Archive for the ‘Chicken Nutrition’ Category

Season’s Gleetings!

Friday, 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)

Get Eating, Ya Ingrates!

Friday, February 12th, 2016

One of the best things about doing this podcast is that I have a pretty good record of all the chicken problems I’ve run into over the years, and how I dealt with them. Sometimes, my memory isn’t that great (or most times, if I remember correctly), so I may forget that I had a certain issue come up, and then I actually find my own post when searching for a solution. It would be embarrassing if I thought anyone saw. Right now, we’re in the middle of winter, and my chickens don’t seem to want to eat very much. The problem with that is that they need to eat in order to generate energy to stay warm, and for those of them that are still molting, to regrow feathers. I go and check the feeder regularly, and think, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” Then I go to mix the latest podcast, and for some reason, whenever I try to save a new file, it always wants to save in the folder called “Not Eating In The Winter,” which is the third episode I did post-Garden Guys. So this “dieting” has been going on for a while, and I should know they eat less in the winter because I am reminded of it weekly, but every few days, there I am looking into the feeder and thinking, “Hmm, they’re not eating much.” THANKS, BRAIN.

Wise guy.

Wise guy.

I always wonder how much of their eating behavior is a vicious circle. I give them high-protein snacks when it gets cold, to help with staying warm, and with feather re-growth. But checking the archives, I see that they originally stopped eating their normal feed before I started adding extra goodies. The goodies came in because I was worried about them not eating, and had to tempt them with exciting food. But then if you can eat cake all the time, why would you eat oatmeal instead? Once the cake is out there, you can’t go back. Sure, the cake is actually scratch and sunflower seeds, but you can buy that in cake form if you want. It’s great if you celebrate chicken birthdays, but your kid will never forgive you if you try to be funny at theirs.

Children don't like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

Children don’t like gag gifts, or seed cakes.

The first winter they stopped eating I was so concerned that I mixed their yogurt with regular food, apple cider vinegar, and scratch. I asked a guy at the feed store if he knew what was up, and when I described this concoction to him, other people in the store began to make fun of me for spoiling my chickens. Maybe so, but they’re still alive, right? They’re not starving to death on my watch.

Not that not starving.

Not that not starving.

I’ve begun to wonder if the fact that they only eat the high-protein stuff instead of the layer feed could have something to do with why we haven’t had any eggs for almost a month now. Sure, some of them are getting old, and some are molting, but this is an unprecedented dry spell. We had to buy eggs recently, and that fills me with shame. Shame is the mother of invention, at least for me, and so I’ve arrived at a compromise. I still give them scratch and black oil sunflower seeds, but I mix it in with layer feed. In their excitement to get the treats, they end up eating the regular food too, so I know they’re now getting at least a small dose of the full nutrition they need. I’m pleased it’s worked, and I’ll see if any eggs come about as a result.

The things I get excited about.

The things I get excited about.

I’ve heard of people who try similar tricks with their kids, and somehow this feels wrong to me. It’s o.k. to trick chickens, but tricking children feels like a violation of trust. Plus, my son only eats pizza or macaroni and cheese, both of which are difficult to hide things in. Perhaps if he ate food that lent itself to deceit better, I’d change my tune. I suspect this may be where his distrust of smoothies comes from. Good thing he’s not a chicken. I’d never get him fed.

Somebody say pizza?

Somebody say pizza?


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

The Return of Vent Gleet

Friday, October 10th, 2014

I’ve apparently been doing this chicken stuff long enough that I’m beginning to forget some of the things I’ve experienced. I mean, you never forget the first time you stick your finger up a chicken’s butt, but some of the less glamorous  problems may begin to fade from memory after a while. Because of this, I almost missed a nasty disease that snuck back into my flock. The following account may be considered shocking to some listeners, but if you have chickens, you know how gross they can sometimes be.

gross chicken

They know how gross they can sometimes be, too.

On one of my nightly egg checks, I opened the coop door and found that there was a chicken sitting in the nesting bucket while all the others were roosting for the night. This is never good. I figured if I was lucky, she was just broody, and I’d separate her from the others until the urge to hatch an egg subsided. But when I reached in to move her out of the bucket, she got up and ran away, and there was a real mess left behind. An egg was cracked in the wood chips inside the bucket, and her rear end looked really bad. I panicked that I had another chicken with a prolapsed vent, so I ran inside, got rubber gloves, and began my examination. It turns out that she merely had pooped and it had stuck to her butt because the broken egg had made everything super sticky. That was a weird thing to make me feel relief, but believe me, it was better than a prolapse. I tried to clean her off as best I could, but ended up trimming the soiled feathers, since it would not just wipe away.

chicken barber

At this rate, I’m going to open a chicken barber shop soon.

This happened right around the time I had put our new chicks in the run, with their chick food, which the adult hens kept eating. I thought that maybe she wasn’t getting all the nutrients a hen that lays eggs needed from eating baby food, so I added more calcium chips to the run to try to compensate. I figured that would be the end of it, but about a week later, the same exact thing happened. Broken egg, stuck to butt, combined with poop. Nice. I again trimmed the feathers as best I could, and thought about how to stop them from eating the chick food, as I was convinced this was the culprit. I then made a mash of layer food mixed with yogurt and calcium chips, figuring the novelty would attract the refined adult hen’s palate. They did eat it, so I kept doing it, figuring once she got her good nutrition, all would be well.

recipe for a mess.

Recipe for a mess.

Until the night she came outside and laid a brittle egg in the run, which she also sat on. I was now really beginning to worry. Then I remembered my run-in with vent gleet from last year, and it all started coming back to me. Vent gleet is a fungal infection of the vent, a.k.a. the chicken’s butt, which can cause strange chicken behavior, and egg problems. I hadn’t considered it as a possibility because I give the chickens apple cider vinegar in their water, as well as yogurt every day, both of which should ward it off. She also didn’t have the diarrhea that you usually see, but I was pretty sure this was what her problem was. Luckily, I wrote about this last time it happened, and I now suspect I have a chicken that just may be prone to it. The chicken having issues now is a Mandrell Sister, and the chicken who had it before was also a Mandrell Sister. Of course, I can’t tell them apart, so it might not be the same one, but for now I’m thinking it is. I brought her inside and began the treatment.

The doctor is in.

The doctor is in.

The first thing I did was clean her up as best I could. It’s not easy. When the poop gets mixed with egg, it’s like cement, but I trimmed the dirty feathers again. You can bathe them to break it up, but my attempts to do that before have ended with me blow-drying a chicken in my front yard, and I’m not going back. Once she was clean, I gave her butt a quick spritz with athlete’s foot spray to kill any bacteria. Then the real fun began.

blow dry a chicken

They may have enjoyed the blow drying more than I did.

The best method to cure this is to give the chicken a dose of epsom salts and water. Getting it in their beak is not easy, or enjoyable. You can get the beak open by gently tugging on their wattles, and then you drip a little of the solution in there, and repeat. It takes a long time to give the suggested amount. Also, I do this while straddling the chicken. When you miss the beak because the chicken moved, you then spray your crotch with epsom salt solution. The chicken will move a lot. Then you go back into your house and everyone wonders what you’ve been up to. Your explanations do not help your case.


Honesty is the most embarrassing policy.

Anyway, I got her to drink as much of it as I could. You’re supposed to keep the sick bird away from the others for about a week, but much like last time, she wouldn’t eat or drink while isolated, and after the epsom salts, she should really drink a lot. After a day of her rejecting a mash of water, apple cider vinegar and yogurt, I put her back with the others. She seems to be doing fine, but I know she’ll probably need a second dose. They usually do. Maybe I’ll put on some waterproof pants next time. But regardless of my pants, vent gleet is going to be something I remember from now on.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Frog In The Well by Lucas Gonze.)

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Too Many Chickens! on iTunes.

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

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.

The Mystery of the Weird Rubber Eggs!

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

(Broadcast 8/23/2013)

One of the big perks of having chickens is obviously the eggs. You learn right away how different eggs from your own chickens are compared to eggs from the supermarket. They taste way better, the yolks are much brighter, the shells seem tougher, and you can even leave them out unrefrigerated if you want to. I want to, just to seem like a daredevil to the uninitiated. It’s not like they sit out for very long, anyway. If I don’t eat them, I find some way to use them as currency, so my supply stays fresh.


Green eggs, no ham

So what do you do then when you start to get eggs that are a little, well, weird? I’ve had ones before that have been kind of pale and flimsy. What are egg shells made out of? Calcium. So how do you think you might strengthen a weak eggshell? Add more calcium to the chickens’ diet. I now leave out calcium chips for my chickens every day. We do still get the occasional oddball brittle egg, but the supplements seem to have drastically lowered the occurrence.

vitamin supplements

Try not to take the wrong one.

There is, however, another sort of weird egg that is possibly the proverbial “bad egg.” You know those water balloon wiggly things you can buy in stores that the whole purpose of them is that they’re difficult to hold? These eggs feel like that. They have the coloration of an egg, but no shell. The egg lining seems to be what holds them together. I probably don’t need to tell you that this is super freaky. The first time it happened to one of my chickens, I was very confused, and that confusion continues to this day. The rubber eggs seem to come at odd times, because often when I find them, they’re in the bedding under the roost. So it’s like a chicken is asleep, and the egg sneaks out before it’s ready for prime time. Wake up chicken! An egg is escaping! They also will sometimes appear in the nesting boxes, but are usually broken at that point, since this is not the sort of egg that can hold up to being sat on.

unfinished egg

An unfinished egg makes its escape.

When you report a rubber egg to the internet, the first question you get in response is whether or not the chicken is young and new to laying. When this first happened, yes, my chickens were pretty young and probably still working the kinks out of the production system. But they’re over a year old now, so I think they should have figured it out. The next suggestion is that it’s a calcium issue. But I give them oyster shells every day, so you’d think they’d be good there too, but these eggs do still happen. The third issue could be that something is internally wrong with the chicken, which could be very bad. The problem for me here is that I have no way to know which chicken is laying these, and if it’s the same one, or if they do this on a rotating basis. I almost never catch them in the act of laying eggs, normal or otherwise. The only thing I’m somewhat sure of is that it’s one of the Mandrell Sisters, due to the color of the egg, which is slightly different than a Barred Rock egg. Even then, this egg is an anomaly, so I don’t know that I can judge an egg by its color here. It seems like a situation where I can really only sit and wait for some other symptom to reveal itself to know if it’s something else. The odd rubber egg is not necessarily anything to worry about. Full time rubber egg production is more of a problem.

rubber egg

Not that kind of rubber egg.

Researching this issue led me to the discovery of an article about something called a “cock’s egg.” Every so often a hen will lay an egg that is much smaller than usual. It got the name “cock’s egg” because people back in the day thought a rooster must have laid it because it was so small and strange. So then you ask yourself, why would a rooster lay an egg? And if you were an old timey farmer person, the answer would obviously be because The Devil made him do it, because that was their answer for everything. Now, I’m not a man of the cloth, so I’m not entirely sure of what The Devil does or does not get up to, but really, The Devil? This is your vehicle of self-expression? “Spreading plague is a real drag sometimes, so maybe I’ll just go make that rooster lay a kind of small egg.” The classic cock’s egg is more or less normal, aside from the size, but any abnormal egg can be considered a cock’s egg, so The Devil’s been in my coop too, apparently. Now I know he’s really got time on his hands. Look, Devil, I appreciate a good practical joke now and then, but you really need to step up your game. I don’t want to go overboard on calcium-filled treats just to find out I’m being punked by the Old Deluder. Either fully delude me, or lay off the chickens. Don’t make me call a chicken exorcist, when I know deep down everyone lays a weird egg once in a while.

el diablo pollo

El Diablo Pollo


An earlier post with some video of one of my rubber eggs. 

 The article about “cock eggs,” sometimes known as “fart eggs.”

Find Additional Gardening Podcasts with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

Chickens And Heat

Friday, June 28th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/28/2013)

This week’s heat wave has passed, but it’s not even July yet. I’m sure there will be more heat to come, so I thought I’d share some ideas with you about how to keep your chickens cool in the summertime. Like many other living things, chickens don’t like extreme heat. What I have found comforting in my attempts to keep my chickens safe in both the cold and the heat is that lots of places have hotter summers and colder winters than where I live, and people manage to keep their chickens alive through it. That’s not an excuse to slack, but it does keep me from completely freaking out with worry. I need that from time to time.

chill pill

I was told to take one of these.

The big thing you obviously need to do is make sure the chickens have fresh water at all times during the heat. This is actually something you should be doing anyway, so it’s an easy step. I’m away at work all day, so I fill up the water first thing in the morning when I let them out. In the summer, I just fill up the water container with the hose, and then usually manage to spill it all over myself. Newly awake, I then try again, and usually do better on the second attempt. I also like to put some apple cider vinegar in the water. It’s good for the chickens, and it also helps to keep crud from growing inside there. When it gets warm, that’s a thing that likes to happen. You should still clean it out every once in a while, though. Vinegar is an amazing thing, but it can only do so much. Sorry vinegar, but it’s true.

sad vinegar

*sad trombone sound*

Frozen vegetables are another item people like to give their birds in the heat. I’ve read about people putting frozen broccoli in a suet feeder and letting them peck at it all day. That’s akin to another popular one, which is to freeze a cabbage and hang it where they can peck at it. I just toss the frozen stuff in the run, and let them go at it. I like to keep it casual. You don’t have to freeze the stuff, either. Even refrigerated watermelon will do the trick. Is there anyone who doesn’t like watermelon? I haven’t met them, and frankly, I don’t want to. This is one reason I like chickens. They’re on the watermelon tip.

chicken and watermelon

Chickens love “the green whale of summer.” (That’s a Pablo Neruda reference. Go look it up.)

Since I’m not around a lot of the day to keep presenting the chickens with various cooling off items, it’s important that they have a lot of shade. In my general luck with building the coop, I picked a good spot. They get nice morning sun, but by afternoon, they get shaded by some trees. They also have space under the coop where they can go if they need shade at any time. That seems to be their favorite spot. I often find them just sitting there in the dirt. This freaked me out at first, but now that I know they haven’t all lost the use of their legs, I’m o.k. with it. They hang out in the dirt and also take dust baths there. I had considered hosing down the run before I left for the day, but since they use dust baths to cool off, I didn’t want to take that away from them.

dust bathhouse closed

Where will they bathe?

Technology can also play a big role in the cooling of chickens. Some people just hook up box fans near their coops and let them rip. Ours is too far from electricity to pull this off. I’d have to run an extension cord, and that brings issues of its own, not the least of which is what to do if one of the thunderstorms that tends to accompany heat waves hits. Now I’ve got wet electricity all over the yard. If I had power out there, I’d give it a try, but for now, maybe not unless I’m home. Fans are totally the low end of the spectrum here too. I’ve read about people investing in “misters,” and they’re not talking about the little spritz bottles. They’re talking about devices like the ones supermarkets use to keep their produce damp. I guess it’s like running under the sprinkler for chickens. It’s neat, but expensive, and there’s a saying about wet hens that makes me think twice about this. When I see the cost involved, I only have to think once.


This image is not based in reality.

What always appeals to me about keeping chickens is the wide array of ingenuity that you see when you’re looking for a solution to a problem. Keeping chickens cool in the heat is no exception. You can keep it low tech like me, or go all out, if money is no object. My feelings usually veer towards thinking that the more complicated something is, the more headaches it can potentially cause. I will do my best to keep them safe and happy with the more rudimentary end of the heat busting spectrum. I guess you can call me a paleo-chicken guy. But don’t, or I’ll hit you over the head with my caveman club.


Listen to internet radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

The Incredible Rubber Chicken Egg!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

a rubbery egg


Here’s a video of an egg from one of my chickens a while back. I’ve gotten a few of these. My guess is that it has something to do with not getting enough calcium, though I do give them oyster shell chips as a supplement.


Rubbery egg! from Erik P. Kraft on Vimeo.


I came across this article the other day, that reminded me I had taken this video. Turns out it could be the work of The Devil! I suppose I should have called this post The Incredible Cock Egg! to be more in line with the folklore behind this.

When Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs

Friday, May 31st, 2013

(Broadcast 5/31/13)

I’ve talked a bit before about how I’ve fed my chickens their own eggs. You can scramble them up, and the chickens go nuts for it. It’s a nice way to get them nutrition and cut down on the ever growing pile of eggs on the counter. The key part is that you scramble them. If the chickens make the connection that the eggs they lay in the coop contain food, then you may have a problem on your hands. I have had an episode or two with this sort of egg eater, and I’m trying to work it out.

drawing of chicken

Artist’s rendition of crime scene

The first incident happened when I went to clean the coop. The chickens like to watch me do this for some reason. I assume it’s that they feel superiority over me because I am touching their poop. You know what chickens? Everyone feels superior to me, so you’re not special. Anyway, once I’ve cleared out the smelly stuff and put in new bedding, I usually toss some treats in there so they scratch around in the shavings and mix up any poop that’s still in there. Their excitement is probably due to the expectation of treats. I’m sure it’s not that they enjoy my sparkling conversation.


Hey, Housekeeping’s here!

One day, when I opened the back door to get cleaning, there was an egg in the shavings, and a chicken in the coop. The chicken ran over to the egg, pecked it, it broke, and she began to chow down on the goodies within. I grabbed the broken egg as fast as I could and tossed it in the compost, but I was a little alarmed. “Why would she do that right in front of me?” I thought. I posted on a messageboard what had happened, and within five minutes the first “you have to kill that bird” response came in. I seem to get these a lot. I don’t think I’d have any chickens left if I listened to them all. I understand that if this is your livelihood, you don’t want a chicken eating the profits. But I’m an experimenter, and I wanted to figure out why this happened. This was just the first time, and while maybe this was the start of a bad habit, maybe it wasn’t. I wanted to see if it happened again. I began to suspect that maybe the excitement over treats had something to do with it. Maybe the chicken saw the egg, thought it was a treat, and acted accordingly. I posed this to the forum, but no one had any input on it. “Kill it,” they said again.

A clue that stood out to me was that the egg in question was one of the pale, flimsy ones that sometimes appear. I’m not sure which one of them is doing it, but someone lays very thin shelled eggs now and again. Maybe every couple of weeks. I give them calcium, but sometimes this still happens. I thought that maybe the chicken happened to peck at the egg just to see what was up, and it was thin, so it broke, and “oh hey candy!” I decided to not bring this up with the “kill that chicken” set, but this was the theory I went with.

pale, long egg

Weird egg on left.

Over the course of the next several months, I found two more eggs that had been cracked open. Neither had been entirely eaten. Both were pale, thin eggs. I felt my theories were being borne out, but at the same time, I was a little worried that they might move on to eating the other eggs after a while. There is the chance that one egg eater will teach the others the skill, and then you’ve got trouble. I looked up how to handle this end of it, and chose my method.

Chickens apparently don’t like mustard. If you blow an egg out of the shell, and then fill the shell with mustard, Lady Eats-Eggs-A-Lot will come along, try to eat the egg, get a mouthful of mustard, and that’s the end of that. The problem was that since this was only happening with one type of egg – the pale, weird variety – I wanted to use that type of egg to do this. I actually had to take back an egg I had given my parents in order to get the right kind. They don’t happen that often. I went to fill it up with spicy brown mustard, but we had two bottles that weren’t that full, and didn’t help much. So I supplemented that with yellow mustard, which we had a lot of, because apparently no one likes yellow mustard. Then, for a tiny bit of perverse irony, I put a shot of rooster sauce in there, even though people say chickens can’t taste hot sauce. Just let me have my fun, people.


Gravity was no help.

I taped up both ends of the egg to slow leakage, and put it in the coop. Not even duct tape would stick that well to the egg, but I did my best. The chicken I suspect of being the egg eater, a Mandrell Sister, was the first on the scene. She approached the egg, and rolled it back towards herself a couple of times. Chickens sometimes scoot the eggs along the floor with their chins. I guess when you don’t have hands you have to make do. She then began to tap it a little, as if to test the strength. Then she found the tape, pulled it off, and “oh hey candy!” She got a mouthful of mustard, did a little head twitch that seemed to indicate that she didn’t like it, but went back for more anyway. By now others had shown up, and a couple gave it a taste. I figured I’d let them all in on the idea that egg eating is wrong. They all had more than one serving, even though they twitched after every bite. I decided I might be making it worse by letting them continue to feast, so I took the egg away, and hoped they got the message.

taped up egg

This totally looks like a normal egg.

The big thing I took away from this was that the first chicken seemed to be doing some sort of quality control on the egg. She tapped it a bunch, and with these pale eggs, the shell is pretty weak. I’m now thinking that the eggs that have gotten eaten, or at least cracked open, can’t withstand a gentle peck, and that’s why they broke. I don’t know if they do this to reject bad eggs, or if they just like pecking the eggs. I don’t think the eating is habitual, at least not yet. As I keep saying, those eggs are few and far between, and sometimes they’re tougher than others. I gave the chickens the mustard test, so we’ll see how it goes. We got a weird egg on Tuesday, but it was in one piece. Meanwhile, no necks will be wrung over this. I just want to understand, man.


Listen to internet radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

Chickens – Nature’s Compost Piles

Friday, May 24th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/24/2013)

Now that Spring is here, everything has begun to bloom. If you have allergies, you probably noticed this already. My wife and I usually get excited when the weather finally gets nice, go outside, and get so thoroughly attacked by mosquitoes that we wonder why we ever leave the house. But with a little homemade insect repellent (witch hazel and lemon eucalyptus oil) it gets better, and so I can sit outside and take in all of Nature’s glory. For better or for worse, Nature’s glory contains weeds. It used to be that I would just mow them, or ignore them altogether. I don’t take pride in having a pristine lawn, and mowing the lawn actually tends to fill me with existential dread. Oddly enough, weeding doesn’t bother me as much. I actually kind of like it, even though it’s very time consuming. I’ve heard that the hand motions used in weeding are hard wired to some sort of evolutionary rewards center, which is why gardening is so enjoyable. It gets us in touch with our inner chimp. Just keep the dung throwing to a minimum, please.

Did somebody say "dung throwing?"

Did somebody say “dung throwing?”

Aside from any sorts of feelings of getting back in touch with our primacy, weeding is also a good way to supplement your chickens’ diet. We actually get so many weeds that we even have too many for the chickens. Luckily, we also have a compost heap for the overload. I found when they were baby chicks that they loved dandelion greens, but those seem to be pretty popular across many species, save for the homo perfectlawnicus. I’d pull them out, rip them into tiny pieces, and watch those goobers go nuts for greens. It also helps give them variety in their diet, which improves egg flavor. Everyone wins. I’ve read that if you pick the weeds and give them to the chickens, rather than letting the chickens pick the weeds on their own, there is some risk of the weed getting stuck in the chickens’ crops. The crop is where they store their food right after eating, before it heads to the stomach. If things aren’t torn into pieces, there may be a bit of a digestive traffic jam. Like people, you need to take sensible bites. What I usually do is either toss a pile into the run, where they rip them to shreds in a frenzy, or I poke them through the hardware cloth, and again, in the competition for the weeds, they rip them into smaller chunks. The chickens don’t seem so interested in eating the weeds on their own, so I have to do the work of pulling them out, and then do what I can to insure clear crops.

Lawn perfectionists quake with fear.

Lawn perfectionists quake with fear.

Weeds aren’t the only plants chickens like to eat. I have heard chickens referred to as “living compost piles,” as they’ll eat all sorts of vegetable scraps. I prefer to call them “Nature’s compost piles,” since that doesn’t really make any sense, and that’s how I roll. But when the farmer’s markets start opening and I find myself buying more kale than I can handle, it’s nice to know I can give the extra to the chickens as a treat. We’re growing our own kale this year, so I suspect even more excess than usual may find its way into the run. Most vegetable scraps can be fed to chickens as long as they’re raw and oil free. There are a few that are off-limits, so it’s not a bad idea to check online to be sure something is o.k. before tossing it into chicken town. Green potato peels can be bad, as well as the leaves of tomato plants. The list goes on, so be safe, rather than sorry. (Here’s a good list of acceptable treats and things to avoid.)

toxic symbol

Be sure not to poison your birds by accident.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t tell you the one crop chickens excel at eating. As you know, every summer our nation squirms in the grip of what has come to be known as “The Zucchini Problem.” Our gardens, homes, and workplaces sag under the weight of this most prolific of green beasts, and friendships can be strained by being overly generous in an attempt to be free of the surplus. My friends, the chicken is here to help. Last summer, my coworker brought in a crop of zucchinis that were the size of human legs. I brought one home out of politeness, but had absolutely no idea what I would do with it, save for possibly beating an intruder to death. I thought to myself, “well, maybe I’ll cut a hunk off and give it to the chickens.” You may have heard stories about piranhas skeletonizing a cow in seconds. I can assure you that in this part of the world, the chicken is the piranha and the zucchini is the cow. Chickens will skeletonize a zucchini in record time, and act as though they want more, even if it was a small green blimp like the one I had. We do need to be cautious of overfeeding, so let’s not go nuts with our extra veggies. Think of them as treats, and we’re all set. But woe be to the inexperienced zucchini who innocently wanders into the chicken run.

The real green monster

The real green monster


Listen to internet radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio
Subscribe to RSS feed