Losing Feathers

Picture 1859Moments ago a neighbor up the road called to see if we had any extra eggs. ” Not at the moment”, I said, “the hens are molting and we’ve just put a light in the coop a few weeks ago”. The light is to extend the length of day, now that our days are getting shorter. Chickens need at least 14 hours of light a day to stimulate egg production, a light bulb in their coop helps with that. Molting also happens every year as the days shorten and the temperature cools. The chickens will shed their old feathers and begin to grow new ones, most often they stop laying while this is happening. The length of time for the new feathers to grow back in place varies from bird to bird. A lot depends on their diet. It takes a lot of energy to grow feathers ( feathers are mostly protein), so keeping them well fed and watered is important. For some birds their feathers will grow back in about 4 weeks, for others it may take up 6 or 8 weeks. Right now the inside of our chicken coop looks as though a major pillow fight has taken place. That’s kinda fun to imagine actually. We rake them up with the shavings and dump them into the compost piles. Feathers are fairly high in nitrogen, although they can take a long time to break down and to release the nitrogen into the soil. Always thinking about soil here, yes we are!
The gardens are now pretty well put to bed for the winter. Most have been covered with a nice layer of semi composted leaves. In the vegetable gardens, a few things continue to hang on…the kale, some chard, and several rows of carrots. The hoop house continues to produce some fresh greens. Soon however, the last bunch of our ram lambs will be occupying that structure, they’ll put an end to any green growth for sure.
How is it that we’re nearing the end of November already? Perhaps we’ve been tricked with this incredibly warm Fall weather. Maybe I thought September was lingering ( where did October go?) and that we still had months ahead before cold and snow. Let’s just hope those ladies in the chicken coop get their feathers back before a good Nor’easter blows in. I could knit them sweaters, I guess. If I ever find the time to knit sweaters for twenty naked chickens, I’ll definitely post pictures…… but don’t hold your breath waiting!