Rachel Hurd Anger
August 29, 2014

Why You Need to Inspect Your Flock Today - Photo by Rachel Hurd Anger (UrbanFarmOnline.com)

Spending time with your flock, observing behaviors, and inspecting each chicken for injury and illness are important chores to add to the daily or weekly to-do list. You know your flock and its individual personalities best, which makes spotting problems easy.

I keep a close eye on my Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Pauline. She’s my heaviest chicken, and that can put her at greater risk for certain conditions.

Common Infection: Bumblefoot

Last week, I noticed Pauline’s waddling was more pronounced than usual, and slightly to one side. Limping can be a sign of injury, or worse, bumblefoot. Her gait is rather pronounced when she runs across the yard trying to keep up with the flock, so I wasn’t sure if she was truly limping.

Bumblefoot is an abscess inside the footpad caused when a minor cut or abrasion allows bacteria to get inside. Heavy breeds, like the Wyandotte, are more susceptible to bumblefoot because they land from high places a little harder than the rest. However, any breed can become infected when a small injury meets up with a little Staphylococcosis minding its own business.

Heavy dual-purpose breeds can be difficult to maneuver for diagnosis. As an added bonus, Pauline despises human contact of any kind. Inspecting her for an infection was a top priority, but it ranked pretty low on my enthusiasm scale. Of all chicken complications, I dread treating bumblefoot more than anything else. It’s pretty gross, but cutting out the infection is necessary to save the hen’s life.

I winced looking for a black scab, swelling or redness on the underside of Pauline’s feet. Thankfully, I found none of these things. Because she’s ageing, though, I’m going to check the bottom of all the hens’ feet more regularly.

That’s when I found leg mites.

Common Infestation: Leg Mites

The mites that cause scaly leg can’t be seen with the naked eye. They burrow underneath the leg scales, which lifts them like damaged hair cuticles. They’re parasitic, feeding on chickens’ tissues and blood. It’s a painful condition that can cause crippling, anemia and eventually death. If you have a severe case of scaly leg in your flock, you’ll find the legs and feet looking crusty and deformed. Healthy leg scales lie flat on the legs.

Pauline’s scaly leg looks like a recent and mild case, so I’ll treat her naturally, without pesticides. The other hens aren’t showing signs of leg mites, but they’ll need to be treated, too.

First, I need to soak their legs in warm water, then clean them gently. As I do this, I’ll wrap her in a towel to keep her calm (and to keep my face from being smacked with wing feathers). After her legs are clean and dry, I’ll apply food-grade cooking oil to her scales to smother the mites. Applying something edible will ensure she’s not harmed if she pecks at her legs. Some people use petroleum jelly to smother mites, and that’s just fine if you don’t mind your hen ingesting it. A third option would be to use the cooking oil, and then seal it in with petroleum jelly. Finally, a thorough coop cleaning is in order.

Until Pauline’s leg scales are lying down flat again, I’ll need to repeat the treatment several times per week. Treatment must be continued because only the mites are smothered in this process, not the nits (eggs). If I stop treatment, the nits will hatch, and we’ll have to start all over again. The key is to keep smothering the mites at their earliest stages so they stop reproducing while the legs heal.

Have you dealt with leg mites or bumblefoot in your flock? What was your treatment plan and was it effective? Let me know in the comments below.

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