I’ve mentioned previously my love for chickens, so this is a warning: this article is all about them!
I like to think that I am a fully-fledged member of the chicken brigade now having kept chickens since I was about 4 but that doesn’t put me as an expert. Even in nearly 30 years of keeping them, I can still find myself learning something new, or changing habits that I’ve had for over a quarter of a century. This year I have been faced with things that I have never experienced before, things I have heard mentioned with a whisper, a red face and groans of “I am giving up chickens because of this”….
The dreaded Red Mite. How, or why it came to me this year, I have no idea but in the Autumn my birds began to look very pale. On further investigation in cleaning out their houses I found hidden in the crevices this red mass of tiny well fed horrible little mites. I screamed, I cried and was horrified at the thought that I had an infestation. I’ve used DE, or Diatomaceousearth in my coops for many years to prevent such a thing occurring and this year it hadn’t worked. Facebook has proven to be a useful tool in finding solutions to many of my problems and I turned to one of my favourite groups “The Poultry Pages” for advice. It seemed that many other flock holders were having the same red mite problems that they’ve never had before.
So following their advice I tried scrubbing the houses out with Dettol Power plus. It didn’t work. I tried tea tree oils, bleach, flea bombs, boiling hot water. I closed the houses off for months (luckily I have about 5 houses) and treated the birds with louse powders and each time when it looked clear and the birds went back in I was faced with another clump of red mites appearing. I was at that point on the verge of burning the houses down when I went into my local farming supplies shop and asked the very lovely man I know there for some advice.
He recommended this coop cleaner called Poultry shield – it was developed for disinfecting the houses but they also found it worked wonders on red mites. I came home with a 5L container and set to work. It took a week of constant treating but I found it did work. It could even be that the combination of all the things I tried finally did it but constant tackling I think is pretty much the key!
For those of you who don’t keep chickens or may be new to it; red mites are horrible little things that feed off the chickens’ blood. You can see them on their bodies as grey/brown, but when fed they go a bright red colour. This feeding can cause your chickens to become anaemic, lose condition and stop laying. Serious infestations can kill your chickens. They love the nooks and crannies chickens houses have. Humans don’t get them or other animals although the advice is, if you find yourself covered in them, do strip off and wash your clothes on a high setting. It’s the only thing that relieves the imaginary itch you get from the thought of having them on you!
A lot of my hens are rescue hens from commercial laying premises or older hens that people don’t want to keep as they don’t lay every day, but a few of them I have hatched myself after investing in an incubator. My personal recommendation for an incubator is that if you’re strapped for time in being able to turn the eggs, buy one that does it for you.
Mine will turn them every 2 hours one way and then two hours later the other way. It also alerts me if the humidity or temperature is too low or too high. For me, as a busy farmers wife this wonderful technological advancement has saved me constant checking and I’ve had a successful hatch rate. I know of many people who still incubate eggs using polystyrene boxes or smaller simpler models with just as much success so if it’s something you want to do, consider what time you have, what you can afford and how much or often you’re going to use it. If you’re not sure, why not asking around to see if you can borrow one to try it out, they’re rarely in use all year round!
One of the downsides with older chickens is that they don’t always lay every day, but for me I have so many (28ish at last count) that I couldn’t eat all the eggs if they did! This winter however I was faced with no eggs at all. Buying a tray of eggs when you have so many healthy hens at home is slightly galling especially when you still have to feed them!
Again I turned to my poultry pages for advice and again, I tackled it in as many ways I could possibly could. I swapped my Vermix natural wormer for Flubenvet. I made sure we sorted out the previous red mite problem and I created a concoction to go with their corn of chillies, turmeric, garlic and black pepper, all of which have been suggested to warm the chickens from the inside. I put Cider Vinegar in their water and did everything I could to make them much healthier chickens, and they responded by feathering up and looking better but still I had no eggs. I then noticed the signs of unwelcome little visitors – a little hole appearing here and there under the houses and I began to wonder if these pesky little pests were stealing my precious eggs.
This year has also been a great year for rats and for every rat you see above ground they reckon there’s about 7 underneath. Proper baiting is a must for any outdoor bird keepers. They love the corn and tit bits that you put down, they love stealing eggs, killing chicks and if desperate they will even attack your full grown birds. We put down poisons on a regular basis, away from any risk of being touched by the birds, cats, dogs or kids and we also regularly swap the type as rats can become immune to the poisons. You have to keep putting it down until you’re left with it not being taken and to test if a hole is being used or not, stuff it with straw. They’ll move it one way or the other if they’re still about.
These stories may make chicken keeping sound like a lot of hard work with a lot of downsides; but it isn’t really. A week ago we found our first egg; a lot sooner than many others in the country have and the joy from my kids and my husband at our “first egg” was overwhelming – bear in mind this wasn’t our first egg ever, just our first egg of 2015. My boys love going to pick up the eggs and having a responsibility in feeding them.
Even visitors to the house quite often take home an egg they’ve picked out of our hen house with pride. My girls are very much part of our family, waiting for breakfast each morning, their little characters clambering at your feet to see what you’ve got. I love sitting in their run, in the sun watching them, or having them sit on my lap for a cuddle.
They have an innocent curiosity for life which we could benefit from by adopting it. And chicks. I really do love raising chicks. No matter what life comes into this world or how many times you get to be a part of it, it is a very special feeling to watch an animal, or child being born and growing up in a safe and loving environment.
And that is it for now. Until next time my luvvers.