The Wishy-Washy Writer (and kindness to all)

This is the story of a wishy-washy writer (therefore all her business is out there confusing the world) and her battles with what is right, and what makes us well, and what serves the most people and animals, yet finding what is beneficial to us (because if we aren’t happy then we can’t inspire others).

This is the story of a wishy-washy writer who was vegetarian for twenty-seven years, vegan for two, then on-and-off again meat eater-then-vegan since. It is about this time each year that I become fiercely ill. My body absolutely rebels against its half a year of animal products. One year it felt like I had a hole in my stomach. One year the gout was terrible. Then there was the chronic swelling of my lymph nodes for over a year. Then the intense stomach issues. This year I am on my third week of hives and stomach issues. Every year in my journal I write, “Next time I want to start eating meat again…read this!” But alas, we inevitably go on vacation, go to a friend’s house, read a book about being a locavore or the poisons of processed food and we are back to a freezer full of meat, pretending to be pioneers until I get sick again and neither of us are feeling so hot.

Every year, I frantically erase all of the posts from the six months before. When I am vegan, I erase the posts about raising animals for meat and recipes. When I am a meat eater, I erase all the animal sanctuary posts. Vegans (even the word, vegan) can sound annoying and frantic and extreme. I have inspired a lot of people to become vegan over the years and those folks are adamant and heartfelt in their work. I feel the same but then I think it may be so hypocritical. We simply cannot go through this life without causing death to other species. From petroleum use to clearing farm fields, every time you pop an Advil, or buy plastic, we aide in the death of others.

It is easier to just consume animal products. Then you don’t have to be the annoying one at the holiday dinner or the irritated one at a restaurant. You don’t have to get creative trying to make goat cheese out of almonds. I want goats. I don’t necessarily look forward to milking. And in my heart I know that taking the baby away and then sending it to slaughter if it is a boy, and drinking the milk after my own mother’s breast milk has many decades past dried up, is probably weird, if not wrong, and probably not that healthy. I don’t know y’all. Does anyone else have these dilemmas constantly bantering in their heads and hearts?

After I get sick each year, after I take on a plant based diet again, I always get better. Every ailment that ails me heals itself on a plant-based diet. Every time I have meat on my plate, I have less room for antioxidant-rich grains, vegetables, proteins, and fruit. Can you be a locavore and eat a plant-based diet? (And if we are honest, are any of us really eating that local?)

Here is the thing, I don’t even like the feeling of eating gooey, greasy cheese and I don’t even like meat! But it is so easy in our society. On this farm, am I really going to look in the eyes of an infant or old farm animal and decide they are going to die? I don’t think it is right to kill elephants or horses or cats for food….in other places it is acceptable….why do I think some animals are just destined for the plate? I could never look in the eyes of a moose or or deer and pull the trigger to end its beautiful life. I don’t know. These are real battles in my heart and mind and the way a writer delves into those recesses of questioning is to write.

I wonder how many people have chronic illnesses that can be blamed on their food choices, but because it is so hard to change them in our society, they will never make that change or get well.

And wouldn’t I rather be an example of kindness to all?

(If you leave a comment, please make sure it is respectful. There are probably no right or wrong answers here!)

The Wintry Farm and Kittens

I opened the front door to great heaps of snow. For southern Colorado, this is quite a storm. It is still blustery and the snow is falling thickly with glints of sunlight shining through. It is a chattering 1 degree with the wind. Our farm dog, Gandalf, is sleeping indoors this morning despite his woolly exterior.

The chickens are snug in their coop with the help of a heat lamp. I will need to put on my galoshes and check on their water. One more cup of coffee!

The wood stove has been puttering along beautifully over the past frigid few days and I am afraid that the wood is about run out and another two cords will not be arriving for another few weeks. We do have a furnace, but there is nothing quite like the warmth from a wood stove to really warm the bones.

We have two new additions to the farm that have warmed our hearts. Their names are Taos and Socorro, after two of our favorite places to holiday in New Mexico.

Fourteen, or so odd, years ago, we adopted several kittens over a two year period full knowing that one day we would lose several cats within a few years. We lost four of them this year, my sweet Frankie just a week ago. We have one old kitty left, our beloved Booboo, whom the children taught to come to Andrew’s room if he blasted Bob Marley. We have two five-year old kitties as well. Well, it’s a bit quiet around here when you are used to many more. The silence of winter approaches and we felt we needed a little life and a little fun around here. So off to the shelter we went on the first blustery day and adopted two adorable little girls.

Our farm is humming along with dreams of spring and planting and future farm animals, as the fire in the wood stove warms the brightens house, the snow-light bouncing through the windows and adding a chill to the senses. ‘Twill be a cold night for tricks and treats tomorrow indeed, but in our little farmhouse we are warm, our hearts filled with joy.

Homestead Chickens

So far in this homesteading series we have covered growing crops, finding land, and deciding between country and city homesteading.  So, now let’s talk about the quintessential dream of a homestead; chickens!  They make an ordinary house in the city feel like a farm.  They provide lots of colorful eggs and they replace cable television.  All you need is a lawn chair and a drink in the evenings and watch them run and dirt bathe.  It’s hilarious.

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Now, I can be pretty sassy when I think I am right. (Aren’t I always right?)  But I will be the first to admit when I am wrong.  And I was wrong.  Let me swallow my pride right quick.  Ahem, okay, well, I have been a vegetarian/vegan for the better part of thirty-three years and have been pretty adamant and downright pushy about the health benefits and a utopia society.  I realize that every culture since the beginning of time has consumed animal protein.  I realize that cultures without access to animal protein usually have nutritional deficiencies.  I realize that the environmental impacts of animal husbandry and our own health are caused by factory farms, not the small, local ranch or fishing hole.  Getting soy fed hamburger from New Zealand and salmon from farms is a really great way of screwing up the earth and body’s health.  Trucking in out of season produce and processed soy products aren’t so great either.  I recognize that keeping meat chickens so long on a perfect urban farm was to cause pain and suffering to them.  Death is quick and is not necessarily a negative to the party affected.  Five ten pound chickens came back to me without pain.  The rooster no longer crying in the corner of the coop with broken legs.  My daughter was overjoyed to receive one for food.  It will feed her family for a week!  They are sweet and dopey and then they are food.  I get that now.  Now on to chicken husbandry!

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Chickens- You can keep laying hens and get close to 300 eggs a year from one.  They produce eggs for two years pretty good and then start to decline.  They produce a certain amount of eggs and there is no tricking them into having more.  I haven’t had a chicken live longer than three years, though I have heard they can.  You can keep meat chickens and keep them for ten weeks then send them to camp.  They can all be kept together.

Home- They need a sturdy house.  A shed or designed coop works great with a sturdy fenced in yard.  Everyone (dogs, raccoons, hawks, skunks, coyotes) loves chicken dinner, so you must close the door to the coop each and every night!  The girls put themselves to bed at dusk.

Yard- Forget the Country Living cover photos of chickens in the kitchen (they poop) or luxuriating amongst plants (they will eat every one of them), they just need some good foraging space to dust bathe and eat bugs and what greenery they haven’t already eaten.

Food- Free feed them organic chicken feed and every day give them a few scoops of organic scratch for treats.  They love slightly off veggies and fruit and leftovers.  Feed them back their own eggs shells crushed for calcium.  Give them oyster shells if they need stronger shells.  Always keep fresh water available.

Chicks- When you bring home your peeping box of joy, place them into a plastic bin with a little shredded newspaper or straw, a little feeder of organic chick starter, and another one of water.  Have the heat lamp on the edge of the box.  They should be at a cozy 95 degrees.  If they hover in the far corner away from the lamp, they are too hot, if they huddle under it, they are too cold.  You want to adjust the heat lamp so they are running freely and pile up wherever.  Dip their beaks into the water to teach them to drink.  Raise the heat lamp a little each week, lowering the temperature ten degrees a week until it matches the outdoor temps.  By then they will be jumping out looking for food and fun.

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I have been writing and speaking about chickens for over six years now.  You can read through any of my articles under Animals/Chickens for laughs and info.  This article was published in the newspaper some years ago. You may be surprised at some of the chicken facts!  13 Things the Ladies Want You To Know 

 

 

 

The Duck Healer (and other tales in Cherokee Home)

I was standing in the kitchen of the tiny farmhouse we lived in out on the prairie.  A small school bus turned into the winding dirt drive and proceeded towards the house.  Dust pulled up behind it as it bounced along.  I yelled to Doug in the next room, “Did we have a school group coming that I forgot about?”  He couldn’t remember one either.  I wiped my hands on my apron and stepped out the front door and waved.  The bus came to a stop next to the garden and through the windows I could see that this was one big family.  The children came bounding down the center of the bus and out into the fresh air.  A little girl held onto a large white duck.

“Something is wrong with his leg,” she said, looking up at me hopefully, “Can you fix it?”

“What’s wrong with that duck?” I asked, pointing to another one that they had brought with them.

“Oh nothing,” the mother replied, “the ducks can’t be separated or that one yells its head off!”

And so I went about healing the duck’s broken leg.

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My book, Cherokee Home, is my first fiction book, but as all good fiction is, it is nearly entirely based on true stories.

In my book, the main character is an herbalist and her stories are my stories.  The stories of the medicine man came from a medicine man. A dear friend of mine that I spent a summer writing down his stories with as he recovered from a stroke.

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My great grandfather was shot in a cornfield in Oklahoma gathering corn for supper one warm day.  My grandfather was only three years old but the family tale states that his father took his own life.  And perhaps that is so, but in that same time, in that same place, Cherokees were being shot or moved to California so that the oil companies could have their land.

I loved developing the characters who were as familiar to me as myself and my siblings.  I remember my mother reading to us at night as we colored in pictures of a coloring book, munching on homemade caramel corn.

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Cherokee Home came out last fall but I never really had time to promote it or to do book signings.  The other day I came across a picture of that duck from four years ago and smiled.

If you want to read a fun book that touches on history, culture, language, and real tales embedded in fun characters that is great for kids and adults alike, you can find it HERE.

All of my books are available at AuthorKatieSanders.com

(It is nearly impossible to get all typos out of manuscripts, but I sure try.  The one typo in the entire book is on the second page.  Lord, I am less judgmental about errors in books these days!)

Thank you all for supporting my writing!

The Glamorous Life of an Urban Farm Wife (and the realities of death)

I tucked my Christmas pajama bottoms into my bright purple galoshes and tightened the belt of my fuzzy bathrobe that covered my nightgown.  I sighed, mouth askew in a grimace, and pulled my work gloves on while balancing the shovel.  Poised over the dead creature I tried to hold my breath while finagling the blade underneath the hardening body of a skunk who did not see it coming.

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I love ignorance.  It’s the best.  Kind of wish I could get back to it.  Ah, the mystique of becoming a farmer.  The love of the land, the fresh air, the bright dawn, the sound of a baby goat, the feel of a newborn chick, the taste of fresh eggs with gorgeous orange yolks.  The urban farm with the front yard completely gardened.  Beds filled with corn and pumpkins, rows and rows of chilies and tomatoes, and dozens of other herbs and beans and cucumbers and other delights fill the space where a lawn ought to be.  A rooster crows from the backyard.

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I guess what I never prepared for, and what no one could really express to me, is that death and cycles of life were going to become quite apparent to me.  The emotions that one might feel day to day in the suburbs would morph into much more intense versions of joy and grief.  That becoming a farmer means becoming privy to the real natural world.

See, in a high rise apartment or other such place, one might see a fallen bird from a nest or a cat that has been hit by a car.  We sniff and pout our lip and then move on with the day.  Styrofoam cartons and air sealed packages line shelves neatly labeled.  Beef tip.  Short ribs.  Chicken breast.  (Where did the rest of the chicken go?)  Away from a farm is an easy place for Utopian ideas to thrive.

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Last night the skunk was apparently on his way to have appetizers and cocktails in the chicken coop with the ladies when he was swiftly taken out by a monstrous being, that at first sight might not be taken for a swift sort of creature at all.  But the massive bite to the spine without being sprayed proved that Gandalf was on duty and was not allowing frolicking with the chickens past curfew.  The chemical, nauseating smell permeates everything but the dog.

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Now, if the pup was not there, the skunk would have made quick work of the chickens without a smidgen of remorse.

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The Cornish chickens can barely stay alive as it is.  Since my post three days ago, another chicken’s legs are breaking and one of the hens that seemed fine died of a heart attack.  They are scheduled to meet their maker in two weeks (because it is the humane thing to do) but we will see if they even make it until then.  My own Utopian ideas of compassion and living in a world without death backfired with meat chickens that were never meant to live this long and are suffering.

Over the years I have held a screaming goat as she died.  My cat, two chickens, a robin, a sparrow, and my dear friend’s ashes are buried in my yard.  A dead skunk is in a plastic bag in the alley until I can think of something to do with it.  Death is real and it is not necessarily not compassionate.  Not necessarily unfortunate.  It just is.

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But where there is death, there is new life.  New baby chicks, and wobbling ducklings.  Baby goats taking a bottle, and finches learning to fly.  A farm- whether in the city or in the country- teaches us what working in a temperature controlled office after driving in a temperature controlled car, after picking up a quick breakfast could never teach.  That life in its whole is a natural process of birth, delight, strength, illness, sustenance, death, grief, reality.  And in every cycle, it is beautiful and sacred and real.

 

The Very Bad Farmgirl (and does anyone want goats?)

I research everything that I do, I just don’t always fully prepare.  While reading about what happens to meat chickens when you let them live past their designated eight weeks, I learned that they can just drop dead, have heart attacks, and their own legs can break under their immense weight.  “Oh, that sounds terrible,” I said.

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I think Bob broke his leg.  Maybe it’s his toes.  Either way, his giant body is hobbling slow and painfully.  He looks like an old pirate with a peg leg.  He waits for me in the coop so that I will carry him to the water.

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This is a very docile, sweet breed, so it is hard not to get attached.  I know I am not being very humane right now.  I could splint his leg (I once made a neck brace for a very injured chicken and I have healed broken legs in my work as an herbalist in the past.) but I am unsure as to what is actually broken.  Vets aren’t really trained in chicken care and I don’t have hundreds of dollars to see one anyway.  I could load them all up and take them to be slaughtered, which would honestly be the sensitive and sensible thing to do.  But I just can’t.  Nor can I wield an ax and do it myself.

This makes me a very poor farmgirl.  Or maybe a very bad rancher.  Either way, I lack that certain spirit of nonchalance and steel that would make Bob’s pain be swiftly dealt with.

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Does anyone want goats?

I was asked yesterday via text if I knew anyone who wanted the goats.  I am in the city, so I know I can’t.  I actually am not sure if I do know anyone that is at a place to take four (maybe more) goats.  “Why?” I responded.  Because they are going to grow hemp and they don’t want the goats eating it.  Profit.  Farm finance.  The trend.  Goats are out.

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“We will just process them if we can’t sell them.”

Besides the fact that I doubt five year old goat tastes very good, this really zinged me because I hand raised those goats.  Bottle fed them every two hours.  Ran a veritable goat nursery while they had their house built.  Those were my goats.

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This makes me a very bad farmgirl.  A fact that makes my living in the city seem reasonable even though we want to get back on a farm.  We are not good at trimming hooves, or dealing with death, or causing the death.  We are also not good at being 100% vegan, which then makes us hypocritical and yet, I somehow do not have that filter to be a proper farmgirl.  Maybe because I was raised in the city.  Maybe because I was never around the in’s and out’s of a farm growing up.

But I will need to make a decision regarding Bob.

The Life of Cornish Cross Chickens (on our farm)

I think my husband thought I was crazy as we stood outside in our pajamas, me with a walking stick, at 2:00 am.  This morning, I even googled the sound a raccoon makes just to make sure I wasn’t actually hearing a cat fight.  But I have lived in the country, I know what raccoons sound like and they were definitely outside my window.  But they were long gone by the time we adrenaline rushed it outside, thanks to Gandalf.

The raccoons surely heard about the amazing buffet we were putting on.  I don’t bother closing the chicken door at night because Gandalf is outside.  But, he is not in the chicken yard so the raccoons could have braved up and had quite a feast.  The Cornish girls and their Basset hound-sized boyfriend can’t get up on to the shelves so they are just sitting there in a clump waiting to be chicken a’ la gross.

Last week I went out to the coop and found Dixie.  She was the smallest of the Cornish cross chickens we rescued.  She had somehow died on her back.  Bob (the rooster) sat sweetly next to her.  She had no trauma, she was just dead.  Her vent was clogged, so she probably died of toxicity.  There was no rigor mortis yet, but I still was barely able to pull her from under the shelf because of how heavy she was.  Her legs wouldn’t touch, so I couldn’t use them to help me move her into a bag.  The glamour of a farm wife, I tell you.

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Cornish Cross chickens were developed to be broilers.  At five to eight weeks old, they are processed and become the adorable Cornish hens one might find in the grocery store.  I seem to have imagined that Cornish hens were some type of miniature breed.  Well, now the chickens are five months old.  They are grossly huge.  Their legs are splayed so when they run, they wobble.  They can’t reach their backsides to preen, so we may lose others in the vent-clogged battle.  They don’t seem to have any natural chicken behaviors, like scratching, dust bathing, or running.  I have moved their water thirty feet from the coop to encourage walking.  They are a sad lot.  It is terrible that we humans have done this to a really cool species.

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Bob is a handsome fellow.  His chest is body builder ginormous and shaped like a heart.  He tries to chase the ladies but he can’t catch them.  My hen (honest to God) was crowing one morning trying to teach the young lad but alas, he only croaks and seems to be too tired to crow.

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I am astounded at the difference between my laying hens and the meat chickens.  Perhaps it wasn’t kind to keep them alive after all, but they do enjoy the sunshine and they got a pass.  Living as one of my chickens isn’t too bad of a life.  They bark like dogs and are the size of turkeys.  They have very sweet temperaments.

I will probably stick to the petite laying hens from here forward.  It’s too sad to see these giants trying to be chickens.  But there is still nothing better than sitting out in a lawn chair on a warm evening with a drink watching the comedy show.  Chickens are nothing if not hilarious.

The Sparrow Lofts

Amongst the branches of the miniature dome, they sing.  I watch them flitting in and out of their hogan happily, busily.  Some groups fly en masse to the bowl of bird seed in the front yard, another group will chat and catch up on the fence line, and yet another seem to be busy within the home, perhaps preparing for new babies or maybe they just got out of a town meeting.

I can hear them clearly through the thick, glass paned windows, and as the dawn breaks they begin to chant and chirp the loveliest, loudest songs to the sun.  As I approach them on my way to the hen house, they fly up in a tornado of song and air.  Exhilarating.

I shake my head when I see giant black trash bags of branches and yard clipping sitting in militant lines by garbage cans waiting to go to the dump.  Such a waste.  There they will never decompose.  Here on our urban farm, we throw them into a pile.  A large, haphazard pile (away from the eyes of the zoning lady down the street) behind a six foot fence.  An eyesore?  They are branches, for gods sake.  Make use of them.  They can be used for kindling or firewood or you can just let them be.  We thought we would get a wood chipper and attend to them but the sparrows had another idea.  As we threw the neatly clipped branches and larger weeds over the fence, blindly knocking leaves and clots of dirt into our eyes, they all landed in a great pile.  The sparrows dive in and out perfect holes.  A housekeeper I had said I ought to get rid of the mounds of wood because they invite mice.  So we dubbed it the “Mouse House.”  Haven’t seen any mice in there.  They are too busy in the chicken coop.  The mound gently settles each year and begins to decompose and we add more on.  Nature makes use of all things, they do not throw things blindly into a landfill to suffocate the land.

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Look at all the birds on the fence line and in the branches! Hundreds of voices come from this back yard pile!

The birds have created such a lovely haven out of those branches, carefully shaping them into lofts for hundreds of sparrows.  And their uplifting songs and antics please me as I watch them.  They make me laugh and smile.  Such a gift to be amongst nature and all of its inhabitants.

(Tip: create a place next to your compost piles for items that break down slowly.)

Moving Chicks to the Coop and Safe Introductions

All seven of our rescued factory farm chicks are doing great.  Little Dixie is still half the size of everyone else and the others take turns keeping her under their wing (literally) to keep her warm and comfort her.  She sings all the time and is very happy.  One of the chickens that we deemed Burn Victim Barbie, because of how messed up her neck was, looks a bit more like a Ken.  His comb is larger than the others.  Still too early to tell sexes though.  Their feathers are mostly in, even though most of their stomachs are still bare from being plucked and sleeping on deep layers of waste before their rescue.

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My farmhouse is beginning to smell like a barn and I decided that two weeks in the guest room was long enough.  The chicks are no longer sick and they are growing well.  They moved out to the coop with the big girls yesterday.

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Dixie

Every year different acquaintances on social media show off their cute baby chicks.  When they move them to the coop with the other chickens, the same devastating tale is told.  One story in particular stays with me.  A gal I know put the chicks out into the chicken yard and when she returned they were all dead.  One was almost decapitated.  Bloody, little bodies strewn about.  What happened? she thought.

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One would not bring home a shelter dog and just throw him into a room with the present house dog and leave, would they?  Or cats that don’t know each other?  Chickens are smart, they have hierarchy, and protect their own spaces just the same as any animal.  They need a getting-to-know-each-other stage.

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In the past we would have gotten our chicks in the spring so that at six weeks old it would already be fairly warm outside.  These chicks are ten weeks old today but outdoors they still need a heat lamp.  It’s just too cold, particularly at night.

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Note: to know what temperature your chicks can handle, count backwards 5 degrees from 95 degrees per week.  So my chickens can handle 45 degrees.

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I set up the portable fencing that was in the guest room (a portable fence is invaluable on a farmstead) and set up a folding table inside as a top to keep the big girls out.  I put their food and water inside the square.  We attached the heat lamp and kept it low over the fence.  Nothing touches the lamp!  I am a little fearful of fire.  I used an old piece of pallet, some wood, and this and that to cover holes and make the space secure.  If it is too hot, they will move to the other side of the sectioned off area, if they are huddled under the lamp, they are cold.  You want them comfortably wandering.  I can remove the pallet to reach in and water and feed.

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Eloise checking out the new tenants.

In one or two weeks as the weather warms and the other chickens get used to the babies, I will let them out, keeping the pen up so they have a safe space to run to.  Eloise can be quite a bitc….ahem…difficult.

It won’t be long though before they are all scratching and bathing in the dirt, soaking up the sun, and scrambling for treats all together.  Just use precautions and slowly introduce for a happy chicken household.  Now…to get the smell out of the guest room…

How to Treat Parasites and Infections in Chickens (and other animals)

The chicks that we brought home were rescued by brave volunteers that worked parallel to the killing crew that came in and snapped thousands of necks by hand.  It is amazing that these chickens have lived this long.  And it might be amazing if all of them make it another month.  Some are stronger than others.  One of our girls has beautiful, sleek outer feathers and a sweet filled-in face while another is smaller than the others with a deformed shoulder and a terrible cold.

The easiest way to treat chickens is with tea in their water.  They all love their water and don’t mind the taste of the herbs.  The infusion works quickly, so I expect whoever is going to survive is going to be well by the end of the week.  No more parasites, E coli, viruses, or infections.  You can use this same technique to treat other animals as well.

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In a saucepan combine 1 Tablespoon of each loose herb-

pine needles

mint

rosemary

eucalyptus

goldenseal and

3 cloves of garlic

You could also use/sub in:

Walnut shells

Oregon grape root

echinacea

mugwort

juniper berries

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We are using a blend of herbs that are anti-parasitic and antibacterial.  Bring to a boil with 4 cups of water and simmer (decoct) for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and let continue to infuse.  Pour 1/2 cup of infusion into small water bowl if chicks are in your guest room or the whole thing (herbs and all) into a large waterer if you are treating a whole flock.

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I cut up a pumpkin and placed it in their little pen.  They also get a tablespoon of cinnamon mixed into their feed twice a day.

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Right now we have seven chickens taking up the guest room.  I don’t want them to freeze, nor do I want them to get the other chickens sick.  In their infirmary, they are snuggled together, eating, drinking, or singing.  We take turns holding each one each day so that they get used to contact.  My cat, Frankie, loves to snuggle on my lap when I am holding the chicks.  We have a fun, little farm here.