Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hens & horses & dogs & bugs

As I have already blogged, I have begun to shop for chickens in earnest. My own birds have more or less stopped laying & this is the youngest batch to do that; they are not even two years old.

This does not present huge problems. We do not need all that many eggs for ourselves & eggs are not even the primary reason we keep chickens. Eggs are not even the secondary reason we keep chickens. Big Buff has not laid an egg in almost four years & she runs no risk of being made into chicken pie.

First, I have chickens because I like to watch them. I like to watch them run in their completely-not aerodynamic way. I like to watch them get off the ground & bumble through the branches of the magnolia. I like to watch them fight over one bug while a dozen other bugs fly away.

Which brings me to the second reason I have chickens: bugs. My first horse, Captain, had terrible hoof problems, as did another, RedBud, who arrived soon after him. Both were in not-great shape when they arrived & the least of their problems was intestinal worms. This is a common, treatable problem in all horses. But to poison the worms, you need to poison the horse & you need to do this either as a low dose daily or a high dose monthly. Usually, this is no big deal; the poison it takes to make the belly inhospitable will hardly bother a healthy horse; these two were already in poor shape.

My solution was chickens. One dose of poison & then turn them on to grass with a flock of chickens. The horses eat the grass & deposit manure. The chickens break up the manure piles looking for.....bugs. They do not care if the bugs arrived with the pile or were attracted later; the upshot is fewer flies in general, much less larvae in the grass & less need to poison the horses. I suspected it would work & I was shortly proved correct.

Chickens & horses together was a win-win right here, before the eggs, & before I discovered the other reason to keep hens with horses (more on that later). What I had not factored in were the other bugs they would deal with.

We, right now, are experiencing the Super Tick. & I do not just mean me & my dogs, I mean you & yours as well. Topical treatments, pills, & house&lawn sprays work well enough, but they can make the dogs sick or the people that live with them sick or kill all your houseplants or the list goes on. When ticks are not attaching themselves to dogs, you know where they like to gather? In old dried leaves, or crevices, like between a patio edge & the lawn. You want to know what chickens like to do? Stir up leaves & scratch at crevices....& peck any specks they find.

So, if you were almost completely grossed out by the chicken beak piercing piles of manure to find bugs, maybe the idea that much of your farm fresh eggs used to be ticks will put you on the road to a cholesterol-free diet. Unless of course you limit yourself to battery-chicken eggs. Do not read up on their lives though, or eating what-used-to-be-ticks-&-manure will start to look pretty tastey.

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