens will head straight for any ashes left over from a bonfire to have a good peck-and-scratch, so make sure these have cooled down before letting the chickens get to work. If anyone nearby is planning a firework or bonfire party, make sure the hens are safely in their coop before the fun begins – it’s not much fun at all for a chicken caught in the firework crossfire.
Before lighting those bonfires, check to make sure no chickens have decided to shelter there instead of heading home to the coop. While you’re at it, shoo out any hedgehogs, toads or other wildlife. The base of a cozy woodpile is a tempting place for a small animal to seek shelter from the storm!
Not all the backyard waste will be burned, of course. Leaves, weeds and leftovers from the vegetable beds can be added to the compost. This is a good time to give your compost heap a good turn with a pitchfork, mixing the soiled hen coop bedding, chicken droppings and other goodies together so that they can work their magic next year. Only use soiled bedding, as clean sawdust takes a long time to rot down and can, in excess, ‘kill’ the compost.
Cold weather, chicken eggs and chicken feathers
For most hens, egg-laying will still be regular as the season progresses, but there will be a Fall in production (pun intended) as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder. If you have lights in your coop to boost egg production, this won’t be an issue.
Chickens often molt in the autumn, so they need a good diet and a constant supply of grit to help them stay healthy and grow new feathers. Extra vitamins and minerals will help, and a little apple cider vinegar in their water will help ensure a healthy, glossy new plumage. Dried mealworms add a little protein boost to a hen’s diet, which can be very useful during the molt.
What do you feed chickens in the fall?
Although winter is looming, this time of year is actually a great season for hungry chickens. There are lots of juicy bugs to scratch for in the still-soft ground and leaf litter, and if you have any fruit trees, there are rich pickings for the birds in the shape of windfalls. A Halloween pumpkin, seeds included, will give the hens lots to get excited about.
These treats should not be too plentiful, though, as the hens will need to be hungry enough to eat lots of their usual layers pellets to ensure maximum health for the colder months ahead. A less filling treat is a pile of autumn leaves – there will be a few bugs in there, but not too many. The hens will absolutely love scratching and pecking their way through the leaves, though!
Coops should be thoroughly cleaned before the winter sets in. Everything should be scrubbed, and you can use a Diatomaceous Earth product to keep lice and mites at bay.
How to care for the chicken coop in the autumn
As the nights draw in, it’s important to lock the door of your chicken coop promptly at dusk, to make sure night-prowling predators don’t try to snatch an early supper. The coop and run will need to be checked to make sure they are predator-proof after the wear and tear of the year. With food less plentiful in the cold months, chicken predators such as rats, foxes and weasels may be tempted to check for holes in the chicken wire, or may dig their way under poorly secured fencing.
Rats will often try to take up residence by burrowing under a chicken shed in the autumn. It’s difficult for chicken keepers to deter them completely, but you can deter them by placing cat or dog poo in the entrance to their burrows. The smelly stuff won’t bother the chickens.
If you have a wooden chicken coop, fix any holes in walls and roofs. If you have a weatherproof coop such as the Eglu Cube, your hens are in for a very cozy late autumn and winter!
At some point late in the season, when you’re finally resigned to the fact that the summer isn’t coming back this year and the cold weather lies ahead, give your hens a health check. A healthy autumn hen is well set for the winter and will already be looking forward to scratching through the snow and dreaming of spring!
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