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I ran away from teaching to the country to grow veggies. There are also some chooks and a pair of troublesome goats who were so much trouble they had to go! My simple green life isn't always as simple or as green as I'd like...but I keep trying!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lousy Chooks!

Yep!  The chickens are lousy.  I think it is some sort of plumage louse that lays eggs around the shaft of the feather.  It causes them no end of itchiness to the point where they pluck their own feathers out.

One of the girls, Irene, had a scab on her back that I was monitoring.  About 5 or 6 days ago it developed into an open gash.  Now another one has a scab.  I think they cause the scabs themselves through over grooming/preening.  It is possible that Brewster makes it worse when he mates with them.  He is a big rooster, has long sharp nails and never bothers to ask permission.  Because they have bald patches on their backs where they have plucked themselves they have no protection.

We have been keeping an elastoplast on Irene's gash and it is drying up.  She is very happy to follow me indoors to have her back dressed each day.

Lice can be brought in with new chickens (no), caught at poultry shows (no), off wild birds (possible), or rodents (probably the rat that has been visiting).  I am sure a snake will be by soon to gobble up the rat.

Lice and mites usually come out at night and feed on the chickens and lay eggs.  During the day they retire to crevices in the coup and nesting boxes.  It is telling that egg production has gone into decline and the girls have been laying away from the boxes.

After much web searching I discovered there were two approaches to the problem...chemical and organic.  The chemical way is to spray or dust the chickens with lice powder, Sevin dust, or other insecticides.  The jury is out on whether you abstain from eating the eggs for a while after or not.

Organically there were several ideas but most included a bath with various things dissolved in it:  sulphur powder, tee tree oil, eucalyptus oil, lavender oil, salt, vinegar, and /or dishwashing detergent (isn't that a chemical?).  Dry alternatives were a dusting with DE or diatomaceous earth or wood ash.

I decided on a warm bath with lots of salt, some tee tree oil and some organic dog and cat shampoo which contained natural oils but not insecticides.  The soap/detergent was necessary to ensure they became properly wet.  Catching them was fun but once in the bath they didn't put up much of a fight.

I held them under for about 5 minutes each and fluffed under their wings and nether regions to make sure they were well soaked.  No, not their heads of course.  I didn't rinse them but let the solution dry on them.

They looked pretty comical after.  Poor Brewster appeared quite despairing and stood around dejectedly waiting to dry.  His ego seemed crushed and he couldn't even summon up a crow when the rooster over the road called.  He wouldn't have anything to do with the girls, but got over it once he dried.

In addition I have cleaned the coup.  The nest boxes were soaked and roost was scrubbed with the water I washed the chooks in.  I sprinkled sulphur powder into any crevices I could see in the coup, including the nest boxes.  I changed all the straw.  I was happy to spread the sulphur around but not to put it on the chooks.

Then I picked a bouquet-garni of wormwood, peppermint geranium, and lavender to sprinkle in the nest boxes among the new straw.  The coup smells wonderful.

I will also sprinkle some ashes from the fire in the places where they like to take dust baths.

"I'm outta here!"

"Oh, the indignity of it all!"

And all Brewster could do was run away from the papparazzi!

"Get that camera outta my beak!"

Only time will tell if all this will work.  I know the chooks certainly hope so.  I have a feeling though, that even if it has eliminated most of the lice actually on the chooks, any eggs that may have been on them won't have been effected so at least one more bath in about 7 to 10 days could be called for.

Ultimately I will use insecticides (probably a pyrethrum)  if I have to.  They are so miserable and it is a problem I have to get on top of.


  1. Oh, the indignity of it all! Poor old Brewster. Sounds like you could set yourself up in business as a Poultry Spa. Your mention of rats, snakes and like has made me squirm a bit...

  2. Oh Hazel how could you post those degrading photos of your beautiful chooks?
    Hope your treatment is successful!

  3. They look totally plucked.

  4. Hazel, I just recently discovered your blog on Blotanical and have become a fan. I do a "Garden Blog of the Month" feature on my blog where I review and recommend blogs to my readers. I just wanted you to know that yours is one of two blogs I'm highlighting this month. My "Blog of the Month" post just went up, and your blog will be highlighted on my sidebar throughout November. -Jean

  5. Poor chooks but very necessary.Such an assault on the dignity of a rooster!


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