Amelia On Her Own!

Today marks the first day I left Amelia outside on her own for any appreciable length of time.

The big girls didn’t destroy her and she didn’t run to me, begging for shelter when I came out to check, so I presume it went well!

“Come on……really?”

Her mite infestation seems to be clearing up and the missing feathers beneath her wings are growing back!

Amelia, pecking at……something on the deck.

A Day For Change

Alberta and Josephine not long after arriving last year.

Pressed for time this morning, I present a short narrative of the day I started raising chickens, overcoming my fear of the unknown to pursue a worthwhile, life changing endeavor. I hope you enjoy it. Note: I figured out how to use photo captions today!

Joseph McMahon

I had never raised chickens before. I had never been interested in raising chickens before. Yet, here they were, two chickens, in my backyard, straight from the farm.

When my friend, John, asked earlier in the year if I were interested in a pair of birds when his eggs hatched and they were old enough to be transported, I sarcastically replied, “Sure, why not?” Forgetting John is both completely deranged AND a man of his word, I relegated the matter to the far corners of my mind.

I should not have been surprised to receive the phone call that fateful afternoon: “Dude, I’m on my way down with your birds, see you soon!” I was in shock until I remembered I had, in fact, agreed to said bird delivery. I awaited the arrival, trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do with two chickens. I had no coop, no feed, no experience and suburban neighbors. I nervously mulled these hurdles around, over and over in my mind, finally resolving to cross these bridges as I came upon them, not to be afraid of but rather embrace this new, life changing experience. I am, after all, a reasonably intelligent adult and will not be frightened off by nebulous, far-away possibilities which may or may not arise.

Finally, the madman arrived with the strange, chirping and peeping box. Peeling the towel off the top, he revealed the contents. When someone says “chicken,” images of a fat, white bird pop into the mind. These birds were NOT fat or white, rather grey, black and tiny. John explained to me these were a breed called Dominique and were, in fact, distant relatives of what we today call chickens. They are more akin to a grouse or jungle fowl and are of the type which would be found on a farm in Colonial New England.

Taking the odd fowl into my back yard, we carefully removed the wire from the top of the box and gently lifted them out. As the sun was already setting (such fowl have poor night vision and prefer to roost off the ground), we ventured to set them up for the night in a tree. This proved to be too high, as we were met with a cacophony of squeals and shouts. The neighbors took notice of this, warily asking, “Whatcha got over there?” to which I replied, “Chickens, sort of,” holding a small, noisy bird over the fence to show, explaining the intricacies of how this kind-of-sort-of-is-but-isn’t a chicken. The response was “Okay, whatever, cool,” somewhere between disbelief and amusement.

Eventually, we found the ideal spot to roost was on top of a deck chair. I was somewhat skeptical of this, being inexperienced in the ways of strange fowl but was assured by John, “That’s how they do.” Before departing, John detailed the ins and outs of bird tending, supplying me with the basics needed and a short shopping list. This put nearly all of my concerns at ease.

The pair at the beginning of winter 2017.

I was apprehensive about them being exposed to the elements and predators all night. However, next morning, there they were, huddled together on the same chair, uneaten, not frozen solid and in fine spirits. With winter approaching, however, shelter would be necessary. Searching the Internet high and low, I found what seemed to be a suitable coop and ordered it. Meantime, the birds had taken to the habit of living under my deck, striking out occasionally to feed on bugs and have a drink of water. Upon the arrival and construction of the coop, they continued this behavior for a few days, unsure of the strange, new structure. Eventually figuring out it was theirs, the pair moved in and made it home.

Making themselves at home in the coop.

Fast forward to today, less than a year later, all of my fears and apprehensions about this new endeavor proved to be totally unfounded and the birds, now named Josephine and Alberta, are grown up, happily free range in the yard, eat everything in sight and produce delicious eggs.

As I write this, a tiny new chapter in the backyard bird saga is unfolding in a plastic crate two feet to my left. Her name is Amelia, as she can already fly.

Of Mites and Men

Amelia, not very happy to be photographed in this way and frankly, I don’t blame her.

During yesterday’s bird visit extravaganza, my friend and I noticed something strange about Amelia’s behavior: she wasn’t very active. She spent most of her time preening (cleaning her feathers and skin with her beak), rather than pecking about or roaming with the other Junglefowl.

I didn’t put much thought into it at first, but after the bird visit was over and John had taken his birds away, she was STILL standing around, preening.

I had recently taken the cat to the vet for strange scabs in his ears, odd head shaking and what seemed like an uncomfortable amount of scratching. It turned out he had ear mites.

Suddenly, it occurred to me Amelia might have mites as well, as the behaviors are similar. I took to the Internet for answers, finding out it was highly likely she was infested.

Symptoms of mites include:

  • Excessive preening (!)
  • Dry, scaly feet
  • Missing feathers

Upon closer inspection, Amelia displayed all of these symptoms. Further reading revealed some interesting points, such as the fact that chickens and other fowl roll around in dirt (known as a “dust bath” ) to rid themselves of and prevent mites, as the dust and dirt smother the parasites. (I knew they took these baths, but never WHY)

After unsuccessful attempts to get Amelia to dust bathe, I resorted to manually flipping her around in the dirt and sprinkling dust over the affected areas, under her wings (which, alarmingly, were totally barren of feathers!) and near her tail/vent (the area where her….waste exits).

The next problem area, dry, scaly feet, I addressed in comical fashion. Advice from another blog told me oil rubbed onto the feet and legs will smother mites, similar to the dust bath. I flew into the kitchen, coming up with sunflower seed oil, which I applied to her legs and feet. Oddly, she seemed to enjoy this.

My hilariously crumpled bottle of sunflower seed oil. (It’s the only way it’ll fit in the cupboard!)

Another bit I found suggested putting garlic and apple cider vinegar in her water, as mites do not enjoy the taste of blood saturated with these things. Off to the kitchen again, this time for garlic powder and a dash went in her water dish. Apple cider vinegar was something I lacked and would have to go to the store for.

The final piece of advice I dug up recommended something I had never heard of: “Diatomaceous Earth” (I’m still not sure I pronounce it correctly). This is a substance, made of a sedimentary rock, ground into a fine powder and having various properties, including pest control. From Wikipedia: “The fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency…”

I had an inkling Tractor Supply carried the stuff, but I was up against a time limitation (yes, I do have a day job) and the Supply is quite a hike from my house. A quick search revealed Wal-Mart has the stuff, at least on their website. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone (well, maybe save one bird with one stone) by picking up the apple cider vinegar AND this weird stuff at a store kind of on my way to work.

They didn’t have it. All I could find was the apple cider vinegar. Out of time (running way behind actually), I went to work, somewhat frustrated.

After work, with not much time to spare (working weird hours in the afternoon has its advantages, but getting to stores before they close is not one of them!), I flew to what my phone’s navigation CLAIMED was the nearest Tractor Supply, but turned out to be a local mom and pop shop. I was somewhat perturbed by this, but decided to give them a try anyway, as I didn’t have much choice late in the evening. This turned out to be great, as the clerks knew exactly what I was talking about, told me how to pronounce it correctly and informed me there are different varieties for different purposes, including one for lawn care and the food grade sort I needed for my bird.

Another benefit of shopping at the unexpected store was this five-pound bag being priced the same as two-and-a-half pound bags I saw advertised online.

This morning, I added apple cider vinegar to her water, slathered her feet with oil and added Diatomaceous Earth to her feed, as well as sprinkling some on her.

I have no idea who got the mites first, the bird or the cat.

I am keeping a close eye on her, keeping her separated from the other birds (also the cat!) and will see what are the results of these remedies. I have also added apple cider vinegar to my adult hen’s water and the Diatomaceous Earth to the cat’s litter box. I am not taking any chances.

Thanks for reading, as always!