Egg Peritonitis and Prolapsed Vents

August 15th, 2014

It was a beautiful Spring day, and if there’s one thing that makes beautiful Spring days better, it’s having a bunch of chickens running around in the yard while you’re out enjoying the weather. So I let the chickens out, and called it a party. Things were going pretty good until I looked over and saw that Suzy Creamcheese was standing stock still over by our big prickerbush. I immediately looked up at the sky, since when the chickens freeze it often means there’s a hawk nearby. But the sky was clear, and the other chickens were running around like goobers. I went over to see what was wrong, and when I got really close, she finally ran a little bit towards the coop. Then I saw that something seemed to be stuck to her butt. I figured she was freaked out that a poop had stuck to her and didn’t know what to do. I grabbed her, and upon closer inspection, it became clear that this wasn’t a stuck poop issue, it was unmistakably a prolapsed vent.

nice day

It all started nicely enough.

The vent is what some people might just call the chicken’s butt. It’s where the eggs and the poop come out. A prolapsed vent is when part of the butt itself also comes out. It’s not something you hope to see, but here I was looking at it, and I knew I had to act quickly. I brought her right inside and put her in a dog crate with puppy training pads on the floor, because wood chips can get stuck to the prolapse and only make things worse. I covered the crate with a sheet so she wouldn’t move around too much, and started looking up what to do.

There are many different substances you can put on the prolapse, but whichever one you choose, the treatment always ends with you having to push the prolapse back inside. Luckily, I had a box of rubber gloves on hand, so this would only be slightly less gross than I had expected. I picked honey as my first substance to put on the prolapse. Honey is antiseptic, and we also had a lot of it, so that made it an easy choice. I rubbed the honey on, and gently tucked the beast back inside. It popped right back out. I tried this several times, and each time it popped back out, so I left it alone for a while. Later that night I tried again, but with the same results.

honey

Attempt #1

The next day, I moved on to Bag Balm as my substance. I donned a rubber glove, smeared some balm on the prolapse, gently tucked it back in, and it popped right back out again. I decided to leave it alone and see how things were when I got home from work. I tried the tuck again, but with the same results. I knew a lot hinged on this thing staying inside, but I just could not get it to do it. I emailed a woman I know who knows a lot about chickens, and resolved to go buy hemorrhoid cream, the last of the things people said to smear on a prolapse. There was some thinking that since it shrinks hemorrhoids, it can help shrink the tissue in a prolapse, which will help it stay inside. I had my doubts that this was true, but I was willing to try anything. I went to a store with automated check outs so no one needed to see my purchase.

I heard back from my friend, and she didn’t think things looked good if the prolapse wouldn’t stay in. She said if it was her chicken she would consider culling it. This was the first time in my chicken experiment that someone suggested killing the chicken and I thought they had a point. I resolved to try the hemorrhoid cream and take it from there.

hemorrhoid cream

Dr. Embarrassment’s new label.

I think you probably see where this is going. The hemorrhoid cream didn’t work any better or worse than any of it. I called the vet and told them I had a chicken with a prolapsed vent, and I thought she might need to be put down, but I wanted to talk to the vet before doing so. They got me in that night.

The vet was very helpful. He told me the various steps he could take, but without knowing if there were other factors involved, he couldn’t say how good an idea any of them were. He asked me about her health lately, and suddenly a lot of things began to come together. Suzy Creamcheese had molted twice over the winter, but based on a question I asked on the internet, it seemed like that could have been due to numerous Polar Vortices we had experienced. She had also been laying the eggs without shells, which I talked about in the “chicken finger” episode. The vet felt that these were not signs of a well chicken. I pointed out that she had totally perked up since we were there, and he pointed out that this was a defense mechanism, since he was a new person so she had to keep up appearances. And then as we talked, she rested her head on the side of the box she was in and closed her eyes. “That’s not something she should be doing,” he said. “I don’t think this chicken is well at all.” I agreed, and decided it was time to let Suzy Creamcheese go. She had been dealing with the prolapse for several days, and who knows what else. We said our goodbyes, and the vet took her away.

Suzy Creamcheese

My last photo of Suzy, right before they took her away.

The next day the vet called me and let me know I had absolutely made the right decision. She had been suffering from egg peritonitis, which happens when egg yolk gets into the abdomen from the reproductive system and causes an infection of sorts. This will kill a chicken, and there is no way to really know it’s happening, and no treatment. Instead, you see things like I saw with the winter molting – unusual behaviors that might be chalked up to something else. It was a relief to know I had done the right thing, but it didn’t make me feel any better about it. Suzy had been one of my favorites and now she was gone. I wished I could have caught this sooner so she didn’t suffer, but there wasn’t any way to know this was happening. I did the best I could with the tools I had. I suppose that’s all you can do.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Old Strange by The Black Twig Pickers and Steve Gunn)

 

Chickens Not Eating In The Winter!?!

August 8th, 2014
p5rn7vb

Winter took so long to end this year that I hesitate to bring it up at all, but I had a number of odd things happen with the chickens this winter and I feel I should address at least one of them. I also had a number of odd things happen with myself every time more snow was forecast, but I found lying on the floor in a ball and rocking back and forth eventually took care of most of them. (It wasn’t so helpful with shoveling the walk.) I suppose I should feel as though I ran a marathon or did some other endurance feat. It was a test of sheer will, and I made it through. And this was with having to go out to check on the chickens several times a day. If I could have just stayed inside the whole time, I might have had a much easier go of it.

snow house

Not that inaccurate a portrayal of last winter.

Something that started to alarm me back in the early stages of winter was how infrequently I needed to fill the chickens’ feeder. Usually they clean it out every couple of days, and in the winter they need to eat more in order to stay warm, so they should clean it out faster. But they weren’t even making much of a dent in it at all. I was finding that I would only have to add more food once a week, and even then not as much as I had expected to.

chicken feeder

Saves on feed, I guess.

A cold snap hit (the first Polar Vortex, if you recall) and I started to worry. It was so cold that they tended to not even come out of the coop. I can’t say I blame them. My down jacket barely kept me warm at that point, and even though theirs was built in, it probably only did about as much. Huddling together in a small room out of the wind seemed like a good idea, both for the chickens and the people I take the train with. But if the chickens already weren’t eating enough, if it was too cold to go out to the feeder, they really weren’t going to get the food they needed. Staying warm takes a lot of energy, and that means food. I had to do something.

Nude jacket

Might as well be nude.

I started with an old cat bowl I had, that has been repurposed for the occasional chicken project. I filled it with chicken feed, then added some water and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once it had gotten good and soggy, I’d mix in a big spoonful of yogurt. They really like yogurt, and I give it to them to ward off certain disgusting illnesses anyway, so I figured I ought to work it in there somehow. Then I put it out in the run and waited to see what happened.

the bowl lies

Don’t always believe the bowl.

They stuck their heads out, and seeing that there was still snow outside, they began to think twice about coming out. I know that feeling all too well. They saw the bowl of mash on the ground, and I could see the gears turning. Here was new food of some sort, but on the other hand, it’s cold! Eventually they came out and pecked a little at the food, and I felt I had finally succeeded at getting them to eat. Until I came home and there really wasn’t much eaten out of the bowl at all.

differences

Can you spot the differences?

I had to go to the feed store anyway, and when I was there, the old guy who knows everything was working. I told him my birds didn’t want to eat, and I wasn’t sure if it was just because of the cold. He asked me some questions to determine if any of them were sick, or had been freaked out by anything lately, but everyone seemed in good health and as far as I knew about as calm as chickens get. He thought about it a little, and finally said, “You know, I don’t know either. Sounds like you’re doing everything right.” I then explained the trick with the mash I’d tried, which got the person in line behind me real fired up. “Ooooh, I know someone who spoils their chickens!” and then everyone in the store starting prancing around yelling “ooh la la” and calling me “the mayor of fancy town.” Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I was accused of spoiling them. It’s a fine line between spoiling and letting them starve to death, if you ask me.

fancytown

Population me.

I ended up leaving with some chicken scratch and black oil sunflower seeds to help give my chickens the energy they needed. The sunflower seeds are very high in protein, so that seemed promising. After leaving a pile of both of these things out for them, they decided the cold could get bent, and they charged out to fight over these new amazing treats. Eventually they started eating the feed again too. Maybe everyone just likes a change of pace now and again. Like that long winter. That was fine, but let’s have a bunch of short ones now so I don’t stop appreciating polar vortices.

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Sally In The Garden Sifting Sand by Black Twig Pickers and Steve Gunn)

Losing My First Chicken

August 1st, 2014

 

I knew from the beginning that sooner or later at least one of my chickens was going to die. I mean, they all will eventually, but I fully expected at least one of the baby chicks to not make it to adulthood, and even though I managed to keep them alive that long, I knew it couldn’t last. I was right. In early Spring we lost a Mandrell Sister.

headstone

The days were getting longer, and more light means more eggs. I was beginning to suspect that more eggs also meant more broody time, which is when they want to sit on an egg until it hatches. One morning I opened the coop door to put more wood chips in and one of the Mandrell Sisters was hanging out in the nesting bucket. I was willing to allow that there was a slight chance that she was actually laying an egg at that hour, but we’re talking about 5:15 in the morning, and total darkness, so I was really leaning towards it being broodiness. I even heard someone make the weird broody noise, and since she was in the bucket, I assumed it was her. I was willing to let her hang out there all day, though. If she was still there when I got home, I’d put her in the bird cage I use to snap the chickens out of broodiness.

broody chicken

They call it “The Broody Buster.”

I got home, and I could see that everyone was out in the run as I approached, so I chalked it up to a false alarm, or maybe she actually had been ready to lay an egg that early. I am barely capable of opening my eyes and breathing at that hour, so more power to her, I thought. The next morning when I left, they were all out eating in the run, so I figured I had totally misread the situation.

That night I came home and there was one less chicken in the run than I expected. Now I figured that either she had gotten broody again and it took her a few tries to really get it working, or someone was laying an egg much later than I expected. I opened the coop expecting to find a chicken in the bucket, but instead I found her laying on the floor of the coop, lifeless.

I picked her up and brought her to the steps. We still had about a foot of rock solid snow on the ground, so even if I could get through the snow, the ground was still probably frozen solid, and if it wasn’t there are so many rocks it’s incredibly difficult to dig deep enough to plant a shrub, much less keep a body safe from varmints.

layers of snow and dirt

Geological map of the yard.

I texted my wife about what to do, and she suggested calling the vet. Turns out they will cremate a small body for $25. I bagged her up and had to drag my son away from his video game, which he was not happy about, but when I explained what was happening he seemed to think it was important. We had a short talk about how things that are alive also die, and it was sad that the Mandrell sister died, but it was all part of life. Then we drove to the vet and dropped off the body. I assumed that for $25 I wasn’t going to be getting any ashes back, so I wouldn’t get a chance to sprinkle her remains under the trees they all like to forage under. This is probably fine, since this raised the possibility of the others accidentally eating part of her, and I’d like to avoid that sort of activity.

Don't eat remains.

Do not mix.

The next morning my son asked if the Mandrell Sister wasn’t dead anymore. We explained that once you’re dead, that’s it, but she had a good life. He said he was sad, and we said we were too. You know what? It’s o.k. to be sad when a chicken dies. They may not be around as long as other pets, and they may leave without warning, but that doesn’t make them any less valued as companions. Go out there and love your chickens while you can, people.

RIP, Mandrell Sister

 

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, music bed: Piano Soundtrack 1 by gurdonark)

Coop Snoops and Chicken Fingers

July 25th, 2014

 

Detective chicken

Your narrator.

It was 6:30 pm. I was sticking my head in the chicken coop to see what was doing. For a couple of days I had been finding yellow patches of wood chips under the roosts, and was unsure of what to make of it. Looked a little like egg residue. I decided to look for some clues. So there I was, eye to butt with six chickens, and one of these butts decided to dump an egg without a shell right there in front of me. You know, white, yolk, the whole nine yards, except for that tenth yard – the shell. I have seen some things since I started raising chickens. I have seen chickens attempt to maim one another over a stale piece of bread. I have seen frozen masses of chicken poop bigger than my head. I have even seen a chicken eat its own egg. But this – this was new. But maybe it explained why there seemed to be eggs without shells winding up in the wood chips. Something had to.

shell-less egg

Good for cooking, NOT THE BEST WAY TO STORE THEM.

I was completely at a loss, so I posted a question online for my internet chicken snoops to see what the chitter chatter and the jibber jabber about this sort of thing was. “Eggs in coop without shells,” I said. “What gives?” The wizards were pretty much as confused as I was. One of the louder theories about this was that I had a shell-eater. I couldn’t understand why a chicken would eat the shell when the egg itself was the obvious prize here. On top of that, I have never seen one of my chickens eat anything so thoroughly that there wouldn’t be some evidence of it left behind. Unless they had suddenly gotten real conscientious, I wasn’t buying this theory, but like many conspiracy theories, it was hard to make go away.

tin foil hat

I don’t look so good in tin foil hats.

My having witnessed the actual exiting of an egg with no shell from the chicken itself caught some people’s attention. No one seemed to have seen anything like this before, and they were as puzzled as I was. But then an idea appeared: maybe the shell was stuck inside the chicken, and only the innards of the egg were able to escape. I had thought of this myself, but since I had seen evidence of the shell-less eggs on multiple occasions, I figured the shell would have come out at some point, but I also realized I had to rule this out if I was going to make sure the chicken was o.k.

A chicken is a series of tubes.

A chicken is a series of tubes.

I went into the living room and told my wife, “I have to do something awful. I need you to hold the chicken while I do it.” That’s not something you want to say, much less hear, but she came into the kitchen. She’s a good dame, that one. Gams from here to Kalamazoo. I went out and brought in the chicken. I instructed my wife to hold it like a baby, so it would lay still. And then I stuck my finger up the chicken’s butt. It was weird, and it was warm, but it was also free of any eggshell fragments. I put the bird back into the coop.

finger

Not this kind of finger.

You’d think there might have been some awkwardness in the household after something like that, but not in our house. After washing my hands, I sat down next to my wife and said, “You know, I’m not even sure that’s the grossest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I don’t think it is,” she said. Then we agreed that there’s a chicken finger joke in here somewhere, but maybe it was best to leave it be.

chicken finger

Not this kind of chicken finger.

The weird mystery eggs stopped coming shortly after that. No one could ever figure out what it was, and I had to close the messageboard thread about it without a good explanation. The coop snoops who had piped in with help were glad she was o.k., but also a little disappointed in the lack of closure. Often real life lacks satisfying endings. Since then, however, anytime I open the coop door, that chicken makes a beeline for the farthest point away from me. I can’t say I blame her. Case closed.

 

 

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Trumpet: waldhorn33 – Paloseco Brazz Muted Trumpet Blues Samples)

Season 2 premieres next week!

July 18th, 2014

If all goes as planned, next Friday you’ll be able to listen to the new season of Too Many Chickens! right here. Stay tuned.

Also, I pick up my new chicks from my parents’ house this weekend. EXPECT TO HEAR ABOUT IT SOON.

Changes on the way

July 11th, 2014

It’s been a while since Garden Guys aired, and as far as I can tell, it may be a while before they air again. Meanwhile, I’m itching to tell some chicken stories. So, in the next couple of weeks I’m going to start posting new “episodes” of Too Many Chickens! that I record myself. When GG picks it up again, I can go back and do them live, but for now I can’t withhold anything from the public for much longer. So stay tuned.

Other changes that are coming are some new baby chicks, currently at my parents’ house. I’ll be bringing them home in a week or so, and I’m sure I’ll have things to say about them. I tend to not shut up sometimes. Keep your eyes on this space!

 

coming soon

Peckin’ in your earholes

My advice to chicken beginners

May 16th, 2014

I’m no expert, but since I tend to be vocal about how much I like keeping chickens, people sometimes ask me questions. A friend of mine’s neighbor is interested in getting chickens, and wanted to know how much it cost, how much space they might need, and how much of a time commitment it was. This was my response. He was so happy with it he suggested I post it somewhere, so here it is. You may disagree with me, as this is the internet, that’s what people do. Have fun with that. Anyway, here’s my first advice column.

dear chickie

Dear Chickie,

A few days ago, our neighbors proposed the idea of raising chickens in our yard. As our town allows such a thing, we want to figure out what it takes to do this, so I’m asking you, our resident poultry farming expert, for any advice you may have. We want to find out how much space we need for say 3-4 hens (we don’t want to keep them constantly “cooped” up), how much effort is required to feed/clean/etc., and a rough ballpark of cost.

 Your friend,

Bawking in Belmont

 

Dear Bawking in Belmont,

On days I don’t let them out, I spend maybe 10-15 minutes in the morning with the chickens, and then maybe another 5-10 in the evening. Mornings I open the coop door to let them out into the enclosed run attached to the coop, fill their food and water if they need it, and then throw fresh pine shavings on the night’s poops. (On Saturday I scoop all that out, which takes another 10 minutes. Some coops have a removable board under the roosts, so you can scrape that off instead of adding more bedding. There are multiple ways to do it). At night I collect the eggs and then close up the door to the coop. I really only need to do that in the winter to keep them out of a draft. My coop and run are fairly secure. Chickens generally require less time than a dog, maybe about the same as a cat. When I let them out I prefer to be out there with them to keep an eye on them, but it’s usually when I’d be out in the yard anyway. Yardwork, AMIRITE?
The main cost is really the initial cost of the coop. If 3-4 is the amount you’re going for, you’re in luck, because the cut off between “kind of expensive” and “wicked expensive” coops is at 5 chickens. Under 5 you have cheaper options, over 5, it gets pricey, due to the size coop you need. I started with 6, not realizing this, which is why I built my own coop, which was a bit of an ordeal. You could get something like this for less than mine cost to build. (The hardware cloth you need to keep out predators is expensive. Chicken wire keeps chickens in, but it is really easy for varmints to chew through, so you need hardware cloth.) That website has a lot of options. I would suggest something with a built in run so they can get outside of the coop whether you’re around or not. The rest of the costs aren’t so bad. Food is like $15 for 50 pounds, and that lasts me over a month. Bedding is $7 a bale, and that also lasts over a month. You might need other things here and there, but they aren’t too bad. Scratch lasts a long time because you don’t give them that much. Oyster shells to give them calcium are expensive up front (I think like $25 for a big bag) but they last a really long time because you only give them a little bit. Then a feeder and a waterer are maybe $10-20 depending on what you get. I would recommend a plastic waterer so you can put unfiltered apple cider vinegar in the water to ward off vent gleet, among other things. It’s good for them, but the metal waterers are bad to mix with vinegar. You’ll need a different feeder & waterer for chicks (smaller ones) and a heat lamp, but that all comes out to under $25, if I remember right.
How much space do you have? My friend in Brooklyn has 3 chickens in a coop like the one in the link above, and they never leave it and are perfectly happy. A yard for them to run around in is good, but mine often stay in the same general area that’s not very large, so they don’t need a ton of room, depending on the chickens. I recommend not letting them out unsupervised for too long because of predators. Hawks especially, but also dogs. Dogs kill more chickens than anything else, because no one suspects them. If you have a fenced yard, that’s good, though it doesn’t save you from hawks, but it limits roaming.
Does this help? I also recommend this site.
They’re who I go to when I have questions. They have forums that are helpful, but the learning center spells a lot out for you. You can also research breeds there, which is helpful, since it gets both cold and hot in MA, so you want hardy ones.
Bawk and roll,
Chickie

Roosters are unimpressed

May 9th, 2014

Doesn’t matter if you know karate, don’t mess with a rooster.

 

Big Rock Candy Mountain

May 2nd, 2014

Depending on your definition of “candy.”

dung hill

Some day this will be delightful fertilizer. That is not this day.

I’m running out of space on this heap, and it needs time to mellow, too. I’d better find another spot to start a new one. This reminds me of a time a friend of mine, who was not a native speaker, asked what a dung hill was. Another friend replied, “It’s a hill of dung.” The asker, suprised, confused, and delighted, said, “There’s a word for everything in English!” She should try German sometime.

Forgetful chickens

April 25th, 2014

Someone seems to keep forgetting that the eggs go in the nesting bucket in the coop, NOT in the dirt under the feeder, or elsewhere in the run. Every so often they forget, and then it rights itself. Well, get to righting it, ladies. I put that plastic egg in the nesting bucket to spell it out for you and everything! Also, you have been doing this for over a year. Maybe they’re just bored and trying new things. I don’t really know how their minds work.

Meanwhile, here’s a chicken and some baby otters.

 

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