Saturday nights at the Smallholdings have been even less glamorous than usual in recent weeks. James and I aren’t really wild party types and would sooner have a few friends round for a bite to eat or simply opening a bottle of red, load up the woodburning stove for a cosy evening surrounded by snoozing animals – the two chocolate Labradors fall asleep on their own two-seater within minutes, Darcy the German Shepherd claims the fireside seat and Beau the Bengal has taken to curling up in a circle on the Lloyd Loom chair. But every weekend for the past couple of months we’ve had to steal ourselves and, once it’s dark and the hybrids have gone to bed, we’ve headed down to the coop to tend to their latest poultry complaint: scaly leg mite.
It’s as unpleasant a condition as it sounds and essentially involves a parasite burrowing under the scales of chicken’s feet and legs, making the poor birds incredibly uncomfortable. It’s one of those ailments that reminds me of some advice I received from Lisa Sykes, Country Living‘s Features Editor when I was first thinking about keeping a few hens: “Whatever you do, don’t even think about starting to read the health sections in chicken books – they’ll completely put you off.” Those were wise words, there is so much you could be scared off by. I like to approach henkeeping in a far more laid back fashion; taking a coffee down at the weekends to watch the girls scratch about and checking them over once in a while to see if there’s anything wrong, but not reading up about diseases and actively looking for them.
So, wearing blue latex gloves and with the floodlight switched on, James and I treat the girls for this nasty complaint. We’ve got the operation down to a slick routine now: James dives into the henhouse to grab one hen at a time. I spray the brilliantly named ‘Just for Scaly Leg’ – a natural concoction designed to exterminate the nasty mites – onto each chicken’s feet an legs and he puts them in the undercover run as we go along. After 15 birds we heave a sigh of relief and, instead of placing each back on their perches, we’ve learned to simply open up the pop hole and put the torch in the henhouse. Being attracted to light, they soon put themselves to bed and it’s all done and dusted till the following weekend. Hopefully their scales will fall off soon taking the evil parasites with them and they’ll grow fresh leg coverings – and we’ll reclaim our cosy evenings. Still, we’ve managed to fit a little damson vodka activity in – and saved the small bottle of the lovely tipple from last year to drink while we make the next batch.