Thursday, August 20, 2009

A hard lesson to learn

You don't want pictures today. Trust me on this. Today's post is about the worst things that nature can throw at animals -- coyotes and maggots. A bourbon red turkey hen hatched babies in the pasture, and a coyote attacked her. The llamas chased off the coyotes, but a good deal of damage had been done. Within a couple days, maggots started to hatch in the open wounds.

I told Katherine to put screw worm spray on the wounds. As soon as she did it, the maggots started wiggling like crazy, and the turkey hen swung her head around and started pecking at them. [expletives deleted] I grabbed the can and started reading the label very carefully. I didn't think the poison would kill the mama turkey, but I was definitely worried about the babies eating the maggots as they fell to the ground. The label had no warnings about using it around young poultry. In fact, it said it could be used for poultry lice, so I hoped the babies would be okay.

I was mad at myself for not thinking through all the repercussions before spraying the hen. We don't use pesticides on our farm because we know that bugs -- dead or alive -- are a favorite food for chickens and turkeys. Then two years ago, a lamb was infested with maggots. We brought her in the house and elevated her to pet status. She would never be eaten, so using the spray on her didn't seem like a bad idea. But, it didn't require an entire can to treat her, and the remainder sat in the storeroom. Once you have something at your fingertips, you think about using it. Mike asked about the safety of the spray when I told him my plan, but I responded that we would not be eating the turkey hen because, number one, she's four or five years old, and number two, her leg and back are infested with maggots. I didn't think about the babies.

Once I did think about the possible problem, the options did not seem very desirable. We could bathe the turkey hen and pick out the maggots by hand, but an adult heritage turkey is not like a cuddly lamb. If you've ever been smacked in the nose by a heritage turkey's wing, you understand my fear. Yes, fear. I'm emphasizing heritage here, because heritage turkeys can fly, and you have to have to pretty strong wings to lift 15 pounds into the air. It would have meant many hours of struggling to pick the maggots out with tweezers -- and then we would have had to put her in the house, so more flies wouldn't lay eggs in the wound. A dog crate is the only thing I have that would hold a turkey in the house, but she'd be cramped and unable to stand up straight. We couldn't think of any alternatives that weren't met with, "That's crazy."

You probably know how the story ends. Over the next two days, the babies died. As I started beating myself up about my stupidity, another voice in my head pointed out that's what happens when you have that crap within your grasp. I made the same mistake that's made every day in modern agriculture. They have antibiotics, so they use them -- daily. They have hormones, so they use them. They have pesticides and herbicides and GMOs, so they use them, whether they need them or not, whether there is an organic alternative or not. I can't believe how easy it was to just grab the can and use it without thinking about all the possible repercussions.

I need to learn to deal with maggots organically. It's obvious that they are an unavoidable part of farm life, especially when you have coyotes. This summer I discovered that Shaklee's Basic H works very well as a fly spray, so I can use that to keep flies off animals in the future. I think I've read that diatomaceous earth kills maggots, but I want to do some more research on that. Hmm ... maybe I'll have Katherine do an experiment.


Sunflower Hill Farm said...

Hi, Deborah. I'm terribly sorry for your loss. Although, many people reading your post might be horrified at the word "maggots", when you live on a farm, you have to come to terms with them (as disgusting as they are!!). We have used hydrogen peroxide. We pour it into the wound and it works.

These experiences make me hate this lifestyle. But, I guess what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all that.

Good luck.

Deborah said...

Thanks, Jodi! I hadn't heard about hydrogen peroxide. I'll definitely give it a try. I keep lots of it on hand for cuts and scrapes.

Mom L said...

I second Jodi. No farmer here - I'm an apt. dweller with 1 cat - but I remember my Dad using peroxide when I was a kid and one of our cats had a sore on his shoulder. Something ended up in it - I remember a horrid grubby thing. Dad then got the grub out, the sore healed and the cat was fine. Until his next fight.

Claire said...

Oh Deb, I'm so sorry to hear about this. What a sad loss. I can completely see how it happened though, and I would have done the same thing.

One thing we have started using is the following mixture as a fly spray. We have had no bad repercussions and I believe it is safe:

4 oz Skin So Soft bath oil (from Avon)
1 oz citronella oil
12 oz vinegar
12 oz water

Just shake up and use in a spray bottle. Keeps the flies off all our critters and doesn't harm fleeces. You can skip the citronella oil b/c the Skin So Soft already has citronella fragrance, but using the oil adds to the efficacy. I buy it online through Amazon.

Michelle said...

Yep, I was going to suggest hydogen peroxide for the maggots as well. See others beat me to it....

Anonymous said...

I am sad to hear about your loss. =( Basic H is some great stuff, especially when dealing with flies. keep us posted on what you end of using and how well it works.

MARY LOU said...


dancingdenise said...

Hi Deb! Sorry to hear the sad news about losing the baby turkeys. Don't "beat yourself up" over it. Look at how I've lived my life. Do you think I would be "alive n kickin'" today if I beat myself up over every single mistake I'VE made???

How is the adult turkey?

Take care,


Deborah said...

Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. Mama turkey seems to be doing well. I don't think the babies died from being cold. This is a great mama, who raised a brood last year hatched in July with 0 mortality. If eating the maggots didn't kill the babies, it might also have been inhaling the vile stuff when going under the mama. One of her legs was also infested, so we sprayed it too, which means that when the babies were sleeping under mama, they were inhaling vapors from the poison also.

MaskedMan said...

Sorry to hear about the chicks. At least momma survived - there's next season. Very impressed with the llamas, too, that they got there before the coyotes finshed their nasty deed.

For penning in the house, you might consider an "X-Pen" - An open-topped dog crate. They come with pannel heights up to 48 inches, and are not terribly costly. To prevent winged escapes, anchor a sheet over the top. Turkeys (and large geese) deserve considerable respect - Those powerful wings can break bones if they hit you right. And even if they don't break something, they can still beat you stupid.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sorry about your's always hard to deal with the loss of your animals. Having seen four of my goats killed by lions...I watched one out my window after it had just killed my favorite took a few seconds to realise what I was seeing...I can feel for ya. I agree that peroxide would be a safer alternative and keep some in a spray bottle in case one of the dogs gets a cut and won't cooperate with me scrubbing him. I keep betadine too, but that's a chemical and not good for ingestion, but works wonders on nasty wounds.

Deborah said...

Thanks, MamaBee! As frustrating as the coyotes can be, I am grateful that we don't have lions and bears. They are much harder to deal with. Coyotes are pretty cowardly.


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