Archive for September, 2013

Somebody’s Molting!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

(Broadcast 9/27/2013)

Recently I’ve noticed loose feathers around the coop and run, which is really not shocking in the least. We’ve got a bunch of birds hanging out in there, it seems pretty obvious that there will be the odd occasional feather that comes detached from it’s host, and there you go. O.k., well, see you next week! Then one day I opened the coop door to get eggs, and it looked like one of the Mandrell Sisters had exploded. First thing I had to do was confirm that all chickens were in a non-exploded state. Check. Ok, so then what would make this happen? My first thought was someone was molting, but of course, being the paranoid type who likes to look things up, I decided to make sure there weren’t other, more sinister things at play.

shadow chicken

What evil lurks in the parts of chickens?

There are a number of things that can make a chicken lose her feathers. One is a change of diet. I knew I could rule this out, since we’re very much steady as she goes in terms of the commercial food they get. We supplement that with vegetable scraps and other odds and ends, but nothing that would cause a shortage of any nutrition, or be considered a shocking change. They’re nothing if not well-fed.


They like variety.

That brings us to the issue of parasites, which always makes me a little itchy. There are plenty of little nasty critters that can make a chicken’s feathers fall out, so this was a worry. These can usually be ruled out by an examination of the chicken and the coop. Having cats, I know what to look for if fleas are involved. They leave the innocuous sounding “dirt” behind, which is their poop. It’s not as helpful as chicken poop in the garden. It’s really only good for figuring out if fleas are around. But I didn’t see any of this dirt on my birds. I didn’t see much of anything, really. A lot of parasites will leave bites or other marks on the skin, which will be a giveaway, even if you don’t see the bugs themselves. All I was seeing was lovely clean chicken skin. If chicken skin can ever been called lovely. Let’s say normal chicken skin. The normalness of their skin also helped me to rule out another nasty cause of feather loss – aggressive pecking. I had a chicken pecking at another one once, but I caught it very early on. I know what the results look like, and they aren’t pretty. Lots of blood and scabs. I’d have noticed this.

itchy guy

Somebody say “parasite?”

Molting can be triggered by the change in the length of days. Well, here we are with it getting darker much earlier, so I was beginning to suspect this was definitely my culprit. Chickens do go through an annual molt, and since mine are just over a year old, it looks like it may be time to ring in the New Year. As time went on, it became clearer that one of the Mandrell sisters had lost some feathers. The area around her neck started to get very thin. A typical molt starts at the neck and then moves down the body. What’s cool about new feathers is that they look a little like fish bones when they first appear. The soft part of the feather is contained in a tube, which slowly breaks away and then the feather as we know it emerges. What’s cool in concept can be very freaky in reality, especially when you look at your chicken and she seems to be wearing a necklace of spines. So edgy.

punk chicken

It’s all the rage in London.

There are two types of molting. One is the “typical” molt, and one is the “rough” molt. The typical molt means that the feathers fall out, but it’s sort of like a cat shedding. The chicken still looks fairly normal, but may have some spots that look a little sparsely feathered. The rough molt is something out of a chicken horror movie, or maybe more accurately, The Chicken Road Warrior. There’s a lot of skin, and weird tufts of feathers sticking out all over the place. It looks like mange, but because chickens look so odd when you can see their skin, it’s much, much creepier.

road warrior

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Luckily, we seem to be going through a typical molt. The first chicken I noticed was molting had some spiny feathers on her neck, and now her wings look a little ragged, but otherwise she seems fine. She just looks a little shabby chic. Another Mandrell Sister seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, so they can at least commiserate about the indignities of molting in front of the others. Chickens need support groups too. I just hope the feathers are back before it gets too cold. I understand the biological mechanisms behind sunlight triggering the molt, but it seems silly to have it happen when it’s getting cooler, rather than when it’s really warm out. But I assume they know what they’re doing. Which is probably a bad thing to assume, since they are chickens.


Speaking of not knowing what you’re doing, this caterpillar is in way over its head.


Download this week’s show.

Your Call Can’t Be Completed As Dialed . . .

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Hi everyone,

Due to some technical difficulties, there won’t be a Garden Guys show this week, and there wasn’t one last week either. I don’t want to deny people the magic of my chicken silliness, so in the meantime, here’s a video of Boss Chicken. (You may need to unmute it for full effect. Vine always defaults to muted for me.)






Vent Gleet? Vent Gleet!

Friday, September 6th, 2013

(Broadcast 9/6/2013)

Sometimes things just seem to happen at the right times. One of the chickens had been acting a little odd every so often, and I was keeping an eye on her to try to figure out if she was just being weird, or if something else was up. The problem was that she was one of the Mandrell Sisters, so I wasn’t really able to tell which chicken was acting weird, just that it was a Buff Orpington. Then I happened to notice that one of them had, for lack of a better term, a “racing stripe” down her butt, so at one point in recent memory, there had been some digestive upset. I didn’t see any evidence of that as an ongoing thing in the coop, but I was now paying extra close attention, and also had a way to distinguish this one from the other two. What brought it all together was a blog post by one of my former writing students. She has chickens, and writes about them, and mentioned that she had had a run-in with something called “vent gleet.” As I read the symptoms, I realized that one of my chickens might have this same issue.

Hot new website

Not too long ago, if you had said the words “vent gleet” to me, I might have figured it was a city in Holland, and pictured canals, lots of bikes, and people so liberal they make Massachusetts look like Texas. This image is now gone, thanks to the fact that vent gleet is also known as “messy butt disease,” among other things, and if you do any sort of research on it, you will see things that cannot be unseen. It’s a fungal infection of the “vent,” aka the “cloaca,” aka the chicken’s butt (which is also where the egg comes out for one stop shopping!). Diarrhea is a symptom, which is how the feathers in the butt area get so messy, but if you don’t treat it, it can spread internally and cause lowered egg production, or even death. Once I saw all the symptoms tied together, I knew this was probably what this chicken had going on. Luckily, that chicken that had been acting weird acted weird again right around that time vent gleet came on my radar. Nothing huge, just things like sitting in the shavings rather than on the roost, but when encouraged to go on the roost, she’d then just wander outside into the run in the dark. Maybe she thought it was actually morning, but it seemed wrong to me. I shined the light on her hinder, and lo and behold, there was the aforementioned racing stripe. I knew it was time to treat this chicken.

vent gleet

Van Gogh’s Vent Gleet landscape

One of the main ways to cure this affliction is to put apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ water. I do this anyway, so I was a little miffed that she still managed to rock the gleet. But these things happen. I brought her into the quarantine pen, and began stronger treatments.

The big one people recommend is to give the chicken a bath. This may sound ridiculous, but you have to get the dirty feathers dealt with. An epsom salt soak is how many people do it, since this will also kill the fungus, but I didn’t think I had a large enough bucket or the patience to do this. I went the brute force route and snipped the dirty feathers off with scissors. I then gave her a dose of an epsom salt solution, which I had to administer a few drops at a time. I had the chicken wrapped in a towel as I hunched over her, trying to get her beak open to get the magic potion in. It took about a half an hour, but the humiliation I felt will last a lifetime. You can just leave this solution out for them to drink if there is no other water, but that seemed like an invitation for it to get dumped in the shavings. She eventually got her full dose, and then I put her in a dog crate with food, water, and some yogurt. The probiotics in the yogurt also help fight the fungus.

chicken bath

They love bubble baths, really.

I initially put the waterer they used as chicks in there with her, but she wasted no time in spilling that everywhere. Since we’re trying to fight fungus, it seemed counterproductive to have a moist chicken. I took that waterer out, put in dry shavings, and attached a hamster water bottle to the crate. After a day or two, I noticed two things. 1. There was no diarrhea to be seen, and 2. she didn’t seem to have figured out how to use the water bottle. She had also been away from the rest of the flock for five days at this point, and I was worried about having to reintroduce her if she stayed out much longer. Most people seem to think they need to be quarantined for a week, but I felt that since she seemed to be on the up and up, maybe I could put her back in after five days, at least so she’d get some water. I put her back in the coop the next morning, and she fit right back in as if nothing was wrong.

butt toupee

Next on QVC.

The good news is that the weird smell in the coop has disappeared. There’s a sickly sweet smell that the fungal stool gives off, and I realized in retrospect I had noticed an odd aroma and just chalked it up to humidity. I’m not smelling it anymore, so that’s a victory. The bad news is that she still sometimes sits in the shavings and goes out in the run in the dark if I try to put her on the roost. So maybe it’s not the gleet, or maybe she needs more treatment. Whatever it is, she’s missing a big chunk of butt hair, so for now I can keep a better eye on her until I figure it out.

(There’s an update to my vent gleet treatment here. There’s an easier way!)

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