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Wild About Plants: Eliminating mites, parasites in your flock

Jun 1st, 2016 | Category: Skills

by Suzanne Jordan

Mite infestations in chickens, turkeys, and game birds can run from a nuisance to a health hazard to death, depending on the severity of the infestation. While mites can accumulate due to poor coop and pen management, even the most fastidious poultry keeper may find mites in the hen house. Mites can be brought in by wild birds, rodents, even on the shoes and clothes of people returning home from visiting other flocks or events. Mites are able to live for several weeks to months off the host.

PHOTO BY SUZANNE JORDAN

PHOTO BY SUZANNE JORDAN

It can be problematic to assess the type of mite infestation as mites are very small and difficult to see. Symptoms of mite and parasite invasion can include, but not be limited to, bald patches, rough and reddened skin, scaly feet that may become misshapen or swollen, lethargy, declining or cessation of egg laying, self-plucking of feathers in an effort to relieve itching, foamy poop, reduced weight and appetite, and what seems to be early or out of season molting.

Two years ago, I had a flock of chickens that became infested with mites. The birds’ legs and feet became roughened and scaly, their tail feathers fell off, and poop came blasting out of them like little pieces of dynamite were being blown out their butts. Never a good thing to watch, let alone smell. Assuming there were several types of parasites present, I came at treating the chickens with a several pronged attack.

First up was cleaning the coop and scraping it to bare wood. The refuse was taken far from the chicken pen in order to prevent reinfestation. Filling a bottle with organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and several teaspoons of cedar, rosemary, and oregano essential oils, the entire coop was thoroughly sprayed from top to bottom, including the ceiling and roosts. Following that, diatomaceous earth was liberally sprinkled on the roosts, walls, ceiling, entrance ramps, and on the floor and nesting boxes. Cedar shavings were used as fresh bedding.

Now for the poor miserable chickens. Each chicken was held upside down and generously dusted all over down to the skin with food grade diatomaceous earth, avoiding the face. The diatomaceous earth was also put in piles in the pen for the chickens to dust themselves at will. DE is tiny, fossilized aquatic organisms called diatoms that accumulated over millennia in fresh water lakes. DE is about 85 percent silica, which makes it very abrasive. It kills mites and other soft bodied bugs such as parasites, worms, and lice by literally cutting into the flesh. How cool is that!? Being abrasive, care must be taken to avoid inhaling DE, as it can be harmful to lung tissue. The dusting was applied once a week for three weeks. Food grade DE can be found in many feed and country stores. Make sure it’s food grade.

PHOTO BY SUZANNE JORDAN

PHOTO BY SUZANNE JORDAN

After the birds went in to roost and were calm and docile, I went into the coop with a bowl of apple cider vinegar (acv) and a jar of my homemade salve. Each bird got their legs soaked in the acv for a few seconds, and then their legs were thoroughly coated with the salve. It consisted of medicinal oil of fresh cedar, usnea, saxifrage, salal, and fir tips, essential oils of rosemary and cedar, and beeswax. This treatment was done nightly for two weeks. Note: Typically, WD40, kerosene, and automotive oil are sometimes advised to coat poultry legs. Please don’t do this. Not only are these substances carcinogenic, but they also cause respiratory problems in birds. Coating with the balm suffocates the mites. Any natural balm such as a good comfrey calendula salve can be used. Just take care to thoroughly coat every part of the feet and legs.

The final treatment was taken internally. Each morning, into about two pounds of organic scratch, I mixed in a cup of apple cider vinegar, three full bulbs of mashed fresh garlic, and four tablespoons of my anti-parasite tincture. Equal parts of Oregon grape rhizome bark, yarrow herb, and green mature cones of the alder tree are the herbs in the tincture. The chickens fell on this healing mixture every day as if they were starving, which in essence they were given that they had internal parasites. This treatment continued every day for two weeks.

One cup apple cider vinegar was added to the 3-gallon water container. The water was changed twice a week, and the container cleaned each time.

Within just a few days, considerable improvement was detected in their energy levels, their manure returned to normal, their legs and feet began to improve, and the redness on their butt skin disappeared. After three weeks, pin feathers were evident, and all signs of mites and parasites were gone. The key to healing naturally is consistency in application of all treatments.

A healthy chicken is a happy chicken. Please have a fun summer, and as always, I leave you Wild About Plants! Check out www.cedarmountainherbs.com for herbal workshops and wildcrafting apprenticeship programs.

Published in the June 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

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