Four bedroom house on two acres. Buy now get a free set of chickens. How could we resist an offer like that?? Word of warning; read the fine print. The five free chooks were wormy, mitey and thin. One in particular was in bad way. “She’ll be right’ the ex-owner told us, but all I saw was a little grey bird in agony. One of her feet was grossly misshapened, crusty and scaly. I could see bone half way done here centre toe. We called her Manky Foot Chook. She spent her time hunkered down in the black bamboo grove; lame. The effort of walking was enormous. She could not use the overgrown foot at all, and had to balance its heavy weight. She did not have a very chooky life.
Five minutes on the internet and Dr Google diagnosed scaly leg mites. A real nasty case. So I posted a plea to the Chook forum; what to do, what to do. But no answer. So I called the vet. He said break her neck. Hmm, drastic. Being vegetarian I am out of the habit of being responsible for chook deaths. Sooo I prevaricated and then thought, bugger this! Poor little bird has suffered for years, she needs a chance. So I rang the vet back. “She’ll most likely die on the table”. Fair ‘nuf, let fate throw the dice. So we booked her in. Her toe fell off the day before the big op, which failed to simplify things. Instead of taking off the worst effected toe stump, he took her whole foot bar the back spur. But she lived (the vet was enormously pleased with himself).
Home she came with her foot stump all bound up. We were also given her bloody foot in a plastic bag. What a considerate and rather disturbed vet! We kept her in a cat cage for three days while it did some basic healing and then let her out. She just stood around. It was fair disappointing. She single leg hopped over to a nearby tree and lay there. That was her routine for another four days. Then a dressing change. The vet, still radiant with self satisfaction, took her out the back while Mum and I waited. There was a distant chooky scream. But she came back intact if a little ruffled. Home again.
Then the magic began to happen. She started to use her stumpy leg to lean on, oh joy! Then slowing she began to occasionally hobble just lightly on it. A week later another dressing change (less traumatic – no screaming, skin healing but needing to ‘granulate’). Her walking improves; she manages to get into her lawnmower-catcher nesting box and lays her first egg EVER. She begins to really walk on her leg, she keeps up with other chooks on their garden rounds. I catch her dust bathing, I cry. Another dressing change. Vet reports that Manky Foot Chook is ‘plump’. I cry again. She discovers her voice and becomes a rabid 'book booker'. She is the last in at night, and first to burst out on the morning. We change her name to Hoppy. Happy Hoppy. Complete now in her chookiness.
What is Scaley Leg Mite?
Scaleg Leg Mite is a mite invisible to the eye and causes the scales on the leg of chickens to lift and start to look crusty. It can also affect the beak and combs. In severe cases you can get rough looking growths like Hoppy experienced. The toes will often fall off. Can you imagine the pain?
Hoppy is small chicken and so I felt she could manage on her stump. I don’t think I would have attempted the amputation on one of the larger birds.
Chickens are not good under anesthesia and do not tolerate much blood loss so the risk of death is high. If you choose to amputate one of your chicken’s feet be prepared to blow your dough as your chook may well pass over into birdy heaven. Hoppy was fortunate and I was glad to have taken the chance.
The treatment of the infestation of scaly leg mite is two fold;
· Dosing the water with Ivermectin - a widely used broad spectrum anti parasitic that is mainly used to treat worms in humans and stock animals, but also kill mites (yay!). Add 2.5mls per litre of water, let them drink it for 8 hours (take out their water a few hours before roosting and then replace it with the treated water when they are napping. They will wake in the morning nice and thirsty). You can buy Ivermectin from rural feed stores but it will be in very large doses and over $100. Search the web, you can find small bottles of it.
· Pray that you have very tame chickens. Wash their legs to get them nice and clean. Coat their legs in Vaseline to suffocate the mites under the leg scales. This needs to be repeated every few days and be warned, in persistent cases this can go on for months. This may seem a lot of effort but I have read the condition is painful, so please consider it. Don’t use engine oil (I saw this suggestion on the web). Engine oil is full of toxins. Don’t use tee tree oil. It is bad for chooks.
You will know you have won the battle when their legs have very smooth skin with the scales completely flat. Good luck!