Archive for November, 2013

While you’re waiting . . .

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Garden Guys won’t be broadcasting again until the new year, but don’t worry, I have stuff to fill those Fridays. For now, here’s a podcast my friend Even does called Necessary & Sufficient, in which he mails you two words, and then you have to talk about those words with him. I did this recently, and you’ll be shocked to know that I got two words relating to chickens, and off we went.

Click here to listen.

Also, here’s a chicken in a bucket.

I thought the chicken was supposed to be in a basket.

I thought the chicken was supposed to be in a basket.

Only Their Hairdresser Knows For Sure

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

(Broadcast 11/22/2013)

I know there are a lot of products out there to help people hide their gray hair. You can just dye it all, or you can leave some gray to look “distinguished,” or you can do just your beard, if you have one and it’s giving away your grayness. I have no problem with gray hair. I think it looks nice. Of course, as my wife likes to point out, I don’t have any, so I should shut up about it. If I was already going gray and I talked about how gray hair looks good, it would sound like I doth protest too much. I’m laying groundwork here for my inevitable be-graying. I just want everyone to know I thought this before I had to think it. Anyway, chickens, as far as I know, do not go gray. They look distinguished in their own ways, I suppose.

just for hen

Now in the chicken aisle

You might recall that the Mandrell Sisters are my three Buff Orpingtons who are nearly identical (at least to my eye). This has caused me no end of grief, the thinking being that I am not seeing their uniqueness. Well, there have been some developments. All three sisters have now gone through their annual molts, and things are not the same.

The first difference I noticed was that one of them was much, much lighter than she had been. She’s no longer yellow, but not quite beige. I’d say she’s become a sort of Silver Fox, if a. that wasn’t creepy to say about a chicken, and b. foxes didn’t eat chickens. I don’t want to call her that which intends to eat her. This is what got me thinking about gray hair. She might look a little distinguished, for a chicken. I don’t know that I will go to her for advice or anything, but something about her seems more respectable than it used to.


Must be the glasses.

The Mandrell Sister who has had issues with vent gleet, a.k.a. Gleety Mandrell, has stood out from the other two for a while now. At first, it was because she had the nasty butt typical of nasty butt disease. Then it was because I trimmed off all the nasty feathers, and she was the only one with a featherless hind end. As if this poor chicken hadn’t been through enough, her molt was pretty rough, too. Her tail feathers looked ragged to the point that I thought she was being picked on, until I noticed that she was bald around the neck where other feathers had fallen out. She was definitely on the “mange” end of the molt spectrum. The feathers are coming back in, but what I’ve noticed is that the new ones are lighter, but there are still plenty of old ones that are the original darker color. I’d say she looks mottled, now, if that’s what mottled means. Almost a calico, in way. I like calico cats. Calico chickens? She looks like the equivalent of wearing clashing plaids. I’ll try not to judge.

dr. whom

Just like this, but more feathery.

Then there’s the third sister. She has molted, but everything looks exactly the same, like that little black dress that never goes out of style. Maybe she’s behind the times as far as what’s new in chicken fashions, or maybe she’s doing that whole retro thing. Or maybe she’s like that friend who never seems to get old. Don’t you just hate that person? I don’t know. What I do know, is that I can now tell them apart, and this is fraught with issues. Do I now give them individual names? I liked the idea of a group name, though if anything happened to one of them, how would I cope? There are three actual Mandrell Sisters. What if one of the chicken Mandrell Sisters died? Would I have to have one of the human ones whacked for consistency? I have been known to go a long way for a joke, but I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far. Yet. Should I give them nicknames, like, say, Gleety? Do I just roll with the changes? Or do I do like the third chicken, and just stay put? These are big questions. Perhaps in the New Year, I will have answers. For now, I will keep the chicken ship steady as she goes, and if a new name (that isn’t Gleety) should present itself, I will be ready. Who knows, maybe I’ll even have some gray hair by then.



More Gardening Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

What Are You Feeding Those Things?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

(Broadcast 11/15/13)

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, which means it’s time for two things. The first will be the beginning of news reports about people burning down their houses while trying to deep-fry a turkey, and the second will be the features on the horrors of the Turducken, which you may or may not know is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. These two things have become as much a part of Thanksgiving as anything else. I will not be eating a Turducken, nor will I be eating my chickens for Thanksgiving. I’m certainly not stuffing them into each other to make a Chichichichichichicken. No one in our household eats anyone else, and I aim to keep it that way. However, with the talk of what everyone’s having for Thanksgiving, it’s gotten me thinking about what I feed the chickens and how that changes with the seasons.

chicken centipede

It would be kind of like this.

There are a few constants. I always give them “layer feed,” so they have plenty of that if they want it. It’s basically corn pellets with vitamins added, though you can get it in “crumble” form, which looks like someone stepped on the pellets. It’s more a tiny nugget thing, whereas pellets are obviously pellets. I have a feeder hanging under the coop, so they can pick at this stuff any time they want. An interesting thing about layer feed is that it’s basically the same stuff as some types of natural corn-based cat litter, but way cheaper. A few times in a pinch we’ve dumped some chicken feed in the litter box and gotten decent results. Though, I don’t recommend giving it to the chickens after you’ve done this, no matter how mad you are at them.

litter and food

Two different things. Don’t mix them.

In the warmer months, the chickens can feast to their heart’s delight on bugs and worms and anything they can dig up out in the yard. Of course, in the winter months, there are a lot fewer of these things to choose from. We did just go through a Wooly Bear caterpillar explosion, so maybe they loaded up on those, and aren’t feeling too snacky right now. I don’t think that’s likely. They’ll always eat something else, and they’ll spend hours digging around in the leaf litter at the edge of the yard in the hopes of a treat no matter the time of year. Even it’s buried in snow, which I’m sure is not far off. It’s not the super buffet it used to be, but they must be finding something in there, or they wouldn’t keep at it, right? Maybe they’re just eternal optimists.

bug buffet

Coming soon to a Denny’s near you.

They’ve been getting a lot of bread ends lately, as my son generally is sent to school with a sandwich for lunch, so we go through a lot of bread. No one likes the ends, except the chickens. I would offer the ends to you if you like them, but the chickens called dibs. Greens from the garden have just dried up, but the bread ends will continue. We do eat other vegetables through the winter, but probably not as many as we had growing, so the flow of veggies to the chicken run has slowed. The bread ends are forever though. At least until my son realizes he can complain about what we’re feeding him. Hopefully that’s a little ways off. We’ve been getting good mileage out of this whole sandwich deal.


Please learn all the parts by Friday. This is on the test.

The newest addition to the chickens’ diet is yogurt. There’s a lot of information out there that much of our health may be influenced by gut flora, even mental health. I want to make sure the chickens aren’t feeling depressed in the winter months. What makes me depressed is when they get vent gleet, aka “nasty butt disease”, and yogurt can go a long way towards preventing that. Every morning I put a bowl of yogurt out for them, and they go nuts for it. One morning, as a test, I put a cucumber next to the yogurt to see which they would go for, and not one chicken touched the cucumber until the yogurt was gone. It’s also hilarious to watch them eat it, as it tends to get all over their faces, and they chew it with their little beaks. So it’s good nutrition as well as entertainment. They just get the plain stuff. No fruit on the bottom, fruit on the top, or memories of fruit from a summer program you were in back in college. The cheap stuff is the best. The chickens don’t even care what kind it is, they just dig it.


Yogurt fans unite!

In the colder months, the main thing they lose is some of the variety of treats they can forage on their own. They still get plenty to eat, and if I’m worried about it, I can spend vast amounts of money at the feed store buying all sorts of other treats for them. I think they’ll be fine without tons of treats. Waiting will let them build up their appetite for ticks and ants, and at the first sign of spring, I will release my chicken fury on the insects of the yard with renewed vigor.


More Gardening Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

Winter Is Coming

Friday, November 8th, 2013

(Broadcast 11/8/2013)

It seems to have gotten colder lately, and for some reason it’s getting dark really early. What’s up with that? Oh, right. It’s fall. Fall is great, but the big problem I have with it is that winter is always right behind it. I suppose winter is fine as long as I don’t have to go outside in the cold, but society seems opposed to letting me just hole up until spring. Of course, even if I could find a way to not have to go to work, the chickens are outside, so at the very least I’d have to go out there periodically to fulfill my chicken duties. And I suppose if I have to go outside at all, I might as well just keep doing what I’m doing. If you can tell me what that is, I’d be grateful.

If you need me, I'll be here all winter.

If you need me, I’ll be here all winter.

But what about the chickens? How do they feel about winter? Well, I haven’t cracked their code yet, so I don’t quite have a handle on their feelings. However, I know that lots of people seem concerned about what I do with them in the winter. Don’t they get cold? I like to point out that they’re wearing down jackets, but not everyone catches my drift. What I mean is that they are covered in feathers, which keep them warm. They can probably deal with the cold a lot better than I can. What about putting a heat lamp in the coop? Again, they’re wearing down coats! But there’s more to it than that. There’s no electricity in our coop, and to run an extension cord all the way out there seems pretty hazardous. Then there’s the possibility that I could burn the coop down with a heat lamp. I’ve also heard that if you do give them a heat lamp, they’ll get accustomed to it, and so if something should happen to the lamp, like a power outage, they won’t be used to the cold, and this could cause problems. I’m not sure if that line of thinking is sound, but since I have no electricity anyway, I don’t have to worry about it. Chickens have been dealing with the cold without heat lamps for a very long time. I think they know what they’re doing.

down jacket

Not this kind of down jacket.

Something I do get concerned about is making sure there are no drafts, but plenty of ventilation in the coop. This may seem like a conflict of interests, but it isn’t if you do it right. When I was building the coop, I came across a rule of thumb that said “think about how many vents you think you need. Now double that.” The concern with the coop is not so much the cold, but moisture. Chicken poop is very moist. If that moisture doesn’t have somewhere to go, it will get on the chickens and freeze, which is how you can come to get frostbite on combs and wattles. A big draft is going to cause problems because you don’t want a steady stream of cold air rushing through. But you also don’t want something air tight, or the moisture gets trapped. I see this come up in talks about insulating coops all the time. The insulation can also trap the moisture. Moisture is the villain, not the cold. So I made sure I put in vents up high that didn’t point right at the roost, and that’s about it.


Venty, not venti.

I did once attempt to put vaseline on the chickens’ combs when the temperature dipped into the single digits. This might have gone better if I had had an assistant, but I was there, alone in the dark, with a chicken in one hand and a fistful of vaseline in the other. Some of that vaseline did actually end up on the chickens’ combs. The rest of it ended up everywhere else. I plan on rethinking this technique.


I propose a new slogan.

I do have some problems with dealing with the water bowl in the winter. An easy thing is to do is bring it in at night. They’re sleeping, so they have no need for it. During the cold days, though, it’s a little trickier. Some people use electric heated dog bowls, but there’s that “no electricity” thing popping up again. I recently saw a suggestion of putting ping pong balls in a bowl of water, and the balls floating around keep the water from icing up. I think this really only works for temperatures close to freezing. After a certain point, the ping pong balls can only do so much. The solution I use now involves a microwaveable dog bed heater called a “SnuggleSafe.” It’s a round disk you nuke for a few minutes, and it stays warm for allegedly up to 8 hours. I put that under the water and hope for the best. I had been using those little glove warmer packets for a while, so this is a big improvement. I also put apple cider vinegar in the water, which lowers the freezing point a bit, but not enough that I don’t need something else. If it’s really cold out, the water will be frozen when I get home, but I’m gone more than 8 hours. Maybe the claims of 8 hours of warmth are true, but I can’t really tell. The chickens seem fine though, so I’ll take that to mean the system is working.

heat lines

Heat lines, not stink lines.

Staying warm takes energy, so I also make sure they’ve got plenty of food. But other than that, I made sure I got breeds that could deal with cold temperatures. They’re built for this stuff. And when I start to worry that maybe it is getting too cold for them out there, I remember how many people from Minnesota or Canada have piped up in online discussions about how cold it gets where they live, and their chickens do fine without any extra help. I sure don’t want to be out there with them, but they seem to like winter just fine. I think they might be kinda nuts.


Check Out Gardening Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

No Garden Guys This Week!

Friday, November 1st, 2013

There’s no Garden Guys show this week, and therefore, no TMC. In the meantime, watch Boss Chicken dry off.

Subscribe to RSS feed