My Way Or The Highway

June 24th, 2016

If you come here regularly, you know that I was out of town for a week recently. This is the longest I have gone away since I got chickens (and, come to think of it, the longest I have gone away for much longer than that). I’ve gotten used to being o.k. with leaving the chickens in the hands of someone else for a weekend, or even a long weekend. It took some work getting there, but I did it. I can be a bit of a control freak, and since the chickens are my pets, I worry. For a long weekend, I know I can fill up the feeder, and they’re good until I get back. Basically, all someone needs to do is fill their waterer and cover their poops. They can go without their morning yogurt for two days (I usually leave them some on the Friday morning we leave), and so while I realize they’re not getting doted on the way they’re used to, it’s a short blip in the history of the universe and they’ll get through it.

Things that make you go blip.

Things that make you go blip.

Going away for a week, now that’s something else. Food will need to be replenished. Yogurt will need to be offered, lest vent gleet sneak one past the goalie. For that same reason, I feel it’s necessary to request apple cider vinegar in their water. Missing two days of that is acceptable, if barely. A week seems like asking for trouble. I’ve constructed the coop in such a way that the food and water fits under it nicely. The food hangs from a hook, the waterer sits on some bricks, so it’s level. However, the feeder is heavy when full, and you have to use a long pole with a hook on the end to get it hanging again after you fill it. I have a hard time with this, and I’ve been doing it for years. The water is somewhat easier, but I realize that I have long monkey arms, which make it easier for me to reach under there and get the water on the bricks. Other people who have cared for the chickens in the past have been unable or unwilling (or just forgot) to do this. The rest of the ground isn’t very flat, and the chickens are ding dongs, and they’ll knock it over if it’s anywhere else. So then I worry that they won’t get enough water in the summer heat. It’s probably not rational, but this is how my mind works.

Well, it's not spilled milk, so it's o.k. to cry, I guess.

Well, it’s not spilled milk, so it’s o.k. to cry, I guess.

I wrote up a list of the things I do for the chickens for my wife, so she would know exactly what to do while I was gone. It didn’t seem like too much, but it did start to worry me about asking a lot, since she would also have to take care of the cats and be a solo parent during this time as well. So then I completely shuffled the order in which things can be done to make it easier. Morning now only required a water check, and food for Boss Chicken (who is 1000x easier to feed than the flock, since she’s in a rabbit hutch). After work was now when most of what I do at 5am can get done. Chips on the poops, some scratch, yogurt, collect the eggs. Get it all done as soon as you get home, then all that’s left is to refill the waterer after the birds have gone to sleep. Refill the waterer after dark, and add some apple cider vinegar to it. And then put it on the bricks, or then you have to recheck it in the morning to make sure all the water didn’t leak out overnight because it wasn’t level. This wasn’t going as I had planned. The waterer is always a problem, and then I just bailed on the feeder altogether. “The feeder will get them to Monday, at least,” I said. “After that, just fill the container I use to refill the feeder, and dump it on the ground in the run.” It seemed undignified, but they are chickens. They enjoy eating things off the ground. This would be fun for them too. Who doesn’t like fun? I knew the chickens would be fine, and I had to accept that there were other ways of doing things, but these were my ways, and the chickens have survived throughout my doing them, so that’s reason enough to keep it up. My superstitious nature was really taking a drubbing. That’s fine. I think it needs to be drubbed. We’ll all come out of this stronger, right? It’s only a week, right? Right?

Just the man for the job.

Just the man for the job.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Textraño by Colectivo Etéreo, universe image by the Hubble Space Telescope)

Of Mites And Men

June 17th, 2016

In spite of everything I do to treat the mites, the damage they’re doing to the chickens’ feathers seems to be getting worse. Steve and John are losing feathers on their backs at a rapid pace. I’ve been powdering them weekly with the “poultry powder,” but I don’t seem to be getting results. I decided it was time to reset the clock, as it were, by completely cleaning the coop and taking it from there. If I could wipe out anything that was living off the chickens, then maybe I could begin to get the things living on the chickens.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

I’ve been a practitioner of the “deep litter” technique from the start of this chicken experiment. Basically, you cover all poop with wood chips, and once a week scoop out the worst of it under the roost, but leave the rest. This creates a sort of compost pile right there in the coop, and that helps keep it a little warmer in the winter. It seemed like a good idea when I read about it, but given my annual mite problems, I’ve begun to wonder if it wasn’t somehow contributing to these problems, by creating a large habitat for invisible bugs. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it was time for the annual clean out anyway, so I went at it. Usually I dump all the chips, spray the inside of the coop and any of the “furniture” with white vinegar to disinfect it, and then add fresh chips, leaving behind the faint scent of salad. This year, I had to take it a little further. Since I had read about using dishwashing detergent to kill mites, I went in with a bucket of soapy water and a rag first, and wiped everything down, making sure to get it into any cracks. Then I dried that off, and sprayed the vinegar. Then I wiped off the excess vinegar, and sprayed everything again with Poultry Protector. At this point, I figured I had covered all my bases.

It gets deep.

It gets deep.

The biggest surprise was how much diatomaceous earth was in the bedding. There seemed to be a good layer of it under all the chips, so I was amazed that any insect could live in there at all. So either what’s bothering the chickens is getting on them out in the run, or it’s something completely impervious to DE. Hard to say, but the DE may not be cutting it, at least at the level we’re working on here.

It's entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

It’s entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

I sprayed the Poultry Protector all over the run and outside of the coop as well. The bottle says to get the whole area, so that’s what I did. Of course, it’s not a very big bottle, so I had used most of it by the time I had finished spraying the run, but felt like I had enough to get the birds as well. Supposedly this stuff doesn’t actually kill the mites, but instead keeps them from reproducing. So they may live for a while, but it sounds like they’ll eventually die out. I’m pretty sure not reproducing is why there aren’t any more Shakers, so this should do it, even if it takes a little longer.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they'd be easier to spot.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they’d be easier to spot. (Those are Shakers, btw. This image is relevant!)

The same night I did the big cleanout, I went into the coop, and instead of dusting the chickens (which I had done the night before), I sprayed each of them in their bald areas with the Poultry Protector. It turns out chickens do not like being sprayed with stuff. They did their usual act of running into the corner of the coop and trying to get behind each other, but this time they seemed much angrier than usual. Luckily I could spray them from farther away, and it went much faster than powdering, so I was done before they revolted. I still have a little spray left, and I’ll use it next time I change out the chips, and this time I’ll be changing them all out, not just the ones under the roost. I think it may be time to try a different approach to coop maintenance and see what works. If I still find that I’m having feather loss, it may be time to try the “flea drop” method, which, unsurprisingly, is controversial on the internet. Basically, you dab some popular flea and tick liquid on the chickens and this does the trick, even though it’s not approved for chickens, and you have to chuck your eggs for a while. This feels like a nuclear option, so I’ll keep dusting a little longer, and see where it gets me, beyond covered in poison dust, of course.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Lu Lu by National Promenade Band)

Brief hiatus!

June 3rd, 2016

I’m heading out of town for a week, and in the mad rush to get ready, I neglected my podcasting duties. I’ll be back in 2 weeks with more exciting chicken news. Try to contain yourselves in the meantime.

The chickens are actually staying home.

The chickens are actually staying home.

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.)

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