Yes, I'm talking about chickens again.
I am now finishing up my second season as a chicken farmer, prepping for winter with a little bit more knowledge under my belt as to what to expect. However, I learned several things in the last week that surprised me.
Did you know...
- that when the chickens are picking at each other, it could mean they are low on protein? My common remedies: a handful of (high-quality) dogfood, or add some extra fish meal or meat scraps to their ration. My friend Doug's favourite remedy: a batch of scrambled eggs. (We aren't getting that many right now, due to the cooler weather, so I didn't want to "waste" any for this.)
- that when the chickens are picking at each other, it could mean that they are infested with lice? Recommended remedy (I am about to try): spread wood ashes mixed with sand on the bottom of their coop for natural de-lousing. They scratch it up and it does the trick with a minimum of fuss and bother.
- that you can remove rooster spurs with a minimum of fuss and bother using hot baked potatoes and a pair of pliers? I can confirm this--did it yesterday. Worked like a charm. (My head rooster Gru, a beautiful Americauna, was not all that impressed with me, though. It didn't seem to hurt him, just made him a little uncomfortable. He was just stressed out about being confined under my arm for the duration.)
- that you can kill leg mites by spraying WD-40 on the raised scales? Doesn't hurt the bird, but kills mites dead. (Although, I wonder if the chemicals might hurt me. I'm thinking there's gotta be a more "natural" solution for this one.)*
Since last winter, when I had four roosters and only thirteen hens in my coop all winter long, I have had a few girls with "bare backs", and have been trying in vain to get them to grow those feathers back all summer. Then, this spring, I got Gru from Doug--he was already two years old, and had spurs that were around two inches long! Said spurs didn't seem to cause any problems on the beautifully-feathered hens I got with him, nor any of my other girls with feathers, but it wasn't long before I noticed some gashes on the sides of the gals that were half-naked. Also, even though I had managed to get the rooster/hen ratio to a more appropriate number, those gals didn't seem to be covering up, and I couldn't figure out why.
When I had the facilities available to do so (meaning, I had butchered those that were to be butchered, freeing up a coop or two), I decided to separate the rooster from the hens for a while to see if that would help. After a month, it had made very little difference--the hens just kept picking at each other. Also, they seemed to miss their rooster, hanging around outside his pen all day.
So then I tried separating out just the hens that had bare patches. Also, I tried using "Stop-Pick" formula--and saw the hens picking each other within half an hour! So much for that! After a week or so, those hens did seem to be getting a few sparse feathers, but not what I would expect as our evening temperatures plummeted.
So, that is when I got the suggestions for protein, which I then upped. A week later, not much change. Then, the other night I was talking to my neighbour (Dee or Dean--couldn't tell with my lousy cell phone reception) and he said that it seemed that the lice were bad in the coops this year, and to do the wood ash thing. I am going to get some ashes from our friends this afternoon, and I really think this might be the problem--especially as I am now noticing even more of my birds looking a little ratty.* I really HOPE this is the solution, because I hate to see them like this, and since I know that winter can't be more than days away, I really want to see them with a nice, lush coat of feathers.
Speaking of strange remedies--isn't it a bit strange that a bird that takes dust baths, eats insects, and is too dumb to know what's good for it, when made into a properly-prepared bone broth which is consumed regularly, can provide minerals and vitamins, heal our gut from all manner of diseases and provide comfort when we are feeling "under the weather?" I don't know about you, but I see a certain amount of irony in that. Of course, that balances out when the bird the provides the comfort and healing in death was cared for as well as possible so it had a happy life. That's what I think, anyway.
Edit: I just did an internet search for essential oils to use for this, and will be making up a solution this afternoon--why didn't I think of this before? Sometimes I'm a little too blond, if you know what I mean!
*This could also be due to the fall moult, which I had forgotten about. They tend not to lay at that time, too.