I can’t believe I’ve never given a formal introduction.
I’m off to DC to talk to the FLOTUS, POTUS, and SCOTUS (FLOPOSCO for short) about chickens. Or not. However, no post this week due to travel. Next week I hope to have a nice surprise for you, so hang tight.
Well, there’s no doubt now that some of the chickens have begun to molt. Henny Penny feathers are everywhere Henny Penny has been, as if she’s leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way home, except that she never really strays that far from home. Lately they barely leave the vicinity of the run, but that just must mean that the bugs around there are so good, there’s no need to travel elsewhere. Under the roost and the run itself are both getting lined nicely with her feathers, like there’s constant pillow fights going on. In the interest of not being left out, others are also joining the molting festivities. I spotted a Steve or John tailfeather in the coop the other day, and one of the Mandrell Sisters has a stumpy looking butt because all her tailfeathers have fallen out. It looks a little silly, but they’re chickens. Looking silly is kind of their bit.
I’m actually pretty glad that they’re molting so early this year. Last year I don’t think they started until December, and it was really cold. That’s not a good time to go out without a jacket, or too light of one, which is basically what they’re doing when they molt. Lately, around here, it’s been extremely hot. We’ve had a couple of weeks of it being in the 90s, only to finally have it get seasonable again in the last week. September is usually when I look forward to temperatures getting comfortable, but this year took its time. So shedding some feathers in the heat probably makes sense. It’s like taking off your shirt. Your chicken shirt. Luckily, our yard is pretty private, so we don’t have to worry about anyone peeping at our shirtless chickens.
The unseasonably warm and dry weather makes me wonder if this is any indication of the winter to come. Probably not, but after getting hammered so badly by snow last year, I need some small bit of hope to cling to. I’m not ready for another winter of any kind, but certainly not of the proportions of last year. Even if it wasn’t snowing, it was freezing, and it was usually snowing. I have a great picture I took of ice on the train platform that I nearly lost my hand trying to get because of how cold it was. That’s the price I pay for art! But the memory of the cold makes me especially concerned about the chickens being re-feathered by the time winter gets here. Having exposed skin in those sorts of temperatures, especially with the wind we also got, is not a good idea. If I thought molting was something they could plan, I would think they’re getting a jump on things because they too remember last year. I think it’s really just a lucky coincidence.
The downside of molting is that we get fewer eggs. Plenty of loose feathers, but not many eggs. We’ve got a pretty good egg stockpile, so I think we’ll get by. But at some point we’ll eat what we have, and hopefully by then the ladies will be back in business. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior are all breeds that are supposed to be good winter layers, so hopefully they can prove themselves this year. There’s nothing more shameful than having to buy eggs when you have chickens you won’t shut up about. Hopefully my plan to have a steady supply throughout the winter months thanks to Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior will work, or it’s back to wearing disguises to the grocery store come January. I suppose I could make one out of all the feathers they’re shedding right now. That wouldn’t draw any attention to me at all.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Tishomingo Blues Introducing Some Chocolate Drops by Yerkes American Marimbaphone Band
There are exciting things going on in the land of butts, so I thought I’d give everyone a butt update. I was going to shorten that and call it a “buttdate,” but then it occurred to me that that might mean different things to different people, and so it remains “butt update.” Not to worry, this is an update about animal butts, mostly chickens, so hopefully it won’t venture into TMI territory.
The big news is that butt feathers are very much making a comeback, much like skinny jeans and 90s music. I would say that butt feathers serve a more noble purpose than those other things, but I suppose pants are important, regardless of the style, so I’ll let that one rest. However, upon last night’s butt check, I saw how much progress we’ve made on the feather front. Suzy Creamcheese Junior’s butt is looking like a little porcupine with all the feather buds sticking out of it. That’s a great sign. The feathers are moving right along, and soon her bald spot will be gone, so we won’t need to consider a feathery comb-over anymore. On the down side, her chest seems to be looking ratty, and I’m not sure if that’s mite related, or if she’s molting. It’s looked this way all summer, so I think it may be at least part mites, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m going to keep hitting it with some diatomaceous earth once a week until it starts to look better, just to be safe. If it is mites, I don’t want them to move back down to her butt and undo all the progress there.
Since SCJ was looking so good, I also went and checked Henny Penny, since she was the first chicken to experience the loss down below. She’s making progress, but not as much as Suzy, but I guess she also has a longer road to travel back to wellness. The little nubs of feathers are becoming more plentiful, but she hasn’t reached the porcupine/pincushion stage that Suzy has. I checked the remaining butts, and everyone seemed to be sprouting new growth, so this is all promising. The others had pretty mild infestations, so they don’t have nearly as many feathers to grow back. I will definitely remain vigilant, since I now know just how bad mites can be, and how long a road back to wellness it is.
I also had a run-in with a different animal butt this week. Remember the cat that scared me in the dark and is stalking one of our cats? Well, I ran into him/her in the daylight the other day, so it wasn’t nearly as frightening. He/she is actually quite a pretty cat, however, at the time we met, he/she was in the process of using some of the leaf litter at the edge of our yard as a litterbox. I suppose pretty much all the animals around here do, so it’s not worth getting worked up over. I decided that I wanted to pet this mystery cat in the hopes of us becoming friends, so there are no more surprises in the dark. I waited for him/her to finish his/her business, and then I made my slow approach. I got very close, and that’s when it turned out that he/she wasn’t done. #1 had been taken care of, but #2 still needed dealing with. And as #2 got dealt with, it became clear that this cat might not be feeling so well. I imagine outdoor cats can eat any number of things that can give them parasites or make them sick, but it got me wondering if this cat even has a home. This isn’t the best area to let your cat outside in due to predators (and this isn’t even addressing the issue of outside cats generally being a bad idea anyway). If he/she has survived so long, is that because he/she has a home, or because he/she has very good survival instincts? He/she is fairly slight, and clearly sick, so I have no way of knowing. No collar was present, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I managed to get close enough to get in a quick pat, and then he/she decided to take off, leaving me wondering if we need to try to catch him/her and get the vet involved. I suppose we could then see if the cat is microchipped and belongs to anyone. I’m not sure how easy it will be to catch him/her, or if it’s even my business. I just hate seeing animals that don’t seem to be well cared for, and this one has some of the hallmarks. Then, if he/she has no owner, the bigger question becomes: do we need another cat? Do we even have room for one? How do we even catch a possibly wild cat? Too many questions, too many chickens, too many kitties?
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Shake It and Break It by Lanin’s Southern Serenaders)
Well, my little August break was nice, but now it’s back to work. I mean, it was still back to work in terms of the chickens, since I couldn’t just go on a vacation from feeding them without any repercussions, I was just taking a break from talking about them. Not from talking to them, though, which I find myself more and more aware of now that there are sometimes people in the house next door. I suppose they’re the ones who need to get used to it, not me. I’m so used to it I don’t even notice I’m doing it half the time.
Beyond my own experiments in inter-species communication, things have been pretty good with the chickens lately. The mites still seem vanquished, and butt feathers are still sprouting. Maybe not as fast as I’d like them to, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting chickens, it’s that everything ends up taking way more time than it’s supposed to. Case in point: building the coop. Hopefully that was a one-time event. As I predicted, molting season may be combining with butt feather regrowth season, since I’ve been seeing a fair bit of Mandrell Sister plumage floating free in the coop lately. I suppose seeing it early is better than seeing it later, since last year they all molted quite late, and it was a very cold time to not be fully feathered. I figure if you’ve got to grow some feathers back anyway because of the mites, why not just dump a bunch and totally start over? I’m not sure that’s how it actually works, but I need to impose some sort of logic onto all this.
We haven’t seen much of the turkeys lately, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around. I suppose since August is when many people take vacations, who’s to say turkeys don’t do the same? Probably people who study turkeys. But since I’m throwing around hare-brained ideas, I might as well get this one in there too.
One big event that happened during my hiatus is only marginally related to the chickens, in that it only happened because I was going out to the coop to feed them. But if they weren’t there, I wouldn’t have been out there alone in the dark, so I guess it’s totally related to the chickens. So let’s proceed from there. I’ve mentioned before that where we live has basically every predator that you can get in New England. I haven’t seen them all personally, but the farmer down the street has, and so I am generally quite vigilant about keeping everyone safe. In the winter, I always look for tracks around the coop in the snow, but so far I haven’t seen any. Either the animals can tell the electric fence, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, is not something to mess with, or they just are really bad at figuring out that there are chickens in there. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying I’m a little surprised that we haven’t seen more break-in attempts. But the other morning as I was coming out with breakfast, I saw a set of eyes reflected in the light of my headlamp. (Sadly, those glorious weeks when it’s light when I get up have passed.) Normally, if I see some eye reflections, they turn and disappear as soon as I approach. This time, not so much. In fact, the eyes began to approach me. This was not good. I quickly began to make out the shape of the creature, and I began to worry that I was looking at a baby bobcat, which could possibly mean that there was a mama bobcat nearby. As my bowels contemplated voiding themselves, I happened to catch a shadow of a tail in the ever-shortening distance between me and the eyes, and thankfully realized that it was just a regular cat, and one we see pretty often. I joke that he’s one of our cats’ boyfriends, since he sits outside the sliding door and looks in at her, but she seems to hate him, so I guess maybe he’s more of her stalker. Either way, if he’s trying to get in with her, I recommend he knock off the scaring me in the morning. He stopped walking towards me when he got to the steps of the sliding door and assumed his place, gazing indoors at our cat who clearly was not pleased about having a visitor. The chickens were safe, and ⅓ of the cats were annoyed. A pretty typical morning.
With August halfway over, I’m going to take a short break from posting to try to Make August Count. Don’t panic! In the meantime, here’s a video about fluffin’ chicken butts that made the rounds a while back, and is good advice for controlling mites.
I need to fluff the butt of my soul, so that’s why I need a bit of a rest. Not too long though! I’ll be back very soon!
I have said many times that the butt is the window to the soul. It may be a case of thinking that if I say something enough, I’ll eventually believe it. This may be working, in a weird way, because when it comes to chickens, I’ve found that the butt is certainly some kind of window. It’s a window that sometimes lets out eggs, and then other things that are less nutritious, but I have often been able to discern that something is wrong with a chicken just by looking at its butt. So maybe not the window to the soul as much as a window into health, but I suppose it may just be a matter of how you view health and/or souls. But if you view butts, you can learn many things. When a chicken has vent gleet, you know because her butt gets straight-up nasty. If a chicken is egg bound, you have to check via butt. And most recently, I found out my chickens had mites thanks to the disappearance of butt feathers, one chicken at a time. Butts are really helpful things!
What has helped me to learn the usefulness of the gallid hindquarters is the fact that every night when I put the chickens to bed, I stick my head into the coop to make sure everyone’s there. Doing this through the door in the run puts me right at chicken butt level. If something’s up in Butt Town, this is usually when I would notice. Fortunately, I’m not so close that I’ll get pooped on, but just the right distance to combine safety and the ability to inspect. This is how I first noticed Henny Penny’s butt feather loss, and how I watched it progress through the other chickens until I realized they weren’t having a bunch of different weird problems, but one big problem – mites. Now that I’ve begun treating the mites, I look extra closely to make sure that the problem is at least not getting any worse, and to eagerly await signs that things are getting better. I know I’m actually being a little overeager, but I need some sign that what I’m doing is working, otherwise I may need to try some remedies I don’t feel so good about. I did try poison on their butts a few times, but have since switched back to diatomaceous earth. It’s still not an ideal thing to be flinging around the coop, but it’s organic, so it’s the least of the evils I have available. The butts didn’t seem to be getting worse, but I had no proof they were getting better, and I began to wonder if I needed to bust out the poison “poultry powder” again to be more aggressive.
Then, during a recent nightly butt check, I noticed that Henny Penny’s butt had a few black specks on it. This could have gone in a bad direction, as it could have been mites walking on her very large bare patch. But getting in as close as I could, I confirmed that what I saw certainly looked like new feathers beginning to sprout. If that was happening, I’m pretty sure the mites have been vanquished. If they were still active, they’d bite these feathers off with the quickness. Suzy Creamcheese Junior was who I wanted to check next, since she had the second worst bare patch, but she could tell I was up to something, and turned away, giving me a “oh no you don’t” sort of look. I figured I’d check her later, when she wasn’t expecting it.
That opportunity came the other day, after I had let them out in the yard for a while. I called them all back into the run (or more accurately, I went out to the run with a bag of sunflower seeds, and they all came running for that). As they stood there eating seeds off the ground, Suzy had her butt pointing right at me, and I saw the tell-tale feather sprouts on her otherwise bare hiney. I think we’ve passed through the bad times, and are headed into a time of regrowth.
Given how bad some of them got it, I’m going to keep up my weekly butt dustings for a while. I don’t want to leave a chance for the mites to get back in there. Mites take a lot of energy from the chickens, so they don’t lay as many eggs, and they certainly can’t be enjoying themselves as much as usual. Soon they’ll hopefully all be fully feathered out and at peak happiness. Of course, this will probably happen right when it’s time for them to molt, so all these new feathers will fall out, but timing has never been a strong suit of mine.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Yes, We Have No Bananas by The Great White Way Orchestra)
The turkeys aren’t the only new friends we have around the yard these days. The plum tree is overrun with aphids and Japanese beetles, as well as ladybugs that I introduced to eat the aphids. The ladybugs are reproducing like crazy, and it’s really cool to see their eggs and future ladybugs in their various immature states. I just wish I didn’t have to work them into the scheme of things, because the poor plum tree really has it rough these days. I’m not sure we’ll ever get plums with the way it gets attacked each year, but I keep trying. It was during my pruning of the limbs that had been picked clean by beetles that I found out we have yet another friend who has been hanging around.
I was trimming the branches and sorting them into piles based on whether they were totally decimated, still infested with aphids, or carrying young ladybug types. My mother-in-law got home and came over to see what I was doing, and I was more than happy to gripe about the state of the tree. I was probably happier about it than usual because it was really hot, which made the task even more of a chore. I don’t know why I picked the hottest part of the day to do it, but I usually have to do these things when I think of them, otherwise they never get done. So there I was.
Chickens, as you may or may not know, aren’t always the quietest animals. Ours have a tendency to get quite rowdy early in the morning, which makes us lucky to not have anyone living in the house next door. Someone has bought the place, and is in the process of renovating, but they’re not in there yet. Recently, they were running some loud piece of renovating machinery after 9 at night, and I was contemplating whether or not to go tell them to knock it off. I worried that I shouldn’t play the noise card so soon, given the chickens’ propensity for morning songs of joy. Thankfully the neighbors stopped right when I was having this conversation with myself, so fights about noise can start later. But the point I’m trying to make is that the chickens do enjoy making a good old fashioned ruckus from time to time, and usually when they do, it’s no big deal. It’s more of a “if you want to sing out, sing out,” sort of thing. If they want to express themselves, that’s cool with me, man.
So, when I was trimming the plum tree and regaling my mother-in-law with tales of pestilence, and a wave of raucous bawking came wafting over from the coop area, it was not initially a big deal. The chickens were out foraging, but that doesn’t mean they were going to be quiet. It was only when I realized that they were all joining in that it struck me as odd. Usually it’s one or two being loud, but for such a group effort to go down, I figured something major must be going on. I was worried they were killing a snake. We have a lot of garter snakes around, and I’m paranoid they’re going to peck one to death and it will just be awful, so I headed over to where they were, hoping that it was not a reptocide going on.
It wasn’t. As I approached the coop, I saw that three chickens had headed into the big pricker bush to hide out, and the others were inside the run. And then a large hawk in the tree next to the coop took flight and disappeared into the woods. I kept counting the chickens to make sure they were all there, and they were. That was a big relief. I put them all back in the run in case the hawk came back, and then started to think about what had happened. Did they make the ruckus to scare the hawk, warn the others, or to call for help? Did they know I would come over to investigate the source of the noise, or was it simply what they do when there’s a threat? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I didn’t ignore it, thinking they were just being loudmouths. I saw a hawk again today, and I’m going to have to be extra careful with free-range time now. We hadn’t seen any all summer, but they’re out there, and I’m not taking any chances. I should probably warn the turkeys about this. We can get a whole neighborhood watch thing going on.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Lucille by Wilbur C. Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band)
When someone I care about is sick, I worry a lot. Right now six people, er, chickens, I care about have mites, and so I get preoccupied with thinking about how to make sure this problem is taken care of. I’ve tried diatomaceous earth, and I’ve tried “poultry powder,” yet their butts are still featherless, and egg production is down. I powder them with one substance or another once a week, and yet I don’t see any progress. I even went into both our fireplace and wood stove and took all the ashes out and put them in the chicken run. This is so they could take dusts baths in the ash, which is supposed to fight mites. There are a few things I haven’t tried yet, and I’ve been reluctant to do so, since they all have side effects of some sort or another.
In my original post about the mites, I mentioned that Sevin dust is one big gun people turn to for mites when other cures fail. It’s mostly diatomaceous earth, but has poison mixed in. It’s a different poison from what’s in the poultry powder, and apparently quite bad for bees. It’s also not technically approved for use on poultry, so there’s that too. But I was worried enough that I was beginning to think that maybe it was worth a shot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it, so I looked into other ideas.
You can apparently use the type of flea and tick drops that you put on cats and dogs on chickens, but I get the feeling this may be a mildly sketchy, or at least “experimental” treatment. You need to use a very specific brand of the drop, one not easily had at any pet store, so you need to find the right source. You also have to apply it to a chicken, which seems tricky. I have had a hard time putting this stuff on dogs, and they sit still. A squawking, unhappy chicken in one hand, and flea and tick juice in the other is not my idea of a good time. And to top it all off, if you go this route, you can’t eat the eggs for weeks afterwards. I like eating the eggs. I’m good at it. I also share them with people and spread chicken goodwill. Throwing out large amounts of eggs was just not something I wanted to do. If you can’t eat them, I’m sure they can’t go in the compost. Dumping them in the trash seems so wasteful. I put this idea on hold too.
The last option is to give them a flea dip. This, again, got into the weird territory of “you can only use very specific brands of flea shampoo that are hard to find and probably expensive.” Also, you have to dunk the chicken in a bucket of water. Frankly, I have had an easier time getting my finger up a chicken’s butt than I have soaking them in anything. Plus, then I’d have six chickens that then need to be dried off (Boss Chicken doesn’t seem to have the mites, for some reason). I was beginning to develop a vision of what hell must be like. Blow drying six chickens is straight out of Dante.
Back in the winter our local feed store closed. A few months later, it opened back up under new ownership, much to my surprise and delight. I swung by the other day to get more chicken food and bedding, and a guy who worked at the old version of the store was now working at the new version. He had always given me good advice in the past, so even though I was there for something else, I asked about the mites, and what I could do. He asked if I wanted an organic solution or otherwise. I said at this point I’d try either. I mentioned that I had tried diatomaceous earth, and he said “well, that’s the organic option.” Then he showed me a different brand of the poultry powder than the one I had. I said I had tried that too, but their feathers weren’t growing back, and the eggs were less frequent than usual. He said this was pretty typical, and as long as I got some anti-mite stuff on the chickens, in the nesting buckets, and in the coop, the problem would go away, but it might take a few weeks before I noticed an improvement. They need time to recuperate, and sometimes that takes longer than I like. On the plus side, I’m doing everything right. Everything except being patient, that is. I can work on that, and see if I’m better at it by the time my birds have some new butt feathers. I think it may take even longer than that. My impatience is much peskier than mites, and just slightly less bitey.
While I’m awaiting the results of my mite treatments, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the turkeys I mentioned last week. Sure, they’re not chickens, but they’re poultry, and they’re interesting to me, so here we are. Here we are, surrounded by turkeys.
We thought that we had one family of turkeys with 15 poults (which are baby turkeys, if you’ve forgotten) living in our yard and trees, but some of the theories about our large neighbors have recently changed. Last week I came home from work, and saw two turkeys with a lot of babies across the street, heading into the cornfield, which may or may not be good news for the farmer. Then about 10 minutes later, I looked out the window, and there were two turkeys, but only with about six babies in tow. “Where’d all the babies go?” my wife asked, and then we realized we probably knew, but maybe didn’t want to think about it. But then I thought about it. I had seen the big family that morning, spread out across two lawns next door. I had seen the big family across the street a few minutes earlier. Then it hit me. “I’m not sure these are the same turkeys,” I said. “There may be two sets of families working this area.” Then we got to thinking. When we used to see turkeys, they would be further down the road, and it was a flock of 10 to 20 birds. Turkey moms tend to lay their eggs and then pair up with another female to raise the poults. The tom turkeys are basically deadbeat dads in this scenario. If the big flock down the road was all ladies, and they all had babies, then that was 5 to 10 pairs of turkeys with babies. That’s a lot of turkeys. I’m pretty sure the second set of turkeys we saw that day was a totally different family, and the ones I had seen in the cornfield were still in there when these others arrived.
As we watched them walk across the front yard, we were struck by how hilarious it is when the poults run. Those little legs go a mile a minute, but the bodies don’t seem to move that fast. Then a mother and a few babies all lined up, and made the classic Partridge Family logo, or in this case, Turkey Family, which I found out meant that I would have the Partridge Family theme song stuck in my head for days. Then I caught one of the adults looking at my car. In Boston, there are quite a few wild turkeys, and I am convinced that turkeys are the next wave of gentrifiers. The stories you hear about the city turkeys is how aggressive they are, and they often attack cars. It turns out that what they’re actually doing is attacking their reflections in the sides of the cars, thinking it’s another turkey. This would be the males during mating season, and this would be another reason that tom turkeys are probably best avoided. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about how incredibly aggressive her turkeys were, and that the males even tried to mate with her if she turned her back to them. So all these thoughts were going through my head as the turkey looked at my car, and I mumbled aloud, “you leave my car alone.” It seemed to work, and the turkey slowly made her way across the yard, over the stone wall into the neighbor’s yard, and eventually out of sight. It probably also helped that she was not a tom looking for a mate.
Poults will stay with their families for the first year of their lives, so in a few months, or however long it takes them to reach regular turkey size, we are going to have a ton of turkeys milling around. I’m sure some will fall to predators, but then next year they’ll all lay eggs again, and soon there may be even more turkeys. Too Many Chickens(!) may soon turn into Buried By Turkeys. But if they eat ticks, I welcome our new turkey overlords.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Tiger Rag-One Step by Original Dixieland Jazz Band)