Problems in the Hen House

It seems that we are experiencing our first chicken conundrum here on our little homestead.  As the girls keep saying, “Quack Quack is sick.”  Quack Quack being one of our two year old Rhode Island Reds.  
It all started when the chickens stopped laying, which was about a week ago.  They’ve laid just two eggs in the last week, which is highly unusual, especially given the fact that I was getting at least an egg a day all through the winter.  Now the weather is warm and the days are getting longer, so I was looking forward to getting more eggs in the coming weeks.  Unfortunately, it seems we have the opposite going on.  
One of the chickens, Quack Quack, is also producing unusual droppings.  She is missing feathers on her chest and belly (though her skin looks fine).  The feathers on her rear look picked but I don’t see any obvious signs of mites.  Her skin is warm to the touch but I’m not sure what the normal temperature should be.  
After much research (one source being The Urban Chicken) and speaking (mostly via social media) with many experts, it seems that there could be any number of things going on.  In no particular order, I could be dealing with:
  • a broody hen
  • mites
  • ticks
  • worms
  • molting 
  • feather picking 
  • nothing at all.  
In sum, it seems that identifying what is going on with a chicken who is not laying and has other various symptoms isn’t exactly cut and dry.  Given that, I’ve decided to do a number of things and see if my chicken situation improves.  Unfortunately, if the situation does improve, I won’t be sure what caused it.  I guess I’m willing to deal with that.  
On the advice of others and my own internet research, here are some things I’ve done and why I’ve done them.  
  • I did an extra careful job of raking out the old bedding and dropping from the coop.  I wanted to get as much gunk out of there as possible. 
  • I scrubbed down the inside of the coop with soap and water.  I figured this couldn’t be a bad thing and I hadn’t done it in the last year of owning the chickens.  There was certainly some caked on dirt and grime so it was a good move.  I also sprayed the inside of the coop with a mixture of water, vegetable oil, and dish detergent to repeal mites that might jump off the chickens’ bodies, if they have them.  I did this on the advice of Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily. I’ll repeat it next weekend.
  • I spread Diatomaceous Earth (DE) on the ground and then cedar chips on top of it.  The DE is good for the girls when they have their dust baths.  DE kills soft bodied insects.  The cedar chips are a natural bug repellant. 
  • I then filled their water and put fresh garlic and lemon juice in it.  Garlic is said to be a natural dewormer and also supposed to change the “taste” of the chickens and make them less delicious to mites.  I did the same with their food by sprinkling it with garlic powder.  
  • Finally, I hung curtains over their nesting boxes, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  Originally I wanted to do it to prevent egg eating.  I was having a problem with one of my chickens eating her eggs and one remedy for that is to darken the nesting box.  I also read that some chickens don’t want to lay when the nesting box isn’t dark, so I thought, perhaps given that the days are getting longer, she was sensitive to it getting brighter in the morning.  
I completed all of this work on Sunday and as of today, I’m not seeing any improvement.  However, natural remedies take longer and it might take a few days or weeks to see improvement.  Of course, as I said, I won’t know if any improvement is a result of my efforts or just a natural change.  Either way, nothing I did will hurt the chickens and on the contrary, most of the things I did are beneficial and I have been meaning to do them for a while. 
We’ll see!  I’ll keep you updated and hopefully be reporting on my two egg a day collection soon. 
** As an aside, here are two great resources for chicken information:
  • Fresh Eggs Daily
  • Backyard Chickens

Shared on The Backyard Farming Connection