26 September 2013

Too much muck

I've been reading how unhealthy it is for chickens to live among their own poo for too long. This has been quietly troubling me for a while, particularly since I now have my greatest ever number of birds: five.

Apart from their coop, which is only about two square metres in size, they have a run that is about ten square metres. They forage on the ground all day, and must be constantly encountering their own poo. Chicken poo does break down quickly, but probably not quickly enough. Apparently insects, snails and worms - their favourite treats - contain parasites that infest chicken innards, and their reproductive cycle is given a helping hand by chickens feeding among poo that is infested with parasite eggs.

I don't know if we've ever had a parasite problem. The bird I killed earlier this year certainly had an illness I couldn't put down to a blocked crop or any external parasite such as mites.

So I've taken a couple of steps to help. I temporarily extended their run to give them fresh ground, which they loved, but they kept escaping. Our lettuce is ravaged. I need to clip their wings then try again. It will help with the lawnmowing, too (they love grass).

Also today I got into their run with a spade and turned over their soil. The soil they live on quickly becomes compacted, and they can't get into it. As I turned it I spotted many worms, and the chickens just couldn't wait to get into it! Such a treat for them.

It's possibly, however, useless for parasite control, because it's still the same soil, and the worms might be filled with parasites.

Five chickens certainly provide more eggs than we need - three would do nicely in that respect. But I know from bitter experience that the bounty won't last. The short days of winter will stop them laying, one will get sick, or perhaps the old brown shaver will reach the end of her egg career. Chickens number four and five are backups, but backups poo too.

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