Paul and I experienced our first major loss on the homestead. In the last few weeks we started processing our fall birds and were quite happy with the way the birds were growing. When we harvest any animal, we always do a thorough examination of the way the animal looks, on the outside and the inside. Every bird we have ever processed looked healthy and had no visible signs of any stress or infection, until Sunday!
We had six birds ready to go and processed four before we realized we had a problem. Round worms! Round worms are a very common problem in chickens—so common that by the age of three months, chickens learn how to coexist with them without harm. Chickens can get infected with round worms from wild birds or by eating earthworms and of course from a fecal-oral route as well (chickens are gross, they will poop and eat in the same place). Round worms (and all other parasites) become a problem when there is an overload. “Overload” is very vague, almost left to the eye of the beholder. We felt that our flock had a round worm overload. This was a first for us and very disappointing.
Our research revealed that many farmers are not very concerned with intestinal parasites, provided they reside in the intestine and feel that thorough cooking of the meat will cause no harm to humans. Others recommend a treatment plan but suggest that it would take up to a month to rid the bird of the medication. Being microbiologists by education, neither of these options agreed with us. We could not imagine feeding our family with wormy chicken (even if the worm was dead by cooking) nor did we want to feed them chicken with residual antiparasitic drugs (this contradicts why we are raising our own drug free chicken).
After doing a lot of reading and weighing pros and cons, Paul and I decided that the best decision is to not use these birds for meat. This was an extremely difficult decision to make. It meant that the birds would have to be destroyed and discarded. Not only would the fate of these birds be a waste, but all our hard work raising them was in vain too. The fate of the bird’s lives was the same either way, but the results of our decision leave us with a sense of guilt. Ultimately, we feel it was the right choice.
We take pride in providing only the best care to all our animals. I take time out of each day to do a quick assessment of all the critters and feel immense guilt for not noticing some of the obvious symptoms such as pale combs and slow growth, which I had attributed to cold weather since we never raised meat birds in the fall. An experience like this is very grounding, eye opening and educational. I can not change the fate of these birds, but you better believe I’m raising my standard of care drastically. I cannot change the past, but the future is in my hands.
Paul and I have our work cut out for us. The loss of these birds is significant in many ways. We lost financially (minimum of $600, not counting hour and hours of time). We lost soil health in two big parts of our growing spaces, which will take a long time to rebuild (healthy soil=healthy vegetables=healthy family). We must treat all our other animals with antiparasitic and for chickens that means destroying their eggs for up to a month. We have so much unexpected work to do that all the projects we had in mind for the winter will have to be on hold. Priority always goes to health.
I love this homesteading journey and cannot imagine life without it but there are days when you feel for every step forward, you take three steps back. We are taking the rest of December off to celebrate Christmas and New Years and get ourselves ready for 2020! It will be a great year! We will be more experienced and knowledgeable!