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Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons
Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists Suggest Checking Your Chickens for Fleas

Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons
Stefano Corso via Wikimedia Commons

Attention, backyard chicken farmers: the cage-free lifestyle may not be as good for your birds as you think. A new study out of California found that infestation with fleas, mites, and lice was common among cage-free birds.

Researchers Amy C. Murillo and Bradley A. Mullens blame the free-range lifestyle. A cage-free existence may indeed be better for the birds’ well-being, they write in the Journal of Medical Entomology, but roaming around together in the grass exposes them to all kinds of would-be blood-suckers. And that’s no good for anyone.

Murillo and Mullens visited 20 backyard chicken habitats in Southern California, and selected five hens at random from each flock for what amounted to a day at the chicken spa.

Image Credit: Alec Yzaguirre

Each chicken was first subjected to a “visual inspection”—they were held and looked at—and any visible parasites were picked off with tweezers. Some of the birds were then sprayed under their wings, around their bellies and heads, and down their backs with a parasite-killing solution, which was then rubbed gently into their skin by hand. These chickens received a “gentle ruffling” of their feathers to dislodge any dead passengers, which were then collected. The other hens enjoyed “gentle bathing” in a dishpan. After the birds were scrubbed and rinsed off, the researchers used a sieve to filter all the parasites out of the bathwater.

Let me tell you: Those chickens deserved a spa day. The researchers found parasites on birds from 16 of the 20 sites. There were fleas, three types of mites, and six types of lice. Some chickens had more than 100 parasites apiece, and some were host to more than one species. These hens were not well. Parasite infestation raises a bird’s stress level and can keep her from laying or eating as much as she ought to. It’s a fate no backyard chicken keeper would wish on their birds.

The best way to maintain a parasite-free backyard flock is to keep parasites from ever getting in, Murillo said in a press release. People should keep their chickens from interacting with wild birds and other animals (including people), and should enforce a quarantine period for any new flock members. Insecticides should be used carefully and sparingly, as treating birds with the wrong chemicals can be unsafe for them, their eggs, and any people who might eat them.

So the next time you feel tempted to give your favorite chicken a big squeeze, maybe take a closer look first. Your chicken might be due for a little pampering.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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