The wrong sort of worms

Just can’t bring myself to post a picture of an intestinal worm!

To date I have written about compost worms and knitted worms, and even earthworms get a mention occasionally, but currently we are suffering from ‘the wrong sort of worms’.

For two years our little flock of hens remained worm-free, possibly as a result of the addition of Vermex (a herbal supplement including garlic and cinnamon) to their food in the form of three doses every month. However, at least one of our two new girls has arrived with intestinal worms – round worms to be precise. Sadly, we have run out of Vermex and the local farmers store doesn’t have any in stock… and the second nearest one only has the stuff for sheep and goats. We are adding garlic granules to their feed, but I’m not certain whether these will help. In general I feel that the herbal treatments keep worms away, but they don’t get rid of them once there is an infestation.

So, we need some sort of medication. It was ordered and we awaited its arrival. I was planning to deliver it to the girls individually in raspberries (currently the highest value chicken treat available in the garden), but my plans have been revised. An e-mail arrived from the internet company to say that, despite claims that the product was in stock when we ordered it, it actually wasn’t (grrr). Now I don’t want to hang around when it comes to worms, so we cancelled the on-line order and picked some up (at much greater expense – 30% greater!) from that farmers’ store we passed on the way to visit my parents today.

Reading the instructions, I discovered that the dose is so small that the raspberry trick isn’t going to work and that, instead, we have to spike their main food with it for the next seven days. This means they should each receive the correct dose because big chickens will eat more than small chickens and, therefore, will receive a bigger does. Clever, eh? Well, the feed is mixed and ready for them to dive into tomorrow morning. Apparently we can eat the eggs whilst they are being medicated, which considering the dose is so small seems fine to me.

Parasites are something of an issue when keeping any animals and my approach is to try to avoid them rather than have to treat an infestation once established. This is why we use the herbal ‘worm deterrent ‘ and why we have been struggling to find a way to end the infestation of red mite that the girls have been suffering from. Red mite, in case you don’t know, are blood suckers that hang around in the nooks and crannies of the hen-house during the day, then emerge at night to suck your chickens dry (well, sort of). There are various powders and sprays (some very toxic, some entirely organic) that you can use on the hen-house to rid it of these pests. We managed to keep them at bay mainly with the use of diatomaceous earth for two years, plus an occasional spray with something more hardcore, but this year they got out of hand and we just couldn’t shift them.

The improvised mite-busting hen-house

It turned out that our chicken house was a haven for mites – the construction of the roof provided ideal locations for them to hide out and where no spray (organic or otherwise) could penetrate. We removed the roof and burnt it (in our Kelly kettle, of course), but there were still mites in other places. Then we got the two new girls and needed separate accommodation. I’ve described before how we made a new chicken house for free from an old dog crate, some carpet protector, a piece of old skirting board and some cable ties. For a while the  newbies slept in the new house and oldies in the old house, but gradually they all wanted to sleep together. Initially they chose the old hen-house, but we realised quite soon what a mistake this was. We managed to persuade them that the new house was much better. .. and so it is. It’s bigger, the perch is longer, it’s completely fox-proof and red mites hate it. There are no dark crevices, there are no poorly ventilated areas and there’s no wood. Inadvertently we have built a great hen-house, We still let them use the laying boxes in the roofless old house (the boxes still have roofs), but that’s all. Never again will we have to deal with a mite infestation, unless a new species evolves that has a preference, for dry conditions that are light, airy and made of plastic.

I’m pretty sure that there’s no guaranteed way of preventing worms and I know that there’s always a chance of hens picking them up from wild birds, but hopefully once the current infestation is cleared up we’ll be able to prevent future problems by using herbal food supplements. I would be really interested, however, if anyone has tips for keeping chickens worm-free.

I’m sorry I haven’t a clew – the demise (and resurrection) of the wormery

I’m so excited about the word ‘clew’ that I just had to use it in another post!

I have mentioned in previous posts about compost that we have a wormery. It’s not my favourite way to make compost, but it is useful for dealing with cooked foods that can’t go to either the dogs or the chickens. In addition, it does produce a great liquid fertiliser that we call worm wee, but in more refined circles is known as worm tea.

Over the winter we rather neglected the wormery and when we investigated it in March we discovered that it was clew-less… a completely worm-free wormery. Generally, when you buy a wormery you also receive a packet of compost (tiger) worms. If your existing wormery fails you can buy replacement worms, but I am far too mean to do this, and anyway, there are always loads of tiger worms under pots in our garden as well as in the normal compost heaps. If you look on the internet is seems that it is necessary to spend loads of money on your garden, but actually lots of resources that you can buy are available for free… worms for one and liquid feed for another. I have supplied several people with replacement worms, at no cost to either them or me – it’s all about sharing.

The first job with the wormery was to extract the resources: it did contain good compost and a little liquid. The worm wee was drained off (there’s a tap at the bottom of our bin) and the compost was tipped directly onto one of the raised beds… where the chickens enjoyed rummaging through it for tasty treats, whilst also helping to incorporate it into the soil.

Some of the current inhabitants of the wormery

Once empty we were able to get going once again… starting with a layer of compost from one of the normal bins (this had some worms in it already) then adding kitchen scraps as they became available. In addition, at that time of year I’m often moving bags and pots around the garden and revealing worms. Rather than let the chickens eat them, I collected them up and placed them directly into the worm bin to add to the colony (much to the disappointment of the chickens… they really don’t like to see a juicy worm whipped from under their beak!). I continue to add suitable worms as I come across them.

An inspection of the wormery today revealed a good colony of worms, not many eggs yet, but those will come. Now we can start feeding them up with greater quantities of kitchen waste and look forward to abundant worm wee to feed the plants in containers.

So, no longer clew-less.

Slugs and snails and other knitted creatures…

This week is ‘world wide knit in public‘ week, but unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity to get out there and click my needles for the intrigue of passers-by. The week after next will be different as I have a couple of long train journeys and some socks just waiting to be knitted. As an alternative now I thought that I would show off some of my creations here.

Just visiting this blog introduces you to some of my knitting – there at the top you can see the snails of happiness and doom. They were knitted for a teaching activity involving group story-telling (you’ll have to come on one of my permaculture courses to enjoy the full experience!), but I have been working on a variety of other creatures, so here’s a selection:

A citrus lime tree full of snails

Snails for sale… I’m planning to sell these at the permaculture convergence in Cardiff later in the summer

Daddy, mommy and baby slugs… actually they were prototype snail bodies.

Worms in my basil and bunching onions

Just to prove I’ve been gardening too: a butterfly on the Hungarian wax peppers

I hope you are inspired at least to knit if not to knit in public…

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