Introducing New Chickens, Part Two

September 26th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had let my new chicks get to know my old chickens by putting them out in the run in the protection of a dog crate. I figured after a while, everyone knew each other, so all I had to do was show the chicks that at night they went inside the coop, and then we’d just have one big happy family. When night fell, I went out, took one of the chicks out of the dog crate, and put her just inside the coop door. Within seconds there was a loud squawk and a blast of feathers, and that poor little chick came running out at top speed with my alpha hen right behind her. Henny Penny, the leader of the flock, stood in the doorway making unhappy noises as I put the hopefully not too scarred chick back in the dog crate. This would take some more work, it seemed.

getting the boot

Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do!

I decided to return to the idea of letting everyone free range together and see if that helped. The coop was like the big kids’ clubhouse, and maybe the little kids needed to hang out and show that they were cool before they’d be allowed in. With humans, this means proving you’re not going to tell mom what they get up to in there. With chickens, I wasn’t so sure, but I figured there was less smoking and fewer dirty magazines. What I did was let the grownup chickens out into the yard, and once they were on the loose, I opened the dog crate door so the babies (well teens, but they’re still my babies) could stretch their legs a little. Just like the first time I opened the crate door to let them out, the first to the threshold took a triumphant leap into the outside world. This time, she stayed out though, and then she and the others began to explore the run. More importantly, they began to explore the run without the older chickens there to bully them. They checked out every corner, and after they felt they had seen it all, one or two of them even made the trip out of the run and into the yard. Nothing too crazy, though, they kept to around the doorway, or hung very close to the edge of the run. But this was huge for them.

chicken trip

A hero’s journey awaits

Even more interesting was that one of them wandered up to two grown ups, including Henny Penny, Queen of All She Surveys, and everyone pretty much shrugged it off. “Maybe there’s something to this letting them free range together after all,” I thought.

You’d expect that at this point I was setting you up for someone pecking the chick within an inch of her life, but that didn’t happen. They continued to peacefully co-exist the whole time. I was as shocked as anyone.

Eventually I ushered them all back into the run. I decided to not press anyone’s luck, and put the chicks back in their crate. The next day I let everyone out again. There wasn’t quite as much hobnobbing, but there also wasn’t any aggression, so I figured this was real progress. I still had learned my lesson though, and didn’t put the chicks in the coop yet, though I wanted to.


Pollsters were on the scene.

After two days of milling around together, I felt it was safe to leave the crate door open during the day so everyone could continue to get to know each other. If there was any bullying, the chicks could run back into the crate to safety. That was my thinking anyway. When I got home each day, everyone seemed happy, if a bit weirded out by the new arrangement. But weirded out is better than covered in blood, so I didn’t let a little avian awkwardness get in the way of my new system.

A less than happy development I noticed was that the grownup chickens learned about the chick food in the dog crate, and that is apparently the donut of the chicken world, because they gorged on that like you wouldn’t believe. I would chase them away whenever I saw them eating it, but since I’m gone all day, I could only do so much. I ended up putting the food up on top of the dog crate. I don’t know why, but I figured it would somehow stop this. And the weird thing is, it sort of did. The adults did go up on top of there, and I had anticipated this by putting cardboard over the top, so as to prevent them from pooping on their new friends. That’s a bad first impression. But they didn’t go up there as much as I thought, and so the food got eaten less.


This stuff is marketed so shamelessly to older chickens.

After a few days, the chicks went from sleeping inside the dog crate to sleeping on top of the dog crate. I’d fill their food up each night, so they could get access to it first thing in the morning. Once they got hunkered down, I figured they weren’t going to eat much, but it was there for breakfast. This way I at least knew they were eating. Eventually, I decided they couldn’t just sleep on top of the crate out in the run every night. It was getting colder, and they needed to be inside. But just how to get them into the coop?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Naughty Marietta by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)

Introducing New Chickens, Part One

September 19th, 2014

As summer was winding down, I had three chickens out in the coop, and then I had three baby chicks that eventually grew into three teenage chicks. What next? Seeing as how I didn’t have any extra coops lying around, it seemed like I had to figure out a way to get these two groups together and have them form a united front. I had space in the coop due to a couple of chickens dying in the spring, but it wasn’t really the space I was worried about. I knew that chickens get territorial, and I knew whose territory the coop was. My older chickens, while generally docile, were going to have to meet their new roommates, and I was bracing myself for it to go poorly. Better to be prepared and surprised than unprepared and en route to the vet.

not good at mingling

Not good at mingling.

I knew the best way to ease new birds into the flock was to do a slow period of getting familiar. Since I was keeping the chicks in a dog crate, I figured the easiest thing to do would be to put the dog crate next to the run and let everyone say hello. However, I had forgotten how much chickens freak out over change. The mere sight of the crate anywhere near the run sent the old guard into freakout mode, where they hid inside the coop and made unhappy sounding squawks for at least an hour. They eventually wandered back out, but were still quite vocal in their disapproval of this new object. Imagine the 2001 monolith scene, but with chickens. After a while, I brought the dog crate back inside. I began to bring it out every day for a little while in the hopes they’d get used to it. There was still a lot of angry squawking, but I worked on it. I would have left it out there all day, except that it’s totally not a secure device, and there are lots of clever varmints around who would really be excited about an easy to obtain chicken dinner. The thing that was killing me in this whole process was that I had used bricks to prop up the chicks’ food and water to keep shavings out, and these made moving the crate a very heavy endeavor. I could have taken them out each time, but that would have made it a very time consuming endeavor. So I went with back pain instead.


doan's pills

I sure could have used these.

I had heard that letting chickens free range together would sometimes help them accept one another, so I put the dog crate in the yard and let the other chickens out. Then I opened the door to the dog crate. Immediately one of the chicks took a majestic leap right out the door into the yard. This seemed great. Then she realized she was in an unfamiliar place, and immediately ran back into the crate. Each of the three of them took little trips just outside the door, but always went right back in after a second or two. Meanwhile, the adults were steering clear of everything because they still didn’t trust the dog crate. Didn’t matter where it was, that thing was trouble, so they avoided it.

flying chick

Like an airship of yore.

After a couple of weeks of putting the crate next to the run, I decided it was time to put it in the run, and let everyone get a little closer. The rungs in the crate are big enough that someone could stick their head in and get a good peck at someone else if they wanted to, but I figured there was just as much of a chance that the chicks would stay away from anyone who approached the side, so I put it in there. I lugged it out in the morning, listened to the adults angrily yelling at it, then brought it back inside at night, since I was worried it would be too cold outside for the chicks just yet. I did this every morning for about two weeks, and my back would have made angry chicken noises if it could have. Everyone was getting used to each other though, which was good. The squawking happened less and less, which seemed to indicate some level of acceptance had occurred.



At around their 10 week birthday, I decided the chicks were ready to stay out all night. They were feathered out, and the nights were pretty warm, even though it was the beginning of September. This saved me a lot of time both in the morning at night, and it really relieved my back. After a week, it seemed like they were getting along well enough that maybe it was time to even let them sleep in the coop. All I had to do was move them inside, right?


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Down On The Farm by Pryor’s Orchestra.)

Chicken Sitting

September 12th, 2014

Almost as soon as I got my mother to get chickens, my mother called upon me to chicken-sit. At that point in time, it wasn’t actually that big a deal, as they hadn’t been put out in their coop yet. They were still in a cardboard box in my parents’ house. Of course, they had been in that cardboard box for about 10 weeks, and that box had seen better days. My mother complained about how often they knocked their water over, and I had visions of the 200 year old pine flooring under them being destroyed, and me taking the blame. Happily, when I went to pick up my charges, I saw that my mother was smart and had put a tarp under the box. Crisis averted.

It's a tarp!

It’s a tarp!

I was not only chicken sitting, I was chicken sitting at my own house. Which meant I had to get these chickens to my house somehow. My mom had a box she thought would be perfect for transporting them. It was a nice box, formerly home to a microwave. However, not the most compact microwave, and I have a fairly compact car. Could we make it work? Yes, we could, but barely. The box filled the whole cargo bay of my car (if you can call it a cargo bay at this capacity), but it fit. That would at least keep them from sliding around. Or it kept the box from sliding around. The chickens were free to slide around inside the box as much as they wanted, or didn’t want to.

chicken car

If my car were any smaller, they could drive themselves.

We loaded them in, and I told my son that he was in charge of monitoring the chickens on the ride home. This meant I got a report any time the chickens made a noise, or anytime the chickens didn’t make a noise. Many reports were generated on the two hour ride home. I would get nervous if there were no noises. If these things died on my watch, I’d be the next dead thing, and if I couldn’t even keep them alive on the car ride home, this was going to be a bad week. But thankfully the noises would always start right back up, because chicks don’t like to be quiet.

We arrived home fine, if a bit freaked out. Well, the chickens were freaked out. I was mostly just tired of driving. Right as I got home, my mom let me know that the original box they had been in had basically disintegrated when she moved it to clean under it. This put a lot of pressure on the microwave box. It was like their home planet was destroyed, and now they were colonizing the moon, or something. Except that they have a nice coop waiting for them once my parents get back from vacation, so maybe this is much less sci-fi than I’m making it.

chicken problem

Houston, we have a chicken problem.

I brought them in the house and wasn’t even sure where I was going to fit them. Have you seen my house? It’s a mess, even in the non-chicken parts. So I suppose sticking a box full of chickens in any available free space is not a big deal, so that’s what I did. It was near an outlet, so the heat lamp was all set, and in front of a door, so if I wanted to move the whole works outside, that was almost easy enough, except for the part where you had to lean over the chickens to push the door open, and then had to move the box out before the door automatically closed back on you.

When dealing with baby chicks, my plan is always to prop the food and water up on bricks to try to limit the amount of shavings that get into the food and water. My mother commented on how her chicks liked to sit on top of the feeder and poop down into it, and I haven’t figured out a fix for that yet, but raising things up at least handles the chips.

I figured I could beat the chicks at the knocking over the water game by putting a brick in the corner of the box, putting the waterer on said brick, and then taping the waterer to the corner of the box. It worked like a charm in the sense that they couldn’t knock the water over. It worked like a curse in that they somehow managed to splash water all over the side of the box, and every day the hole this made got a little bigger, and I put a little more tape over it. It then began to spread along the bottom of the box like a lava flow. I continued to apply tape to the weak spots.  I assumed that soon they might just be in a giant cube of tape. I decided to focus on silver linings, and hope that all that tape would help catch some of the dust they kicked up. No one said silver linings had to be realistic.

My water bottle tape experiment was not to last though. About two days into their stay with me, I went in to check on them, and one of them had something weird on her foot. I picked her up to see what it was, and it turned out to be the tape I had used to hold up the waterer. And it was no longer in a nice strip like when I had applied it, it was now a knotted mass wrapped around her foot like someone had tried to mummify it. This was the worst mummy movie ever. Holding her in one hand, I slowly peeled, pulled, and cajoled the tape until her foot was finally free. She had managed to even poke one of her toes through several layers of tape. This would have been hard to undo if I had two free hands to use, and I only had one, but I finally did it. It was a miracle of patience both for me and the chicken. From that point on, the water stayed untethered, and I would keep the tape to the outside of the box, trying to contain the inevitable collapse before my parents returned.

mummy chicken foot

Hollywood is out of ideas.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Clarinet Squawk by Louisiana Five.)


Too Many Chickens! is now on iTunes!

September 11th, 2014

For those of you who like get your podcasts via iTunes, Too Many Chickens! is now available.

Since searching there is confusing, just use this link.


Just really another excuse to put this picture somewhere.

Just really another excuse to put this picture somewhere.

Rebuilding The Flock – The Thrilling Conclusion!

September 5th, 2014

At the end of last week, I was worrying about whether to bring my chicks home a few days shy of two weeks, and risk exposing them to Marek’s disease (the vaccine needs two weeks to be effective) or to leave them at my parents’ house for another week, since I can only get out there on the weekends. What I ended up doing was leaving them at my parents’ house for another two weeks, since at that point I was bringing my son out to stay with them for a week. I didn’t want to be making a trip out there every weekend for a month, as much as it pained me to not get to hang out with the chicks at their cutest. But I could at least rest easy that they would be safe from Marek’s.

When I did finally get out to see them, they had gotten pretty big. They weren’t babies anymore, they were more like teenagers. Teenagers in their weird, awkward stages. Some of their real feathers were coming in, and their necks were getting long. They weren’t the little fuzzballs they were when they arrived, but it’s not like they were hideous monsters or anything. I was just happy to have them.

nerd chicken

Portrait of the artist as a young chicken.

My mom had really become fond of the little brown ones, which were Speckled Sussexes, the breed I had ordered at the last minute to make the minimum order. My father, who all through this had been complaining about not wanting chickens, was especially attached to the smallest of these. Of course, at this age, they grow fast, so the small one one day might not be the small one the next day. However, it was still important that they got to keep the small one. I decided they could have two Speckled Sussexes, and I would get one. They could then have one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and I would get two. That part was easy. The hard part was figuring out which one was the “small one,” and making sure I didn’t take her, which would break my father’s chicken-hating heart.

My mother stood over the box and grabbed the first “brown one” she could get. “I think this is it,” she said, looking the chicken in the eye.

I looked at the ones in the box. “I think that one is smaller,” I said, pointing at one in the box.

“I think you’re right,” she said, and put the first one down, and grabbed another.

“Wait,” I said. “I think that one is definitely bigger than the other one.” Then I grabbed one. We compared them. They seemed about the same. Then we looked at the one left in the box. It seemed small. “Is that the one?” I asked my father, motioning towards the box.

“Yeah, maybe, I think,” he said.

chicken rules

So many rules.

I ended up taking one of the ones we were holding, and two of the Wyandottes. I picked the Wyandottes at random, since my father had no allegiances to them. I put them in a box to transport them back to our house, and it seemed like we were more or less ready to go.

My father, in spite of the scene we had just created involving his favorite chicken, was still putting up a front like he wasn’t happy about having the chickens, but cracks were beginning to appear in the façade. “I don’t know, the chickens are cool,” he said, “but I don’t know why your mother wants to do this.”

“Well, you did decide to name them the Andrews Sisters,” I said. “It’s not like you’re totally not enjoying it.”

“No, I changed my mind,” he said. “Now I want to name them Britney, Madonna, and Cher.”

Meanwhile, my mother wants to call them Gladys Knight and the Pips. I would point out that Gladys Knight and the Peeps might be funnier, but even though I kind of created this situation, I’m not sure I want to be involved.

chickens at home.

They did make it home safely, in case you were wondering.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Cacliz March by Athenian Mandolin Quartet)

Rebuilding The Flock Part 2

August 29th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had ordered new chicks, and my mother was going to take care of them for a couple of weeks until their Marek’s vaccines had kicked in. I had forwarded her the email about new chick care, and was waiting for her to read the part about “pasting up,” also known as when their tiny butts get clogged with tiny poops. She did get there, and seemed less than thrilled about this prospect, but on the other hand, didn’t really dwell on this part, because she felt pretty overwhelmed by the whole email. I assured her that like most sets of instructions, it seemed like a lot, but wasn’t so bad when you actually got into it. It boils down to: keep them warm, make sure they have food and water, and check their butts for the first week or so. She calmed down, and shifted back to being excited about the chicks arriving. I did get the occasional text message with a question, but this was more out of wanting to do a good job with the chicks, rather than “oh no what have I done?” This was a good sign.


Usually with more swearing and sad faces.

Then, the chicks arrived. As soon as she opened the box and saw them, it was all over. She was no longer worried, she was thrilled to death over how cute these things were. The question texts turned into texts about how adorable they were and how much she loved them. Another convert to the chicken side had arrived! My father apparently had yet to come around to them, but it didn’t really matter because my mother was so into them.

When I first got my original batch of chicks, I didn’t have a coop. I managed to build one, but not without a large amount of stress during the whole process. My parents learned from this experience, and ordered one online. Of course, they were only getting three chickens, which gives you many more affordable options than I had when I started with six. More than five chickens puts you in a whole different coop bracket, and it gets expensive. Maybe this was why my mom was being relatively relaxed about everything. They had the coop issue sorted out. They even have a dog kennel to put the coop in, and use as a large run. A little hardware cloth on that, and they’ve got a pretty secure chicken space.

dog jail

Formerly dog jail.

My father did slowly begin to start coming around to the chickens, though he wouldn’t admit it. Since they were keeping three of the chicks, and I had three chickens that I referred to as the Mandrell sisters, he wanted to give theirs a blanket name like that. He was leaning towards the Andrews Sisters, though he admitted it wasn’t as catchy as the Mandrell Sisters. If you’re going to name your chickens, this can be a good way to go, since it still gives you a tiny bit of emotional distance. You’ve still named them, which means you’re attached to them one way or another, but a general, catch-all name keeps you from getting too attached. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. The important thing was that if he was thinking of names, that meant he must be coming around to the idea of keeping chickens. After all, if he hated them, why would he bother to give them names? Unless it was the kind of thing people tend to do to identify anonymous people they always see and dislike, like “creepy thong guy,” “leg disease lady,” or “that smelly guy on the train with the big bag of equally smelly garbage who in spite of it all seems to have a job he goes to every day.” This didn’t feel like that, unless my father secretly had a vendetta against the Andrews Sisters. He was getting there, but still gave me a line of, “I don’t think this a good idea. I don’t know why your mother is doing this,” when I was visiting.

andrews sisters

All packed into the same nesting box.

Almost two weeks had passed, and so it was almost time for me to take my half of the chicks home. But I hit a snag. I could only get out to my parents’s house on a weekend, and the closest weekend to the two week quarantine period was slighty earlier than two whole weeks. How exact was the two week window of the Marek’s vaccine? Did a few days make a difference? Would they be fine, or should I wait? Now who was worrying needlessly?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Fourteen Days by the Blue Ridge Highballers)

Rebuilding The Flock

August 22nd, 2014

(Part 1 of 3).

Having lost two chickens this Spring, and realizing that my surviving chickens are two years old and nearing the end of their egg-laying days, it seemed like maybe it was time to expand the flock a little. The old guard is free to continue to mooch off me until the end of their days, but I’ve gotten used to having a constant supply of fresh eggs on hand. If that’s going to keep happening, we have to get some new birds on the scene. With Boss Chicken in her own enclosure due to her inability to totally use her legs, and the two recent deaths, I knew I could fit three more hens in the coop comfortably.

room to let

Not to be confused with “Room Toilet.”

Why Boss Chicken can’t use her legs is something to consider, however. About 7 months into her life she went from being an almost rooster-like aggressor to the sweetest chicken you’d ever met, who also just happened to have a really hard time walking. What brought about this change? That’s the real mystery here. The first thought is that it’s Marek’s Disease, which is a horrible disease and can kill a chicken, but there are also mild cases, where it only maims them. The thing about Marek’s is that there’s no way to know if this is it without her being dead. They can look for it in a necropsy, but that’s the only way to know, and she’s still kicking, so to speak. We keep her in a rabbit hutch, otherwise the other chickens will peck her mercilessly. She was kind of a tyrant in her day, and perhaps this is payback. Or you know, she can’t just fight back or run away like you’re supposed to. The guy who sold us the rabbit hutch had had a chicken with a similar story, and they believed that their hen had had a stroke. So I suppose that’s a possibility too, but again, no way to know.

crystal ball

Scrying techniques are of no help in diagnosis.

Not knowing if it’s Marek’s is a big problem for getting new chicks. They would be susceptible to the virus, and there’s a good chance it would be worse than Boss Chicken’s experience. The feed store I got the current flock from can get you chicks that have been vaccinated against Marek’s, but they ship to the store mixed in with all the others, so that’s no help. You can vaccinate them yourself, but the vaccine takes two weeks to kick in, and in all likelihood the virus is everywhere in our house. I found a mail order hatchery that would vaccinate the chicks and mail them to you, but again, that two week window of vulnerability was going to be a problem. I couldn’t keep them outside for two weeks, since they need to be kept warm, and also, everything in the world that wants to eat them lives outside. I was stuck.


All you can eat, if all you can eat is three.

But then I had an idea. My mother had been very intrigued by my chicken dealings. She’d been saying she’d like to try it at some point. This was some point. Why not try it now? I brought this up with her, and probably way over-explained the reasons why I needed to have these chicks sent to someone else’s house. She seemed mildly into it, but non-committal. I kept checking the availability dates of the breeds I was interested in online, and they seemed to be selling out quickly. I would press for a solid answer, so I could set a date, but then there there were vacations and work schedules to work around, which took out a bunch of possible days, further complicating getting the breed I was hoping to get.

After a couple of weeks of nagging, I got a solid “yes” out of her, but she mentioned that my father was not excited about this idea. This is a man who once brought home a lop-eared rabbit with a broken leg he found in the street, and would adopt all the dogs if he could. All the dogs. Why was he being difficult about chickens? Nobody knows, but we decided to ignore him. I’d go ahead and order six chicks to make the minimum order, then I would keep three, and my mother would keep three.

all the dogs

How do you undo this choice?

When I went to place my order, I hit a snag. There were only three chicks of the kind that I wanted left. I had done a bunch of research and picked Silver Laced Wyandottes because they seemed perfect for our part of the world, and they were really pretty. But now I needed three more chicks that would ship on the same day. I started frantically looking for birds available on the date I needed, and then cross-referenced that with reviews online. Yes, people review chicken breeds online. This should really surprise no one. I finally found ones that looked cool, could deal with New England winters, and allegedly even were good winter layers. Eggs get scarce in winter, so this is a good trait. All in all, even with the vaccine added in, the price wasn’t so bad. Then I moved to the part of checkout where they add in the shipping. Now it was bad, but that’s overnight shipping for you. I had gotten a lot of other people involved in this, so there was no turning back.

I completed my order, and forwarded the email from the hatchery on baby chick care to my mother. Then I read it. It mentioned how sometimes chicks’ butts get plugged up with poop when they’re little. It’s called “pasting up,” and it can kill them. I had forgotten about this. Did I mention my mother likes to worry? She was already worried, and that was before the possibility of breaking up doodoo plugs had been introduced. I sat and waited for her to reach that part of the email.

paste you up

An early version of Dress You Up was about Madonna’s experiences with baby chicks.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Homestyle Mandolin by Lucas Gonze)

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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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)

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