Mites Or Gleets?

April 29th, 2016

Spring is a magical time of year. The flowers begin to bloom, eggs start filling the nesting buckets, and then I start wondering just what on Earth is going on with the chickens’ butts. My first thought is always vent gleet. Once you know about vent gleet, why would you stop thinking about it? I mean, aside from the fact that it’s gross, and usually means you have to either bathe a chicken or cut away dung-encrusted feathers. But otherwise it’s great, right? Not really. It’s bad business for butts. So in Spring, when the poopy chicken butts also bloom, my mind turns to vent gleet and it’s prevention and/or cure.

Can you smell it?

Can you smell it?

However, the cruelest trick the Devil ever played was giving other issues the same symptoms as vent gleet. Or at least maybe the grossest trick he ever played. What I learned last year was that nasty doodoo butt can also be caused by mites. So if you, like me, give your chickens nutritional support to ward off the gleet, and seem to have one chicken after another somehow developing gleet-like symptoms, it may not be gleet at all. It could be mites. This was the biggest discovery for me last summer. I thought the flock was falling to the gleet one by one, but finally realized that something else had to be up. And what was up was mites. And what they were up in was the chickens’ hinders. I figured this out because some of the chickens got nasty butt action, but others got bald butts. So I looked up bald butts, and that’s how I found that mites can also cause diarrhea as well as bald butts. I suppose at least it cuts down on the nasty feathers.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

This year, since I noticed symptoms of gleet in Steve and John, I not only treated them for gleet, but I treated everyone for mites too. I’m not going down that road again. Egg production was way down for a while last summer because mites can really drain a chicken’s energy levels. Parasites are like that. Henny Penny still hasn’t grown her butt feathers back, either. They sprout, then disappear. So I’m not sure if I even fully vanquished the mites, or just beat them back enough to get everyone laying again, and all but Henny Penny back to fully feathered. But since I saw possible gleet, in I went with the diatomaceous earth to start fluffin’ butts as a pre-emptive strike.

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

I haven’t yet gone in with the “poultry powder” which is part diatomaceous earth, part poison, mainly because it’s part poison. As it is, I don’t want to put bedding with diatomaceous earth in the compost, because that alone will kill the good bugs who help break it down. I don’t want to be poisoning anything and everything that comes along. More than just bugs get into the compost, so I’m holding off on the nuclear option, for now.


There’s who in the what, now?

You’re supposed to apply the D.E. once, then again ten days later to break the life cycle of the mites. I’ve gotten into a weekly ritual, just to be on the safe side. I’m no math whiz, but I feel like this frequency must cover all my bases statistically, even if I start in the middle of a life cycle. I don’t know. But Sunday nights, butts get fluffed. If I make a routine like that, it’s much easier to remember to do it. If I have to do it on ten-day cycles, then I need to get calendars involved, and it’s just too much work. Since I get “Sundaynightis,” or dread of the coming work week, it’s easy for me to add things in my Sunday night rituals to try to offset it. Oddly, putting weird gray powder on chicken butts does seem to alleviate my symptoms somewhat. Not sure what that says about me, but here I am saying it.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ma Rag Time Baby by Peerless Orchestra)

Season’s Gleetings!

April 22nd, 2016

We had had a rough couple of weekends, and hadn’t had a chance to go grocery shopping. When you don’t have time to do anything during the week because you commute, you have to cram a lot into Saturday and Sunday, and when you’re exhausted from the cramming, the last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store. We generally have to go shopping on Sundays, which seems to be when all the sports or snowstorms happen, so it’s always a madhouse. That doesn’t help with the motivation to get to the store either. If I could go into work late one day a week so I could shop on a weekday morning, that would be ideal, but I see a tough negotiation ahead if I pursue that. So here we are. We were out of most things, including yogurt and apple cider vinegar, which are staples of my chicken regimen. Both keep some nasty stuff at bay, but I figured it was like taking vitamins. You don’t come down with rickets because you stop taking vitamins for a week, so a week without yogurt in a dish and vinegar in the water couldn’t possibly cause a problem, right?

What I've been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

What I’ve been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

Well, the butts of Steve and John told a different story. The story they told was one of gross cloaca disasters. Or one specific disaster we all know as vent gleet. I usually have a run-in with the gleet once a year or so, and here it was just as Spring approached. The plus side, if there is one, is that Steve and John both have such big wattles that it’s very easy to get their beaks open to squirt the mixture of epsom salt and water down their throats that I’ve always treated this with. This is not an easy task by any means, but bigger wattles give me an edge. So I grabbed them one at a time, trimmed all the super nasty butt feathers off, then brought them inside for their “medicine.” (Side note: I ran out of my stock of rubber gloves during this episode, and when I went to buy more, the drugstore was clean out. Like, an entire shelf’s worth of rubber gloves was empty. How does this happen? What was going on in Harvard Square that that many people needed rubber gloves? Luckily(?), there are actually two drugstores of the same chain a block apart, so I was able to get more. I didn’t want to be touching these butts bare-handed.)

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

I’m not sure if it was Steve or John who was the easier of the two, but one of them was a breeze. Open, epsom, open, epsom, open, epsom, until it’s all gone. I think I even managed to not get any on my pants, which is rare. I usually can be counted on to miss at least one shot, but not this time. Then I brought in the other one. Let’s just say it was John. John wasn’t having any of this. My pants got soaked, then she got away, and it was just a big struggle, even with the wattle advantage. Then I did the thing they warn you not to do. I squeezed the dropper too hard and I got some down the wrong neckhole, so liquid went into her lungs. I could hear it rattle with every breath. I had no idea what to do. I held her upside down in the hope that the liquid would run out. It didn’t. I looked online, and I found a lot of people saying not to do this, but no one saying what to do if it happened. I figured all I could do was ride it out. A ton didn’t get in there, so she could breathe, but enough was in there that she rasped. I put her in the coop, then she sneezed, and that actually seemed to make the rasping better. I had to hope it would sort itself out.

It went a little something like this.

It went a little something like this.

I posted on a messageboard for help. No one really had any input on how to handle this, but one person asked why I was still doing the epsom trick. I said it was because that was a thread that had been stickied on that website. The other poster pointed out that vent gleet is fungal, so it’s much easier to just spray their butts with athlete’s foot spray for two weeks. You’re supposed to do it twice a day, and I don’t see them sitting still for this in the mornings, but nights are easy. So I’ve been doing that in lieu of the second dose of epsom salt. John’s breathing was fine the next day, and the gleet seems to be on the outs. I do have one lingering concern, though. Last year what I thought was a vent gleet outbreak was actually mites. So is it really the gleet, or am I fighting the wrong foe? Time will tell.

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Some Smoke by National Promenade Band, record scratch sound effect by: simkiott)

You Know The Drill . . .

April 15th, 2016

Too Many Homeworks! So no new podcast this week. Just wait until summer when I’m taking three classes!

In the meantime, here’s a lovely short film about two boys raising a couple of chickens in Belfast during The Troubles. (There’s a bit of salty language, but it’s in an Irish accent, therefore charming.)

Fancy Chicken Learnin’

April 8th, 2016

There are a lot of people out there who think chickens are dumb. It probably has something to do with the term “bird-brain,” which is generally not a compliment. I’m not going to argue that chickens are Einsteins, but they’re smarter than people give them credit for. I once read an article that talked about how they can recognize human faces, and can even communicate as well as some primates. I’ve seen that in action. If there’s a hawk nearby, whichever of my chickens that sees it will sound a certain call, and they all scatter into the underbrush for safety. This is usually followed by me running across the yard at top speed to see what the problem is, and then wrangle them all back to safety. It’s not like inventing computers or anything, but it’s pretty sharp of them if you ask me.

chicken texting

Sometimes they’ll just text a warning if it’s faster.

Chickens are also surprisingly easy to train, especially if there’s food involved. When it’s time for them to go back into the coop, all I have to do is shake a big bag of sunflower seeds, and they’ll run across the yard to greet me. If I shake the smaller bag of mealworms, they will run at twice the speed, and be 100% easier to get into the coop. They know the difference between the two bags, and they know which one has the really good stuff in it.

The results are in.

The results are in.

Of course, the fact that they just walk around crapping anywhere they please isn’t really helping their public image at all, but they just have different mores than the rest of us. We shouldn’t judge.

How chickens see the world.

How chickens see the world.

What made me think of this is Boss Chicken. She doesn’t have a nesting bucket in her hutch, partly because there’s no room, and partly because she couldn’t get into it anyway on account of her leg issues. She just lays her eggs in the “indoor” part of the hutch, and I look in there and find them. It’s a workable system, if not ideal. Sometimes the eggs get buried in the chips and I don’t find them right away, and that makes it difficult to judge just how long they’ve been down there. They’re probably still fine, since fresh eggs can keep for at least a month on the counter, but usually if I dig up a secret one, that’ll get fed back to the flock. They don’t have hangups about sell-by dates like humans do. Chickens are much more freewheeling than humans regarding many things.

Voice of a generation.

Voice of a generation.

Anyway, what I tend to do is to open the door to Boss Chicken’s bedroom and lift her up to see if an egg is under there. She usually makes a noise of some sort, and I pretend it’s a happy one, even though I’d be annoyed too if someone lifted me up while I was sleeping and looked for eggs. 9 times out of 10 there isn’t one under there, as she usually leaves them in a different spot from where she sleeps, but I check anyway. Apparently I have now checked enough that last Sunday night when I opened the door, I didn’t even have to lift her up. She saw me there and lifted one leg to reveal the egg she was sitting on. I assume the noise she made that time was more of a “fine, yes, here’s the egg, now let me get back to sleep, I have work tomorrow” sort of thing. But I was pretty amazed that she had learned that this was why I lifting her up all the time. Or maybe I’m the dumb one, thinking a chicken was trying to communicate with me. Either way, I say watch out. Get enough chickens together, and who knows what they may try to pull off?


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: The Tattooed Man by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

Looks like I did it again!

April 1st, 2016

Schoolwork has once again gotten in the way of recording (I have one ready to go, but had no time to record), so while I get caught up, please enjoy this documentary on other chicken aficionados.

The Great Flood

March 25th, 2016

Have you ever seen a movie where some wall or dam has a leak, and it starts off as a drip, then becomes a bigger drip, and then the whole thing just collapses under a rush of water? Well, I am seeing that in real life, except instead of water, it’s eggs. I am collapsing under a rush of eggs. You might remember that when my ladies started laying again, there was an egg every other day or so, then if I was lucky, one a day. Well, that time is over. Now I’m getting five or six eggs a day. I’m so used to no eggs, or just one or two, that I always forget my egg basket when I go out to the coop at night, and then have to go back into the house to get it, mumbling to myself about how long is it going to take me to remember it’s egg season. Knowing myself, it’s going to take at least a few months.

Ride the wave.

Ride the wave.

I had to put plastic Easter eggs filled with sand in the nesting buckets again because everyone is so out of practice that they seemed to forget where eggs go. I originally took the Easter eggs out because they were making one of the Mandrell Sisters constantly go broody. She must be a big fan of Easter, or really into challenges. But I got tired of finding eggs all over the coop and run now that the factory is open again, so I made some new decoy eggs and put them in place. One has already fallen prey to my inability to work with super glue, and it split open and dumped a bunch of sand in the nesting bucket. This is fine, for the most part, since it was in the bucket they all like to use, so there’s probably going to be at least one egg in there anyway, so the rest can use that as their example. I just have to hope whoever gets the urge first knows where to go.

Where's the nestroom?

Where’s the nestroom?

Since we’re getting so many eggs, it’s safe to assume that the Old Guard are still productive. That’s good. I had expected to see a tapering off from them this year, but if they want to work during retirement, that’s fine by me. I’ve gotten one torpedo egg so far, so I know at least one Mandrell is still at it. We got one that had a weird lump of extra calcium on the end, which just seemed like someone maybe trying a little too hard, and then the really big surprise happened. I was fishing around in the bucket, because sometimes they bury the eggs in the chips, and pulled out what I thought was a golf ball. It turns out it was just a small, white egg. None of my chickens are the sort that lay white eggs, so this confused me. It still confuses me a little bit, but my best guess is that it’s all related to the “egg machinery” not quite running as smoothly as it should. If I get a bunch more of these, I’ll start to worry, but one, right at the beginning of the season, is not quite panic attack material. Maybe.

Even regular golf balls kind of freak me out.

Even regular golf balls kind of freak me out.

I can now finally begin dealing out eggs to people that I owe them to. One lady I work with has been bringing me egg cartons all winter, and telling me how many eggs from the grocery store she’s been eating. I have always had to meekly shrug and apologize that it’s just been a really slow winter for us. Come Monday, she’s getting one of those egg containers back, filled with eggs of course, and then I can remind her that all those store-bought eggs she’s been getting taste like cardboard compared to mine. Or maybe I should tone it down a bit and just thank her for the cartons and say, “Enjoy!”

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ulma Gloderl by Franz Lichurtichentaler)

Spring Break!

March 18th, 2016

Well, even though it’s Spring Break, I had more work to do than usual (papers again), so no podcast this week. Meanwhile, enjoy this visually stunning (mostly) rooster footage. See you next week!


Think Chickens from Chase Rees on Vimeo.

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Boss Chicken Laid An Egg!

March 11th, 2016

The title of this episode refers to a song my son and I always used to sing if Boss Chicken did in fact lay an egg. It somehow never got old. If my son was inside when I made the discovery, I would run inside and just sing, “Jingle bells, Batman smells,” and he’d stop whatever he was doing and answer, “Boss Chicken laid an egg!” It was a pretty good bit, but I was worrying we had seen the end of it. Spring, or something like it, is landing on us, and while a few of the ladies in the coop are back to work laying eggs, I wasn’t sure if Boss Chicken would be. I assumed whoever was laying the eggs was a n00b, since the Old Guard are getting a little long in the beak, and so I’m not hanging onto any expectations of them reaching their old levels of productivity.

batman smells

Seriously, dude. Wash the suit once in a while.

An odd thing I noticed was that when we finally got eggs again, the first couple looked suspiciously like Mandrell Sister eggs. I can tell the difference. Since they were the first eggs of the season, I didn’t want to be so sure right off the bat though. They were a little odd-shaped, which isn’t surprising. Have you ever stopped exercising for a while and then started again? It’s always a little tougher at first. Now imagine doing that with an egg. Things are going to be a little rough around the edges at the outset. The Mandrell Sisters have a history of torpedo eggs, but I wasn’t about to point fingers. I wasn’t sure where anyone was in their egging career, so I took the time to just sit back and let things happen, even if said things were slightly deformed.

weird eggs

Workin’ on it.

Just in case, I decided I ought to check the Boss for eggs now too. I didn’t want her to feel left out, but I also didn’t want to make her feel bad if the magic wasn’t happening “down there.” That didn’t stop me from picking her up every night and looking under her while asking, “Got an egg under there?” I realize now that this was probably too forward of me, but social niceties aren’t always my strong suit. To make matters worse, there usually wasn’t an egg under there. I was messing up all over the place.

egg shaming

Egg shaming is real.

Then last week, she was out enjoying the sunny side of the hutch, and I went to check the state of her bedroom. Often, there is a poop situation in need of wood chips in there. I opened the door, and while there was in fact poop, there was also a brand-new, perfectly-shaped egg sitting there. It was a Boss Chicken miracle! Or just a sign that she’s not ready to retire yet. Since then, I’ve gotten another couple of eggs from her. This is good news to me. I get more eggs, she gets to feel like she’s a productive member of the flock, and most importantly, we get to keep our family’s favorite bastardization of an already bastardized song. Winning all around!


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: The Great One Step by Victor Dance Orchestra)

A Chicken Miracle Occurs

March 4th, 2016

Sometimes the impossible, or what feels like the impossible, happens. We didn’t get any eggs between January 6th and February 15th. That’s the longest stretch of no eggs we’ve ever experienced, and I was honestly beginning to think that we’d never see another egg again. Well, at least from our chickens. I know where to see eggs, they just weren’t showing up in the place I wanted them to. My house. Or the coop, because I can carry an egg into the house myself, if I have to.

I mean, within reason.

I mean, within reason.

On the 15th, I opened the coop, saw the egg, and was so excited I said, “An egg! Thanks, chickies!” Notice that I included them all in the praise, in the hopes of encouraging the whole group to get on the egg train, or at the very least to not egg-shame anyone. We fell into an egg-every-other-day pattern for about week and a half. This was where we had left off in January before everything just stopped. I figured we’d hold there for a month or so until it really started getting light out, since the pre-hiatus egg pattern had gone that way. So when I went into the coop on what I thought was an off day, I was pleasantly surprised to find another egg, but figured they’d make up for it by skipping the next day. You know, a put in some extra hours at work, then take a comp day sort of thing.

Phonin' it in.

Phonin’ it in.

The evening of February 26th, I stepped out into the cool night air, and smelled the smell of someone cooking out. This is not a big surprise. It was a nice night, and people cook out all the time. I went about my chicken duties, saying goodnight to Boss Chicken and closing up the front of her little bedroom in the the hutch. I closed the main door to the coop, removed their yogurt dish and waterer, closed the door to the run, and set the electric fence. Then I went to check for eggs, though I was fairly certain there wouldn’t be any. I opened the rear door to the coop, and there, in the nesting bucket, was an egg. “An egg! Hey, thanks chickies!” I said again, a little louder than last time, since I was so surprised. Then, just as a force of habit, I checked the nesting bucket that they never use. And in there was another egg. “What!?!” I shouted. “TWO eggs, way to go chickies!” I wasn’t faking my enthusiasm, either. They, at least statistically, had really gone overboard this time. I gathered everything up and brought it into the house. “We got two eggs today,” I announced to the household. The household was not as impressed by this as I was. I put the eggs in the carton and marked them down in my egg journal. Then I went outside to get one more thing that I had forgotten to bring in the first time, and that’s when I noticed that the reason I smelled someone grilling was because our new next door neighbor was out there at his grill. And had been the whole time I was yelling with joy at the chickens. And his grill is about 50 yards from the coop, so there’s little doubt that he heard me.

They get that far-away look in the eye whenever I appear.

They get that far-away look in the eye whenever I appear.

Oh well. He was bound to figure out I’m a nut sooner or later.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: The Royal Vagabond by Jockers Dance Orchestra)

Playing Chicken Hooky

February 26th, 2016

I’m taking a class and had a paper due, so I was lax in my chicken duties this week. I’ll be back next week with a slightly smarter podcast. That’s how learning works, right?


Big chicken on campus.

Big chicken on campus.

Subscribe to RSS feed