Snowball died last night. I suppose there are euphemistic ways of sharing this news, but finding other words to say it doesn’t make losing her any easier. We buried her in the wildflower patch under the peach tree. She was as much a part of the family as a beloved pet dog.

Snowball bantam white leghorn hen

Almost in Bloom

We’ve had a glorious spring here in the Northeast. There’s been sharp clear, blue-skyed mornings for which one must wear a sweater out to the barn, and then by afternoon you’re so hot you switch to a tee-shirt, then, in the evening, when the gray tree frogs start singing, it cools off, but you can still eat dinner on the porch. The spring bulbs are past prime, and the peach tree’s blossoms have turned into little fuzzballs. But, most of what I grow is not quite ready. The pea tendrils haven’t reached the first strand of twine trellis. The peonies, those gala announcers of summer are about to burst.

peony bloom

Nicer than a photo of lice, isn’t it?

But, speaking of lice, it is interesting how the hens have infestations of various degrees. Who knows why the party girls and LuLu don’t have a one? Is LuLu too busy for the lice to jump on? I’ve spread diatomaceous earth in their favorite bathing spots, and I’ve used louse powder on the worst cases. It’s all under control and no longer affecting their health.

Snowball and Buffy updates: Snowball looks like she’s had a stroke. She’s twitchy and holding her wings unevenly. She acts addled. Still eating, drinking and sweet-natured. I have her in a stall with Buffy, who looks absolutely fine until she stands up. Then she wobbles and sits back down again. They enjoy each other’s company. I give them watermelon, which, being easy to eat and mostly water, keeps them hydrated. I don’t expect either of them to recover, but I can afford to keep them around and give them TLC.

What I Do for My Hens…

I gave Buffy a bath today. I’ve got a dog grooming sink (4 foot x 1 1/2 feet) in my laundry room (instead of a utility sink, clever, huh?) See April 9th’s blog for a photo of Buffy in a bath. This time the tub was filled with sudsy warm water. The lice leave a crusty white crud at the base of vent feathers. I wanted to get that off. It took three changes of water and quite a bit of time. Then it took 45 minutes to blow dry her! She rather liked that part. Buff Orpingtons have a lot of fluffy feathers.

Later I cut up tiny pieces of organic beef and fed it to Snowball and Buffy. Buffy loved it. Snowball was looking almost too tired to eat.

Then, I took them out to the asparagus patch for a dirt bath. The dirt is loose and warm. All the hens love this spot. I don’t have a lot of asparagus for obvious reasons. Buffy settled in to get dirt onto every inch of skin. Hens hate being squeaky clean! But Snowball fell asleep standing up, which was just too sad for me to see.

I found a bug and tempted Snowball with it. She half-heartedly pecked at it. I broke it in half. (Really, what we do for our pets!) She ate it. Then another (after I had broken that one, too.) After awhile she was eating heartedly and looking bright-eyed. Hopefully, all of the protein and the de-lousing will get Snowball back to her old self.

But here’s the thing. Often, it’s only the ill animals that get severe lice infestations. The others have the energy to dust bathe and are more immune. So, I don’t know Snowball’s prognosis. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and I’ll keep you informed.


Taking care of animals is not for the squeamish.

Last night, terribly worried about Snowball, I emailed a HenCam friend in England. I mentioned Snowball’s pale-pink comb. She said that it sounded like anemia and had I checked for lice? (Some types of lice eat dandruff and feathers, but others suck blood.) I had looked Snowball over – I checked the skin around her neck and across her back. I looked for the sort of lice I’ve seen before. Nothing.

But, it turns out that there are lice that only feed near the vent. They are pale – the color of Snowball’s feathers. When I picked her up and turned her over, there they were, swarming.

vent lice on bantam hen

Poor Snowball!

Here’s a close-up. Just looking at it will make you itchy.

Lice that feed on birds do not like humans. Thank goodness! But, I’m still scratching my scalp.

vent lice on bantam hem

I checked the other hens. A few of the girls have lice, nothing though, like the masses on Snowball. Buffy, already sick, had the most.

This morning I was at the feed store when it opened and picked up a can of louse powder, came home and dusted Buffy and Snowball. Yes, nasty chemicals. But it works, fast, and I’d rather have a live chicken that a dead organic one. Snowball and Buffy are in the spa. They don’t lay eggs, but if they did, I’d discard any eggs laid within a week after treatment.

An organic product that does keep lice in check is feed-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). My local feed store has ordered it for me, and I’ll have a 50 pound bag on Thursday. It will go in the dirt areas where the chickens bathe. DE has sharp little edges (seen under a microscope) and it causes the lice to dehydrate and die.

I’ll also clean out the coops and wash with a bleach/water mixture. The nesting boxes will be cleaned and set in the sun (a very effective disinfectant.)

So, Little Pond Farm will see some serious springtime cleaning.

Snowball is Back in the Spa

Snowball has not been acting like a healthy chicken. On this chilly, windy day she fluffed up on the ground, in the midst of the big hens, and fell asleep. I put her up on the roost with Buffy. She came back down and closed her eyes. She’s not scratching the dirt, taking baths, or even spending the afternoon with Candy. Obviously, something is wrong.

The weather is supposed to turn drizzly. I don’t want Snowball either crowded with the girls indoors, or outside getting cold and wet, so I put her back in the spa.

sick hen under heat lamp

Here she is, basking in the warmth of the heat lamp in the spare stall. Snowball will roost on the ladder at night. She seems pleased to have food and water nearby, and no other hens to push her around. Hopefully, all she needs is a mini-vacation. But I don’t kid myself. I don’t think she’s ill because of the episode of hen-agressiveness. I think she was picked on because she was already acting weak. I’m hoping that it’s simply old age. If so, she’ll have a very nice retirement in the spa.