Vacation and Fluffin’ Butts

August 14th, 2015

Hi everyone,

With August halfway over, I’m going to take a short break from posting to try to Make August Count. Don’t panic! In the meantime, here’s a video about fluffin’ chicken butts that made the rounds a while back, and is good advice for controlling mites.

I need to fluff the butt of my soul, so that’s why I need a bit of a rest. Not too long though! I’ll be back very soon!

Exciting Butt Magic!

August 7th, 2015

I have said many times that the butt is the window to the soul. It may be a case of thinking that if I say something enough, I’ll eventually believe it. This may be working, in a weird way, because when it comes to chickens, I’ve found that the butt is certainly some kind of window. It’s a window that sometimes lets out eggs, and then other things that are less nutritious, but I have often been able to discern that something is wrong with a chicken just by looking at its butt. So maybe not the window to the soul as much as a window into health, but I suppose it may just be a matter of how you view health and/or souls. But if you view butts, you can learn many things. When a chicken has vent gleet, you know because her butt gets straight-up nasty. If a chicken is egg bound, you have to check via butt. And most recently, I found out my chickens had mites thanks to the disappearance of butt feathers, one chicken at a time. Butts are really helpful things!

soup for shut-ins

Butts sometimes even make soup for shut-ins.

What has helped me to learn the usefulness of the gallid hindquarters is the fact that every night when I put the chickens to bed, I stick my head into the coop to make sure everyone’s there. Doing this through the door in the run puts me right at chicken butt level. If something’s up in Butt Town, this is usually when I would notice. Fortunately, I’m not so close that I’ll get pooped on, but just the right distance to combine safety and the ability to inspect. This is how I first noticed Henny Penny’s butt feather loss, and how I watched it progress through the other chickens until I realized they weren’t having a bunch of different weird problems, but one big problem – mites. Now that I’ve begun treating the mites, I look extra closely to make sure that the problem is at least not getting any worse, and to eagerly await signs that things are getting better. I know I’m actually being a little overeager, but I need some sign that what I’m doing is working, otherwise I may need to try some remedies I don’t feel so good about. I did try poison on their butts a few times, but have since switched back to diatomaceous earth. It’s still not an ideal thing to be flinging around the coop, but it’s organic, so it’s the least of the evils I have available. The butts didn’t seem to be getting worse, but I had no proof they were getting better, and I began to wonder if I needed to bust out the poison “poultry powder” again to be more aggressive.

butt town

As far as straight-to-VHS chicken westerns go, you could do worse.

Then, during a recent nightly butt check, I noticed that Henny Penny’s butt had a few black specks on it. This could have gone in a bad direction, as it could have been mites walking on her very large bare patch. But getting in as close as I could, I confirmed that what I saw certainly looked like new feathers beginning to sprout. If that was happening, I’m pretty sure the mites have been vanquished. If they were still active, they’d bite these feathers off with the quickness. Suzy Creamcheese Junior was who I wanted to check next, since she had the second worst bare patch, but she could tell I was up to something, and turned away, giving me a “oh no you don’t” sort of look. I figured I’d check her later, when she wasn’t expecting it.

the look

You know the look when you see it.

That opportunity came the other day, after I had let them out in the yard for a while. I called them all back into the run (or more accurately, I went out to the run with a bag of sunflower seeds, and they all came running for that). As they stood there eating seeds off the ground, Suzy had her butt pointing right at me, and I saw the tell-tale feather sprouts on her otherwise bare hiney. I think we’ve passed through the bad times, and are headed into a time of regrowth.

clock

I don’t know why I can’t just get a clock with numbers.

Given how bad some of them got it, I’m going to keep up my weekly butt dustings for a while. I don’t want to leave a chance for the mites to get back in there. Mites take a lot of energy from the chickens, so they don’t lay as many eggs, and they certainly can’t be enjoying themselves as much as usual. Soon they’ll hopefully all be fully feathered out and at peak happiness. Of course, this will probably happen right when it’s time for them to molt, so all these new feathers will fall out, but timing has never been a strong suit of mine.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Yes, We Have No Bananas by The Great White Way Orchestra)

More New Friends!

July 31st, 2015

The turkeys aren’t the only new friends we have around the yard these days. The plum tree is overrun with aphids and Japanese beetles, as well as ladybugs that I introduced to eat the aphids. The ladybugs are reproducing like crazy, and it’s really cool to see their eggs and future ladybugs in their various immature states. I just wish I didn’t have to work them into the scheme of things, because the poor plum tree really has it rough these days. I’m not sure we’ll ever get plums with the way it gets attacked each year, but I keep trying. It was during my pruning of the limbs that had been picked clean by beetles that I found out we have yet another friend who has been hanging around.

mystery friend

How I’ve gotten a few friends on the cheap.

I was trimming the branches and sorting them into piles based on whether they were totally decimated, still infested with aphids, or carrying young ladybug types. My mother-in-law got home and came over to see what I was doing, and I was more than happy to gripe about the state of the tree. I was probably happier about it than usual because it was really hot, which made the task even more of a chore. I don’t know why I picked the hottest part of the day to do it, but I usually have to do these things when I think of them, otherwise they never get done. So there I was.

Chickens, as you may or may not know, aren’t always the quietest animals. Ours have a tendency to get quite rowdy early in the morning, which makes us lucky to not have anyone living in the house next door. Someone has bought the place, and is in the process of renovating, but they’re not in there yet. Recently, they were running some loud piece of renovating machinery after 9 at night, and I was contemplating whether or not to go tell them to knock it off. I worried that I shouldn’t play the noise card so soon, given the chickens’ propensity for morning songs of joy. Thankfully the neighbors stopped right when I was having this conversation with myself, so fights about noise can start later. But the point I’m trying to make is that the chickens do enjoy making a good old fashioned ruckus from time to time, and usually when they do, it’s no big deal. It’s more of a “if you want to sing out, sing out,” sort of thing. If they want to express themselves, that’s cool with me, man.

dance

Sometimes they prefer to express themselves through dance.

So, when I was trimming the plum tree and regaling my mother-in-law with tales of pestilence, and a wave of raucous bawking came wafting over from the coop area, it was not initially a big deal. The chickens were out foraging, but that doesn’t mean they were going to be quiet. It was only when I realized that they were all joining in that it struck me as odd. Usually it’s one or two being loud, but for such a group effort to go down, I figured something major must be going on. I was worried they were killing a snake. We have a lot of garter snakes around, and I’m paranoid they’re going to peck one to death and it will just be awful, so I headed over to where they were, hoping that it was not a reptocide going on.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

It wasn’t. As I approached the coop, I saw that three chickens had headed into the big pricker bush to hide out, and the others were inside the run. And then a large hawk in the tree next to the coop took flight and disappeared into the woods. I kept counting the chickens to make sure they were all there, and they were. That was a big relief. I put them all back in the run in case the hawk came back, and then started to think about what had happened. Did they make the ruckus to scare the hawk, warn the others, or to call for help? Did they know I would come over to investigate the source of the noise, or was it simply what they do when there’s a threat? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I didn’t ignore it, thinking they were just being loudmouths. I saw a hawk again today, and I’m going to have to be extra careful with free-range time now. We hadn’t seen any all summer, but they’re out there, and I’m not taking any chances. I should probably warn the turkeys about this. We can get a whole neighborhood watch thing going on.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Lucille by Wilbur C. Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band)

A Mite Impatient

July 24th, 2015

When someone I care about is sick, I worry a lot. Right now six people, er, chickens, I care about have mites, and so I get preoccupied with thinking about how to make sure this problem is taken care of. I’ve tried diatomaceous earth, and I’ve tried “poultry powder,” yet their butts are still featherless, and egg production is down. I powder them with one substance or another once a week, and yet I don’t see any progress. I even went into both our fireplace and wood stove and took all the ashes out and put them in the chicken run. This is so they could take dusts baths in the ash, which is supposed to fight mites. There are a few things I haven’t tried yet, and I’ve been reluctant to do so, since they all have side effects of some sort or another.

side effects

Also, probably diarrhea. It’s always diarrhea.

In my original post about the mites, I mentioned that Sevin dust is one big gun people turn to for mites when other cures fail. It’s mostly diatomaceous earth, but has poison mixed in. It’s a different poison from what’s in the poultry powder, and apparently quite bad for bees. It’s also not technically approved for use on poultry, so there’s that too. But I was worried enough that I was beginning to think that maybe it was worth a shot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it, so I looked into other ideas.

other ideas

Sometimes they keep this bucket behind the counter.

You can apparently use the type of flea and tick drops that you put on cats and dogs on chickens, but I get the feeling this may be a mildly sketchy, or at least “experimental” treatment. You need to use a very specific brand of the drop, one not easily had at any pet store, so you need to find the right source. You also have to apply it to a chicken, which seems tricky. I have had a hard time putting this stuff on dogs, and they sit still. A squawking, unhappy chicken in one hand, and flea and tick juice in the other is not my idea of a good time. And to top it all off, if you go this route, you can’t eat the eggs for weeks afterwards. I like eating the eggs. I’m good at it. I also share them with people and spread chicken goodwill. Throwing out large amounts of eggs was just not something I wanted to do. If you can’t eat them, I’m sure they can’t go in the compost. Dumping them in the trash seems so wasteful. I put this idea on hold too.

trash can.

Gonna need another can.

The last option is to give them a flea dip. This, again, got into the weird territory of “you can only use very specific brands of flea shampoo that are hard to find and probably expensive.” Also, you have to dunk the chicken in a bucket of water. Frankly, I have had an easier time getting my finger up a chicken’s butt than I have soaking them in anything. Plus, then I’d have six chickens that then need to be dried off (Boss Chicken doesn’t seem to have the mites, for some reason). I was beginning to develop a vision of what hell must be like. Blow drying six chickens is straight out of Dante.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

Back in the winter our local feed store closed. A few months later, it opened back up under new ownership, much to my surprise and delight. I swung by the other day to get more chicken food and bedding, and a guy who worked at the old version of the store was now working at the new version. He had always given me good advice in the past, so even though I was there for something else, I asked about the mites, and what I could do. He asked if I wanted an organic solution or otherwise. I said at this point I’d try either. I mentioned that I had tried diatomaceous earth, and he said “well, that’s the organic option.” Then he showed me a different brand of the poultry powder than the one I had. I said I had tried that too, but their feathers weren’t growing back, and the eggs were less frequent than usual. He said this was pretty typical, and as long as I got some anti-mite stuff on the chickens, in the nesting buckets, and in the coop, the problem would go away, but it might take a few weeks before I noticed an improvement. They need time to recuperate, and sometimes that takes longer than I like. On the plus side, I’m doing everything right. Everything except being patient, that is. I can work on that, and see if I’m better at it by the time my birds have some new butt feathers. I think it may take even longer than that. My impatience is much peskier than mites, and just slightly less bitey.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Memphis Tennessee by The Gulf Coast Seven)

Let’s Talk Turkey

July 17th, 2015

While I’m awaiting the results of my mite treatments, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the turkeys I mentioned last week. Sure, they’re not chickens, but they’re poultry, and they’re interesting to me, so here we are. Here we are, surrounded by turkeys.

Friendly neighbors.

Friendly neighbors.

We thought that we had one family of turkeys with 15 poults (which are baby turkeys, if you’ve forgotten) living in our yard and trees, but some of the theories about our large neighbors have recently changed. Last week I came home from work, and saw two turkeys with a lot of babies across the street, heading into the cornfield, which may or may not be good news for the farmer. Then about 10 minutes later, I looked out the window, and there were two turkeys, but only with about six babies in tow. “Where’d all the babies go?” my wife asked, and then we realized we probably knew, but maybe didn’t want to think about it. But then I thought about it. I had seen the big family that morning, spread out across two lawns next door. I had seen the big family across the street a few minutes earlier. Then it hit me. “I’m not sure these are the same turkeys,” I said. “There may be two sets of families working this area.” Then we got to thinking. When we used to see turkeys, they would be further down the road, and it was a flock of 10 to 20 birds. Turkey moms tend to lay their eggs and then pair up with another female to raise the poults. The tom turkeys are basically deadbeat dads in this scenario. If the big flock down the road was all ladies, and they all had babies, then that was 5 to 10 pairs of turkeys with babies. That’s a lot of turkeys. I’m pretty sure the second set of turkeys we saw that day was a totally different family, and the ones I had seen in the cornfield were still in there when these others arrived.

duggar turkeys

15 poults and counting.

As we watched them walk across the front yard, we were struck by how hilarious it is when the poults run. Those little legs go a mile a minute, but the bodies don’t seem to move that fast. Then a mother and a few babies all lined up, and made the classic Partridge Family logo, or in this case, Turkey Family, which I found out meant that I would have the Partridge Family theme song stuck in my head for days. Then I caught one of the adults looking at my car. In Boston, there are quite a few wild turkeys, and I am convinced that turkeys are the next wave of gentrifiers. The stories you hear about the city turkeys is how aggressive they are, and they often attack cars. It turns out that what they’re actually doing is attacking their reflections in the sides of the cars, thinking it’s another turkey. This would be the males during mating season, and this would be another reason that tom turkeys are probably best avoided. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about how incredibly aggressive her turkeys were, and that the males even tried to mate with her if she turned her back to them. So all these thoughts were going through my head as the turkey looked at my car, and I mumbled aloud, “you leave my car alone.” It seemed to work, and the turkey slowly made her way across the yard, over the stone wall into the neighbor’s yard, and eventually out of sight. It probably also helped that she was not a tom looking for a mate.

turkey family

Come on, get happy!

Poults will stay with their families for the first year of their lives, so in a few months, or however long it takes them to reach regular turkey size, we are going to have a ton of turkeys milling around. I’m sure some will fall to predators, but then next year they’ll all lay eggs again, and soon there may be even more turkeys. Too Many Chickens(!) may soon turn into Buried By Turkeys. But if they eat ticks, I welcome our new turkey overlords.

king turkey

It’s good to be the king.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Tiger Rag-One Step by Original Dixieland Jazz Band)

Our Local Mite Suppliers

July 10th, 2015

Last time we were together, I told you about the ongoing mite issues I’ve been having. I’m not sure if we’re making any progress or not, because feathers take a long time to grow back, so I need to find a better benchmark for gauging how things are going. Suzy Creamcheese Junior was scratching under her wing last night when I checked on them, so everyone got another dose of diatomaceous earth, just for good measure. I also put a bunch of wood ash from the fireplace in the run, so they can take dust baths in it. That’s supposed to help a lot too. I’m keeping an eye on things, and for the time being, I think that’s the best I can do.

keep an eye on it

Maybe I don’t need to keep such a close eye on it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering why they got mites this year, but have never had them in the past. I don’t think I’ve done anything differently than before. Mites apparently like it when it’s humid out, and that can lead to an outbreak, but we’ve only had a couple of humid days, and it’s been much cooler than usual so far this Spring and Summer. I first noticed the butt feather loss back when it was still fairly chilly out. So weather conditions don’t seem likely to be contributing. However, one big source of mites for chickens can be wild birds. We live out in nature, on the edge of some woods, so there are a lot of birds around. They don’t get into the coop or run, but they are in the yard, and the chickens get yard time too. I suppose if the local birds are having a mite outbreak, it’s likely to spread. I could just keep the chickens locked up, but I don’t think that will help, and it will just make them crazy. They want to run around the yard, and I want them to as well. I suppose yard mites are the cost of doing business, in some ways.

robin

The American Robin – Turdus migratorius. More like Turdus MITEgratorius, AMIRITE?

The other night I went out to our trash can, and happened to flush out a whole turkey family. There were two or three adults, and about 15 babies, which it turns out are called “poults.” If I knew the genders of the poults, I could call them either jakes or jennies, but we’re not that familiar. They are quite cute though. They wandered up the hill behind our house, and weren’t too frightened by me, but clearly wanted some personal space. Since then, I found out they also like to hide in our front lawn during the day. My mother-in-law saw them out there, and when they saw her, they just squatted down and somehow managed to disappear just like that. It seems crazy, but the other night we all were sitting outside, and suddenly a turkey materialized in the front yard, then wandered around back, more or less unfazed by us. I went inside, and looked out the back window, and there was the whole family. They wandered around for a while, and then, one by one, flew up into the giant pine trees behind the house. If you’ve ever seen a turkey fly, you know how strange it is. They’re big, and their centers of gravity seem off. But they got to the lower branches, which are about 50 feet up. Even the poults made it up there. Once they were all in the trees, they slowly leapt from branch to branch, climbing higher and higher until I couldn’t see them out the window any more. So apparently they have taken up night time residence out back, and spend their days out front. It’s cool to have them around, provided they remain non-aggressive. If these were geese, we’d be fighting for our lives every time we went to our cars, but the turkeys seem pretty mellow, for now.

canada goose

Canada Geese do their best to fight Canadian stereotypes.

I got to wondering if the turkeys are what brought the mites around, since we didn’t have these visitors last year. Maybe, maybe not. It may just be a coincidence. I’m also not sure how to tell a turkey family to go away, and frankly, I don’t really want to. Watching them do their thing is incredibly interesting to me. If having them around means I have to work a little harder to control mites, then that’s what I’ll do. Experiencing this sort of natural excitement is exactly why we moved out here. Nature can be fun, and nature can be parasitey. I can’t prove the turkeys gave us mites, and as long as they play nice otherwise, they get the benefit of the doubt.

turkeys

Hello, neighbors!

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Persian Lamb Rag by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Happy Fourth Of July!

July 4th, 2015

In honor of the holiday, no post this week. Everyone’s outside having cookouts and not listening to me anyway. See you next week!

Some people (and chickens) are sensitive to loud noises.

Some people (and chickens) are sensitive to loud noises.

Chickens And Mites

June 26th, 2015

Henny Penny has a naked butt. At first I suspected that it was from butt pecking. Suzy Creamcheese Junior shortly thereafter lost a bunch of butt feathers, and I even saw wounds on her butt that totally looked like pecking wounds. I was putting Blukote on the affected butts, which is an antiseptic, and is supposed to stop butt pecking. But the butt feathers continued to disappear, and/or not grow back. Then I noticed that one of the Mandrell Sisters was starting to lose butt feathers too. So I either had a rampant butt pecker on the loose, or this was something else. And the something else that it probably was was probably mites. The story you’re about to hear will make you very itchy.

pecky the kid

Pecky The Kid – as seen in the book Buttpeckers and Bad Hens.

I recently thought Steve had vent gleet. She may still have had it. I almost hope so, otherwise I put her through the epsom salt drink ordeal for nothing (see last week’s post for more details on the epsom salt drink ordeal). But she had a poopy butt, and in my experience, that means vent gleet. However, it turns out that having a poopy butt can also be a sign of having mites. So I had thought that I had chickens with multiple butt ailments, and only when I looked at the big picture did I see what was really happening. There may not be a phantom butt pecker on the loose after all, just a ton of tiny butt biters.

butt crisis

Steve’s existential butt crisis.

Mites can be very hard to see, but I thought I’d look for them anyway. When the ladies were resting on the roost at night, I grabbed a Mandrell, and gazed deeply into her featherless butt area. I did see tiny dark spots on her skin. They didn’t move, like mites often do, but they also didn’t look like they should be there. It was time to treat for mites, just in case. The “good” news is that like everything to do with chickens, there are a million opinions about how to treat this. One was to use diatomaceous earth in the coop to kill the mites. That was lucky, because I have a bunch of diatomaceous earth. I sprinkled it in their bedding, and waited. Turns out I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, so a few nights later, I went in and patted some onto each of their butts, just to make sure it got where the little nasties were.

butt in the night

Things that go butt in the night.

People often complain that diatomaceous earth is bad for the respiratory systems of everyone who comes in contact with it. This may be true. Others say this is why you should use Sevin dust instead of diatomaceous earth, but if you read the label, Sevin is 95% diatomaceous earth, plus some poison. It also apparently is terrible for bees, and I am a big supporter of bees, so I crossed that cure off my list. The next thing I heard about was called “poultry powder.” This seemed to be the thing that people who didn’t like Sevin recommended. It’s also a poison, but allegedly less dangerous than Sevin, so I ordered some of this just to hedge my bets. Then I got it, and on the label it says it too is bad for bees, but only if you put it on flowers bees are pollinating. I wasn’t doing this, and there are no flowers near the coop, so hopefully no bees died in the treating of my chickens. However, chickens can die from mite infestations, so it was important for me to get this sorted out. I did the same thing with the poultry powder that I did with the diatomaceous earth. I snuck in at night, patted some on the infested butts, and hoped for the best.

love the bees

Love the bees

One dose won’t do it. I have to repeat this procedure in 10 days, since the powder doesn’t kill the eggs, just the live mites. So in 10 days the mite eggs will hatch, and then I’ll get those mites too, I hope. I also cleaned all the bedding out of the coop, washed the entire coop in vinegar, and let it air out. It smelled like a salad for a while, but who doesn’t like salad? I’m not sure how I’ll know if the mites are defeated, since feathers can take a while to grow back. This may be a slow process. I guess I’ll repeat the treatment as needed until I see butt feather regrowth occurring. I suppose I have all summer, huh? This is not the vacation I was hoping to take, but maybe with the right amount of marketing, butt mite excursions will take off. Another million dollar idea from my chickens’ hinders.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Guatemala – Panama March by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Steve’s Got The Gleet!

June 19th, 2015

Vent gleet has been a continual burr under my blanket for a very long time. Some people call it “nasty butt disease” due to the lovely symptom of diarrhea, but it’s really a fungal infection of the vent (aka the chicken down-below hole). There are things you can do to ward it off, such as give your chickens yogurt, since probiotics are anti-fungal, and you can put apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ water for the same reason. You know what? I do both these things, and every year I have to deal with at least one chicken coming down with it. Would it be worse if I didn’t do these things? I don’t know, and I’m not willing to find out. It’s annoying enough dealing with one chicken that has it, I don’t want a bunch of them to get it at once.

Saturday Night Gleeter

Saturday Night Gleeter

For a while now, I kept looking at Steve’s butt in the yard and wondering if she had the tell-tale nasty butt. I would look quickly, see what looked like crustiness, and then a minute later everything would be fine. “A trick of the light,” I’d think, and go about my business. Then a little while later, this scenario would repeat itself. It eventually happened enough that I finally remembered that I kept thinking she had something up with her butt, and I should probably get a closer look. That wasn’t going to happen during the day while they were out in the yard; I would have to strike at night.

night coop

It’s easier if you bring a flashlight.

After the sun had gone down, and the birds were on the roost, I crept into the coop and took care of some business. Henny Penny and Suzy Creamcheese Junior had been having their butts pecked, so I gave each of them a dose of Bluekote while I was in there. (It’s an antiseptic thing to protect them from infection.) Everyone probably hoped that I had finished my tasks at that point, but then I grabbed Steve. You may have heard of people screaming bloody murder before. You may not have heard of a chicken doing this, but I can assure you that this is exactly what Steve did. You know bloody murder when you hear it. I flipped her on her back, which usually calms a chicken down, but this only seemed to make her angrier. She managed to get away, but since it was dark, as soon as she hit the ground, she froze, since she couldn’t see where she was going. I grabbed her again, and the bloody murder began anew.

bloody murder

Nobody ever whispers bloody murder.

Eventually, I got her to sit still, even if she continued to make an unholy racket. It seems Wyandottes like Steve have fancy butt feathers that are layered, so when I was able to get at them, I could see that she did have poo-caked feathers under her butt, but they would just tuck back up under other ones after she had pooped. This explains why I’d see them, but then they’d be gone in the blink of an eye. I took out some scissors, and tried to cut the matted feathers off with one hand, while holding her in the other. This was proving to be more difficult than any other chicken I had dealt with. I almost walked up to my son’s bedroom window and asked my wife to come outside and help, since I knew she was in there. I stuck it out on my own though, and got most of the feathers removed. You can theoretically soak a chicken in a bucket for 20 minutes to ungunk the feathers, but I have never been able to get one to sit for more than 3 minutes before we both have enough. Steve had already shown her feisty side, so bathtime was not going to happen. Snip snip, and then the next step began.

chicken haircut

We’ve all had bad haircuts before.

I brought her inside, where I had a mixture of 1 ounce of water with 1 teaspoon of epsom salts mixed in. This was to be administered orally to the chicken. This has always been the worst part of the treatment, usually leaving me soaking wet, since chickens don’t like being made to drink from a dropper. You gently pull on their wattles, and it’s supposed to open their mouth so you can squirt a little of the solution in. It does get their mouth open, but you usually have a nanosecond before it closes again. Steve, being a Wyandotte, doesn’t have much of a comb to speak of, but her wattles are quite large and luxurious. So much so that getting her mouth open was the easiest thing I had done all night. I got all the epsom drink down without getting any on myself, and briefly sat there amazed. Then I realized I still had an angry chicken to deal with, and brought her back to the coop.

If only I could convince them it's a trendy cocktail.

If only I could convince them it’s a trendy cocktail.

I’ll need to do this again. It usually takes two doses to work, so after the first dose, you get to spend a few days thinking about how much fun it will be to do again. I’m still dreading it, since she’s such a firecracker, but hopefully the wattles will work in my favor once more. I can’t handle an epsom drenching. Not when it’s humid like this.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Whistling Rufus by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Chickens And Mantids

June 12th, 2015

If you’ve been following my chicken journey from the beginning, you’ll know why I got chickens. If you haven’t been, let me get you up to speed. The short version is that we live in a place overrun with ticks, and wanted to control them in a way that didn’t involve spraying poison all over everything. We live out in nature, and we’d like to keep it as natural as possible. Chickens, who are voracious tick eaters, seemed to be the way to do this. Guinea fowl are apparently slightly more effective at eating ticks than chickens, but they also roam a lot more, and we’re trying to stay on the good side of the neighbors. Letting your weird dinosaur-like bird wander into someone else’s yard is frowned upon in some communities, ticks or no ticks.

guinea hen

Not everyone wants to see this when they look out the window. Their loss.

Knowing this about me will allow you to understand my thought processes when it comes to pests. We currently have a plum tree that has been besieged by aphids for the past two years. I could, I suppose, go out and get some highly effective, if highly poisonous, spray to put on the tree, and that would be the end of that. But if I didn’t want to do that to the yard, do you think I’d want to do it to a source of my food? If you answered “no,” you’re correct. I tried releasing ladybugs on the tree last year, but they didn’t stick around for very long. I had a landlord who used them quite effectively once, but her batch must have been more attentive than mine, because mine flew away without eating a thing, and I had an aphid smorgasbord right there ready to go. I’m trying the ladybugs again this year, but also some bigger guns.

buffet

Coming soon to a mall near you.

Last year I bought some praying mantis egg pods, but I think I got them too late in the Spring, so by the time the mantises hatched, they didn’t have enough time to get to the size where they could eat anything we needed them to eat. We have something that comes through and shreds the leaves of any leafy green we plant right about the time it’s ready to pick. I figured mantises would be the right bug for the job, so this year I ordered them very early. They need warm weather to hatch, and of course, this Spring has been ridiculously cold. It was 45 recently. In June. June! In spite of this, the mantises hatched anyway, and it was very cool to see how tiny they were, and to watch them fan out all over the trees I had put the eggs in. Ants tried to eat one of the pods, but it was too late. The mantises were already on the loose, and while tiny, hopefully they were eating whatever they could get. If that meant ants, good. The ants are adding to the aphid issue, as ants like the nectar aphids leak out, and actually “farm” aphids for this.

ant farm

In plum tree, ant farms you! (Too many possible ant farm jokes, and this is what I went with. See the collected works of Yakoff Smirnoff if you don’t get it.)

As I watched the mantises drop from the eggs into the tree, I noticed the grass was also covered in them. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to let the chickens out. I looked at the hundreds of tiny mantises and realized this was an all-you-can-eat mantis buffet right here, and decided, as much as it pained me, to leave the chickens in for the day. Once my little friends had some time to find their way to safer havens, the chickens could roam free again. I figured maybe a day or two would do it.

mantis safety

If only it were this easy.

The next morning I took my son to baseball, which is absurdly early. When we came home, my mother-in-law was mowing the lawn. As I pulled up the driveway, she was right where all the mantises had been under the tree. I had thought to leave her a note not to mow, but figured we’d be home so early no one would dare to mow before then. I was wrong. I had saved the mantises from the chickens, but had the mower gotten them, or had they found safety overnight? I suppose I can only wait and see if any show up once they’re larger, and easier to spot. I hope they lived, because I’d really like some kale from my garden this year. A cruel irony would be if the thing that eats my greens is the one thing mantises don’t eat. If so, I will buy more beneficial bugs, and I will win this battle. No one eats my plants but me. And maybe the chickens, when I have a surplus.

mantises hatching

Eat! Eat, my hearties!

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Peaceful Henry by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Subscribe to RSS feed