A few weeks ago, my hen Crooked Toe went broody and then my Orpingtons began to molt. Egg production dropped down to one egg a day for about five days, then it stopped altogether. This last Friday it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked my hens for parasites since before the egg production problems began, so I started catching hens. I found lice on every one of them, even my broody and the chicks who are 13 weeks old.
Off to the inter-webs to find a solution that we could all live with. I found two forums on BackYard Chickens that showed promise. This one was earliest, and this one referenced the first one. I took stock of what I had on hand and figured I could make it work.
First off, I set about a gallon of water on the stove to boil. Then I went to gather three 5-gallon buckets and rinse them out with the hose. I set them in a semi circle around a stool in the closest section of shade to the coop. Then I gathered up my salt, dish soap, and peppermint oil. I took the latter two out to my buckets and put the salt on the stove. Then I began to fill a big stock pot with hot water from the kitchen faucet and made multiple trips out to empty it into two of the 5-gallon buckets.
When the water on the stove was boiling I began adding 2 cups of salt. It reached saturation point before I had all the salt in the water so I just called it good with what I could get into it. I dumped the salt water into the empty 5-gallon bucket and used the hose to cool and fill the bucket the rest of the way. When it got to within about 2 inches of the rim I turned the water off and added 1/2 cup of dish soap and about 20 drops of peppermint oil. I left two buckets for rinsing as I couldn’t see any reason why the salt would interfere with the soap or oil and rinsing the soap/oil/salt off the hen’s feathers would be a very important task.
The most important bit of advice I have for the novice chicken bather is that they have wings and know how to beat them! I started with my biggest hen, Omelette, who promptly beat her wet soap/oil/salt covered wings in my face and my eyes started to sting. So keep hold of those wings when you begin dunking! I held her under and gently agitated her up and down for about 5 minutes. The I held her up over the bucket to let her drain some before beginning the rinsing process. I used a towel to get her out of the dripping stage before releasing her. She was a bit unsteady on her feet when I put her down into the run. This process continued through the rest of the flock. The I chased them all out of the coop/run into a grassy patch of sun. They all stayed pretty much in that spot for 20-30 min.
They looked pretty pathetic, but Omelette was beginning to look normal by the time I finished with the last hen. I’ve got a broody hen right now and I worried that she wouldn’t dry fast enough in the nest box so I took her into the house for a session with the blow dryer. She’s so far into her broodiness that she didn’t move through the whole session except to flap her wings back into place when I moved them.
A day later they look like normal molting chickens and I haven’t found a live louse yet! Unfortunately this approached does not kill lice eggs, so I will have to retreat them in 7-10 days.
I’m hoping to pick up some fertile Marans eggs today, so I’m not sure what that will mean for my broody when it comes time to delouse again. I don’t want the chicks to have to start life with lice, but I don’t want to interrupt the brooding process with a bath in case the increased humidity interferes with the eggs ability to hatch.