Friday 31 July 2015

Ingrown Feathers in Chickens

Dealing with Ingrown Feathers
Our Silkie hen Farrah has an ongoing problem with ingrown feathers immediately below her vent (her rear exit to be clear).  It's been going on for at least 2 years now. I checked in with our Vet as to the course of action I am taking and she felt that they would do more or less the same thing if I brought Farrah in to the surgery.

I'm not going to use any pictures of Farrah's rear end here. Basically what it presents as is a large pea sized lump of skin that looks knobbly.  I feel that it interferes with Farrah passing her droppings as she seems to struggle (wobbling about and pushing hard) when the ingrown feathers are at their peak and then there is much less drama once the feathers have been cleared out. I don't know whether the regular build up of droppings in her rear feathers is at least partly due to her ingrown feather problem too, as perhaps she does not get enough force behind her droppings to push them out and away from herself. 

So this is how I deal with this problem. 
  1. I get her over our laundry trough and wash the area around her vent with comfortably warm, soapy water whilst I wear disposable gloves to remove any dirt. 
  2. I gently squeeze and rub the feathers with an old, clean towel to remove excess water. 
  3. I bundle Farrah up in an old, clean towel so her head is poking out and her tail is readily accessible. The towel is firm to help keep her still, I'd say a 7 out of 10 for firmness.  
  4. I have a cheap pair of tweezers with rounded (i.e. not pointy and sharp) ends. I tuck Farrah's head under my non-dominant arm so her head is poking out the back of my armpit. I then use my dominant hand to squeeze the lump with the tweezers. I find that the ingrown feathers begin to pop up to the surface with a few good squeezes. I then use the tweezers to pull out the feather particles. I keep going until I feel there is no more to get. 5 - 10 minutes would do the trick in this case. 
  5. This usually leaves the lump looking a bit mushy and there is usually a little (drop or two) of blood. I then wipe the lump with a clean tissue and Betadine disinfectant (very mild, does not sting).
I find I need to remove this process every 3 months or so. It's not very comfortable for her but I think the end justifies the means. Usually within 2 to 3 days she is healed up and much more comfortable. 

And I need to pay tribute to my beautiful girl Jewel who passed away on Wednesday evening.  The most robust and healthiest hen I have ever known.  We miss you.  We have one hen left now, Farrah which is really upsetting - for her especially as she is still looking for Jewel. See my next post for our plans to get her a companion - despite the ILT virus.

Monday 26 May 2014

ILT Update

We took our three girls to the bird specialist Vet over Easter for a check up and a long acting vitamin injection to prepare them for the Winter ahead.  Two out of three of the girls are in the middle of moulting and we have been really concerned that the extra stress of dropping and re-growing their feathers would spark another round of the ILT virus.  Having lost 6 out of 9 hens since the beginning of 2013 from this scourge, I am taking preventative measures for our remaining trio as best as I know how.  

Preventative Measures against the ILT Virus

So far we have begun with reinstating the heat lamp back into the sleeping hutch at the end of each day.  As soon as the night time temperature dropped to under 16/ 17 degrees Centigrade (60 degrees Fahrenheit), the lamp went on.  Initially the girls stayed at the end furthest from the lamp but as the nights cooled further to now be around 6 degrees Centigrade (43 degrees Fahrenheit) the two moulting girls have swapped ends and now spend every night basking directly under the lamp.  The third hen, our black Silkie Farrah, is nothing short of enormous (1.6 kilos/ 3.5 pounds) and doesn't need the extra heat so she stays well away.  Having said that, she has moved into her Winter sleeping position which is sitting down on a fluffy mat rather than roosting on the perch.  

Jewel & Alice (left to right)
The Vet examined all of the girls individually, especially down their throats to check for the dreaded plaques that line the throat and bring on chronic laryngitis type symptoms.  We were so pleased to know that all the girls are free and clear.  It has been our experience that these plaques take hold and just never leave.  Our hens Rosie and Amelia had a couple of plaques each and they were the symptoms that brought them both to the end of their lives.  The plaques became more unstable, bigger and more painful, until they prevented the girls from swallowing their food, caused them to lose horrible amounts of weight, brought down their immune systems and led to the awful decision to have them put to sleep.  

Farrah & Jewel
The girls have been weighed to set a bench mark as we enter the cold weather time.  We can continue to weigh them every couple of weeks and ensure that they don't start to decline.  Alice and Jewel should get a bit bigger as they are probably at their slimmest given that they are half way through their moulting.  To keep the girls at the higher end of their weight, we are feeding them something rich just before bed time so that when they do expend their reserves on keeping warm during the night, it should be that they burn these rich food treats first rather than the fat layer that will hopefully keep them protected over the next, several colder months.  Maize or human grade crushed peanuts (just a tablespoon between the three of them) or some nutrient rich mash (we have some parrots who have a special pellet as their staple food and we mash this with boiled water for the hens and allow it to thoroughly cool before serving it).  The crushed peanuts must be suitable for human consumption otherwise they can contain fungal spores which can be dangerous for the hen if the fungus takes hold.  
The girls had a long acting vitamin injection which should give them a boost for the next 6 weeks or so.  Their day time food is also quite strict in that it is all fresh vegetables and a mixture of hen appropriate layer crumble, wheat and crushed maize.  They do get left over meats from our recent meals (nothing off), a little left over pasta or rice (nothing substantial as these can overwhelm their digestive system and get stuck in their crop) and fruit here and there that are fresh and soft enough to be pecked apart.  
The girls water supply has a vitamin supplement in it also.  I am a big farm of the Australian based Vetafarm range. 

We are so hopeful to see the girls through this Winter in good health.  They are so happy at the moment and we are really confident that this will be their year and not the year that the virus gets the better of us again. 

Sunday 9 March 2014

Hot Weather Care for Chickens - Part 3

Hot Weather Care for Chickens

Another consideration during the hot weather is the potential for flies to become a problem in the rear ends of the hens.  Our wheaten Pekin Alice is still laying, which is very unexpected considering she usually shuts down the egg factory by around Christmas time.  The muscles in her rear are all relaxed in order to facilitate the exit of her every second day egg release and it is resulting in the feathers all around and mostly immediately below her vent, getting fairly soaked in loose droppings.  

Alice - mid blow dry
I am worried that a fly will lay it's eggs in this mess and it will result in Alice becoming fly blown.  I have seen one fly blown hen when I was much younger and it was awful.  She was getting eaten alive around her rear, a red, bloody mess and had to be put down.  So to stop this from happening to our little lady, I have had to wash Alice every time I notice her rear becoming soiled.  Also, droppings are acidic and when left on the hen's skin, they burn, cause discomfort and scald the skin.  


Washing Poop Soaked Feathers

What you should use:
1. A pair of disposable gloves - you don't want to recycle poop covered items.
2. An old, clean and dry towel (maybe two).  One you're happy to dry the hen's rear with.
3. A confined space to wash your chicken - we opt for the laundry, door closed, hen tucked into the trough.  They obviously won't enjoy being wet and they'll run as soon as they get the chance, best to limit their escape routes.  
4. Clean, fresh, running water.  No soap, my Vet strongly does not recommend it as it strips the feathers and skin of their protective oils. 
5. Flat surface to dry the hen on afterwards.
6. A hairdryer is a nice way to finish off the process. 

How to wash the hen:
1. With your disposable gloves on and the hen in a secure position which allows plenty of water to access her rear, thorough soak her rear feathers, using a gloved hand to work ALL of the droppings thoroughly from her feathers.  
2. Keeping the water running over the area is the best way to go for moving the poop off and away. 
3. Do not leave a sopping wet bottom, half caked in droppings.  Work the droppings out with your gloved hands, rinsing thoroughly until the area is poop free.  Assuming the hen stays fairly much in place, this should take up to ten minutes only. 
4. Place the hen-suitable, clean and dry towel onto a flat and stable surface and lift the hen up onto it.  I recommend putting the towel in place before you start the wash - makes it easier to transfer the hen onto the towel at the end of the wash. 
5. Gently squeeze out the excess water from the hen's rear with the towel.  
6. If the weather is horribly hot (35C/ 95F +) you can take the hen back to her pen after you have toweled her dry.
7. If the weather is cool you absolutely must dry her thoroughly to stop her suffering in the cold for the next hour or two with soaking feathers.  I blow dry Alice (and all my chickens who I have washed over the years) in a gentle and thorough fashion.  
Alice - nearly the end of her Sunday wash. 
8. Blow dry the hen taking extra care to not burn her under the heat of the dryer.  Imagine you are drying the hair of a toddler.  Keep the blow dryer moving all around the area, keep it around 20cm (7 or 8 inches) from the hen and turn down the heat as the feathers begin to fluff.  Takes 10 - 15 minutes to do properly. 

I find that hens fall into a hypnotic state during the drying phase and many of mine lean droopingly against me, even the most wild natured seem to surrender.  

Note: crushing, squeezing or forcing the hen into submission to keep her still during the wash, is incredibly uncomfortable, distressing and likely to be very painful for her.  If you have to wrap her in one of the towels, so that her rear is exposed and the rest of her remains controlled, this is a much better scenario.  Just don't wrap her tightly, she needs to be kept in place, not trussed up ready for the oven.  

Alice - perfectly clean, rear view. 

Sunday 26 January 2014

Hot Weather Care for Chickens - Part 2

Hot Weather Care for Chickens

Another great way to care for your chickens in the hot weather, is to give them access to wet earth.  Chickens need to regularly dust bath (roll around  in the earth, covering their feathers in dirt to clean their skin, feathers and remove bugs).  Preening their feathers with their beak alone does not adequately clean their bodies and if you've had little chicks out in the garden, you'll see them dust bathing as a completely natural instinct, whether they've been entirely human or hen raised - they just know they need to do it.  

In the heat with the soil baking to sometimes unbearable temperatures, the chickens are less inclined to dust bath.  They're obviously very uncomfortable - panting, dehydrating and steaming under a thick coat of gorgeous feathers.  For the last couple of years I've helped alleviate this by combining their love of dust bathing with their need to keep cool.

The sand here is not clay based, it's coarse and fine and when it's wet, it does not become like paint (as can be the case with some clay based soils) but lovely and cool and easy for the hens to incorporate into their dust bathing routine.  So every day when the weather is hot (35C/ 95F +), I will empty out their water bottles into a designated, cleaned patch of sand (droppings removed, no hen wants to roll around in chicken poo) and later in the day, the hens will scratch, sit and roll in the wet sand.  Then I can also then give them fresh and clean water for the day ahead every morning, so I know they've got plenty for the day ahead.  

I know that people obtain coarse sand for their chickens if they do not naturally have it in the area they live in.  This is a great thing to do is possible.  Otherwise I strongly encourage creating wet areas in your chicken pen on a regular basis during the Summer months.  
Here are my girls from the previous Summer.  

Holly, singing the praises of the muddy earth. 

Saturday 11 January 2014

Hot Weather Care for Chickens - Part 1

Hot Weather Care for your Chickens

There are some quite simple things that can be done to protect and care for chickens during hot weather.  By hot weather I mean around 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) or above during the day.  Chickens cope well with temperatures in the late 20's (late 70's to low 80's in Fahrenheit) but when temperatures start to creep into the 30's, that's when troubles can begin.  Especially when night time temperatures are also very warm on top of those in the day time.  It gives the chickens no reprieve and starts to wear them down. 


Water Supply


Supply & Location

Have at least 2 containers of water located in different parts of the pen, so that at least one water source is in the shade throughout the day.  I have one container on the west boundary and one up against the laying coop on the south boundary.  This means that the hens have at least one source of cool water available to them at all times.  Keeping the water against the fence or against the walls of the coop, also helps prevent the hens knocking it over.  

Jewel & Farrah (left to right)

Avoid Knock-Overs

Use sturdy, heavy water containers that the hens can not easily knock over.  Half a clean brick in a clean, large, plastic container is a great, cheap option.   

A Plentiful Supply

Fill the containers up nice and high - the pen should have several litres or at least half a gallon of water available at minimum.  

Easily Accessible

The hens should be able to easily access the water - if the water container is very tall, shorter hens may not be able to reach it.  Some water containers provide such a small area of accessible water that the chickens have to try much, much harder to get a decent drink then they should have to.  The hen should be able to plunge her beak deeply into the water to easily get large mouthfuls as they need them.


Ice Blocks

Fill clean, small, ex drink bottles 3/4 full of water, put the lid tightly on and freeze them.  You can then put the frozen bottles into the water container to keep the water supply extra cold for a few extra hours.  The small soft drink and water bottles that everyone seems to throw away after one use are ideal.  Plus you can throw them out into recycling if they begin to get a little tired looking and easily get a new replacement bottle with almost no effort.  

Keep it Clean

Keep your containers and any objects you use to keep the containers in place eg. bricks etc, clean and free from slimy build up.  Water born bacteria can and will eventually make your chickens sick if left unattended.  
You can clean out containers by blasting them with the garden hose on high pressure, scrubbing them with a scrubbing brush or  old toothbrush for fine detailing or rubbing them all over with clean, coarse, wet sand - and giving them a good rinse with clean water afterwards. A bottle brush like the kind used for babies bottles are a good option for glass or expensive water bottles.  I'd recommend using the large size soft drink bottles which can be recycled and easily replaced once they become a bit green inside.  

See also my review on the best water container for chickens

Monday 16 December 2013

Treating Stick Fast Fleas in Chickens

How to treat stick fast fleas in chickens

There is a community farm in the inner city and their chickens were covered in stick fast fleas.  I was pretty upset to see their faces dotted in black spots, fleas crowded into the groove immediately above their eyes.  I've been bitten by the odd stick fast flea when treating infested chickens in the past.  It hurts when they bite but unlike the chickens, I can pick them off straight away and kill them with a hard pinch of my fingers.  Chickens don't get away that easily.

Two hens treated for fleas.  You can see the row of fleas above the eye of the top hen. 
I offered to come over and treat the chickens at the farm and my offer was fortunately accepted.  I've been to visit the chickens today and noted that I could not see a single flea on any of them.  

I treated the hens and the roosters with a commonly used dog & cat flea treatment.  2 to 3 drops onto the skin on the back of the birds neck.  I got some photos of the hens on the day I treated them.  I also fell in love with one of the hens and I am very keen to take her home with me.  Stick fast fleas are an abomination.  They need to be treated promptly and regularly (every 2 - 4 months depending on their return frequency).  I treated about 25 chickens for a cost of just under $1 per bird.  

Again the hens with a dark circle over the top of their eyes - this is actually a line of fleas. 

This is my new obsess-hen.  She is gorgeous.  I'd love to take her home for a new life. 

Friday 15 November 2013

Ernest Goh - Chicken Beauty Pageants

I am really heart warmed to see the photographic work of Ernest Goh.  He has done a photographic study of chickens to showcase their beauty, the depths of their character and their specialness as a wonderful animal, that many people take for granted. 

Here is a short video of the photographic project he conducted: Ernest Goh - Chicken Beauty Pageants

Rosie - one of our would be pageant superstars.