Well, on the time & money scale, things were going along quite nicely, weren't they. The sun was shining, everybody was smiling, and the cherubs were singing in the trees. This week, our feathered cherubs when and got themselves mites, didn't they. Birds these days. You never know where they pick these things up.
What really alerted me to the problem was that one of the chooks was starting to develop something of a limp. A closer inspection showed me that her foot wasn't exactly looking as chickens feet should (and certainly didn't look tasty) - it was a bit scaly, ulcerated and generally nasty-looking. The other bird on closer inspection had dropped some feathers. It was all starting to look a bit suspicious - so I decided to go make friends with the local vet.
Some $140 later I have a few answers, some anti-biotic tablets, and a withholding period (oh the pain! They're laying a consistent two-a-day). I spent two hours this morning cleaning every inch of the coop, spraying for mites and re-bedding the whole thing. As much as I want to keep everything organic around here, these chickens weren't happy - and I wasn't about to withhold a quick remedy for them just because I was inexperienced but had principals - I was in abundance of the former, so must forgo the latter. Better luck next time.
What I now know is that most likely I had a case of scaly-leg-mites (oh, its so obvious now!), and a quick search of their feathers would have shown me the other varieties of evil lurking just below the surface. Its now all about make sure this quiche-ending disaster doesn't happen again - so I'm on the hunt of organic preventions and cures for such things.
I've read that one-part kero, two-part linseed mix brushed on the chooks legs and perches monthly is a good way of controlling the scaly-leg invaders. I'm not sure about the whole monthly part (it took nine months for these guys to find us in the first place) - but given more research, its something I might take on during the quarterly clean-out.
Keeping the grass short around the coop will supposedly help too - and I've been real bad in this department. Add it to the maintenance list.
And having already been thinking about prevention for a while, over the last few months I've carefully nurtured along an absinthe wormwood bush to plant in the run. No, this is not all a part of a plot to create the next Van-Gogh style facial surgery chef-d'oeuvre. They're really meant to discourage mites in the area (not encourage giant penguins). Its just a little small right now and would no doubt be trashed in a moment of furious pecking.
More to come on this front. I need some organic mite-spray, dammit!
I guess what this does illustrate is a certain initial cost for inexperience. But then again, I've never claimed to be trying to save money on this little adventure of mine. My aim here is to break even having spent the most minimal amount of time - for the reward having fresh, healthy food without the chemical garnish. Yes, well. I better try hard now, shouldn't I?