Friday, 11 July 2008

Easy Peasy!

Today saw the first harvest of the pea variety I have grown this year, Feltham First Earlies. Since planting them back in March, I have had the pleasure of watching them flourish and produce abundant amounts of pods hanging over every square inch of pea foliage. The weight of the pods has really dragged some of the plants down their canes where they currently rest on the floor for the snails and slugs to have a go at ...a little job to do this weekend I think!

I picked peas for a good hour and a half and filled one side of the double sink in the kitchen. It felt like forever as I shelled them all afternoon and it really surprised me how many maggots had managed to force their way into the pods and set up home. A nice evening treat for the chickens, not just peas but little wriggly things too!

After the shelling, came the blanching, where the peas were plunged into boiling water for a minute and a half before being left to cool. We now have a winter supply of lovely peas in the freezer to keep us going until next year. Quite good really when all I spent was 1.59 for a packet of pea seeds, it really does make sense!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

I Mite have known !!!

This was a draft blog I wrote in September of last year but never got around to publishing. I have purposefully waited for the relevant month to come round in which to post it as all chicken enthusiasts will have been affected by this at some point …or will be!!!

The last few days have been a living nightmare for myself and the chickens but, much worse for the chickens! I noticed mid last week that the chickens combs and lobes were looking very pale and they weren't their normal selves and smelt more well... like bits of chicken than real living ones! I assumed that as the temperature had dropped recently that they were beginning to go into moult as the paleness was evident on their combs.

On Friday morning things had gone a stage further and my favourite little chicken Betty was not herself at all. It took forever for her to come out of the hutch and then she just stood there in the morning sunshine with her eyes closed looking really unwell. I decided to separate her from the other chickens and put her in her own little cage in the laundry where I could keep an eye on her. She normally makes little warbling noises but she could only muster the odd sigh and just looked all floppy and unwell. I went back to the pen to check on the others and thought I should just check inside the hutch. To my horror I was faced with a really bad infestation of 'Red Mite'. The inside of the hutch was just moving with these tiny little mites, some brown but most red where they had obviously fed overnight! No wonder the girls looked so pale, they had literally been blood sucked all night. I grabbed the rest of the crew and put them in a stable until I would be back at lunchtime and could deal with the situation.

I had to go to work as we had some urgent Board papers to get out in the morning but decided to take a half day and try to tackle the problem in the afternoon. The other chooks seemed okay and it was the best thing for Betty to rest so I went off to work and left them to it. I managed to grab five minutes in the morning to ring my fabulous chicken man after some advice. He told me to check the hutch and pen thoroughly for 'red mite' which are rampant at this time of year and also in late June/early July. He gave me some invaluable advice and warned me of the many anti-red mite products on the market that were totally ineffective. The best way to deal with the little critters is to use creosote in a spray gun, like the kind you would use as a fine mist spray for house plants. I left work at midday and went straight to pick up 5 litres of creosote from Scats (the creosote substitute works fine, good job too as it’s quite hard to get hold of the real thing these days) and a spray gun.

I covered my mouth with a dust mask and rubber gloved up went to battle with the enemy. It really was a disturbing sight to see how they had taken hold of the whole hutch. My chicken man had told me how to check for them as they are quite good at hiding during daylight hours, being nocturnal. If you grab a pencil and just tap gently on the wood on the inside of the hutch you should see them scuttle out. Sure enough I tried this out and to my amazement they all started scuttling about all over the place! I took the side panel off the hutch and was disgusted to see mounds of these little critters all falling over each other in the same way that maggots do in a fishing tackle box. I cleared the hutch of all shavings and bedding and then began disassembling the hutch piece by piece in order to treat it. The whole process took a good 2 hours or so and I really gave the hutch a good drenching with the creosote. There wasn't a pea-sized area left that hadn't been treated and I was so glad the sun was out helping to dry out the sodden hutch. I left the chooks in the stable that night which would probably be there first restful night’s sleep in a long while, away from the blood thirsty parasites.

The next morning I got up early in order to give the hutch a second treatment for good measure. The whole ordeal had shocked me so much that I wasn't going to give these little creatures any kind of chance. Before the second treatment I had to clear away the corpses from the day before. Dust pans full of these things ...really enough to make you throw up, just nasty!
Another tell-tale sign to red-mite is
the grey dusty powder they leave behind which I believe is the shedding of their old skins and I found plenty of this underneath the main walkway in the hutch. So the hutch was treated for a second time and left to dry in the afternoon and for the bet part of Sunday. Although the fumes were still fairly strong from the creosote later on Sunday, my chicken man had assured me that the chooks would be fine to go back in and get settled back into the hutch. I dressed the hutch as normal in lovely fresh shavings and shredded paper for the nesting boxes and let them find their way back in. I was so glad the ordeal was over.

So, my advice to you is look out for this horrible parasite. All chickens will get it sooner or later and if you keep them in a wooden hutch or shed then this is where the mite will thrive!!! Treat all wood exposed to the chickens (inside and out) with creosote towards the end of June/beginning of July and again if you have any suspicions of a recurrence, in September time.