Monday, January 9, 2012

Bath Day! Dust baths and your local Extension Office

Setting the Scene
Well, today it's about 40 degrees Farenheit and calm and the chickens designated it as Bath Day!  It started with Rhonda, she hunkered down, floofed out her feathers and went to town!  She was sideways and then she was hunched up and then she was rubbing her head this way and that!   She did such a good job she inspired Opal, the Cornish Hen.  Opal weighs a lot.  Her dust bath was more of a soak, if you can call it that.  She contentedly wiggled in and just sort of rested there.
Pretty soon Rhonda's half-grown chicks got involved and we had four dust bathers in a row.

Why Take A Dust Bath?

1. Parasite Control
Most of the information I have found on dust baths says that dust baths are necessary to prevent and get rid of mites and fleas.  I tried to find an article online but I had a lot of difficulty finding out just how a dust bath gets rid of parasites. I decided to call my local Extension Office, if you don't know what that means, keep reading.  I'll have more on that later.  The extension agent didn't know for sure how dust paths got rid of parasites, I would guess his focus is more on gardening and other types of livestock.  But he thought it was similar to getting rid of spider mites in plants.  He said the best first step for plants is to spray them with water and physically remove the parasite and thought a dust bath used the same idea.  The dust and dirt served to physically remove any bugs.  That seemed reasonable, but I figured it couldn't hurt to check with another source. So I called someone who has always either known the answer or has been willing to help me theorize.  I called my mom.  She also didn't know for sure but thought that it would probably knock the bugs loose.  So there you have it.  Take it or leave it.  Or if you know, let me in on the secret!
-Diatomaceous Earth - I thought it would be worth mentioning Diatomaceous Earth here as well.  Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilised remains of phytoplankton called diatoms that lived in the world’s oceans and lakes. These deposits are mined from underwater beds or from ancient dried lake bottoms.  You can purchase food-grade Diatomaceous Earth to use as parasite control. It works by lacerating the parasites body and dehydrating it. The powder can be sprinkled in an area where your chickens do their dust bathing or after you clean your barn or chicken coop it can be sprinkled lightly all over the floor.  This will help keep the barn area clean and also help prevent flies from laying eggs.  I haven't done this previously but I'm planning on starting.  I think I will use it in their dust bath spots for now and sprinkle it on the barn floor during the summer.
***CAUTION*** Make sure to buy only food-grade Diatomaceous Earth.  Your feed store may carry it or know where to get it.  There is another product that is used for pool filters that has been chemically and heat treated and it is toxic to animals!
2. Because They Like It
I have never seen my chickens seem as content as when they are in dust bath mode.  They kind of zone out and they will lay with their legs stretched out to the side and just chill... Maybe all of those steps are necessary parts of parasite control, but to me, they just seem happy.  It makes me happy to watch them too.  Our hen Rhonda has been molting and not laying eggs for awhile now but today her feathers looked so glossy and she just seemed healthy in general.  Today was warm and calm and the chickens were happy, my daughters were amused by the chickens antics...  It was just one of those moments where all is right in the world.

Rhonda and her two chicks Max and Ruby

Rhonda with Max and Ruby- there is a black chicken on each side of the board for everyone trying to figure that one out ;)


Happy, puffy chicken

The dust is a flyin'

Ok, now for a quick quiz.  Can anyone guess what that weird foreign object is in the right-hand side of this picture?  Keep reading or scroll to the bottom for the answer!

Extension Office
Does everyone know about their local Extension Office?  By their own definition they provide "useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes."  I first found out about them when I was a kid in 4H but have called them occasionally for assistance about garden and livestock questions.  And our office offers classes to help teach about things agriculture related.  This spring I'm signing up for a Poultry Workshop and a Master Gardener class.  And there are other classes available about things such as beekeeping.  Here's a link to find your nearest Cooperative Extension Office 

Tying Up Loose Ends
In my last post I introduced a few of  our chickens but did not have pictures of them.  So to start with, here's Lucille.  She is a young Polish Crested Hen.  Her previous owners had trimmed the feathers on her head in hopes of making her less of a target to their other chickens.  It didn't work, so she came to live with us.  She's very friendly and looks to me for protection from the other chickens.   She lives in her own "apartment" (a seperate part of the barn) for now. But she will have to join the flock in the spring when the chickens are out more and do some free-ranging.

This is Frank.  He is our Cornish Rooster.  He and our Cornish Hen Opal are unfortunately getting to the point where they need to be butchered.  They are getting some featherless, irritated, red areas on them.  And Opal almost can't jump in and out of the barn.  I had hoped that they might be able to live out their days naturally but I'm afraid that the combination of the skin issue and their large size affecting their movment might cause them to suffer.  So I'm taking them to my parents to butcher.  I don't think I can eat chickens I knew the names of.

Example of the red, irritated areas on my Cornish Chickens

Our normal-sized hen compared to our Cornish Rooster

This is a group picture, but it shows Frank the Cornish rooster, Dawson the Indian Runner Duck and Opal our Cornish Hen.

Quiz Answer:  
 Yes, the foreign object was a goat ear!  This is Julia, she is a 7 month old Nubian.  She is staying with us temporarily and thought it was really weird that I kept crouching down to her level.  So every time I did it she would come over and stick her face in my camera or my face.  She was very helpful...

And that is bath day, what is an Extension Office and meet the chickens...  Hope you enjoyed the update and hopefully learned something.  I'd love to hear back about everyone else's experiences!
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