All about Ants; Death on the homestead

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*Warning – this post contains graphic real-life pictures that may be disturbing to some or inappropriate for kids. Please use your judgment before reading this post and viewing it’s pictures.

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Do I have your attention now? I’ve been putting off doing a post about ants but is seems, due to some recent events, now is the time to talk about them. They have a lot to do with some recent changes on the homestead, some recent struggles and they are an unfortunate reality of life here. Just last night we had to deal with them, again.

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Driver Ants around the pig food

 

I don’t consider myself a morbid person, often thinking about death, but I do admit that through-out my life there have been a couple of times that I have asked the question, What is the worst way you could die? I feel confident that I now know the answer to that question. The worst way to die, is by ant. Death is a part of the homesteading life; death by ant is an unfortunate part of the African homesteading life.

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Driver ants by our pumphouse

There are many kinds of ants here in Congo including the smallest sugar ants, fire ants, black and red ants, plain black ants, and a kind that I call Golden bods. I dubbed them so because their abdomen has a shimmery fur of sorts that shines like gold when the sun hits them; they live and travel on our back fence and are, as far as ants go, quite beautiful. Ants here can be annoying when they get into your food, helpful when they clean up dead insects, beautiful when viewed close up in the sun, and here they can also be terrifying; the stuff of nightmares. One ant in particular fills that roll – the Driver Ant.

 

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Some small plain black ants that live in the cinder blocks that make our pump-house walls.

 

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A line of Driver Ants – notice the large soldiers standing guard with their large jaws gaping wide.

Driver Ants are a type of Army Ant. They are a nomadic carnivorous ant that travel in thick lines, often after a rain but not always. They have workers, scouts, soldiers, and though I’ve never seen one a Queen. They are extremely aggressive and will attack anything near them, regardless of size. They are hunters, not just scavengers, and will swarm and bite their victims to death including other insects, reptiles, worms, and any other animal that is unfortunate enough to not get out of their way.

 

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A line of Driver Ants crossing a foot path. Needless to say – take a running leap!

 

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The first batch of chicks to hatch out

Over the last month and a half our growing flock had come to include chickens (local and a special breed called Kuroilers we flew in from Uganda), three freshly-hatched batches of local chicks, ducks and a guinea fowl. Our once-growing flock has been decimated. First by disease and finally by ant.

 

The disease, called Coryza, came in with the chicks and started killing them off while infecting my original flock of chickens and our ducks. The disease is one that you can never be rid of unless you start completely over because once your birds have been exposed, they are carriers for life and will infect any future birds you may introduce to your flock. On average I was loosing a chick every day to every-other day, up until three days before Christmas. Then we lost five in one day, six the next and then the ants came.

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A few months ago we had a serious driver ant attack on our house. This was the only photo I even had time to snap before trying to defend our house and sleeping baby.

Why must the ants always do a serious attack late at night? The early morning of the 24th at approximately 12:30am our dog alerted us to problems outside. Dave went and checked to find driver ants attacking our chickens. I scrambled to get dressed and get my muck boots on (literally the only footwear you want to have on anywhere near driver ants) while Dave ran over to the hanger to get diesel fuel. Diesel is one of the few things that will kill, redirect and deter Driver ants. Even permethrin doesn’t work on them.

 

IMG_0320I ran out to the run and coop to find chaos and panic. Multiple chicks were running around with their legs bloody and covered in ants, others were running around in the coop, and some were laying on the ground of the run having been overwhelmed by the ants and were now being eaten alive. It was the most awful scene I have ever witnessed in my chicken-keeping career, bar none. No raccoon, skunk, coyote, or hawk attack has anything on the ants.

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One of the surviving chicks, still covered in dead ants
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The ants’ jaws are locked onto the surviving chick, though the ants are dead

 

 

Once  Dave got back with the diesel we filled up some bottles to squirt the fuel and raced to save as many chicks as we could. I sprayed in the house first, protecting our newly-hatched chicks and the others. Then out in the run I began dipping and swishing chicks up to their necks in a bucket of diesel fuel before tossing them into the house to save them. Some were beyond help and had to be killed where they lay, as an act of mercy. We also needed to protect the turkeys and our own house with our sleeping son inside. It was a long night and some of the doctoring was going to have to wait until the morning.

IMG_0350Christmas Eve day started with going out to see the damage and how many were alive from the night before, collecting the ones I thought we might be able to save to be brought in the house for doctoring and giving the others that weren’t going to make it a swift end. Not exactly the joyous feeling of Christmas time. I spent that morning bathing the diesel-soaked and ant-covered chicks and picking ants off of their bodies. After that they were wrapped in a towel and placed on a hot water bottle to stay warm until they were dry.

Over all we lost 10 chicks to the ants that night and the next day, two more that I had tried to save died. We had only nine left after both the disease and the ants and even those were sick and dying a slow death. The hard decision was made that we needed to start over. That meant culling all birds still alive, sanitizing and disinfecting the entire coop and run and leaving it to sit vacant for three or more weeks before starting over with new healthy birds. The coop and the run are now empty, sitting bare. The only exception to this mass-culling was our turkeys. They have been housed separately and have shown no signs or symptoms of the disease.

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Everything inside the coop was cleaned and disinfected

 

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Cleaning the run with bleach waterIMG_0418The line of treated and untreated sand

 

So now we wait, for most of or possibly all of January, before we can purchase new healthy birds locally and possibly order more kuroiler chicks from a different source. Starting over is a hard, painful process. All the recent excitement and joy was taken out of the new additions like the ducks, guinea and newly-hatched chicks because of this.

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My big toe with a driver ant bite mark, after pulling the ant out of it
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The soldier that bit my toe – yes, it was the last thing he ever did.

 

IMG_9800We are now very aware of what can happen when the ants go marching and are doing some brain-storming to come up with some solutions to protect our flock from future ant attacks. Diesel helps but gets washed away every time it rains here (which can be several times a day during rainy season) so it is not a long-term solution; I’m not even sure there is a long-term solution to the ants.

The Holidays have been busy for us and were full of hardship and discouragement this year – the ant attack and disease being only a few pieces of that. Now that they have passed, life is settling back down and I will get caught up on other, more up-lifting posts about recent projects and the garden.

4 comments

  1. So sorry for your horrible experiences with the disease and ants! Must be heart breaking. Hopefully the next batch will do better.prsying for a great start to your new year.

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