So one thing to know about owning chickens, and I think this really applies to any livestock, is that there are constant downsides. From the outside looking in, the chickens seem like a great idea, and hey, they are, but they’re also a lot of responsibility, like any living thing.
Facing two problems with the girls right now that I’m finding pretty discouraging. About two weeks ago, I finally took the hour or so to do a walk of their fence, find the holes and patch them so they could no longer escape their run. I kept my hope in check, but after the first two days without escapees, I was feeling confident the fence patch worked. But, having lived on a farm as a kid, I suspected it wouldn’t last forever. The aphorism “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” seems to keep any fenced animal looking for a constant way to escape.
So today they got out. I don’t know how yet, gotta walk the fence again and patch the new holes. I’m hoping that it’s just a hole and that they’re not flying over the fence. They still have clipped wings, haven’t molted them out yet, so I’m thinking they are going under or through, not over.
Anyway, we got home from errands and were sitting inside the house, patio door open, when one little girl invited herself in. She was being adorable so I picked her up and carried her around for a little visit, then took her outside.
Sat back down in front of the computer and felt a little tickle. Looked down and my stomach lurched. A tiny little whitish-brownish-yellowish thing crawling around, with about 5-7 more buddies, right where I’d tucked the chicken against my hip to carry her. F***. I stripped and showered immediately, leaving my clothes on the deck, then did a visual check on humans and dogs. Parasite free from what I could tell. After a bit of research, I’m pretty sure it’s lice.
Other options are fleas and mites, but the culprits definitely looked like lice. No matter what parasite it is, it means doing a top to bottom clean, wash, disinfect of the coop, nesting box and roosts, and some sort of clean for the run. Then individual treatment of each hen. Tomorrow is going to be a really long day, looks like. Don’t quite know what to do with the contaminated shavings. Someone on the internet suggested burning, but since there is a burn ban here, that isn’t an option.
Some suggestions for pest removal and prevention range from diatomaceous earth to something called poultry powder? and more. Some people suggested herbs, garlic, etc. I’m going to cover as many bases as I can and also visit the local farm supply store and see what they say. I tend towards things like cleaning with vinegar and Borax, adding tea tree oil and oregano oil (good time to try out my homemade oregano oil), plus any herbs I see in the yard that tickle my fancy I’m going to throw down with the new shavings. We have a lot of oregano, which is supposed to be a good anti-everything, so maybe I’ll raid our supply. It’s going to be a long, creepy-crawly day tomorrow. Doesn’t help that it’s supposed to rain so the chickens are going to be stuck out in the rainy run while I’m cleaning out their house, plus I gotta let it dry out. Not sure how that’s going to work, might have to wait to do the top-to-bottom clean (NOOOOOOOO get it off get it off get it off!!! Yeck!!!). Another suggestion was to make sure the chickens have a good spot to dust bathe, even if it’s a little sandbox inside their coop.
That’s all the thoughts I have so far. Lots of feelings, like frustration, anger, resentment, disgust. I feel like we just got the problem of “Chickens” solved, and here I am having to fix them again. But the truth is that I think it’s our own fault. I’m ashamed to say that we haven’t been as dedicated as we should be at keeping their home clean. One of the problems is the amount of chicken feed they waste because it falls on the floor. I hate to see all that go to waste so I tend to leave it, which is probably the worst thing to do. And I read somewhere that you aren’t supposed to disturb the bottom layer of the stuff on the floor of the coop for some reason. It doesn’t make any sense to me, so I should really do more reading. Oh, one more thing I’m going to try is this stuff called Bokashi they sold to me at the farm store. Supposed to be an anit-bacterial type thingy, along with all the other stuff it does, so hey, maybe it’ll help with parasites too. I’m really just grasping desperately at straws because I’m disgusted and dismayed, but yeah, I’m gonna do it all. And then possibly have a gasoline shower afterwards (can’t take credit for that joke, it was on one of the blogs about chickens I read, and it perfectly describes how I feel right now…want to shower in gas).
To sum up, I’m going to respond again to my brother’s question about whether or not backyard chickens are worth it. Today, no. Actual per egg cost when you factor in coop-building and upkeep, fencing, feed, shavings, supplies, I believe equal out to a high per-egg cost, and we could get eggs from a farmer down the way for $3/dozen. When I think about the amount of distress and worry I’ve had with our chickens over the summer, with them escaping and terrorizing our gardens and the gardens of the neighbours on both sides…not worth it. When I’m trying not to breathe in the dust while I’m cleaning the chicken coop out, or when it’s dark and I have to walk up the hill to close the coop door, not worth it. Buuuuuttttt….when I go up to the coop in the late morning and check the nesting box to see nine eggs of varying shapes and sizes, worth it. When I take the kitchen scraps like mango and corn on the cob and juicer pulp up to them and watch them attack the food with obvious excitement and pleasure, and they make their cute little noises of pleasure…worth it. When I walk up to them and they do their cute little squatting-stomping dance that says “please don’t hurt me”, and then freeze, worth it. When I can pick them up and pet them and carry them around like the pets they are, worth it. And when I’m cooking and baking with the backyard fresh eggs, worth it. So it’s a day to day things. There are pros and cons, as with anything. We deal with the annoyances and enjoy the pleasures. Today has been an annoying one, for sure.