Last week I was lucky enough to befriend a fellow urban chicken raiser. Unfortunately, our reason for meeting was that she was in the middle having her chickens extradited to a rural farm by Toronto bylaw officers. I volunteer in City Councilllor Joe Mihevc's office. Joe is a supporter of legalizing backyard hens in downtown Toronto, and so his office regularly receives calls when people get into trouble with chicken laws. She, and her neighbour's, had happily lived with five laying hens for several years. She had lots of tips to give me on strategies for raising hens, but primarily our conversation was about chicken laws. Her concerns were not only that the law should be changed to allow people to raise hens, but that policy needs to be put in place to ensure that people raise their hens humanely and with an understanding of the amount of work that hen raising requires.
Raising hens is not like raising rabbits or gerbils. Chickens require a lot of upkeep, disease prevention, and protection from the cold and predators. The area that I have had the most difficulty with is disease prevention. I think this is because laws restrict a contraband chicken keeper from taking their hens to a professional veterinarian for assistance. This leads to a lot of internet research and guessing. Luckily I've only encountered a couple of health problems in the ladies.
One of these common problems was our Spotted Sussex becoming egg bound, or eggs-tipated as I like to say. This is when a chicken gets one of her eggs lodged in her Ovduct preventing other eggs from being made and causing the hen discomfort. I noticed something was wrong with her as she wasn't laying any eggs and was lying on her side and panting a lot. I started to do some internet research which, as any hypochondriac knows, can lead one to believe that thousands of diseases apply since so many diseases have similar symptoms. After being convinced that Samantha had the Bird Flu, Marek's Disease, and failed kidneys I realized that the most likely ailment was for her to be eggbound. Further research led me to find the cure, a nice warm bath and massage, which I found more appealing to an alternative cure which was to shove a pencil up the birds vent to dislodge the stuck egg. She really enjoyed the bath, and the following morning produced an egg, and was in much higher spirits.
Another common problem has been the appearance of lice on the birds feathers. At first I thought this was a big problem and it left me worried and itchy. But after some reading I realized that this is very common, and that chicken lice won't transfer to people. Living in downtown Toronto without a drivers license means its very difficult to get to a farm supply store and purchase a delouser. This forces one to get creative. I've used a natural insecticide for removing ant hills in the past called Diatomaceous Earth. DE is ground up fossils of diatoms, a type of algea, which dehydrates insects by absorbing lipids from their exoskeleton and thus killing them. To apply this I put the DE into a pantyhose and powdered the chickens, being careful not to allow the chickens, or myself, to breath it in as its bad for the lungs. From researching DE I learned that its good for removing parasites and worms from and animals and so I've now put a mix of 5% DE into the ladies feed.
With winter fast approaching, I am sure that new difficulties will transpire in raising hens and that the daily chores of cleaning out droppings from the roost will become more tedious. But I am very excited to take advice from my fellow chicken raiser and feed the ladies nice warm steel cut oatmeal with milk on cold mornings, and since this is one of my favourite winter breakfasts, I'll enjoy it with them.