Archive for the ‘Bugs’ Category

Lousy Mites

Friday, October 30th, 2015

I was all at ease thinking the mites were long gone and once the molt was over, everyone would be back to normal. This is why I should never be at ease. The mites, I think they are back. I’m not 100% positive, but I’m maybe about 90% positive. What makes me slightly unsure is that they only seem to be affecting Suzy Creamcheese Junior, but at the same time, when they infiltrated the flock, they moved one chicken at a time. So maybe Suzy is holding onto the infestation somehow, and they’re going to begin to work their way back out, using her as a base station. I just don’t know. I’m still getting a handle on how these horrible things work.

how mites work

A little itchy reading.

Suzy has always been the one who seemed to get it the roughest. She didn’t lose quite as many butt feathers as Henny Penny, but she did also start to look like some chest feathers were being affected. One side of her chest got all ratty looking, but they never fully fell out, like on her butt, nor did they ever seem to recover. I wasn’t ever quite sure if this was just something to do with molting, or what the cause really was. It just sort of lingered, as a strange mangy reminder that feathers are a mystery.


Tufty in the front, bald in the rear.

She also seemed to be itchier about all this than the others. When I check them at night, I will often catch her picking at the edges of her bald butt, or under her wings. Under the wings seems to be a popular place for mites to gather, but she never seemed to lose feathers there. But, if she was picking at that area, it made me nervous that mites were present. I would get her under there with diatomaceous earth whenever I went in and gave everyone a dose of that. It just may not have helped.


Another popular mite gathering place.

What makes me think she still may be infested is that her tail feather growth not only seems stalled, but might actually be moving backwards. Even though all she had was new feather nubs, there seem to be fewer than before, and her bald spot in the butt area might be getting bigger. I can’t be sure, but I have some suspicions. Meanwhile, she is still picking at her underwings, and her chest tuft is still tufting. It could just be that with molting also going on now, that everything is going to take longer, since feather regrowth takes a while anyway, and a molt will just make it all go slower. Or she could have had it so bad that it never quite got fixed. What I think I’m going to have to do is try the mite poison again. There is a technique I have heard of in which you put the poison powder in a bag, and then put the chicken in the bag up to her neck, and then shake the whole thing so the chicken is fully coated with poison. This seems like a bad idea for a number of reasons, the least of which is trying to get a chicken into a bag. So I’m not going to try this. I’ll put on my contamination suit and head out there with the poison in the next night or so, and do it the old-fashioned way. I don’t like using poison, but I think in order to rule out further contamination, I have to. It’s getting colder, and she can’t be out in the winter with a bald butt. We don’t have much room in the house for chickens, though I do bring Boss Chicken in when it gets severely cold. I can’t move the whole flock inside, especially if they’ve got bugs. That would just create whole new worlds of trouble. Using the poison is probably the easiest thing at this point, and if worst comes to worst, I’ll get her a butt toupee.


I don’t know whose butt toupee that is, but it’s terrific!

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Hawaiian Twilight by Hawaiian Trio)

More New Friends!

Friday, July 31st, 2015

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.

mystery friend

How I’ve gotten a few friends on the cheap.

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.


Sometimes they prefer to express themselves through dance.

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.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

The official flag of the Garter Snake Party.

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)

A Mite Impatient

Friday, July 24th, 2015

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.

side effects

Also, probably diarrhea. It’s always diarrhea.

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.

other ideas

Sometimes they keep this bucket behind the counter.

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.

trash can.

Gonna need another can.

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.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

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.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Memphis Tennessee by The Gulf Coast Seven)

Our Local Mite Suppliers

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Last time we were together, I told you about the ongoing mite issues I’ve been having. I’m not sure if we’re making any progress or not, because feathers take a long time to grow back, so I need to find a better benchmark for gauging how things are going. Suzy Creamcheese Junior was scratching under her wing last night when I checked on them, so everyone got another dose of diatomaceous earth, just for good measure. I also put a bunch of wood ash from the fireplace in the run, so they can take dust baths in it. That’s supposed to help a lot too. I’m keeping an eye on things, and for the time being, I think that’s the best I can do.

keep an eye on it

Maybe I don’t need to keep such a close eye on it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering why they got mites this year, but have never had them in the past. I don’t think I’ve done anything differently than before. Mites apparently like it when it’s humid out, and that can lead to an outbreak, but we’ve only had a couple of humid days, and it’s been much cooler than usual so far this Spring and Summer. I first noticed the butt feather loss back when it was still fairly chilly out. So weather conditions don’t seem likely to be contributing. However, one big source of mites for chickens can be wild birds. We live out in nature, on the edge of some woods, so there are a lot of birds around. They don’t get into the coop or run, but they are in the yard, and the chickens get yard time too. I suppose if the local birds are having a mite outbreak, it’s likely to spread. I could just keep the chickens locked up, but I don’t think that will help, and it will just make them crazy. They want to run around the yard, and I want them to as well. I suppose yard mites are the cost of doing business, in some ways.


The American Robin – Turdus migratorius. More like Turdus MITEgratorius, AMIRITE?

The other night I went out to our trash can, and happened to flush out a whole turkey family. There were two or three adults, and about 15 babies, which it turns out are called “poults.” If I knew the genders of the poults, I could call them either jakes or jennies, but we’re not that familiar. They are quite cute though. They wandered up the hill behind our house, and weren’t too frightened by me, but clearly wanted some personal space. Since then, I found out they also like to hide in our front lawn during the day. My mother-in-law saw them out there, and when they saw her, they just squatted down and somehow managed to disappear just like that. It seems crazy, but the other night we all were sitting outside, and suddenly a turkey materialized in the front yard, then wandered around back, more or less unfazed by us. I went inside, and looked out the back window, and there was the whole family. They wandered around for a while, and then, one by one, flew up into the giant pine trees behind the house. If you’ve ever seen a turkey fly, you know how strange it is. They’re big, and their centers of gravity seem off. But they got to the lower branches, which are about 50 feet up. Even the poults made it up there. Once they were all in the trees, they slowly leapt from branch to branch, climbing higher and higher until I couldn’t see them out the window any more. So apparently they have taken up night time residence out back, and spend their days out front. It’s cool to have them around, provided they remain non-aggressive. If these were geese, we’d be fighting for our lives every time we went to our cars, but the turkeys seem pretty mellow, for now.

canada goose

Canada Geese do their best to fight Canadian stereotypes.

I got to wondering if the turkeys are what brought the mites around, since we didn’t have these visitors last year. Maybe, maybe not. It may just be a coincidence. I’m also not sure how to tell a turkey family to go away, and frankly, I don’t really want to. Watching them do their thing is incredibly interesting to me. If having them around means I have to work a little harder to control mites, then that’s what I’ll do. Experiencing this sort of natural excitement is exactly why we moved out here. Nature can be fun, and nature can be parasitey. I can’t prove the turkeys gave us mites, and as long as they play nice otherwise, they get the benefit of the doubt.


Hello, neighbors!


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Persian Lamb Rag 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)

Chicks And Ticks

Friday, May 1st, 2015

The other day at work I had a discussion with some coworkers about ticks for at least 20 minutes. It is tick season again, after all, and so that means it’s time to complain about ticks. (We’re hopefully done complaining about snow for a while.) There was a lot of squirming, use of the word “nasty,” and the general feeling that we were just all going to itch for the rest of the day. And in case we weren’t, I was sure to mention that bedbugs also exist, so hopefully at that point itchiness was a slam-dunk. “They don’t have these tick problems in the South,” was brought up, but the presence of roaches that can fly was deemed possibly even worse. So finally we just expressed our general disgust with both ticks and flying roaches, and got back to work.

flying roach

Roaches always fly first class.

I have to say I have a slightly mixed set of feelings about ticks. If it weren’t for them, I never would have gotten chickens. We got the chickens to eat the ticks, and I think it’s safe to say that getting chickens has been a very pleasant experience for me, even with the number of times I have had to stick my finger in one of their butts. But ticks are also disgusting disease-spreading parasitic monsters, and I’d be fine with them not existing. But they do, so I have to assume they serve some purpose. Is it merely as a disease vector? I complain about the mosquitoes a lot, but I can see that mosquitoes serve as food for bats, and I love bats. I understand that though mosquitoes are also unpleasant, disease-spreading monsters, they have a role to play. They suck, but they’re someone’s food. Who eats ticks in the wild? Anyone? Not me.

theater ticks

I only eat ticks at the movies.

We had a very mild winter a few years ago, and the following summer, the tick population surged. All the talk was that it was because we need the cold and snow to kill the ticks as they await spring. So this winter, with the feet and feet of snow we got, must surely mean that we have wiped them out really good, and there will only be like 10 ticks this year, right? Nope. Now everyone on the news is just talking about how the snow actually insulates the ticks and protects them from the harsh temperatures. Mild is no good. Frigid and snowy is no good. I suspect there’s really nothing that will keep the populations down, and the news just tells us that whatever sort of winter we had was the wrong kind just to dash our hopes that this year will be a mild tick year. I wouldn’t put it past them.

tick report

Most news networks are on the payroll of Big Tick.

My mother in law found three ticks on herself after just being out in the yard the other day. She hadn’t even ventured into the leaf litter like I usually do. That’s not good. On the plus side, I know I had already had my first tick incident of last year on Marathon Monday, and that’s come and gone and I’ve remained tickless. But spring has just begun. They’ll get me for sure, it’s just a matter of when. My personal record is four on me in one day. Not something I’m looking to beat, but it’s out there.

tick track

My marker is at the ready.

I take all the right precautions, and still get these awful creatures on me. They even get into our house. Do we need to start keeping chickens in there? That might not sit well with the cats, or the carpet. I’ll let the ladies out as much as I can to try to decimate the tick population, but I know they can only do so much. We need a lot more chickens working a lot more hours to really get results. I may have to quit my job and dedicate myself to eradicating ticks in the yard by means of chickens full-time. I’m sure it pays well, and will provide good insurance to cover the inevitable tick-borne illness when one sneaks past the goalies. Ticks are awful, awful things, but we’ll just have to deal with them living where we do. At least I got chickens out of the deal.


A chicken, in case you’ve forgotten what they look like.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: 1910-The Flatterer by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

Too Many Crickets!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

(Broadcast 10/11/2013)

If you’ve ever been outside, it’s probably not a surprise to you that there are things out there. You know, things: lions, tigers, bears – that whole nature trip. I often scan the darkness with my headlamp while walking out to the coop to see if I’m alone out there or not. I usually am, at least that I can see. But I think that’s only in terms of things large enough to have eyes that would reflect back at me. Certainly the tree frogs have been out there in force until it got chilly, and the wooly bear caterpillars seem to like our front steps, though sometimes it seems to be where they come to die. I fear we may be living on top of some sort of wooly bear burial ground. But dead wooly bears don’t talk, so I may never know. When I go out to take care of the chickens and it’s dark out, I often suspect I am not alone. The spiderwebs on the coop are a giveaway, but surely there are other things out there besides spiders, right? If not, why did I spend so much time on coop security?

lions, tigers, and bears

Oh my!

With autumn here, my chicken responsibilities can be dealt with earlier and earlier. Sometimes in the summer, I would want to go to bed shamefully early, but it would still be light out. The downside of living close to nature but far from my job is that I have to get up awfully early to get to work on time. I didn’t feel right going to bed before closing the coop door, though they’re perfectly safe if I don’t. I actually leave it open on summer weekends so they don’t squawk to be let out at 5am. For some reason, weeknights are different, and I would force myself to be up past 8:30 so I could lock them in. Lately though, I can get my chicken tasks done even before my son’s bedtime. I suppose that’s the silver lining of shortened daylight. Then I can relax a little and go to bed at whatever ludicrously early time I choose.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man constantly tired.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man constantly tired.

A little while ago I was out doing my evening ritual of checking the food and water, and then saying goodnight to the chickens, and thinking again about whether or not I was alone out there. These positively extraterrestrial looking caterpillars have been out in the yard lately. They’re bright yellow and have antennae that look like horns. They don’t seem to be afraid of the coop area, which is foolish. Chickens don’t care if you look cool, as long as you are tasty. I even had one on my arm one night once I was back in the house. I have no idea how it got on me, but there it was. I put it back in the yard, and vowed to be more vigilant about stowaways.


This is supposed to be a caterpillar.

So the night when I came in and felt an odd tickle on my leg perhaps indicated I had let my guard down once again. “That’s a weird itch,” I may have thought. Then, as it progressed up my leg, it turned to, “that’s a weird itch moving up my leg,” and then further to, “I hope that’s not a tick on my leg.” Then I realized the sensation covered an awful large area for a tick. “Oh no,” I realized, “One of those caterpillars is IN MY PANTS.” In a surprisingly (for me) quick motion, I grabbed the outside of my pant leg in my fingertips right where I felt the weirdness. “There’s . . . there’s something in my pants,” I said to my wife. She gave me a look. “No,” I said. “I mean there’s someTHING in my pants.” That’s when the strain of profanity that indicated I had no next move started pouring out of my mouth. I had trapped the thing, but if I let go, it would be loose again. “The pants must come off,” I said, and proceeded to undo all the workings of them with one hand, while still containing the pant creature in the other. I stepped out of them, released my fingers, and then shook the pants, not knowing what to expect. I half worried that it was really only an itch, and I was now standing pantless and full of swears in front of a witness. But as I shook, there, on the floor, appeared a reasonably large cricket. I understand it is good luck to have a cricket in your house, so it must be even more so if they head up your pants. Lucky me. I went to find a container to catch it in to let it loose outside, and my wife called out that not only was the cricket o.k., it was also very “sproingy,” so I’d better hurry up before it escaped. I caught it in an old takeout container, and released it near the wooly bear burial ground.


They were pants . . . JUST LIKE THESE

A more vengeful person might have put it in with the chickens as a treat for them, but in spite of the scare it gave me, I bore it no ill will. Maybe it stowed away on me because it was trapped in the coop and knew it was doomed if it didn’t. Maybe it was just a pervert. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into all of this. I often worry about the big things that may be out there sniffing around the chickens, but there are plenty of smaller ones too. I resolve to be more observant, and to maybe tuck my pants into my socks from now on.


“Hey, whaddya say I climb up your leg?”

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Brooklyn Chickens

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

In spite of how often I seem to find ways to make mistakes, I sometimes feel like I have it easy with this whole chicken thing. We’ve got a ton of space to let them run around. We live 5 minutes from a feed store, so whenever I need anything, I can just nip over for it. No one lives in the house closest to us, so they can’t be bothered by noise. It could be a lot worse. If I find myself thinking some chicken-related task is a drag, I remind myself that I could be doing this in the city, and it would be a lot harder there. Then I think, “Well, how do people do this in the city, then?” My friend Scott lives in Brooklyn and has chickens, so I decided to ask him about it. Is that city enough for you? You got a problem with Brooklyn?


Life in the city.

The big thing I was curious about was predators in the city. I’m a little obsessed with making sure nothing can get into our coop besides chickens. That’s probably a good thing, since so many things that like to eat chickens live where we are. When I think about times I’ve lived in cities, though, I start to think about rats, and how I am so much happier worrying about fisher cats and possums and raccoons than rats. Rats can pretty much get into whatever they want to, no matter what you do to stop them. I was once on a kick where I read a bunch of books about various types of vermin, and the rat one really kind of scarred me. I know what they’re capable of. So I asked Scott what predators he had to worry about. His answer kind of surprised me. Rats aren’t really the issue. Feral cats are. I had completely forgotten how many feral cats are kicking around Brooklyn, even though we have one as a pet, which we rescued when she was a kitten. Because of this feral cat situation, Scott has made the wise decision to not let his chickens out to free range in the yard. There are some rodents around, but the cats are probably the ones to watch. His own cat even once snuck into the coop and experienced a brief moment of what Scott described as being in the Thunderdome before beating a hasty retreat. I think street cats might not back down so easily. His coop setup is quite nice, and the chickens have plenty of room to run. They’re happy and safe inside.

Scott's coop

Scott’s coop

It’s been a while since I lived in Brooklyn, but I never remembered seeing any feed stores around in my travels. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were there, since you can pretty much find whatever you need if you look hard enough, but I asked how Scott handled the feed issue. He said they used to just track down an Agway any time they left town, but they’ve recently found a guy who raises his own chickens and sells feed out of his garage right in the city. Of course, his garage is protected by security cameras, barbed wire, and a gate with a buzzer, so you might think he’s selling something other than chicken food. Maybe he is, but you have to applaud his industriousness for finding new markets. It’s certainly easier than having to go out of town any time you need to stock up on feed, intimidating though it may seem.


No buzzer here.

I suppose Scott could just get chicken bedding from this guy also, but why bother when the New York Times is printed with soy ink? He just shreds some copies of the Grey Lady, tosses it in the coop, and that’s all there is to it. Food for the mind, bedding for the other end. It’s compostable, and maybe the chickens will learn something. It almost makes me want to subscribe just to do this too. I really like this idea. He keeps the paper on a good rotation, and so there are few problems with smells.


Good reading, and other things.

The question I was a little afraid to ask had to do with the ultimate fate of these birds. Not everyone is a weirdo chicken-hugging vegetarian like me, so I had prepared myself for a less than storybook ending (depending on what sorts of storybooks you read). He did say that once they stop laying eggs they will have outgrown their usefulness to him, as he is not running a chicken retirement home. However, he has a cousin in Vermont with a fruit tree that is a magnet for a certain type of bug, and these bugs are considered highly delicious by chickens. So when the time is right, they will be sent out to the Green Mountains to retire in bug eating bliss. It’s the rare case where sending your pet off to a farm in the country isn’t actually a euphemism.

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

Future bug eaters. (Probably current bug eaters, also).

There are a million stories in the chicken city, and this is just one of them. What I love about raising chickens is that there’s room for everyone to do things their own way, and so they do. Loads of people in New York have chickens now, and I bet plenty of them do things entirely differently from Scott. If I hear about others, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll think about how my own coop could probably qualify as a highly expensive studio apartment in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, and remind my chickens how good they have it.

(All photos from Scott’s Facebook page.)

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Bugs And Smells And Diatomaceous Earth

Friday, July 12th, 2013

(Broadcast 7/12/2013)

Sooner or later, you’re going to have bugs or smells or bugs and smells in your coop or run or coop and run. Bugs and smells are things that will find a way. If we could harness their power to appear, we could solve the energy crisis, but instead we continue to push things like fracking, when the money is in bugs and smells. Anyway, let’s focus on saving the coop or run or coop and run. I’ll deal with saving the world later.

bugs + smell = $

Remember this equation and you can’t go wrong.

I have been pretty fortunate to not have had much of a problem with bugs or smells, or maybe I have just have a high tolerance for them. Where we live has a lot of bugs. You’ve got your ants, your piercing/sucking mouthpart parasites, a.k.a. humungous mosquitoes, various flying stinging S.O.B.s, and then loads of dragonflies, which I actually totally enjoy having. The green ones seem to be especially friendly, and even let you pet them. On the flip side of that, we also have these weird woodland roaches that live in the leaf litter. If there’s one thing we have, it’s poison ivy. If there’s a second thing, it’s leaf litter, so we’ve got these roaches everywhere. They fly, too, just to be the total package. Luckily, if the roaches go near the coop or run, they’re going to get eaten. Circle of life. Most of the other bugs aren’t that interested in chickens. What you’re going to have a lot of is flies, because you’re also going to have a lot of poop. Flies are into that. So controlling the poop is a start. This helps with both the flies and the smell.

Poop Knob

This knob does not actually exist.

So how do you control the poop? Well, to start, keep the coop clean. If you’re not keeping the coop clean, you may have bigger problems than stink. What I do is put clean pine shavings down on top of any fresh coop poop in the morning, and then once a week I clean out the under-the-roost area. That’s where it’s all concentrated. For the rest of the coop, I do what’s called the “deep litter method,” which involves adding more shavings, and getting the chickens to mix any old poop around so it’s not near the surface. You do this by throwing treats in there, and they mix it all up by scratching around. There’s not that much poop actually mixed in there, at least in my coop, since they only really are in the coop to sleep or lay eggs. It doesn’t really smell like anything.

too many chips

Just don’t get carried away with the wood chips.

The run is where I’ve had problems with smells, but really only if it’s been wet or humid. These last few weeks have been kind of brutal in terms of humidity, and even then, I only notice a smell if I’m standing right next to the run. The times it has been bad, what I’ve ended up doing is dusting everything with diatomaceous earth. This is powder made from fossilized micro-organisms called diatoms. The cool kids call it D.E. I’m not sure why it works on smells, but I do a dusting, and everything smells fine until the next rainstorm. You can also try putting sand in the run, or even straw, but I’ve never had the smell get so bad that I felt the need to try that. Which is good, because straw can get icky if it rains, and there’s one more thing to have to clean out. The nice thing about D.E. in the run is that when the chickens take dust baths, they get coated in the D.E., which can help control mites.

the fonz says DE

When in Rome, do as The Fonz does.

Diatomaceous earth also works wonders for bugs in the coop. The diatoms are broken into tiny pieces, and these pieces will do a number on the exoskeletons of insects. I will periodically sprinkle some in the coop just as a preventative measure. It gets mixed around in the bedding as the birds walk on it, and so there’s no place to hide. The main thing to be concerned with is that you get food grade D.E. That’s o.k. for animals to come into contact with. Feed stores usually have it, since this is such a tried and true remedy for a lot of things. If you do any sort of search online for “bugs in the coop,” the first line of defense is always D.E. If things get bad enough, you may have to take everything out of the coop, bleach it (don’t bleach the chickens, though), and then put it all back when it dries, and keep the chickens out while it’s drying. This is a good thing to do once a year anyway, but the mood is much different if you’re doing it because you’ve got a critter invasion.

critter invasion

How all critter invasions start.

Speaking of critter invasions, diatomaceous earth is something that works wonders on bedbugs too. Put your mattress in a bag, dump some D.E. in there, seal it up, and after about a week, you should be good. You not only get to say the word “diatomaceous,” but you win out over bedbugs too. Of course, no one really wins when bedbugs are involved. Not even me. I get itchy just saying that word. I brought this on myself.


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