The backyard flock of chickens has dwindled somewhat and a new order is being established. Many of the chicks that hatched throughout the Summer were male. We had 17 chicks hatch naturally in 3 months. We were aiming to allow the flock to grow naturally so numbers were not of great importance. Of those 17 though, 9 were male (cockerel – refers to a male chicken under a year) and we lost 4 to a Gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk) and 1 to natural causes. So we grew by a grand total of… 3 hens! We suspect the ones taken by the Gymnogene were female (pullet – female chicken under a year) as the hens are less aware and easier to target. Having 9 roosters come up the ranks caused serious issues within the flock and threw the pecking order out the window. I was ever hopeful that our sexing skills were wrong and they may still be hens… but alas.
We were able to rehome many of the roosters to nearby farms, one of them being the school where I teach, Misty Meadows School, so I get to visit him often! Some were traded for pullets (point of lay) or laying hens. These new additions needed to be dewormed before joining our flock, and have their wings clipped. The best time to do this is in the evening when the chickens are roosting. They are calm and docile. One of the new hens appears to have a bad case of mites – we noticed this by the scales on her feet standing out instead of laying flat against each other. There are other reasons for this, age being one, but chances are, she has mites. We had to act quickly to contain this before it spread to the other chickens. In this case, we resorted to using vet prescribed drops that we had on hand. Her eggs will be discarded for the next 2 weeks – if she lays. Generally when chickens have undergone a stress, they will not lay for a while. Moving to a new flock is very stressful for a hen. It is possible to tell which eggs come from which hens, with a degree of certainty. If in doubt, we discard all the eggs but most chickens lay a distinct shape and colour egg, and usually have a favourite spot to lay.
We then added Diatomaceous Earth to the coop which is ground diatomes, a type of hard shelled algae. It is a natural form of sedimentary rock. It helps control mites and other pests due to its abrasive nature as well as dehydrating small pests in its powder form. It is safe for the chickens to eat and helps with internal parasite prevention as well as providing a source of grit necessary for breaking down food in the chicken’s crop. We dusted the coop with it, covered the infected hen’s legs in it and added it to the chickens’ favourite dust bath. As they roll and spray the dirt through their feathers, the DE helps kill any mites in their feathers.
So far everyone looks clear and we are keeping an eye on the new hen.