WinterBathSeveral few weeks ago, I found two dead chickens in the chicken houses, and a third was very sick. I couldn’t see what was wrong with the dead ones, but the sick one seemed to have a respiratory infection, her eyes were watery and her comb a little swollen. I tried treating her, but did not manage to save her. I haven’t had any new poultry on the farm since last August, so I assume this was something they picked up from the wild birds that help themselves to my poultry food.

That is the drawback to pasturing poultry versus keeping them contained “safe” indoors- you lose more to wild borne illnesses. The factory farms have a point there: poultry are very vulnerable to transmissible disease, and exposing your flock to wild birds does cause losses. Fortunately, I think when running a small flock outside, they are spread out more. So bird-to-bird transmission is lower than if they’re crowded. And maybe being outside challenges their immune systems on an ongoing basis, making them and their progeny more resilient. Except for these three, at least!

The last one that was sick was covered in lice, I could see them crawling around on her head. Worried that I’d overlooked an infestation, I checked several of the healthy birds, but found no sign of lice on any others. So, I guess the sick one’s weakened immune system just allowed the parasites to overtake her. As a precaution, I thought I’d better treat for lice anyway.Rooster

One recommended way to treat chickens for lice is to wrestle them down and apply an insecticidal powder in some form or another to their whole body. I couldn’t envision an easy way to accomplish this with multiple, untame chickens that all look the same- I think I have more than a dozen hens. And I don’t want any chemicals sloughing off and contaminating their eggs. Luckily, chickens already know how to treat themselves for parasites, and the do it all summer long, if they are able.

Unlike ducks, chickens never bathe in water, they “bathe” in dust to clean their feathers. We have streaks of sandy soil running through our property, and they love nothing more in the summer than to get a big wallow going and roll around in it until they are covered in dust. Then they shake it off and preen their feathers. Everyone, including chickens, knows that desiccant materials are a deterrent and even lethal to insects.

I realized that winter, especially this horrid muddy winter, affords no dust for bird baths. So I made the chickens a little spa out of a mix of diatomaceous earth and sand. I put it in their house so it would stay dry. And they utilized it immediately, going through a whole big bowl in a week or two. So lice beware, the chickens are clean again!

Here are a couple of the ladies, enjoying a whole papaya. Kirk got this from Costco, and said it tasted like cardboard. Smile with tongue out Well, the chickens liked it, at least.