Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Keeping Small Flocks Healthy -Parasites

A day or two after my last post about keeping small flocks healthy, one of CLUCK Red Deer's most experienced urban chicken-keepers, Kristina, announced on Facebook that one of her favorite hens was lost due to a mite infestation.

Kristina wrote: 
"I want to encourage you to please be checking your birds regularly for lice and mites! And when you see some, don't put off treatment until you have more time! I treated mine for mites a couple of months ago, and forgot to do the follow-up treatment ten days later. I noticed a couple weeks ago that Dorothy (our favorite barred rock who was featured in the Advocate story recently) still had a few mites on her, and I powdered her again, but I didn't have time to clean the coop out. I didn't realize how badly they affected her health and she was severely weakened. And now she's gone."
I've seen Kristina's coop, it's far from being under-maintained. As Kristina said, it was an unfortunate case of not keeping on top of her treatments. 

It's easy to think, "Oh, they're just mites, they're tiny, how much damage can they really do?" Yes, mites are tiny, but they consume a LOT for their size and when left to their own devices, they can reproduce quickly and they feed directly on blood. Chickens may look pretty robust but they're almost all feathers -it doesn't take much loss of blood before their health begins to be affected, especially their immune systems.

Even if the mites themselves are not be a problem (due to blood loss), infections can set in just that much more quickly in hen already running a bit low on energy -just as they can and do in our other pets and even in ourselves. 

The bottom line is: do your best to keep your birds healthy and know when problems arise. A healthy chicken that comes in contact with a small dose of a potential viral or bacterial pathogen has a very good chance of being able to fight it off just fine on their own.

As has been suggested by Liz and Kyle on our Facebook page, in response to Kristina's post, doing a thorough butt-check regularly will help you notice infestations fast enough to take care of it before it becomes a problem. Once per month at least, though weekly would be even better (pick a certain day of the week and make it a habit to check every time that day comes around).

Liz wrote on the Facebook thread: "Northern Fowl Mite feed on blood. Around the vent the blood vessels are very close to the surface of the skin. This is typically their favourite spot BUT I have been surprised to see them concentrated in other areas on the chicken. If you handle them weekly you can also notice a weight loss or pelvic and keel bone sticking out." It's not just about checking for bugs, it's also about getting familiar with your chicken's build so you can notice when there's a change. (It will also help them become more friendly if they get used to being held regularly, especially if they get treats after each examination!)
So, what else can we look for -other than a change in body weight? Well, we should keep our eyes out for bugs!

This blog post is a great resource, though I must warn you, it contains some pretty grotey images (which, as a chicken owner, we must be willing to contend with!!)

How can we prevent infestations? I'll get into that and what to do if/when infestation strikes in the next post!

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