Get Eating, Ya Ingrates!

February 12th, 2016

One of the best things about doing this podcast is that I have a pretty good record of all the chicken problems I’ve run into over the years, and how I dealt with them. Sometimes, my memory isn’t that great (or most times, if I remember correctly), so I may forget that I had a certain issue come up, and then I actually find my own post when searching for a solution. It would be embarrassing if I thought anyone saw. Right now, we’re in the middle of winter, and my chickens don’t seem to want to eat very much. The problem with that is that they need to eat in order to generate energy to stay warm, and for those of them that are still molting, to regrow feathers. I go and check the feeder regularly, and think, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” Then I go to mix the latest podcast, and for some reason, whenever I try to save a new file, it always wants to save in the folder called “Not Eating In The Winter,” which is the third episode I did post-Garden Guys. So this “dieting” has been going on for a while, and I should know they eat less in the winter because I am reminded of it weekly, but every few days, there I am looking into the feeder and thinking, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” THANKS, BRAIN.

Wise guy.

Wise guy.

I always wonder how much of their eating behavior is a vicious circle. I give them high-protein snacks when it gets cold, to help with staying warm, and with feather re-growth. But checking the archives, I see that they originally stopped eating their normal feed before I started adding extra goodies. The goodies came in because I was worried about them not eating, and had to tempt them with exciting food. But then if you can eat cake all the time, why would you eat oatmeal instead? Once the cake is out there, you can’t go back. Sure, the cake is actually scratch and sunflower seeds, but you can buy that in cake form if you want. It’s great if you celebrate chicken birthdays, but your kid will never forgive you if you try to be funny at theirs.

Children don't like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

Children don’t like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

The first winter they stopped eating I was so concerned that I mixed their yogurt with regular food, apple cider vinegar, and scratch. I asked a guy at the feed store if he knew what was up, and when I described this concoction to him, other people in the store began to make fun of me for spoiling my chickens. Maybe so, but they’re still alive, right? They’re not starving to death on my watch.

Not that not starving.

Not that not starving.

I’ve begun to wonder if the fact that they only eat the high-protein stuff instead of the layer feed could have something to do with why we haven’t had any eggs for almost a month now. Sure, some of them are getting old, and some are molting, but this is an unprecedented dry spell. We had to buy eggs recently, and that fills me with shame. Shame is the mother of invention, at least for me, and so I’ve arrived at a compromise. I still give them scratch and black oil sunflower seeds, but I mix it in with layer feed. In their excitement to get the treats, they end up eating the regular food too, so I know they’re now getting at least a small dose of the full nutrition they need. I’m pleased it’s worked, and I’ll see if any eggs come about as a result.

The things I get excited about.

The things I get excited about.

I’ve heard of people who try similar tricks with their kids, and somehow this feels wrong to me. It’s o.k. to trick chickens, but tricking children feels like a violation of trust. Plus, my son only eats pizza or macaroni and cheese, both of which are difficult to hide things in. Perhaps if he ate food that lent itself to deceit better, I’d change my tune. I suspect this may be where his distrust of smoothies comes from. Good thing he’s not a chicken. I’d never get him fed.

Somebody say pizza?

Somebody say pizza?

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Placeholder by Jahzzar)

Absentee Chickenlord

February 5th, 2016

Due to my birthday, illness, and snow (making it the second year in a row the first week of February involves me digging out while sick) there will be no podcast this week. Next week’s lookin’ good, though. In the meantime, enjoy this picture of birthday chickens that was posted to my Facebook wall.

I'm older than 7.

I’m older than 7.

Too Cold For Chickens?

January 29th, 2016

We managed to dodge a terrible snowstorm last weekend, but I know the winter is far from over. Our nightmare last year only began at the end of January, and then was just relentless in pummeling us every week with at least another foot of snow. So on the one hand, I do genuinely feel for the people I see on Facebook posting pictures of how hard it is to dig out their cars and driveways, however, I’m also doing a little dance that it’s not me again. Note that the dance is little. I’m trying to avoid moving into hubris territory, and I think a large dance would do it. Just a hop and a skip, and then back to business. Right now business means keeping the chickens warm. We didn’t get the snow, but it’s been awfully cold for the past week, at least by this winter’s standards. (Once again, last winter was a whole different ballgame.) Normally if I walk past the coop, all the chickens gather at the door, wanting to be let into the yard. In this kind of cold, I walk by and maybe one of them sticks her head out to see what I’m doing, and that’s about it. One of them gets confirmation that I’m not there to let them all out, and they go back to huddling in the relative warmth of the coop. Of course, first thing in the morning they run out for the pile of scratch I leave out, but once they’re done with that, they have indoor recess, chicken-style.

The eyes are always watching.

The eyes are always watching.

The cold also officially crossed over into Boss Chicken-must-come-inside level temperatures. We even hit single digits overnight once or twice, so in she came, and then back out during the day so she can get sunlight, and balmy temps in the 20s. My idea to put her in a storage tub has been a mixed success. On the one hand, it holds a chicken and some wood chips. One the other hand, it’s only marginally better at keeping those wood chips contained than the dog crate I normally put her in. I couldn’t figure that one out, until I realized that if she flaps her wings in a small, contained space, it will create enough wind to blow chips over the edge. My investigation of the storage tub area would lead me to conclude that there has been some wing flapping. But I suppose that’s what vacuum cleaners are for. Or so I’ve heard.

Post-chicken destruction.

Post-chicken destruction.

The best news so far is that it hasn’t been so cold that I’ve felt I need to keep her inside all day. Last winter, we went months without coming out of the teens. This winter has been more “mild” than that, so she can go out during the day. It’s only really an issue because I can’t figure out how to hook a water bottle to the storage tub. When I was a kid, you used to be able to get water bottles to go over the side of an aquarium, so your hamster or gerbil could live in an aquarium and drink water from a bottle. I’ve been to all the pet stores in the area and I can’t find this sort of bottle anywhere. Perhaps there’s been a shift in rodent husbandry, and this sort of aquarium arrangement is now frowned upon. I don’t know. But if it gets real cold, I may either have to really MacGyver something, or put her in the dog crate, which works fine with the commonly available water bottles. However, hamsters can easily escape from them, so don’t put your hamster in a dog crate. That piece of advice is free.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Escape From Hamcatraz.

Winter is always full of ongoing challenges. Keeping water from freezing is always a big one, making sure they eat enough to stay warm is another. And that’s with the regular chickens. Boss Chicken has problems all her own, and I’m doing the best I can with what I have available. I hope she appreciates it.

Where's the water bottle?

Where’s the water bottle?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: 12th Street Rag by Imperial Marimba Band)

Steve And John’s Employee Review

January 22nd, 2016

Winter seems to have finally arrived. I can’t say I’m happy about it, but it’s also not like I can do anything about it. I guess I’ll just sit here and put up with it like I did last year, but hopefully with less to put up with. The winter solstice came and went, and so the days have begun to get slightly longer. That’s always a cruel trick, if you ask me. The days are longer, but still can be terribly cold. I would like them to get warmer as they lengthen, but I suppose that would mean it would have to get colder sooner too, so let’s leave the current system in place. Even during the week of the solstice I got an egg or two, so the long darkness couldn’t hold the ladies down. And then the eggs just stopped coming around the 6th. I figured maybe the cold blast had something to do with it, but it warmed up, and nothing happened. Then I noticed that there were suddenly more feathers in the coop, and that Steve (or John’s) neck was looking awful sparse. It turns out the two chickens I got because Wyandottes were good winter layers have gone and molted in the middle of winter. Nice going, guys.

He did it.

Now she did it.

Suzy Creamcheese Junior only just came out of her molt. She got it really bad this year, but it was her first time, so maybe just a rookie mistake. That took her out of the egg laying arena for a while, though. Someone was holding up their end of things, since I’d find one just about every other day, or every two days. For winter, with a few aging birds, that didn’t seem so bad. But to suddenly just have none for such a long stretch seemed surprising, until I saw the feather explosion that was distinctly Steve and John-colored. The fact that this happened right when it got cold put me in a position I think I’ve found myself in every winter since starting with chickens. If they have bald patches of skin, they shouldn’t be out in the cold, right? But a chicken that is molting is much more sensitive to touch, so picking them up to bring them inside will be painful, right? So which is worse? Since they are in the coop with 4 other chickens, I vote to leave them outside. They do snuggle in with the rest to stay warm, so that’s good, but I worry. I worry about everything though. It’s kind of my resting state. There’s a long cold spell in the forecast, and more feathers seem to fall off every day. How long will I be able to resist bringing them inside? This ignores the question of how hard would they be to catch, which I think is a question best not put to the test.

Those suckers are fast.

Those suckers are fast.

Anyway, I would like to take this moment to address Steve and John directly. Look, you two, I know you’re new at this, but you’ve got colleagues who molted at a perfectly good time in terms of cold. They had their feathers back before it got really bad, and so are more comfortable than you right now. Yes, I know you can’t control it, but I just wanted to throw this out there. This is not a great system. I’ve got two chickens I’m concerned are going to get frostbite, and that aren’t producing any winter eggs, which was the exact reason I got them. I’m sitting here eggless, like an idiot, and worrying about you two the whole time. Do you know how much I have to do? Grow those feathers back this instant, and get eggin’. Given that this is your first evaluation, I can let some things slide, but next year, please get it together, o.k.?

Great. Now just sign this form that says we had this discussion, and I’ll forward it to H.R.

This is my "lecturing a chicken" face.

This is my “lecturing a chicken” face.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Maple Leaf Rag by The US Marine Band)

And Then There Were Three

January 15th, 2016

For a podcast that’s about chickens, I sure have been talking about cats a lot lately. I should probably warn you that I’m about to do it again, because we lost our big tomcat, The Bone, the other night.

The Bone, watching the chickens in the yard.

The Bone, watching the chickens in the yard.

I’m sure your first question is “why the heck is his name ‘The Bone?’.” That’s perfectly fair. His real name was Hamish, however, my feeling is that you often give people and things names because you have to, and then when you get to know them, you find their real name. He went from “Hamish” to “Hambone,” and then from there you may be able to see that “The Bone” is a logical next step. It stuck. I did try to take it one step further and make up a story that he was named after Leon Redbone and that we should refer to him as “Leon,” but that was a harder sell. So The Bone it remained. And if you met him, it would make sense. He was like The Fonz, in cat form. Ayyyy.

He was also helpful around the house.

He was also helpful around the house.

When we got him, they thought he was about 6, but he had been living under someone’s porch, so they had no idea of his real age. We had gone to the shelter to look at this beautiful Maine Coon, but when we got there, he took one look at us and went into hiding. We then tested out every cat in the place. We needed one that was kid-friendly, and at one point my son, then about 2ish, just laid down on the floor and let cats crawl all over him. He was in cat heaven. There were some nice ones, but none of them really seemed like a good fit, or they had big chronic health issues that we didn’t think we’d be able to handle. Then we noticed this big gray fellow in a corner who had just been sitting there watching us. My son went over to say hello, and the cat stood up and immediately rubbed his face against my son’s, and that was all it took. We knew we had the one.

Perfect for hugging.

Perfect for hugging.

A few years ago, The Bone started to lose weight (he had become a fairly ample gentleman in his time with us) so we took him to the vet. They did a million tests, and found he had thyroid issues. This made his estimated age quite suspect, as cats don’t generally have thyroid troubles until their teens. So we figured he was maybe a few years older than we originally thought. With the thyroid issue treated, he put weight back on, but never got as big as he had been. Then in the past month he started to lose weight again. We brought him in, and all his bloodwork was fine. Then x-rays revealed that he had fluid in his lungs and abdomen, so he would need an ultrasound. The ultrasound doctor was hard to book, so we were waiting to hear, and then right at bedtime a few nights ago something was obviously wrong. The Bone was walking wobbly, and breathing heavily. My wife rushed him to the emergency vet, where it was determined he had congestive heart failure and a blood clot in his legs, that even if they could fix, would leave his back legs paralyzed, and they didn’t think they could actually fix it. And so we said goodbye.

Such a handsome boy.

Such a handsome boy.

The Bone had also had a chronic sinus problem that caused him to blow large amounts of snot on you without warning. He was so charming no one ever cared. He was the calmest cat I’d ever met, but once cornered a 150 pound dog just to show who was boss. He loved going to the vet so much they had trouble hearing his heart because he was purring so loudly. There has never been a cat like The Bone, and I’m not sure there ever will be. But I’m happy we knew him for the short time we did.

IMG_3216

Adios, muchacho.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ruminants (Instrumental) by Lisa Germano)

Music used under Creative Commons license: Ruminants (Instrumental) (Lisa Germano) / CC BY-NC 3.0

Welcome To 2016!

January 8th, 2016

It was New Year’s morning. I decided to let the chickens celebrate by giving them some of the mealworms my mom had given them for Christmas. I mixed the worms in with the scratch I’ve been putting out to give the chickens the protein they need to get through their molting, opened the door, and stood back to watch the fireworks. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior were the first ones out, as usual. The old guard, like me, prefer to get up slowly and greet the day at their own pace, if possible. The n00bs hit the scratch, but didn’t seem to pay much attention to the mealworms. Then the old guard got to the ground, noticed the mealworms, and went straight for those, ignoring the scratch. Then it hit me – the n00bs had never known the joy of mealworms, so they were probably wary of something new. Then Steve (or John) ate one, and I saw the realization that these things were a delicacy dawn on her, and finally, all of them started attacking the mealworms with gusto. Luckily, no fights broke out. But I hope it was at least a good start to a new year that they have absolutely no concept of.

Say what again?

Say what again?

Don’t worry, Boss Chicken got some mealworms too. She actually was a little more excited about breakfast than usual for some reason. Often I’ll take down the piece of wood I use as a wind guard to her inner sanctum in the rabbit hutch, and she’s pretty reluctant come out. Why get out of bed if you don’t have to? But she seemed to sense this day was different, perhaps by the fact that I was reading way too much into the actions of chickens, and she came out and starting digging into her food before I even put the worms in. It’s nice to see her excited, because very soon it will be time to bring her inside, if only for a day or two, which may dampen her spirits. I keep checking the forecast, and Monday’s overnight has gone from 18 (which I decided was my cutoff temperature for leaving her outside) to 10, and now to 5. Single-digits are a definite no-go for a solo chicken. I have decided, at least temporarily, to keep her in a storage bin rather than the dog crate she usually goes into, in the interest of keeping the pine shavings more contained. I still have to get said bin, but they are easy enough to find. I’m also going to put her in a different room than I normally do, since Spooky is currently in Boss Chicken’s usual winter room. That way the Boss will be free from feline attention, wanted or unwanted. Best to not stress out a chicken or tempt a cat.

There's also an app, of course.

There’s also an app, of course.

We’ve been slowly introducing Spooky to the rest of the cats. Oddly enough, the rest of the cats don’t seem to mind Spooky much at all. Our big tomcat walked right up, sat down, and looked at her as if to say hello. Spooky hissed and ran off. She did the same for our tortie, who seemed a little less welcoming, but nothing beyond hissing went down. “As long as they don’t fight, everything will be fine,” I said to my wife, since the only way Spooky could transmit FIV to the others would be by biting.

“Well, they kind of have to fight to establish the hierarchy, don’t they?” she replied. “How do we stop that?”

“I suppose we sit them down and explain it all rationally,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll listen once they know all the facts.” This is not going to happen, but they have all kept their distance during Spooky’s forays into the regular part of the house, and so the more familiar they get with each other, the less likely a battle royale is to break out. And then we’ll have a happy cat family, and a chicken who gets her normal winter digs back. I am absolutely sure this will go as easily as I am imagining it, because that’s how everything always works, right?

Cats like PowerPoint presentations, right?

Cats like PowerPoint presentations, right?

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: On The Mississippi by Prince’s Band)

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2016

May the Force be with you in 2016. New episode next week!

Merry Christmas!

December 25th, 2015

This is how I feel right now after eating too much Chinese food.

Happy Holidays!

December 20th, 2015
egg nog

Please get your nog on responsibly.

End Of The Year Wrap-Up!

December 18th, 2015

I’ve been doing Too Many Chickens! since January 2013. I’ve been posting about my chickens on the internet for even longer than that. When I first got chicks, I was so excited that I filled up my Tumblr with any little thought I had about them, and that eventually grew into this. First, as a segment on Garden Guys Green Revolution Radio, and then finally here, as a podcast. That’s a long time to be talking about chickens, but I’m still learning as I go, and I’m laboring under the delusion that if I share my mistakes, it may help other people, or at least entertain them. Pointing and laughing at people who don’t know what they’re doing seems to be a popular pastime. At any rate, I’m going to keep doing it, but let’s stop and think about what 2015 had to offer.

point and laugh at me

Just another day in my life.

This year was fairly eventful due to the mite infestation, which I’m still dealing with. It started in the beginning of the year, when I thought it was feather pecking, then as it spread from one chicken to another, I thought it might be more feather pecking, then vent gleet, and finally it dawned on me what was happening. Then I tried multiple means of treating it – diatomaceous earth and “poultry powder.” The affected feathers are still only just coming back in, but it took a long time to treat, and feathers aren’t the fastest-growing things in the world. I’m trying to feel positive that 2016 will be a year of butts with feathers in our household. You’ll hear about it one way or another.

butts

May branch out into a butt-only podcast.

None of the chickens died this year, which is nice to report. That’s an improvement on 2014. I’d like this trend to continue, but I don’t really have much control over it. Even the best cared-for chicken can die under mysterious circumstances (like the late Mandrell Sister), or a disease there’s no cure for (like the original Suzy Creamcheese). I do what I can, and the rest is up to nature. I’m not going to slack, but I realize that even if I do everything perfect, there are still things out of my control. That counts for non-chicken things too, but those things often aren’t as fun as chickens. What’s the point of not being in control if it doesn’t come with chickens?

Being in control with chickens is the ideal situation.

Being in control with chickens is the ideal situation.

It’s almost the winter solstice, and we’re getting very few eggs. This happens every year, and it’s one of the few things that happens every year that I remember happens every year. Once the days begin to get a little longer, the eggs will trickle back in, and by Spring I’ll start to worry about what to do with all the eggs again. It gives me something to look forward to even when we’re still in the dead of February. I never really paid attention to the fact that February has longer days than December until I got chickens. It just always felt like the last awful month to get through until winter was over. Being more in tune with the daylight thanks to eggs has made February slightly less of a drag. I’m still no fan of winter, but I can see a literal bright side to it now.

Got the "Look On The Bright Side" calendar this year. Not sure it's working.

Got the “Look On The Bright Side” calendar this year. Not sure it’s working.

Mites aside, 2015 was a pretty good year for the chickens. I hope 2016 is even better. All it really has to do is avoid parasitic infestation, and it’s a big step up already. Looking ahead in the shorter term, I’ll be taking the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day off, and then we’re back in business January 8th. Happy holidays, happy new year, and may all your eggs be double-yolkers.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Everybody Hula by Helen Louise and Frank Ferera)

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