Fowl Deeds in the Hen House

When it comes to the wel­fare of our poul­try, proven pre­ven­tions and cures are what we should be striv­ing to­wards. Some sug­gested by our chicken-keep­ing fore­bears are per­haps best for­got­ten and would prob­a­bly have been more kill than cure, says Jeremy Hobs

Your Chickens - - Contents - By Jeremy Hobson

Chicken keep­ers of old tended to have weird and won­der­ful — and oc­ca­sion­ally dan­ger­ous — ideas and con­coc­tions when it came to treat­ing ill­ness or ail­ments within their flocks.

At one time it was, for in­stance, quite com­mon to treat an in­fes­ta­tion of gape­worms (one of sev­eral types of in­testi­nal worms that af­fect poul­try and game birds) with a flight feather stripped of al­most all the barbs, but leav­ing just a few at the end in the man­ner of bris­tles on a brush. This was in­serted down the poor bird’s throat (some­times with the ad­di­tion of some nox­ious fluid like paraf­fin) and twisted be­fore be­ing with­drawn. The corkscrew ac­tion of the move­ment sup­pos­edly col­lected and re­moved many of the worms res­i­dent in the tra­chea.

Even worse is the ad­vice from a book writ­ten at the turn of the last cen­tury which told the reader that “in ad­vanced cases, the only ef­fec­tual rem­edy is to catch up the birds, draw out the tongue and spear it with a large darn­ing nee­dle that has been dipped in El­li­man’s Em­bro­ca­tion”. Nowa­days, for any type of worm­ing prob­lem, it is far more ef­fec­tive to use Fluben­da­zole-based prod­ucts specif­i­cally cre­ated for back gar­den chicken keep­ers.

At about the same time as the darn­ing nee­dle and em­bro­ca­tion method was be­ing rec­om­mended, poul­try keep­ers who kept breeds of the Mediter­ranean va­ri­eties (which tend to have large combs) would some­times come up against a prob­lem which was, at the time, known as black rot. This was, among other rea­sons, thought to be the “re­sult of over de­vel­op­ment of the comb”.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion of the pe­riod, it could quite eas­ily be cured by the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of plac­ing a red-hot bar of iron into the drink­ing wa­ter as of­ten as it needed re­plen­ish­ing.

For in­flam­ma­tion of the eyes, pro­vided that they are “not as­so­ci­ated with roup or other in­fec­tious dis­eases”, it was rec­om­mended that one should al­ways bathe the af­fected area with warm milk. For leg weak­ness caused by putting too much weight on ta­ble poul­try, it was seem­ingly nec­es­sary to give lime wa­ter and powdered shells in the food. For pip (ap­par­ently a horny tu­mour on the tip of the tongue), the treat­ment was sim­ple— just scrape it off and dress it with powdered alum.

Stock­holm tar featured in many reme­dies, but was, per­haps, most of­ten used to treat wounds and dam­age caused by feather peck­ing. At one time in the dim and dis­tant past, it would have been un­usual to have gone into a poul­try keeper’s shed and not seen a yel­low-coloured tin of the stuff along­side a bag of Kar­swood Poul­try Spice, or Ovum Spice, to­gether with a can of louse pow­der of a cer­tain brand.

What an out­cry there was among chicken and pi­geon fanciers when the afore­men­tioned louse pow­der was taken off the market due to the fact that it orig­i­nally con­tained DDT. As far as Kar­swood was con­cerned, it worked re­ally well and the com­pany could see no real rea­son for change. It was a reg­u­lar part of the hen house clean­ing regime and a lit­tle dusted fre­quently un­der the wings and around the vent area was a sure-fire way of erad­i­cat­ing fleas and mites. It is, though, per­haps in­ter­est­ing to re­flect that this par­tic­u­lar

prod­uct was de­vel­oped as a re­sult of the com­pany that made it cre­at­ing a for­mula in­tended to erad­i­cate lice in the blan­kets of war-time servicemen.

The aus­ter­ity of the war years some­times ne­ces­si­tated the feed­ing of house­hold scraps. In­deed, there is a Pen­guin handbook called Keep­ing Poul­try and Rab­bits on Scraps that was writ­ten in 1941 by Claude Good­child and Alan Thompson. It was reprinted as a fac­sim­ile edi­tion in 2008 and while it makes in­ter­est­ing read­ing, to ad­here to its meth­ods — par­tic­u­larly when it comes to feed­ing — won’t bring out the best in your chick­ens. For in­stance, some of the laws about feed­ing house­hold scraps to chick­ens have changed since the book was orig­i­nally writ­ten — and were mod­ern-day read­ers to fol­low some of the ideas and rec­om­men­da­tions they would un­doubt­edly fall foul of cur­rent DE­FRA guide­lines re­gard­ing the re­cy­cling of some scraps and kitchen waste, par­tic­u­larly “raw meat and fish (in­clud­ing shell­fish)… or fully or par­tially cooked meat, fish and shell­fish”.

Things were very dif­fer­ent back in 1941 when it was es­sen­tial that noth­ing went to waste in the war ef­fort and very few (if any) an­i­mal feeds were avail­able com­mer­cially. Nev­er­the­less, more of­ten than not liv­ing free range, these war-time chick­ens had the ad­van­tage of be­ing able to for­age and aug­ment their diet with grubs, in­sects, seeds and in­ci­den­tal nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring herbs — not a lux­ury avail­able to many of to­day’s chick­en­keep­ing hob­by­ists. A cor­rect feed­ing regime that in­cludes sci­en­tif­i­cally bal­anced com­mer­cially man­u­fac­tured feeds con­tain­ing all their re­quire­ments is es­sen­tial and per­haps some­thing some of us take a lit­tle for granted.

De­spite what er­ro­neous treat­ments and mag­i­cal cures some of our chick­en­keep­ing for­bears might have put forth in books of the time, there was also a lot of sen­si­ble ad­vice in­cluded too. This, from F E Wil­son, writ­ing in 1916, is just as true now as it was then — and is worth the mod­ern day chicken keeper bear­ing in mind: “Some for­tu­nate poul­try keep­ers en­joy an al­most un­bro­ken im­mu­nity from dis­ease among their birds. If their meth­ods are stud­ied it will be seen that this is not by any means at­trib­ut­able to mere luck. Dirt is not tol­er­ated… the houses and runs are well ven­ti­lated, sweet and clean, and the eat­ing and drink­ing ves­sels in sim­i­lar con­di­tion. Good whole­some food only is fed… Over­crowd­ing is strictly guarded against, as also is tainted ground or grass… when poul­try are kept on such lines it… makes for healthy, happy birds.”

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