There I was, enjoying the heatwave. Working on the computer in the garden and thanking my lucky stars for my wonderful life in general... when... my little hennies stopped wanting to go into their house at night, preferring instead trying to roost in a very small cherry tree where the branches were too thin for all but the tiniest of them. I couldn't figure it out and I couldn't let them stay huddled around the cherry tree base all night where they would be easy pickings for Mr Fox. So I cleaned out the henhouse, special clean and physically put them to bed.
The next morning little speckle lay listless and limp on the floor of the henhouse. On closer inspection she wasnt dead, but hardly alive. I put her into a cardboard box and brought her into the house where it was cooler, thinking that perhaps the intense heat had made the henhouse too warm at nights for them. Tried to get her to drink from a syringe but she expired very quickly. I was really baffled and very upset.
We rigged up some netting so that we could leave the back of the henhouse open for ventilation during the night but the following day, little Angelina, our tiny white 'ballerina' hen lay similarly listless on the floor of the henhouse. The rest of the hens seemed fine and I began to think it was some kind of virus - images of bird flu pandemics crossed my mind... nah... there were no symptoms of flu. Just a lifeless bird with no energy and no will to eat or drink or even move about. Then I noticed something crawling on her... a tiny creature... minuscule... then I noticed more of them crawling on me... Red Mites... there were hundreds, thousands, millions of them.
This is my beautiful Angelina Ballerina... we named her that because she struts around like a ballet dancer.
I immediately sprayed Angelina all over with the preparatory product but it didn't seem to do any good at all... they were still crawling. Will nothing kill these horrid things? They aren't supposed to live on the birds... only in the crevices of the housing and then come out at night to feed on the birds, this was a really bad infestation. I sprayed Angela several times but she expired within a very few hours.
I cleaned the hen house like a mad thing. I scrubbed and disinfected and soaked every bit of the wood with the special disinfectant. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day and by bed time it was dry. Of course the hens still didn't want to go to bed but I popped them in, secure in the knowledge that the mites would be dead.
Yesterday morning when I opened the henhouse, Blackie was lying listless on the floor. Oh no! On close inspection she was covered in red mites. I phoned the company who make the special red mite powder and liquid spray and the lady told me to mix up a very strong solution of the liquid and bath the hens. I did this. Wilma and Bluebell had one or two crawlies on them which soon floated off in the disinfectant bath. Blackie was crawling with them... it was like a horror film. In total I bathed her three times in fresh disinfectant each time and at the end I could still see creatures moving about on her feathers. I sat down exhausted in the garden and just cried. Blackie sat listless on the grass... dripping wet... not even bothering to shake the water from her feathers. I was so miserable. I was convinced that I would lose her, and after her, all my lovely hens.
Blackie with Blue bell behind her.
The lady from the disinfectant company had said that there was a huge increase in mites just this last two weeks due to the warm weather but that an infestation as bad as mine would require the burning of the henhouse and possibly destroying the hens. I bathed them all again in yet more fresh disinfectant.
I dragged out the old dog cage that we no longer use and covered it in a shower curtain and placed it on the patio to serve as a new temporary henhouse. With some perches balanced through the bars and some sawdust on the floor it would do. I locked the hen enclosure. The mites can live for up to 6 months without feeding so the enclosure is a no-go area now until next spring.
I ordered a new henhouse... dug deep into the savings and got one of these... I pick it up on Monday. Then used a syringe to force some water with a vitamin additive into poor Blackie and then waited. Just before 5pm in the evening Blackie suddenly perked up... started eating some grass and drinking some water. I breathed a sigh of relief... couldn't see any more mites on her, but now she's feeling better its hard to catch her to check! The hens spent last night in the dog cage and seemed to settle down fine. All three happy and healthy this morning, thank goodness.
I have to repeat the bathing process again in five days to catch any eggs or remaining mites. The trouble with the mites is that they have rather hard shells and they curl themselves up into a ball and almost nothing penetrates through. Very clever really but it makes them almost impossible to kill. The garden will still be infested for the next 6 months or more so I shall have to continue the bathing or thorough dusting of the hens every month now. Thankfully the new henhouse is going to be really easy to keep clean.
The moral of this tale is... don't try to save money by having someone knock up a henhouse for you out of scrap wood and recycled stuff... it all sounds very 'Technobilly' and recycling is eco friendly etc... but where the health of your pets (yes... they are pets... a farmer might not have blubbed as much as I did!) is concerned... you have to bite the bullet and spend the money!