Rid your chickens of scaly leg mites

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Those of you who aren’t chicken keepers (and maybe some of you who are) are lucky enough not to know about scaly leg mites, but in our flock they have been a veritable scourge, and extremely labor-intensive to take care of, until I stumbled upon a simple and effective remedy.

“Scaly leg mites are parasites that lodge and reproduce underneath the scales on chickens’ legs. This results in a typical look of uneven, crusty, deformed scales, and can lead to impaired walking, infection, loss of toes and, in extreme cases, even death.

Most home treatment options for scaly leg mites suggest dipping the bird’s legs in mineral oil or petroleum, and then slathering them in Vaseline. The goal of this is to smother the mites. The treatment is then repeated after an interval of a week or two, to take care of the nits that might have hatched in the meantime.”
But, as I said, I’m using something a lot simpler and no less, possibly more effective now. Read more in my Mother Earth News post.  

More peafowl

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Though I didn’t mention this in my previous post about Little Pea (mainly because I didn’t really believe anything would come out of it), on the occasion we found him (or her), we also came across an unattended nest. Since it was dark, and the eggs were cold, I didn’t think they were viable, but a quick candling with our phone flashlight revealed chicks in advanced stages of development, and some feeble movement. After a brief inner struggle,  we decided to take them home and place them in the incubator.

To my surprise, the eggs continued to develop, and yesterday all five of them hatched – even one which had a hairline crack that I repaired with nail polish. The peachicks are now in a brooder hastily made out of an old cardboard box and a heating lamp.

So, all in all, we now have six young peafowl on our hands. When the babies grow up a bit, we hope to be able to move them together with Little Pea.

We don’t know yet where we are going with this unexpected adventure, but we sure are excited about it!

Little Pea

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A few days ago, we visited a beautiful campus which is one of our favorite spots; there are many magnificent peacocks roaming wild across the lawns, and as this is chick season, we were able to see adorable little peas trailing after their mothers.

At twilight, just as the peacocks were flying up trees to roost, this little one fell off and was nearly eaten by a stray cat at once. We saved it and, as it was in shock, decided to bring it home.

We have never raised peafowl before, but we were prepared for a flighty bird; Little Pea, however, wasn’t eating and looked distressed. We thought a companion might help; we had some chicks which could possibly do, but they were considerably smaller than Pea, so we had our misgivings. Still, we decided to give it a try, and almost as soon as we introduced two chicks to its cage, Little Pea became more relaxed and started eating. I’m gradually winning him over by feeding him treats, such as hard-boiled eggs and grapes, out of my hand.

Little Pea is very quiet around us, but vocalizes around his little companions. It sounds like a soft whistle.

Oh, and we have no idea whether this is a boy or a girl. If anyone can tell from the picture, please drop me a line!

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One afternoon in the garden

It’s summer… warm, lovely summer with long days, homemade popsicles, water balloons, and everything growing like mad.

As you can see above, our sage plants, after a long latent stage as poor little sticks, have grown to be mighty bushes. And our tomatoes, though still green, are already very promising. I also put in some new pepper plants.

Here is also one very annoyed mama hen. Doesn’t her whole attitude speak very plainly: “Do not get close to my chicks, or else?” After a heartbreaking result with our previous batch of chicks – some sort of predator dug its way into the coop and just made off with all our chicks, plus two of my favorite chickens, leaving absolutely no trace – I spent hours reinforcing the base of our coop with local rock. I know pouring concrete around the base would have been more effective, but we just can’t afford this right now.

Anyway, we now have fifteen new chicks, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I hope we can raise them into nice stock of pullets who will lay plenty of eggs for us in a few months.

Hatching chicks the natural way

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In the past two seasons, we have hatched new chicks exclusively by using broody hens – and, with a few drawbacks, find this age-old, natural way of expanding one’s backyard flock easy and satisfying. Though incubators can be convenient for hatching large numbers of chicks at once, exactly in one’s chosen time (which is kind of hard to do with broody hens), our irregular power supply and frequent outages make the choice pretty obvious. Though we might venture to buy or build a small, well-isolated incubator sometime in the near future, I expect we’re still going to rely almost exclusively on broodies.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We used to let hens accumulate a clutch of eggs in the hopes they would begin sitting, but it only resulted in a lot of mess and many spoiled or broken eggs. Now we collect every egg as soon as it is laid and, to encourage broodiness, provide a clutch of plastic dummy eggs (can be bought cheaply at a toy store or on e-bay). Note: we’ve had some hens begin sitting even without a clutch. Once the broody instinct kicks in, they’ll just do their thing.”

Let them live

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We have had rescue Leghorns several times; though they are a commercially raised breed, they adapt very well to free range life, and soon become much happier. Once they make themselves at home, they usually become the more dominant birds of the flock and occupy a high place in the pecking order. Chickens who were almost completely plucked grow feathers, chickens with extra long toenails scratch away and give themselves a natural manicure, and pretty soon they settle into a regular laying routine, though many will not lay every day anymore.

It is of no consequence to us, however; we are happy with whatever we can get. Our chickens eat a low-cost diet of scraps and whatever they can find in the garden, and only get a modest supplemental portion of commercial feed, so our little backyard operation doesn’t have to be super efficient; we have some chickens and some eggs, and that is enough.

Chickens are not generally the cuddliest of pets, but my kids won’t take no for an answer. Above you can see a photo of a rescue hen getting tamed. She looks pretty annoyed, I think, but knows better than to protest.

Watching our chickens happily dig around in the yard is one of my most satisfying everyday experiences. There are drawbacks, of course – free range chickens are notorious for destroying garden beds, and can be plucked off by predators more easily. For us, however, the tradeoff is worth it.

Coping with chicken loss

 

There are few things more painful to me as a chicken owner than the untimely loss of one of the flock. Our chickens are all lovingly hand-raised, and it’s enough to drive one mad when a sneaky predator gets past one’s defenses, or when a disease you can do little about makes its rounds in the coop.

Still, I guess that this knowledge, this acceptance of the fact that there will be some losses, is what enables us to bounce back and keep raising chickens.

From my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either – to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.”