"I wish I could go back in time with a little traveling wagon and sell this stuff!" he exclaimed as he got a far-off glint in his eye and spread his arms out in an arc describing the magnificent signage he would adorn his wagon.
I met this guy when Cowboy and I were first gathering supplies to build our coop. He was a wealth of knowledge, laid back, and a great sense of humor with a constant sun-weathered forehead. He steered us away from pricey useless gadgets and over to the "old fashioned" farm hand tools. Diatomaceous Earth seems pretty fantastic. In terms of chickens (although there's a plethora of uses from human ingestion to internal/external parasite control in pets to a mild exfoliate in spa products) it acts as a natural de-wormer and pesticide not only for the bird itself but for the coop.
From Wolf Creek Ranch site (highly recommended):
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the remains of microscopic one-celled plants (phytoplankton) called diatoms that lived in the oceans and lakes that once covered the western part of the US and other parts of the world. These deposits are mined from underwater beds or from ancient dried lake bottoms thousands of years old. This means, diatomaceous earth has an unlimited shelf life provided you keep it dry. Diatoms (DE) are the grass of the oceans and lakes. Just as grass is the staple food of earth animals. Diatoms (algae) are the food of the ocean or fresh water grazers. Magnified 7000x, diatomaceous earth looks like spiney honeycombs.
Food grade diatomaceous earth makes a very effective natural insecticide. The insecticidal quality of diatomaceous earth is due to the razor sharp edges of the diatom remains. When diatomaceous earth comes in contact with the insects, the sharp edges lacerate the bugs waxy exoskeleton and then the powdery diatomaceous earth absorbs the body fluids causing death from dehydration
They recommend sprinkling DE around food bins to prevent insects contaminating the feed. Added to the litter in their coop deodorizes and absorbs any moisture that may build up leading to less flies and diseases. Because it is mined naturally this is an all natural form of pest control. No chemicals or medications!!
I am still reading up on this stuff, but so far I am highly impressed. Note: only major cautions I could find were to wear a mask so as to avoid inhalation while spreading DE in coop and to make sure your DE is FOOD GRADE. The stuff for pools is no bueno.
One other chicky-thing I discovered that really works: electrolytes in the chicken's drinking water. With our 100+ temps lately (thankfully dry heat) our chickens were getting slightly stressed. Storey's book mentioned the electrolytes for prevention of heat stroke which encouraged me to try it out. One small packet in a gallon sized fount placed in the shade outside had the chickens pounding the "chicken gatorade". They gradually appeared more at ease and moving around the yard more instead of laying down with their wings spanned out and panting.
Besides Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, I also highly recommend the book Chick Days. Both books provide a ton of great info. Read Chick Days first to warm yourself into the thought of "ok I can do this" with fun pictures and a entertaining journal-type book of raising chickens. Then read Storey's book which gives a more in-depth idea of the trials and tribulations of owning chickens whether for eggs, meat, show, or pet. It might overwhelm the newbie if read first. I have also read several other books but these two were deemed my favorite and most helpful.
Runners up were:
A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert Litt
Raising Chickens for Dummies (this had a lot of good basic info but I felt Storey's book covered things in better and easier detail)
Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole
Many people recommended The Chicken Health Handbook but when I checked it out, I felt a) there was just way too much information crammed into a book that would just discourage me when trying to search whatever ailed my chickens at the time and b) most of the major diseases are covered in Storey's Guide. The Handbook is not something you just pick up and read cover to cover. If I really was having issues I know I can (at the moment) pick up my laptop and seek the help of the great forum members from Backyardchickens.com. I super duper recommend this website but be warned: it's highly addicting.
One slightly major let-down (read: regret) that I have on owning chickens is the inability to just pick up and get out of dodge for a few days. Chickens are pretty low maintenance once they're grown, but they still require two visits per day to let them in and out of their coop. Our plan is to ask friends and neighbors to help out with promise of keeping the chicken's bounty during their watch. This is nice but not always an option if we want to keep our friends and definitely not a "last minute" notice kind of thing. Shucks.
I also checked out farm animal "sitters" that will care for your chickens twice a day but at $12-$17 per visit, that adds up to be a pricey little option for, well, chickens.
I love love love to just pick up and go to the mountains to vacation/hike or hunker down at some crazy secluded place to camp. I've done it over the past several years and miss it terribly. The past two or so years have been very lacking in camping activities as our jobs and life have just seemed to be non-conducive to impromptu camping trips. We've had a few wonderful ones, but definitely not enough in my book.
My blood runs thick with campfires and back country exploring. At one point, when I lived much more east, I had the goal of hitting the "highest point" in as many states as I could. I accomplished quite a handful of them and have pictures to prove it! I even took a long camping trip soon after I had bilateral foot surgery and ditched my "black beauty boots" for a pair of stiff hiking boots! I woke up with ice on my sleeping bag during that trip but was snug as a bug in a rug. Fun times.
"shootin' the moon"
Soooo, having chickens kind of hinders that whole dream at the moment. I have been looking into pricey automatic pop doors that are fueled by solar or battery to remedy this situation but as of the current, relying on friends on occasion may have to be where it's at. It makes me appreciate all our hardworking farmers out there that are absolutely unable to take time away from their livestock and fields to vacation.
For now, I will savor every moment of owning chickens (also a dream) and enjoy the feeling of self-sufficiency it brings me. I cannot wait to find that very first laid egg!!