Margo’s Check Up

Margo and I

 

Margo and I got a little closer this weekend. Sunday morning before church Mike was out doing chores and noticed…

If you’re eating it may be best to stop while you read this post.

… I’ll give you a minute to finish…

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A Little Farm First Aid Lesson

Lucy in the pasture
Lucy in the pasture

I am once again in need of yet another bookshelf… and a place to put it. I don’t know if I could convince Mike to build me a mouse proof room in the barn for a library. I’m sure he’ll figure something out for me. He’s good at that.

For now, I’ve started reading “Veterinary Guide for Farmers, New and Revised Edition” by G.W. Stamm copyright 1975. I’m learning all sorts of things; shots, sutures, temperatures, diseases, viruses, blood, puss and stool samples. No one is sick or injured but it never hurts to know that you read something about that and now what was it… That’s how this will go. Someday one of the cows will be sick and I will be standing there thinking “I know I read about what’s going on here, hmm.” I’ve never been super interested in surgery and such. M*A*S*H* is pretty much the extent of it (and of the military movies too). I can stomach it but ‘eh I can do without though too.

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Bathing Chickens

I have yet to have a need to actually give my chickens a bath. The little boy is not old enough to be in 4-H or FFA, so there is no chicken showing and we don’t have a bird worthy of an entry in the county fair either. But just as any animal does, chickens need to get clean too.

On their own, they take dust baths. This seems a bit contradictory if you as me. But there is good reasoning behind their method. Chickens wiggle and flutter around in loose dirt, the finer the better it seems. When outside, they will dig holes, wallow in them and in sunny spots take a nap. They work the dust into their feathers and when done they give a good shake and leave a cloud of dust around them. By doing this they are able to control any excess moisture or oils on their skin. It clean feathers, allowing them to control their body temperature and keep their feathers healthy and injury free. Feathers broken in the right spot can bleed and for the 100th time that is not good. This also helps rid them of fleas, mites and parasites.

During the summer it is quite easy for the girls to find a good dusty spot for a bath but in the winter this is a whole new challenge for them. During another “after church coffee” conversation my Great Uncle Bill said they used to toss out their wood ash for the chickens to bathe in. I had been putting our ash for the girls and was glad to hear that I was on the right path. I found an article where they had mixed their wood ash with sand and diatomaceous earth (DE). I was leery about adding the DE to the ash because it can cause some serious respiratory problems and when its super cold out I don’t want that wafting about the coop. Ash can cause respiratory issues too so it should be used with caution. The addition of sand to the ash gives it a little weight and in theory, helps. I however, am not going to start buying sand just to add to the dust pan.

In our coop, I have placed a pan, about the size of a small cow lick tub, in which we put our wood ash. The pan was the dish I used to coax Lucy with grain. She won’t mind it the chickens use it now. It works really well. When it’s super cold out I put the pan inside the coop; on the nicer day’s it goes in the outside run. Those are the days there is a line of birds waiting to get their bath in.

Using wood ash has some advantages all it’s own too. The ash contains vitamin K, a blood clotting agent. The tiny bit of vitamin K that the birds can get from the ash may be all they need to stop bleeding quickly should they break a feather or get a scratch. Ash also contains calcium and magnesium. It is also naturally removes toxins from their system (people take charcoal supplements for such purposes as well). The charcoal or ash will work as a laxative (one reason I have not tried the supplement myself), it will move impurities out of the body and rid their system of harmful internal worms too.

Just because there are so many positives with using ash doesn’t mean it will be completely harmless. I just mentioned it can cause respiratory issues, so keep an eye on your birds when using ash; especially if you are not mixing it with sand. Another thing to give some thought to is lye. Wood ash makes lye in the right environment, just add water. Personally, I would not let my chickens play in an ash pan that has been rained in. I soak hides in wood ash and water to remove fur, I don’t want to start removing feather like that. In the case that a pan gets a good watering, dump it out, rise it out and start again with fresh ash.

There are many beneficial herbs that can be added to the ash as well. The two that I have used are rosemary and thyme. Both are said to help clear respiratory problems. I haven’t gotten to deep into the herbs for chickens yet so that might have to be a discussion for after I do some more research and trial and error.

A dust bath... Still a few missing their tail feathers unfortunately.
A dust bath… Still a few missing their tail feathers unfortunately.
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Hey Ma, There’s a Chicken in the Kitchen

I had hoped to sit down tonight and relax (ha!) and maybe write about the cows or the latest batch of chocolate croissants and muffins that came out of the oven. It’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned gardening and this is the time of year I usually start my preaching about it. But once again the chickens have managed to steal the show.

The Coop
The Coop

I was in the coop this evening doing the usual night chores and checking on the girls. We sprayed a few with Blue-Kote again the other day and it looks like there are a few tail feathers starting to grow. Yay! So there I am gathering the last of the eggs for the day, it’s well below zero outside and a balmy 40 degrees inside. All I really want to do is shut the barn door and go to the house for the night.

There’s Lola, getting pecked, pretty good too. She was even doing a little pecking on her behind. And blood.

Sigh.

I have mentioned plenty of times previously, blood on a chicken is a leap towards being pecked to death. I have never had a need to keep chicken bands (like chicken ankle bracelets) on hand, so naturally I didn’t have any when we initially sprayed chicken butts and found the couple birds with sizeable gashes on their sides, hidden under their wing. It would have been nice to have been able to band them so I could make sure they were continuing to heal without having to try to catch every bird again until we found the right ones. I would then know if Lola was one with a previous injury or if this is a new one.

It’s not a matter of too many birds in the coop, I do know that. For the size of the birds and the size of the coop I could easily put another ten in there without over crowding. No, this is just a very rowdy bunch for whatever reason. It doesn’t help that they haven’t been able to go outside the last couple days. That was making a noticeable difference, when the “antsy” birds where able to burn off some extra steam outside. With the temperatures so low and the lack of tail feathers there is a very good chance of frostbite. Not something I want to add to my list of things to take care of at this time. It should be noted that frostbite is very possible even when they are in the coop if it gets too cold and humid in there. So far both temperature and humidity have been in check.

As I was saying, Lola. For being injured, she was still quite a challenge to catch. With Mike gone fishing, I had to catch her on my own or sit in the house worrying about her until he got home and who knows how late that will be. Lucky for me it was night chores, so I was dressed for the day. Without the restriction of coveralls, I was able to bust out my best chicken catching moves. One time I’m glad there’s no camera in the coop. It took a great deal of effort and some fancy moves but I finally got her. (see the previous post about my chicken catching moves here.)

Now what to do with her. Everything in the feed room freezes this time of year, which means the little bit of animal first aid supplies I do have on hand are in the house not the coop.

So there I stand, freezing in the feed room, holding a chicken that is in need of an ambulance. Hmm. Ok, so she wasn’t “ambulance bad” but it’s definitely not a little wound and is in need of some serious attention. Well as luck would have it, the dog kennel I had put together for Wilma was still in the feed room. Some fresh bedding and a little hay (to keep the bedding from sticking to the wound) and in she went. Of course I couldn’t leave her in the feed room or she would surely freeze to death, as it is supposed to get even colder throughout the night. Again, lucky for Lola, I was just getting home from work and my warm car was parked outside the coop.

“Your chariot awaits my dear chicken.”

Lola on the Kitchen Counter
Lola on the Kitchen Counter

I brought the kennel inside and the little boy bends down and peeks in…Buck, buck, buck. He was so excited. I’m sure if he could he would let the world know he has a chicken in his kitchen. Instead it was time for bed.

So here we sit, together at the kitchen island. Her in her kennel, me typing away on my stool and a dog keeping watch. If only he were actually keeping watch and not trying to plot his next chicken dinner.

Plotting a Chicken Dinner
Plotting a Chicken Dinner

Her wound was given a dose of peroxide and hopefully she will begin to heal quickly. Assuming she is done pecking at herself. Tomorrow after church we will be making a stop to pick up some chicken bands and another batch of Chicken Bricks will need to be made.

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Guess What?!… Chicken Butt!

Blu-Kote Chicken Butt
Blu-Kote Chicken Butt

As I mentioned previously, some of our chickens have not had a tail feather to shake since Lucifer (the extremely mean guinea hen) pulled them out. They have been bare butted ever since; as once there is some skin to peck the birds continue to do so. This drives me crazy! We have a rooster- Little Jerry (my husband named him after the Seinfeld episode) with one very mangy tail feather on one very red butt. It’s just not right.

Their diet has been changed a bit to adjust for the egg eating as well as to aid in feather regrowth and hinder and feather eating. I haven’t noticed any feather eating but it can be a sign of low protein. They get a little extra protein and cod liver oil- 1 tbsp. of oil to two and a half gallons feed. The problem now is that any bit of fuzz that appears gets plucked.

There are quite a few reasons chickens loose their feathers, everything from the natural yearly molt, to mites and fleas, to other chicken illnesses. If you have chickens that are losing feathers give them a good “check up” to find the cause and don’t just assume that they are plucking because they are rowdy. I have checked mine and have been watching the flock enough to know it is just a peck-n-run problem. Also I think there is a couple birds that the pull tail feathers of those in front of them during the night while sitting on the roost.

I did find that three of the feather-less girls were in need of a little first aid as well. Betty had an healing but open sore under her wing, which after watch her a few minutes I could see was due to her own pecking. A little peroxide then the blu-kote fixed her up. Lola and Phyllis both had rather sizeable cuts that appeared to be from a chicken foot. They were given the same treatment. Everyone appears to be well on the mend now. I’m just glad we are not in a maggot season. That was rather unpleasant to deal with last summer. See Wilma’s story for more on maggots.

Blu-Kote Spray Form
Blu-Kote Spray Form

To deter further feather/skin pecking, I have coated each bare rump with some Blu-Kote. This is a germicidal, fungicidal, I used the spray form, that helps heal any open wounds but also leaves a blue-ish, purple dye on the skin. Just the color change from pink (or red in Little Jerry’s case) to dark blue will stop the birds from plucking feathers or skin. Allowing the birds to heal and grow some fresh feathers.

A tip when using the Blu-Kote, wear gloves and apply it after your morning coffee. I made my way to the coop as usual to do the early morning chores, managed to catch one chicken and spray it before I realized I wasn’t wearing gloves. Try telling your co-workers why your hands are blue…

A lovely shade of irremovable violet.
A lovely shade of irremovable violet.

“Well you see, it was early when I was doing chores, and I needed to spray my chicken’s butts blue…”

At that point you will get a very curious look as they back up slightly, because you sound crazy.

It’s best to just wear the gloves.

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