So why did we lose half a dozen chikkins?
The short answer is we are numpty amateurs at poultry keeping and not sufficiently alert to pest and disease hazards: specifically those from red mite infestation and coccidiosis infection, and even more specifically from a combination of the two things.
Yes, we knew there were red mite in the hen house but assumed wrongly, that it was sufficiently under control; it wasn't.
The red mite (actually grey until they have drunk blood), are smaller than a pin head and inhabit the nooks and crannies in the timbers, particularly at perch ends, and come out at night to suck the blood of the roosting hens. This weakens the birds, making them anaemic and (more) vulnerable to other infections.
Which brings us to coccidiosis: a single celled protozoan gut parasite, endemic in all poultry but, under normal conditions, and in otherwise healthy birds, will not cause them undue harm. In birds weakened by red mite infestation, it can however, be fatal.
Thus, at clodhoppers, we seek the forgiveness of Capt Mannering and Black Adder and the other fine birds we have so carelessly lost, while at the same time, declaring all out war on red mite and coccidiosis.
The battle commenced with an attack on all fronts: a thorough cleanout and disinfection of the henhouse with Jeyes fluid. Then a full frontal assault on red mite with a blowtorch - the heat penetrating the nooks and crannies and killing them - (to be done with care obviously: it's a wooden hut). Then an attack with WMD (aka chemical warfare) with mite kill spray, and a dusting of the birds feathers with red mite powder.
Concurrently, the coccidiosis infection was treated by mixing a sulfonomide powder into the birds drinking water which they drank for 3 days followed by 3 days clear water and then another 3 days on treated water.
Rapid improvement in the flocks health, appetite and production quickly followed.
While this strategy has been effective for the acute phase, we are about to try a tactic (new to us), for the long term control, maybe even eradication of, red mite.
This involves the use of diatomaceous earth (aka diatomite or kieselgur) which is made from the fossilised remains of a type of hard shelled algae crushed to a fine white powder (particle size 10 to 200 microns) which, to us, feels like talcum powder, but to red mite is razor sharp and lacerates their waxy exoskeleton and absorbs all their fluids & lipids, dehydrating them to death.
See? I have no mercy now.
It is harmless to the birds and can even be given in their feed to destroy internal parasites.
All this should get us well back on top of the situation. I still feel bad though, and I'm going to kick myself round the block a few times and never evva evva, go away on holiday, evva, again. Not EVVA.