Friday, June 8, 2012

The Itchy and Scratchies

My chooks haven't been laying much for a while. I haven't been too worried 'cos it's been getting cold and before that it was moulting time. Although I did do a bit of a panic when the scrawniest chook - Indi, moulted and seemed to lose every feather on her back. She grew back some nice ones though. But the other day I discovered Golden Girl (the current broody one) sitting on a couple of eggs which made me very happy. Until I turfed her off the nest, reached in to pick the eggs up and saw creepy crawlies on them. LICE and MITES! Yep a double whammy. Nasty lice. And teeny tiny red mites that you wouldn't even notice until they crawl on your own hand and start sucking and biting your own blood. Eeeew!

Not surprisingly, I'm not at all keen on lice and mites. Even as I write this my foot has started to itch. When I was a child a rumour spread around my primary school that one poor child had nits. I didn't know what nits were but I sure knew I didn't want to get them. I spent the entire day squealing and running from the poor child. That night I went home and prayed fervently to God to save me from the dreaded nits! And wouldn't you know it my prayers were answered! I never got nits. And neither did my kids.

Until last summer.

Then I discovered head lice on my monkey boys. It's not an experience I'm keen to repeat. We were up very late with conditioner and teeny-toothed combs and squinting and spraying our way through their fuzzy locks. And this dreadful routine was repeated every night for ten nights until I thought I'd got rid of them. Every day I'd twist and turn my own head about in the mirror trying to catch a glimpse of my scalp which I was sure must be crawling with lice. It sure did feel itchy. And although Monkey Man who was repeatedly ordered to check my head didn't find any creepy crawlies there, I subjected myself to the conditioner and teeny-toothed comb too. And that was a bloody pain in the backside because I have rather a lot of thick, curly, knotty hair that doesn't very often see a comb.

And now my chooks have the creepy crawlies. I got myself worked up into quite a tizz trying to figure out the best way to deal with them. I thought I was set after consulting my favourite Backyard Poultry site. They recommend a chook dip with permethrin solution and a big scrub out of the chook pen with it.  But I couldn't figure out where to buy the stuff. And when I phoned my chook feed supplier he sounded incredulous. "Never heard of it!" He assured me. He convinced me that the only thing I needed was a bottle of pestene which would completely eradicate the problem. No need to empty out the chook shed just sprinkle the stuff everywhere and they'll be gone. Now that advice flew in the face of what I'd been reading, but the chook man is a farmer and he has 50 chooks of his own and I have discovered before that he's not too keen to hear contradictory suggestions from city girls who've only just started keeping a couple of fuzzy pet chooks. So with a heavy heart I bought the pestene and I bought a bottle of kerosene. This was the suggestion from my friend (also a farm girl) who had tried the powder and reckoned it didn't work. Her farm remedy was to completely empty the shed. Get rid of the straw and spray the whole place with a solution of 1/3 kero and kitchen oil.  Now neither of these remedies appealed to me. But I didn't want to spend any more time googling about. Last week I'd googled for what was causing my persistent twitchy eye and although it's likely to be stress and fatigue the hint that it was an early sign of MS is what my worrying brain has attached to. And I am sure the toxic concoction I was considering in the chook pen would google up some information to keep me anxious for a couple of months.

So I donned my oldest garden gear, plastic gloves and a face mask and started emptying the straw. I have a deep litter system happening in my chook shed. It's a very deep litter system because despite good intentions I've never once emptied it. Again I flaunted good advice and filled the compost with it. I'm hoping that any creepy crawlies will burn in the hot heap. Please don't tell me I'm wrong. Then I got overwhelmed at the thought of taking out the rest and wondered where on earth I'd put it all. So I gave up and got on with the powdering. The poor chooks were most unhappy at being held upside down by their feet and powdered. They squawked and squealed and got rather cranky. But they're done.

Finally, I got out the hose and washed down the shed. And then I sat and thought about the kero and oil. I contemplated doing a google. But decided against it. I put the kero in the shed and instead powdered with pestene all over the place. But not on the straw. Apparently those rotten little red mites can live for months and months. They love nothing more than to hide in wooden nooks and crannies and cracks in your chook shed. They have a nice little hide out during the day and then crawl out at night to suck on blood. And if you don't deal with it your chooks can die. Our shed is made from old recycled timber. It is nothing but nooks and crannies and cracks. There's no way I've got them all. I'll be repeating this over and over I know. Sigh.

Well anyway my chooks look happier for it. They've had a breakfast of porridge today and a drink of garlic water. And I've washed all my clothes and my hair. And I'm avoiding the google.

And if you've made it this far, for your viewing pleasure here is a picture of a blood sucking red mite.
Red mite image from wikipedia


  1. cripes! Im cleaning out the chook shed this weekend for sure...............

  2. In comparison with this, my problems with Froghoppers pale into insignificance!

  3. I too avoided nits as a child but managed to catch them from my niece last year. Much conditioning and combing late and i got rid of them and you know what they weren't really as horrid as I thought they'd be. Mystery illnesses discovered by googling on the other hand, well the less said about that the better, suffice to say I understand the anxiety...

  4. The seriously mega downside to chooken keeping! Mine were infested too and I did the dust thing - which seemed to have worked. I wonder if its because of the pigeons and myna birds that hang out with them during the day that they get lice and mites? Suffice to say, every time I change the straw in the roost it gets a thorough dusting...

  5. Oh my goodness,sounds like too much work to me for the sake of a few eggs. I think I will heed my hubby and forgo the chooks. We get rats here and he said it would bring more.yuk. It's not easy being green is it? I've just been battling sooty mould. Threw out all the zucchini plants,now looks like my snow peas may have it. While watching gardening Australia, I saw that the guy in the Hobart BBC garden,throws out lots because of the same thing. If they have problems what chance do we have. :(
    It was a real coincidence when I saw the title of your post. I belong to a writers group and our title for our homework prose was Scratchy itchy things. :)

  6. Ewww! I dust the chook house regularly with pestene because I do not want mites and because all my chooks sleep in a pile rather than roost, I'm concerned they might be more prone to it. I read that pestene is organic so am not too concerned using it.

    The backyard is currently strewn with white fluffy feathers as our white silkie is moulting too. She looked very forlorn today, patchy feathers and very bedraggled thanks to the rain. Which the dumb clucks don't seem to care/know what to do about....

  7. Good luck with getting on top of the bugs. Hopefully the cold weather will help, and I did read somewhere that you can sprinkle lavender around their bedding to reduce the chance of infestations. Might be time to disinfect my chook shed...!

  8. Hullo! I got some stuff from city chicks and I drop onto the backs of their necks every month or so and they have never had mites or lice...fingers crossed...who knows if it works or not but I do it!

    I also put loads of food grade diatomaceous earth - powder stuff made out of the shells of crustaceans all through the coop and onto the girls themselves. Can't remember what it's called but mites and bugs die as it scratches their exoskeletons.

  9. Oh gosh, poor things... you and the chookies. I don't have chooks (yet), but I was reading the other day that using pennyroyal and rosemary as strewing herbs in your chook pen and growing those fragrant herbs beside your pen really help in preventing these.... but I guess that doesn't help you now in dealing with them. Good luck!

  10. Oh yucky! I really hope you get it sorted out soon.


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