Quite possibly the grossest thing

No one ever said farming or homesteading are glamorous occupations. Everyone expects it to be dirty, right? Muddy? Sometimes stinky?

Well I’ve dealt with some things in the past two years that are grosser than even I – and I spend my free time reading farming books and magazines – had come to expect. There’s poop, and a lot of it (and it’s stinkier than you’d think). There’s a lot of touching and squishing bugs with your bare fingers. I’ve even had to dispose of gnawed-on-parts of a predated chicken corpse or two. Whatever. I’ve known for years that the only time I can get a manicure is when I’m going on vacation for a week.

But this might top it all. Stop right here if you’re squeamish.

I mean it!

My three red hens and Joseph the Rooster have poultry lice. And NO, thank God these are NOT COMMUNICABLE TO HUMANS!!! That was the FIRST thing I checked, thinking I might just have to burn down the coop and their paddock and the house and anything that had ever come in contact with a chicken ever. Apparently these lice live on feather dust and will die shortly if separated from a hen. So, whew.

But still revolting. Go google some pictures of them. I mean, if you really, really don’t want to hold onto your breakfast.

I only found out because I was looking at my hens’ butts – you know, like farmers do – on a tip from a friend to see if I could ID which of the three ladies was being a slacker and had stopped laying a couple months ago (thanks OFG!). I parted the feathers around the first hen’s vent area, and it was like watching the cockroach tide recede after switching on a light in a New York City slum basement at midnight after a sewage spill. They were legion. And they seethed.

I may have shouted out a few cusswords and dropped the poor hen. When I got control of my gagging I may have yelled “You have GOT to be effing KIDDING me!” Or something a lot less ladylike than that.

Much googling later, I am now a poultry lice expert. Poultry lice are brought in by wild birds. They flourish on birds that cannot groom themselves – birds with injuries or trimmed beaks. (Yes, yet another reason to revile this inhumane practice!). They don’t spread disease, but can irritate the birds terribly. (Perhaps this is the reason Ms. Slacker isn’t laying?) Thankfully, I saw no signs of poultry lice on the hens in the chicken tractor.

It turns out the solution is quite simple. I bought some Sevin (carbaryl) dust. I filled the toe of an old pantyhose with it, turned each hen upside down by the ankles (they did NOT like that!) and delicately poofed their nethers, underwings, bellies and breasts, making sure the powder got all the way down into the feather shafts. I changed all the henhouse bedding and dusted everything with more Sevin. I resisted the urge to shave my head and burn my clothes.

And I will do this every 7 days for the next 3 weeks. And all will be well. And I will have survived yet another farming milestone without actually barfing.*

* In the course of my reading though I came across some unrelated stories involving maggots. If I ever have to deal with those, I ain’t making no promises.

2 Responses to “Quite possibly the grossest thing”

  1. ohiofarmgirl Says:

    hee hee hee yep this farmin’ thang aint for the faint of heart, for sure. way to tackle the problem – especially the poofing! whoooot! and yep it might be why she isnt laying. did they have any feather loss? or just the yucky lice?

    you’re doing a great job, baby!!!
    :-)

  2. Heidi Says:

    Chickens have lice!!!? How awful. I remember the panic when those notices came home from the school: “there has been an outbreak of lice in your child’s classroom. Check and wash and sterilize EVERYTHING that may have come in contact with your student…Panic, anger and lots of money spent on the cleanups even if your child didn’t have lice…
    Does Sevin have a short half-life? What happens if the hen pecks at her feathers? How long do you have to wait after treatment before you can “harvest” the bird?
    I found a website on Sevin (granted it is about sprayed Sevin on plant crops, but you may be interested. It specifically mentions not to spray around honeybees or their foraging areas, (or let the product drift on the wind). I remember Sevin in the California news a few years ago, can’t remember the specific problem except that it may have been banned in some areas or for certain crops. (Or maybe some farm laborers were sprayed in the fields and were sueing).
    Anyway, here’s the website: http://www.entomology.umn.edu/cues/cwlb/labels/SevinSL.pdf

    Here’s another website (veterinary) backing up your treatment.
    http://ohioline.osu.edu/vme-fact/0018.html
    It also reminds you to not breathe in or swallow the Sevin and suggests the Plastic bag approach to dusting the chicken (head out of the bag) much like shaking chicken strips in bag of seasoned flour!
    in any case, be really careful handling it.

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