It’s Mites Alright

May 27th, 2016

Well, it seems to be that time of year again. I was poking around through the archives, and it seems that last May I was wondering if my chickens had vent gleet or mites, and then I looked at my posts this May and here I am wondering the exact same thing. Given last year’s experience, I’m just going to assume we’ve got mites. And I don’t really need to assume, because I know the importance of chicken butt inspections, and I’m seeing feather loss in that area, and that’s the evil calling card of the mite. They seem to be the obnoxious summer renter of the chicken butt resort town.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

The question then becomes what to do? Since this is becoming an annual thing, am I doing something wrong? Or is this just the cost of doing chicken business? Even if it is, how do I get rid of them? What seemed to work last year, despite my reservations, was the “poultry powder” stuff that’s got poison in it. I have been out there with that stuff two weekends in a row, and am currently in the “see what happens” period. As I learned last year, it takes so long for feathers to grow back, it’s hard to know what’s working. So I went in with the biggest gun I had, and am waiting for the smoke to clear. Somewhat literally – this stuff is nasty, and it takes some doing to apply it without poisoning yourself in a giant cloud of it. I go out in a hoodie with the hood up, one of those face masks you use if paint fumes bother you, and rubber gloves. I climb into the coop and powder every bird, which can be tricky since after one or two get done, the others get the memo and try to hide behind each other in the corner. Then, as I am covered in poison, I immediately go into the bathroom, throw all my clothes into the washing machine, and take a shower. It does worry me that I protect my own breathing holes, but can’t do anything for the chickens’. They don’t make little beaky respirators, so this is how it has to go. There’s ventilation in the coop, and I don’t throw it in their faces, but I feel pretty bad about the whole situation. Not as bad as I would if I let them be eaten alive by mites, though, so this is what it comes to.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

I’ve been doing more research to try to find a better way. Some people swear by hosing the coop and the birds down with dishwashing detergent, while others say this strips the protective oils off their feathers. Some people say tea tree oil is all natural and will kill all the bugs, others say it will also kill the birds. Some people say Product X will do it, and then provide an affiliate link to that product, which costs $150 for a tiny amount. This all is reminding me of how it is I came to use diatomaceous earth (which some people also malign) and the poultry powder. After spending far too much time reading internet arguments, these seemed to be the least contentious cures. And for now, they’re the ones I already have.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

I did come across a couple new methods that sound promising, and less messy and/or problematic. I don’t like to drop name brands (unless these brands want to pay me to do so, please see the “contact” link on this page if this is the case), but these seem to be pretty specific things. One is called “Poultry Protector.” It’s a spray, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at our local feed store. You spray the coop and the butts, and that’s allegedly that. It’s cheap enough that it’s worth a shot. The other is something called “Red Stop Solution.” You put it in their water, and it somehow makes the chickens’ blood unattractive to mites, but will not mess up (by which I mean poison) their eggs. It’s a little pricey, but just putting it in the waterer seems less traumatic for everyone involved. It might be worth the cost to save whatever dignity I have left, assuming there is any. I’m not convinced about the mechanism of action, so it’s on my “maybe” list. I’ll continue to monitor the butt situation and bring in new tools as required. I beat the mites once before, I hope to do it again.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Twenty-fourth of May, mazurka, by the Band of the House, Fred Figner, Rio de Janeiro)

Surprise Butt Freakout!

May 20th, 2016

It’s been a long spring, but now that summer is almost here, everything’s about to settle down for me. Of course, this settling will probably only last for two weeks, but I’ll try to make the most of it. My ten page paper that was due swelled to 13 pages, and you’d think it would be a relief to be done, but it’s actually kind of like trying to sleep after a stressful late-night drive home. It takes a little while to decompress. Probably like two weeks. Then it’s back into the grinder.

Like I ever actually get out of it.

Like I ever actually get out of it.

Luckily, I have chickens, which I find therapeutic, provided I get to spend time with them. When I’m overworked, it’s not always possible, but it’s nice if I can fit it in. The weather has been pretty decent lately, so outdoors with the birds is usually the best place to be, at least until the mosquitoes blossom. And even on the days that I can’t let the chickens out due to time constraints (you know, like non-weekends) I can always pay a visit and talk to them through the fence, while hoping that the neighbors aren’t out. I’ve learned to check for witnesses after the “Way to go, chickies!” incident of a while back. I suppose the damage is already done, but I at least sometimes try to appear sane. It doesn’t usually take, and I don’t try very hard, but you know. It’s the thought that counts, or something. Luckily my chicken duties and visitations tend to fall during non-cookout hours, so that helps keep the embarrassment to a minimum. At least as far as talking to chickens while your neighbor is out goes.

He's always watching.

He’s always watching.

In the event of an emergency, I may throw all concerns about appearances out the window, though. This holds true in the event of a perceived emergency also. These are the kind that are much more frequent. For example, if it’s sunny out, Boss Chicken is usually out basking, but one day not too long ago I walked out to visit everyone, and she was nowhere to be seen. I opened the door to the main part of her hutch, and stuck my head in. She was in the bedroom part, with her “business end” pointed in my direction. “Maybe she just wanted to take a nap,” I thought. Then her butt enlarged like nothing I had ever seen, and I was certain something really bad was about to happen. “Just my luck to stick my head in as she prolapses,” I said to myself, and after about a second or two of what seemed like a sure cloaca disaster, an egg popped out and her butt went back to normal. “Oh,” I said. “So that’s what was happening.” In all my time of raising chickens, I had never actually seen an egg bust out of the egg chute up close. That seems amazing, but here we are. The Boss had once laid an egg next to me, but the barrel of the egg gun had been pointed in the other direction, so I hadn’t witnessed the whole mechanics of the act. I’m not going to say it wasn’t freaky, and I’m not going to say I’m all fired up to see it again. But I will say I’m glad that I actually saw it, as egg laying is a key part of this whole chicken venture. I’d just like a little more warning next time. Maybe if she yells, “Fire in the hole!” beforehand or something to let me know not to panic. Because chickens yelling always calms me down.

So soothing.

So soothing.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: The Old Red Barn Medley Quadrille by John Baltzell)

Um, still in the home stretch!

May 13th, 2016

This paper is killing me, and as you may have guessed, it’s eaten my chicken time again. But it’s due Monday, and then I’m free again, for a little while. In the meantime, you already say The Natural History Of Chickens, how about taking a look into The Private Life Of Chickens?

In the home stretch!

May 6th, 2016

My class is almost over, but it’s final paper time, so I’ve been working on that instead of thinking about chicken stories. But only 1 week to go! In the meantime, enjoy this video about Silkies, a breed of chickens I haven’t owned, but would like to someday.

Mites Or Gleets?

April 29th, 2016

Spring is a magical time of year. The flowers begin to bloom, eggs start filling the nesting buckets, and then I start wondering just what on Earth is going on with the chickens’ butts. My first thought is always vent gleet. Once you know about vent gleet, why would you stop thinking about it? I mean, aside from the fact that it’s gross, and usually means you have to either bathe a chicken or cut away dung-encrusted feathers. But otherwise it’s great, right? Not really. It’s bad business for butts. So in Spring, when the poopy chicken butts also bloom, my mind turns to vent gleet and it’s prevention and/or cure.

Can you smell it?

Can you smell it?

However, the cruelest trick the Devil ever played was giving other issues the same symptoms as vent gleet. Or at least maybe the grossest trick he ever played. What I learned last year was that nasty doodoo butt can also be caused by mites. So if you, like me, give your chickens nutritional support to ward off the gleet, and seem to have one chicken after another somehow developing gleet-like symptoms, it may not be gleet at all. It could be mites. This was the biggest discovery for me last summer. I thought the flock was falling to the gleet one by one, but finally realized that something else had to be up. And what was up was mites. And what they were up in was the chickens’ hinders. I figured this out because some of the chickens got nasty butt action, but others got bald butts. So I looked up bald butts, and that’s how I found that mites can also cause diarrhea as well as bald butts. I suppose at least it cuts down on the nasty feathers.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

This year, since I noticed symptoms of gleet in Steve and John, I not only treated them for gleet, but I treated everyone for mites too. I’m not going down that road again. Egg production was way down for a while last summer because mites can really drain a chicken’s energy levels. Parasites are like that. Henny Penny still hasn’t grown her butt feathers back, either. They sprout, then disappear. So I’m not sure if I even fully vanquished the mites, or just beat them back enough to get everyone laying again, and all but Henny Penny back to fully feathered. But since I saw possible gleet, in I went with the diatomaceous earth to start fluffin’ butts as a pre-emptive strike.

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

I haven’t yet gone in with the “poultry powder” which is part diatomaceous earth, part poison, mainly because it’s part poison. As it is, I don’t want to put bedding with diatomaceous earth in the compost, because that alone will kill the good bugs who help break it down. I don’t want to be poisoning anything and everything that comes along. More than just bugs get into the compost, so I’m holding off on the nuclear option, for now.

opossum

There’s who in the what, now?

You’re supposed to apply the D.E. once, then again ten days later to break the life cycle of the mites. I’ve gotten into a weekly ritual, just to be on the safe side. I’m no math whiz, but I feel like this frequency must cover all my bases statistically, even if I start in the middle of a life cycle. I don’t know. But Sunday nights, butts get fluffed. If I make a routine like that, it’s much easier to remember to do it. If I have to do it on ten-day cycles, then I need to get calendars involved, and it’s just too much work. Since I get “Sundaynightis,” or dread of the coming work week, it’s easy for me to add things in my Sunday night rituals to try to offset it. Oddly, putting weird gray powder on chicken butts does seem to alleviate my symptoms somewhat. Not sure what that says about me, but here I am saying it.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ma Rag Time Baby by Peerless Orchestra)

Season’s Gleetings!

April 22nd, 2016

We had had a rough couple of weekends, and hadn’t had a chance to go grocery shopping. When you don’t have time to do anything during the week because you commute, you have to cram a lot into Saturday and Sunday, and when you’re exhausted from the cramming, the last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store. We generally have to go shopping on Sundays, which seems to be when all the sports or snowstorms happen, so it’s always a madhouse. That doesn’t help with the motivation to get to the store either. If I could go into work late one day a week so I could shop on a weekday morning, that would be ideal, but I see a tough negotiation ahead if I pursue that. So here we are. We were out of most things, including yogurt and apple cider vinegar, which are staples of my chicken regimen. Both keep some nasty stuff at bay, but I figured it was like taking vitamins. You don’t come down with rickets because you stop taking vitamins for a week, so a week without yogurt in a dish and vinegar in the water couldn’t possibly cause a problem, right?

What I've been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

What I’ve been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

Well, the butts of Steve and John told a different story. The story they told was one of gross cloaca disasters. Or one specific disaster we all know as vent gleet. I usually have a run-in with the gleet once a year or so, and here it was just as Spring approached. The plus side, if there is one, is that Steve and John both have such big wattles that it’s very easy to get their beaks open to squirt the mixture of epsom salt and water down their throats that I’ve always treated this with. This is not an easy task by any means, but bigger wattles give me an edge. So I grabbed them one at a time, trimmed all the super nasty butt feathers off, then brought them inside for their “medicine.” (Side note: I ran out of my stock of rubber gloves during this episode, and when I went to buy more, the drugstore was clean out. Like, an entire shelf’s worth of rubber gloves was empty. How does this happen? What was going on in Harvard Square that that many people needed rubber gloves? Luckily(?), there are actually two drugstores of the same chain a block apart, so I was able to get more. I didn’t want to be touching these butts bare-handed.)

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

I’m not sure if it was Steve or John who was the easier of the two, but one of them was a breeze. Open, epsom, open, epsom, open, epsom, until it’s all gone. I think I even managed to not get any on my pants, which is rare. I usually can be counted on to miss at least one shot, but not this time. Then I brought in the other one. Let’s just say it was John. John wasn’t having any of this. My pants got soaked, then she got away, and it was just a big struggle, even with the wattle advantage. Then I did the thing they warn you not to do. I squeezed the dropper too hard and I got some down the wrong neckhole, so liquid went into her lungs. I could hear it rattle with every breath. I had no idea what to do. I held her upside down in the hope that the liquid would run out. It didn’t. I looked online, and I found a lot of people saying not to do this, but no one saying what to do if it happened. I figured all I could do was ride it out. A ton didn’t get in there, so she could breathe, but enough was in there that she rasped. I put her in the coop, then she sneezed, and that actually seemed to make the rasping better. I had to hope it would sort itself out.

It went a little something like this.

It went a little something like this.

I posted on a messageboard for help. No one really had any input on how to handle this, but one person asked why I was still doing the epsom trick. I said it was because that was a thread that had been stickied on that website. The other poster pointed out that vent gleet is fungal, so it’s much easier to just spray their butts with athlete’s foot spray for two weeks. You’re supposed to do it twice a day, and I don’t see them sitting still for this in the mornings, but nights are easy. So I’ve been doing that in lieu of the second dose of epsom salt. John’s breathing was fine the next day, and the gleet seems to be on the outs. I do have one lingering concern, though. Last year what I thought was a vent gleet outbreak was actually mites. So is it really the gleet, or am I fighting the wrong foe? Time will tell.

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Some Smoke by National Promenade Band, record scratch sound effect by: simkiott)

You Know The Drill . . .

April 15th, 2016

Too Many Homeworks! So no new podcast this week. Just wait until summer when I’m taking three classes!

In the meantime, here’s a lovely short film about two boys raising a couple of chickens in Belfast during The Troubles. (There’s a bit of salty language, but it’s in an Irish accent, therefore charming.)

Fancy Chicken Learnin’

April 8th, 2016

There are a lot of people out there who think chickens are dumb. It probably has something to do with the term “bird-brain,” which is generally not a compliment. I’m not going to argue that chickens are Einsteins, but they’re smarter than people give them credit for. I once read an article that talked about how they can recognize human faces, and can even communicate as well as some primates. I’ve seen that in action. If there’s a hawk nearby, whichever of my chickens that sees it will sound a certain call, and they all scatter into the underbrush for safety. This is usually followed by me running across the yard at top speed to see what the problem is, and then wrangle them all back to safety. It’s not like inventing computers or anything, but it’s pretty sharp of them if you ask me.

chicken texting

Sometimes they’ll just text a warning if it’s faster.

Chickens are also surprisingly easy to train, especially if there’s food involved. When it’s time for them to go back into the coop, all I have to do is shake a big bag of sunflower seeds, and they’ll run across the yard to greet me. If I shake the smaller bag of mealworms, they will run at twice the speed, and be 100% easier to get into the coop. They know the difference between the two bags, and they know which one has the really good stuff in it.

The results are in.

The results are in.

Of course, the fact that they just walk around crapping anywhere they please isn’t really helping their public image at all, but they just have different mores than the rest of us. We shouldn’t judge.

How chickens see the world.

How chickens see the world.

What made me think of this is Boss Chicken. She doesn’t have a nesting bucket in her hutch, partly because there’s no room, and partly because she couldn’t get into it anyway on account of her leg issues. She just lays her eggs in the “indoor” part of the hutch, and I look in there and find them. It’s a workable system, if not ideal. Sometimes the eggs get buried in the chips and I don’t find them right away, and that makes it difficult to judge just how long they’ve been down there. They’re probably still fine, since fresh eggs can keep for at least a month on the counter, but usually if I dig up a secret one, that’ll get fed back to the flock. They don’t have hangups about sell-by dates like humans do. Chickens are much more freewheeling than humans regarding many things.

Voice of a generation.

Voice of a generation.

Anyway, what I tend to do is to open the door to Boss Chicken’s bedroom and lift her up to see if an egg is under there. She usually makes a noise of some sort, and I pretend it’s a happy one, even though I’d be annoyed too if someone lifted me up while I was sleeping and looked for eggs. 9 times out of 10 there isn’t one under there, as she usually leaves them in a different spot from where she sleeps, but I check anyway. Apparently I have now checked enough that last Sunday night when I opened the door, I didn’t even have to lift her up. She saw me there and lifted one leg to reveal the egg she was sitting on. I assume the noise she made that time was more of a “fine, yes, here’s the egg, now let me get back to sleep, I have work tomorrow” sort of thing. But I was pretty amazed that she had learned that this was why I lifting her up all the time. Or maybe I’m the dumb one, thinking a chicken was trying to communicate with me. Either way, I say watch out. Get enough chickens together, and who knows what they may try to pull off?

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: The Tattooed Man by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

Looks like I did it again!

April 1st, 2016

Schoolwork has once again gotten in the way of recording (I have one ready to go, but had no time to record), so while I get caught up, please enjoy this documentary on other chicken aficionados.

The Great Flood

March 25th, 2016

Have you ever seen a movie where some wall or dam has a leak, and it starts off as a drip, then becomes a bigger drip, and then the whole thing just collapses under a rush of water? Well, I am seeing that in real life, except instead of water, it’s eggs. I am collapsing under a rush of eggs. You might remember that when my ladies started laying again, there was an egg every other day or so, then if I was lucky, one a day. Well, that time is over. Now I’m getting five or six eggs a day. I’m so used to no eggs, or just one or two, that I always forget my egg basket when I go out to the coop at night, and then have to go back into the house to get it, mumbling to myself about how long is it going to take me to remember it’s egg season. Knowing myself, it’s going to take at least a few months.

Ride the wave.

Ride the wave.

I had to put plastic Easter eggs filled with sand in the nesting buckets again because everyone is so out of practice that they seemed to forget where eggs go. I originally took the Easter eggs out because they were making one of the Mandrell Sisters constantly go broody. She must be a big fan of Easter, or really into challenges. But I got tired of finding eggs all over the coop and run now that the factory is open again, so I made some new decoy eggs and put them in place. One has already fallen prey to my inability to work with super glue, and it split open and dumped a bunch of sand in the nesting bucket. This is fine, for the most part, since it was in the bucket they all like to use, so there’s probably going to be at least one egg in there anyway, so the rest can use that as their example. I just have to hope whoever gets the urge first knows where to go.

Where's the nestroom?

Where’s the nestroom?

Since we’re getting so many eggs, it’s safe to assume that the Old Guard are still productive. That’s good. I had expected to see a tapering off from them this year, but if they want to work during retirement, that’s fine by me. I’ve gotten one torpedo egg so far, so I know at least one Mandrell is still at it. We got one that had a weird lump of extra calcium on the end, which just seemed like someone maybe trying a little too hard, and then the really big surprise happened. I was fishing around in the bucket, because sometimes they bury the eggs in the chips, and pulled out what I thought was a golf ball. It turns out it was just a small, white egg. None of my chickens are the sort that lay white eggs, so this confused me. It still confuses me a little bit, but my best guess is that it’s all related to the “egg machinery” not quite running as smoothly as it should. If I get a bunch more of these, I’ll start to worry, but one, right at the beginning of the season, is not quite panic attack material. Maybe.

Even regular golf balls kind of freak me out.

Even regular golf balls kind of freak me out.

I can now finally begin dealing out eggs to people that I owe them to. One lady I work with has been bringing me egg cartons all winter, and telling me how many eggs from the grocery store she’s been eating. I have always had to meekly shrug and apologize that it’s just been a really slow winter for us. Come Monday, she’s getting one of those egg containers back, filled with eggs of course, and then I can remind her that all those store-bought eggs she’s been getting taste like cardboard compared to mine. Or maybe I should tone it down a bit and just thank her for the cartons and say, “Enjoy!”

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ulma Gloderl by Franz Lichurtichentaler)

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