Archive for June, 2015

Chickens And Mites

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Henny Penny has a naked butt. At first I suspected that it was from butt pecking. Suzy Creamcheese Junior shortly thereafter lost a bunch of butt feathers, and I even saw wounds on her butt that totally looked like pecking wounds. I was putting Blukote on the affected butts, which is an antiseptic, and is supposed to stop butt pecking. But the butt feathers continued to disappear, and/or not grow back. Then I noticed that one of the Mandrell Sisters was starting to lose butt feathers too. So I either had a rampant butt pecker on the loose, or this was something else. And the something else that it probably was was probably mites. The story you’re about to hear will make you very itchy.

pecky the kid

Pecky The Kid – as seen in the book Buttpeckers and Bad Hens.

I recently thought Steve had vent gleet. She may still have had it. I almost hope so, otherwise I put her through the epsom salt drink ordeal for nothing (see last week’s post for more details on the epsom salt drink ordeal). But she had a poopy butt, and in my experience, that means vent gleet. However, it turns out that having a poopy butt can also be a sign of having mites. So I had thought that I had chickens with multiple butt ailments, and only when I looked at the big picture did I see what was really happening. There may not be a phantom butt pecker on the loose after all, just a ton of tiny butt biters.

butt crisis

Steve’s existential butt crisis.

Mites can be very hard to see, but I thought I’d look for them anyway. When the ladies were resting on the roost at night, I grabbed a Mandrell, and gazed deeply into her featherless butt area. I did see tiny dark spots on her skin. They didn’t move, like mites often do, but they also didn’t look like they should be there. It was time to treat for mites, just in case. The “good” news is that like everything to do with chickens, there are a million opinions about how to treat this. One was to use diatomaceous earth in the coop to kill the mites. That was lucky, because I have a bunch of diatomaceous earth. I sprinkled it in their bedding, and waited. Turns out I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, so a few nights later, I went in and patted some onto each of their butts, just to make sure it got where the little nasties were.

butt in the night

Things that go butt in the night.

People often complain that diatomaceous earth is bad for the respiratory systems of everyone who comes in contact with it. This may be true. Others say this is why you should use Sevin dust instead of diatomaceous earth, but if you read the label, Sevin is 95% diatomaceous earth, plus some poison. It also apparently is terrible for bees, and I am a big supporter of bees, so I crossed that cure off my list. The next thing I heard about was called “poultry powder.” This seemed to be the thing that people who didn’t like Sevin recommended. It’s also a poison, but allegedly less dangerous than Sevin, so I ordered some of this just to hedge my bets. Then I got it, and on the label it says it too is bad for bees, but only if you put it on flowers bees are pollinating. I wasn’t doing this, and there are no flowers near the coop, so hopefully no bees died in the treating of my chickens. However, chickens can die from mite infestations, so it was important for me to get this sorted out. I did the same thing with the poultry powder that I did with the diatomaceous earth. I snuck in at night, patted some on the infested butts, and hoped for the best.

love the bees

Love the bees

One dose won’t do it. I have to repeat this procedure in 10 days, since the powder doesn’t kill the eggs, just the live mites. So in 10 days the mite eggs will hatch, and then I’ll get those mites too, I hope. I also cleaned all the bedding out of the coop, washed the entire coop in vinegar, and let it air out. It smelled like a salad for a while, but who doesn’t like salad? I’m not sure how I’ll know if the mites are defeated, since feathers can take a while to grow back. This may be a slow process. I guess I’ll repeat the treatment as needed until I see butt feather regrowth occurring. I suppose I have all summer, huh? This is not the vacation I was hoping to take, but maybe with the right amount of marketing, butt mite excursions will take off. Another million dollar idea from my chickens’ hinders.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Guatemala – Panama March by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Steve’s Got The Gleet!

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Vent gleet has been a continual burr under my blanket for a very long time. Some people call it “nasty butt disease” due to the lovely symptom of diarrhea, but it’s really a fungal infection of the vent (aka the chicken down-below hole). There are things you can do to ward it off, such as give your chickens yogurt, since probiotics are anti-fungal, and you can put apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ water for the same reason. You know what? I do both these things, and every year I have to deal with at least one chicken coming down with it. Would it be worse if I didn’t do these things? I don’t know, and I’m not willing to find out. It’s annoying enough dealing with one chicken that has it, I don’t want a bunch of them to get it at once.

Saturday Night Gleeter

Saturday Night Gleeter

For a while now, I kept looking at Steve’s butt in the yard and wondering if she had the tell-tale nasty butt. I would look quickly, see what looked like crustiness, and then a minute later everything would be fine. “A trick of the light,” I’d think, and go about my business. Then a little while later, this scenario would repeat itself. It eventually happened enough that I finally remembered that I kept thinking she had something up with her butt, and I should probably get a closer look. That wasn’t going to happen during the day while they were out in the yard; I would have to strike at night.

night coop

It’s easier if you bring a flashlight.

After the sun had gone down, and the birds were on the roost, I crept into the coop and took care of some business. Henny Penny and Suzy Creamcheese Junior had been having their butts pecked, so I gave each of them a dose of Bluekote while I was in there. (It’s an antiseptic thing to protect them from infection.) Everyone probably hoped that I had finished my tasks at that point, but then I grabbed Steve. You may have heard of people screaming bloody murder before. You may not have heard of a chicken doing this, but I can assure you that this is exactly what Steve did. You know bloody murder when you hear it. I flipped her on her back, which usually calms a chicken down, but this only seemed to make her angrier. She managed to get away, but since it was dark, as soon as she hit the ground, she froze, since she couldn’t see where she was going. I grabbed her again, and the bloody murder began anew.

bloody murder

Nobody ever whispers bloody murder.

Eventually, I got her to sit still, even if she continued to make an unholy racket. It seems Wyandottes like Steve have fancy butt feathers that are layered, so when I was able to get at them, I could see that she did have poo-caked feathers under her butt, but they would just tuck back up under other ones after she had pooped. This explains why I’d see them, but then they’d be gone in the blink of an eye. I took out some scissors, and tried to cut the matted feathers off with one hand, while holding her in the other. This was proving to be more difficult than any other chicken I had dealt with. I almost walked up to my son’s bedroom window and asked my wife to come outside and help, since I knew she was in there. I stuck it out on my own though, and got most of the feathers removed. You can theoretically soak a chicken in a bucket for 20 minutes to ungunk the feathers, but I have never been able to get one to sit for more than 3 minutes before we both have enough. Steve had already shown her feisty side, so bathtime was not going to happen. Snip snip, and then the next step began.

chicken haircut

We’ve all had bad haircuts before.

I brought her inside, where I had a mixture of 1 ounce of water with 1 teaspoon of epsom salts mixed in. This was to be administered orally to the chicken. This has always been the worst part of the treatment, usually leaving me soaking wet, since chickens don’t like being made to drink from a dropper. You gently pull on their wattles, and it’s supposed to open their mouth so you can squirt a little of the solution in. It does get their mouth open, but you usually have a nanosecond before it closes again. Steve, being a Wyandotte, doesn’t have much of a comb to speak of, but her wattles are quite large and luxurious. So much so that getting her mouth open was the easiest thing I had done all night. I got all the epsom drink down without getting any on myself, and briefly sat there amazed. Then I realized I still had an angry chicken to deal with, and brought her back to the coop.

If only I could convince them it's a trendy cocktail.

If only I could convince them it’s a trendy cocktail.

I’ll need to do this again. It usually takes two doses to work, so after the first dose, you get to spend a few days thinking about how much fun it will be to do again. I’m still dreading it, since she’s such a firecracker, but hopefully the wattles will work in my favor once more. I can’t handle an epsom drenching. Not when it’s humid like this.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Whistling Rufus by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Chickens And Mantids

Friday, June 12th, 2015

If you’ve been following my chicken journey from the beginning, you’ll know why I got chickens. If you haven’t been, let me get you up to speed. The short version is that we live in a place overrun with ticks, and wanted to control them in a way that didn’t involve spraying poison all over everything. We live out in nature, and we’d like to keep it as natural as possible. Chickens, who are voracious tick eaters, seemed to be the way to do this. Guinea fowl are apparently slightly more effective at eating ticks than chickens, but they also roam a lot more, and we’re trying to stay on the good side of the neighbors. Letting your weird dinosaur-like bird wander into someone else’s yard is frowned upon in some communities, ticks or no ticks.

guinea hen

Not everyone wants to see this when they look out the window. Their loss.

Knowing this about me will allow you to understand my thought processes when it comes to pests. We currently have a plum tree that has been besieged by aphids for the past two years. I could, I suppose, go out and get some highly effective, if highly poisonous, spray to put on the tree, and that would be the end of that. But if I didn’t want to do that to the yard, do you think I’d want to do it to a source of my food? If you answered “no,” you’re correct. I tried releasing ladybugs on the tree last year, but they didn’t stick around for very long. I had a landlord who used them quite effectively once, but her batch must have been more attentive than mine, because mine flew away without eating a thing, and I had an aphid smorgasbord right there ready to go. I’m trying the ladybugs again this year, but also some bigger guns.


Coming soon to a mall near you.

Last year I bought some praying mantis egg pods, but I think I got them too late in the Spring, so by the time the mantises hatched, they didn’t have enough time to get to the size where they could eat anything we needed them to eat. We have something that comes through and shreds the leaves of any leafy green we plant right about the time it’s ready to pick. I figured mantises would be the right bug for the job, so this year I ordered them very early. They need warm weather to hatch, and of course, this Spring has been ridiculously cold. It was 45 recently. In June. June! In spite of this, the mantises hatched anyway, and it was very cool to see how tiny they were, and to watch them fan out all over the trees I had put the eggs in. Ants tried to eat one of the pods, but it was too late. The mantises were already on the loose, and while tiny, hopefully they were eating whatever they could get. If that meant ants, good. The ants are adding to the aphid issue, as ants like the nectar aphids leak out, and actually “farm” aphids for this.

ant farm

In plum tree, ant farms you! (Too many possible ant farm jokes, and this is what I went with. See the collected works of Yakoff Smirnoff if you don’t get it.)

As I watched the mantises drop from the eggs into the tree, I noticed the grass was also covered in them. It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to let the chickens out. I looked at the hundreds of tiny mantises and realized this was an all-you-can-eat mantis buffet right here, and decided, as much as it pained me, to leave the chickens in for the day. Once my little friends had some time to find their way to safer havens, the chickens could roam free again. I figured maybe a day or two would do it.

mantis safety

If only it were this easy.

The next morning I took my son to baseball, which is absurdly early. When we came home, my mother-in-law was mowing the lawn. As I pulled up the driveway, she was right where all the mantises had been under the tree. I had thought to leave her a note not to mow, but figured we’d be home so early no one would dare to mow before then. I was wrong. I had saved the mantises from the chickens, but had the mower gotten them, or had they found safety overnight? I suppose I can only wait and see if any show up once they’re larger, and easier to spot. I hope they lived, because I’d really like some kale from my garden this year. A cruel irony would be if the thing that eats my greens is the one thing mantises don’t eat. If so, I will buy more beneficial bugs, and I will win this battle. No one eats my plants but me. And maybe the chickens, when I have a surplus.

mantises hatching

Eat! Eat, my hearties!

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Peaceful Henry by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Chickens And Reading

Friday, June 5th, 2015

I don’t get to take vacations very often. Even if I have time off from work, I usually have about 100 ideas for creative projects I want to be working on, or work to do for one of my side jobs, or both. It’s kind of exhausting. And when I do get to take time off from my full-time job, I rarely get to sleep in, either because of having to take my son to school, or the chickens making an unholy racket at 5:30 in the morning, or just my general long-running history of unsatisfying sleep. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that the standards for what constitute a vacation these days have fallen considerably. It’s like the time I realized that all I really wanted was to go to bed at 11 and get up at 7 like I used to. That’s a pretty sad fantasy, but here we are.

Dare to dream.

Dare to dream.

I work for a university, and the last week of May is always really hectic on campus. We get Memorial Day off, which is nice. Then I can’t work on the following Thursday because that’s commencement, and due to security reasons, you can’t get into my building. There’s a huge ceremony right outside. So I’ve gotten into the habit in the past few years of just taking the rest of that week off. Then I only have to use a few vacation days, but I get a week off, and I at least get a break from the commute. As usual, before I had even put in for the time off, I had already made a completely unmanageable list of things I wanted to do while I was home. Spoiler alert: I accomplished one, maybe two, tops. I did get to let the chickens out every day, which was big for all of us. I’m not even entirely sure where the rest of the time went, but I started no new projects, and only barely kept up with the existing ones. But like I said, no riding the train, so that was nice.

Ants on your face? Better than riding the train.

Ants on your face? Better than riding the train.

By Thursday, I was completely wiped out, and decided it was time to bag productivity and just sit out in the yard and read while the chickens ran around. I’d get to relax, and they’d get a nice long bout of free-ranging. I brought Boss Chicken over to her favorite hosta, and she happily began a dirt bath underneath it. I sat at a table in the yard a few feet away with a book, and started reading. You probably already see where this is going. Boss Chicken, normally kept out of sight by the hosta, decided she wanted to be out on the grass. The other chickens, who usually work the far edge of the yard for bugs in the leaf litter, decided they wanted hang out near where Boss Chicken was. They will attack her if they get too close, and she has leg problems, so she can’t fight back or run away. So I’d read a sentence, get up and chase the others away, sit back down, read another sentence, get up, chase them away, sit back down, blah blah blah. I decided sitting at the table was a no-go, so I moved a chair over to where Boss Chicken was, and she sat next to me. The other chickens circled like feathery sharks for a while, then wandered off to do their thing, whatever their thing at that time was. Chicken trends are super hard to keep up with.

You're gonna need a bigger coop.

You’re gonna need a bigger coop.

And that, of course, was when the squawking began. Since I was right there, Boss Chicken wanted to be patted. I would try to read with one hand, and pet her with the other, but my book was large and unwieldy, and if I took my hand off the Boss, she began to loudly squawk until I put it back. I appreciate that she enjoys my attention, and that she’s tame enough for petting, but it really made it impossible to read. I put the book down and spent the rest of my time out there resting my hand on her back, and staring off into the distance. I suppose that’s a kind of chicken meditation, so it was not without its benefits. It just wasn’t how I had planned my afternoon.

meditating chicken

Chicken meditation isn’t offered at many gyms yet.

Even though reading was a wash, I still got to spend time outside, the chickens got to roam, I got to pet a chicken, and I came back inside without any ticks on me. Even if I had come back inside covered in ticks, I’d say that still beats a day in my windowless office bookended by fights for a seat on the train. I’ll take whatever sort of vacation I can get.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Siesta by Jahzzar)

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