Scaly Leg Mite in Organic Poultry Part Two - The Treatment

Scaly leg mite aka Knemidocoptes mutans is, as previously mentioned in Part One of this topic, an incredibly successful creature. Although it is slow to develop large colonies and in reality should not be a problem because we should see it and deal with it, it is very easy to be taken unawares by its prolific exponential growth. The problem is particularly difficult to spot in feathery footed creatures such as Cochins and if you have these birds then it is important to check them regularly for the first telltale signs of white powdery deposits on the scales of the legs and feet. Rarely mentioned but equally important to prevention and treatment of this mite is the diet of your poultry. If you have not read my initial article on this topic, it might be a good idea to take a look at it, so as to appreciate the importance of diet on external parasite prevention and cure. Topical oil treatment is only a short term solution, the diet of your birds needs to be addressed simultaneously.

Vitamin A rich foods prevent external parasites in Poultry
As already discussed in the previous article, grain depletes Vitamin A and it is this nutrient which lies at the very heart of the mites' ability to thrive and multiply on your bird. The other crucial thing to remember about treating for any kind of external parasite is that if your bird has become overwhelmed by these mites, there are probably extenuating circumstances. So begin by checking individuals for damaged beaks, depression or stress, which has stopped them from preening or from getting their share of vitamin-rich forages or foodstuffs you have supplied. So even before starting any sort of treatment my first act would be to up those foods rich in beta carotene and make sure by individual feeding that everyone is getting their fair amounts. Above all, as with everything in the forest garden, observation is key, so I regularly sit down and watch my birds just to make sure no one is showing signs of limping or stress.

A quick aside here on Vitamin D3, as although discovered in 1937 it is only recently that we have began to appreciate the critical role it plays in achieving optimum health. The precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol is stored in the oil of the Uropygial gland and when the bird preens itself the action of the sun's ultraviolet rays transforms this into Vitamin D. When the bird grooms itself it ingests this  latter, which is then converted in the liver and kidneys to Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Thus the evidence of external mites will be a good indication that the pathway of 7-dehydrocholesterol has been compromised i.e. with the blocking of the preen gland by excess keratin and thus the bird may develop all kinds of conditions symptomatic of D3 deficiency. One of these conditions is, as you may have guessed, keratosis, the over-production of keratin. This is a complex and seemingly for some reason a controversial subject and in the near future I am hoping to present an article that will cover as much research as possible and my own anecdotal material into the importance of Vitamin D3.

One other Vitamin deficiency also contributing to keratosis is Vitamin K, again a complex compound and which needs an article of its own. To counteract this in your flock, make sure your birds are all getting enough green leafy vegetables and in particular kale.

Treatment of Scaly Leg Organic Poultry

Having addressed vitamin deficiencies, the next thing to do is to deal with the microscopic spider that causes this problem. Its size and its nature of boring into the skin make this slightly more difficult than other mites. You should also really treat all your birds because it takes a long time to build up colonies of mites that are big enough to cause visible damage, so chances are some other birds in your flock already have the parasite.

The initial idea is to suffocate the mite with the use of a carrier oil, I use a mix of olive and sunflower which I recuperate from the self-service olive jars from our local organic shop. I filter out the herbs and last traces of olive debris and use that. If this is not an option then any (preferably organic) supermarket vegetable oil will do. Organic sunflower oil is cheaper to buy than olive and here in France safflower is even more so. Using an edible organic oil will mean the bird will have no problem with cleaning up its legs once the scales have softened. I also add tea tree essential oil, organic if possible and no more than 2-3 drops per bird (if treating individuals) depending on size, dissolved in one to two teaspoons of the chosen carrier oil.

Treatment scaly leg mite organic poultry
I use a tooth brush or paint brush to apply this and spread it all over the legs including the back of the hocks up to where the feathers start. If I am treating several birds at once then I use a wide mouth jar or preferably a heavy, glazed china flower pot (cache pot) fill it up to hock height with carrier oil and add up to 10 drops of tea tree. I then mix this well and stand each bird in the pot. If they are bantams both legs can be done at once and with the flowerpot I can accommodate the feet of larger birds too. Cochins and their ilk with feathery feet need to have the oil painted on to avoid soaking their feathers but in extreme cases, I would soak feet and feathers. If this all sounds too difficult then paint each bird's feet and legs with a brush, using the mix from the jar. I know with my own birds some take this treatment as a breeze but others kick up a fuss so putting their feet in a jar is not always the best option!

Treatment scaly leg mite Cochins organic poultry

The birds will begin to preen around the legs and feet the minute they are put back on the ground and as the legs and feet soften up during the day I often see them working with their beaks around the scales. The object as always with this branch of medicine, is to get the bird to heal itself.

Treatment of hen with advanced scaly leg - organic poultry
In extreme cases (as with a friend's old hen, left), where there are many raised scales and deep layers of 'spongy' excrescences; these usually occur at the back of the legs and on the hocks, then a more radical treatment is needed. I have found that softening the scales overnight in the same mixture I use to relieve inflammation, i.e., a cabbage and lard poultice works wonders. I then make a tentative attack on the tops of the lifted scales often the top layer will come away revealing a harder dryer layer underneath. If you hold the base of these excrescences tightly between finger and thumb, then you can gently remove the top part with your finger nail. I then treat with the tea tree and oil mixture as above but in this case, treat each bird with its full individual dose. If the scales are very badly deformed I will soak organic cotton wool in the oil mix and bandage this onto the leg and keep it on overnight. This of course still respecting the 2-3 drops of tea tree per bird and dissolved in one to two teaspoons of carrier oil dependant on the area to be covered.

Tagetes and Calendula oils Organic Poultry treatment
Calendula and tagetes infused oil, which you can easily make at home from the common marigold and African and/or French marigold respectively, are also excellent skin softeners and furthermore they repair tissue and reduce pain. Importantly for this case too they are also anti acarian and natural insecticides.  In a later post I will be sharing how I grow the flowers and make the oils. By adding beeswax and extra carrier oil, the infused oil can be transformed into a balm or salve, which can then be smoothed into the raised scales for further deeper treatment. You can also use raw organic coconut oil for an extra deeper moisturising action. ..and now the film...

Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also maybe about joining this blog and/or subscribing to my Youtube channel or even supporting us on Patreon.

All the very best from Normandie! Sue 


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© 2017 Sue Cross

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