The chickens here at the farm where I’m living have a mite issue. Apparently it’s because several of them were purchased from a place that didn’t take good care of them. What this means is the mites have now spread to many chickens, preventing them from consistently laying eggs. The mites suck the chickens’ blood, and slowly the chickens’ feathers fall off.
This has been an issue since I arrived, and we have done many things to try and rid of these nasty little buggers. The most memorable thing has been to “dust” the chickens. We first did this about three weeks ago. Sam, Farmer Ben’s apprentice, had me and Nora, the RV dwellers, join him at the coop at sundown. We brought headlamps, and Sam provided masks and rubber gloves. Our task was to grab each of the eighty chickens, restrain their ecstatic flapping, maneuver through their feathers, and cover the skin with diatomaceous earth (D.E.). Theoretically, D.E. should suffocate the mites, finally ridding of their pesky presence.
The chickens were all roosting in the coop. Apparently they were in some dream-like state, despite still making strange noises and looking around. Nora and I watched Sam as he grabbed one, held her upside-down by her feet, brought her outside, and spread the D.E. beneath all her bottom feathers. Once done, Sam flipped her over and did his best to restrain her suddenly-flapping wings. He then spread D.E. under her top feathers, walked her back to the outside chicken run, and dropped her off. This was our task for all eighty.
It took a long time.
I had never held a chicken before. I always got a little freaked at the sight of their crazy flapping wings. Now they were flapping their wings all up in my face. Amazingly, once one grabs their feet and straightens their body upside-down, they just sort of hang there. It was the flipping over part that led to the frenzy of flaps. As they’d flap, they’d grip my hand with their talons, and soon enough they shredded my rubber gloves. Nora whispered and apologized to each chicken she handled. Sam insisted we were helping them, not hurting them. It became a struggle to breathe beneath the mask. When we finally finished, Nora booked it back to the RV without saying another word.
I write this three weeks after that event. There is still a mite issue.
So last night we went back into the coop. This time we had two extra helpers, Mecie and Kaitlin, who live on the property and own fifteen of the birds. This time we tried a new powder that is apparently more effective in killing the mites. And this time, we did not have to take each one outside. Instead, we sidled up to the wooden beams on which they were roosting and moved through their feathers right there.
Several hens were very peeved at me as I did this. One who wore a continual scowl pecked at my hand every time I got within a few inches. Others just seemed confused. The poor rooster was missing a large chunk of his neck feathers and seemed existentially defeated. One hen pushed out her butt at me, and when I lifted the feathers, I found myself staring into her oscillating butthole. It was disturbing, and now I will never forget it. Minutes later, one of the hens roosting on the high beams pooped on me.
Nevertheless, we finished far earlier than the time before. I walked to the RV thinking, Man. So many new and interesting experiences in these parts. Just then, a chill dude/chef named Cameron who lives on the property pulled up in his car, popped out, and said, “Hey. Want to watch me skin a rabbit?”
No one had ever asked me that before. I said, “Sure.”
Thus, an hour after staring into the asshole of a chicken, I watched a kind and compassionate man pull out the organs and cut off the skin of a jackrabbit his friend had shot that morning. I stared at the body behind the fur, which was not cute at all but looked like a blood-soaked version of the mink I once dissected in Biology class. At the end, he held up the pelt with pride, cut off the rabbit’s head, and put the head outside to join the two cow’s heads he’d previously procured to let nature eat away what remains outside the skull. He told me he’d let me know when he cooks up the de-skinned rabbit tomorrow and treats the skinned fur appropriately. I helped him clean the blood from the table.
I felt emotionally unaffected by the treatment of the animal. I do not think this makes me a sociopath, as many a vegan would certainly suggest. It just makes me a carnivore. These are things I wish to learn how to do. I went back to my RV and looked into getting a small-game hunting license. Not quite there, but seems like a good place to start.
Then I went to sleep.
(I’ll save you the potential trauma of seeing pictures of the skinning. If you’d like to see one, though, shoot me a message and I’ll be glad to grant you insight.)