Archive for the ‘Diatomaceous Earth’ Category

Of Mites And Men

Friday, June 17th, 2016

In spite of everything I do to treat the mites, the damage they’re doing to the chickens’ feathers seems to be getting worse. Steve and John are losing feathers on their backs at a rapid pace. I’ve been powdering them weekly with the “poultry powder,” but I don’t seem to be getting results. I decided it was time to reset the clock, as it were, by completely cleaning the coop and taking it from there. If I could wipe out anything that was living off the chickens, then maybe I could begin to get the things living on the chickens.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

I’ve been a practitioner of the “deep litter” technique from the start of this chicken experiment. Basically, you cover all poop with wood chips, and once a week scoop out the worst of it under the roost, but leave the rest. This creates a sort of compost pile right there in the coop, and that helps keep it a little warmer in the winter. It seemed like a good idea when I read about it, but given my annual mite problems, I’ve begun to wonder if it wasn’t somehow contributing to these problems, by creating a large habitat for invisible bugs. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it was time for the annual clean out anyway, so I went at it. Usually I dump all the chips, spray the inside of the coop and any of the “furniture” with white vinegar to disinfect it, and then add fresh chips, leaving behind the faint scent of salad. This year, I had to take it a little further. Since I had read about using dishwashing detergent to kill mites, I went in with a bucket of soapy water and a rag first, and wiped everything down, making sure to get it into any cracks. Then I dried that off, and sprayed the vinegar. Then I wiped off the excess vinegar, and sprayed everything again with Poultry Protector. At this point, I figured I had covered all my bases.

It gets deep.

It gets deep.

The biggest surprise was how much diatomaceous earth was in the bedding. There seemed to be a good layer of it under all the chips, so I was amazed that any insect could live in there at all. So either what’s bothering the chickens is getting on them out in the run, or it’s something completely impervious to DE. Hard to say, but the DE may not be cutting it, at least at the level we’re working on here.

It's entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

It’s entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

I sprayed the Poultry Protector all over the run and outside of the coop as well. The bottle says to get the whole area, so that’s what I did. Of course, it’s not a very big bottle, so I had used most of it by the time I had finished spraying the run, but felt like I had enough to get the birds as well. Supposedly this stuff doesn’t actually kill the mites, but instead keeps them from reproducing. So they may live for a while, but it sounds like they’ll eventually die out. I’m pretty sure not reproducing is why there aren’t any more Shakers, so this should do it, even if it takes a little longer.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they'd be easier to spot.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they’d be easier to spot. (Those are Shakers, btw. This image is relevant!)

The same night I did the big cleanout, I went into the coop, and instead of dusting the chickens (which I had done the night before), I sprayed each of them in their bald areas with the Poultry Protector. It turns out chickens do not like being sprayed with stuff. They did their usual act of running into the corner of the coop and trying to get behind each other, but this time they seemed much angrier than usual. Luckily I could spray them from farther away, and it went much faster than powdering, so I was done before they revolted. I still have a little spray left, and I’ll use it next time I change out the chips, and this time I’ll be changing them all out, not just the ones under the roost. I think it may be time to try a different approach to coop maintenance and see what works. If I still find that I’m having feather loss, it may be time to try the “flea drop” method, which, unsurprisingly, is controversial on the internet. Basically, you dab some popular flea and tick liquid on the chickens and this does the trick, even though it’s not approved for chickens, and you have to chuck your eggs for a while. This feels like a nuclear option, so I’ll keep dusting a little longer, and see where it gets me, beyond covered in poison dust, of course.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Lu Lu by National Promenade Band)

It’s Mites Alright

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Well, it seems to be that time of year again. I was poking around through the archives, and it seems that last May I was wondering if my chickens had vent gleet or mites, and then I looked at my posts this May and here I am wondering the exact same thing. Given last year’s experience, I’m just going to assume we’ve got mites. And I don’t really need to assume, because I know the importance of chicken butt inspections, and I’m seeing feather loss in that area, and that’s the evil calling card of the mite. They seem to be the obnoxious summer renter of the chicken butt resort town.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

The question then becomes what to do? Since this is becoming an annual thing, am I doing something wrong? Or is this just the cost of doing chicken business? Even if it is, how do I get rid of them? What seemed to work last year, despite my reservations, was the “poultry powder” stuff that’s got poison in it. I have been out there with that stuff two weekends in a row, and am currently in the “see what happens” period. As I learned last year, it takes so long for feathers to grow back, it’s hard to know what’s working. So I went in with the biggest gun I had, and am waiting for the smoke to clear. Somewhat literally – this stuff is nasty, and it takes some doing to apply it without poisoning yourself in a giant cloud of it. I go out in a hoodie with the hood up, one of those face masks you use if paint fumes bother you, and rubber gloves. I climb into the coop and powder every bird, which can be tricky since after one or two get done, the others get the memo and try to hide behind each other in the corner. Then, as I am covered in poison, I immediately go into the bathroom, throw all my clothes into the washing machine, and take a shower. It does worry me that I protect my own breathing holes, but can’t do anything for the chickens’. They don’t make little beaky respirators, so this is how it has to go. There’s ventilation in the coop, and I don’t throw it in their faces, but I feel pretty bad about the whole situation. Not as bad as I would if I let them be eaten alive by mites, though, so this is what it comes to.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

I’ve been doing more research to try to find a better way. Some people swear by hosing the coop and the birds down with dishwashing detergent, while others say this strips the protective oils off their feathers. Some people say tea tree oil is all natural and will kill all the bugs, others say it will also kill the birds. Some people say Product X will do it, and then provide an affiliate link to that product, which costs $150 for a tiny amount. This all is reminding me of how it is I came to use diatomaceous earth (which some people also malign) and the poultry powder. After spending far too much time reading internet arguments, these seemed to be the least contentious cures. And for now, they’re the ones I already have.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

I did come across a couple new methods that sound promising, and less messy and/or problematic. I don’t like to drop name brands (unless these brands want to pay me to do so, please see the “contact” link on this page if this is the case), but these seem to be pretty specific things. One is called “Poultry Protector.” It’s a spray, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at our local feed store. You spray the coop and the butts, and that’s allegedly that. It’s cheap enough that it’s worth a shot. The other is something called “Red Stop Solution.” You put it in their water, and it somehow makes the chickens’ blood unattractive to mites, but will not mess up (by which I mean poison) their eggs. It’s a little pricey, but just putting it in the waterer seems less traumatic for everyone involved. It might be worth the cost to save whatever dignity I have left, assuming there is any. I’m not convinced about the mechanism of action, so it’s on my “maybe” list. I’ll continue to monitor the butt situation and bring in new tools as required. I beat the mites once before, I hope to do it again.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Twenty-fourth of May, mazurka, by the Band of the House, Fred Figner, Rio de Janeiro)

Mites Or Gleets?

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Spring is a magical time of year. The flowers begin to bloom, eggs start filling the nesting buckets, and then I start wondering just what on Earth is going on with the chickens’ butts. My first thought is always vent gleet. Once you know about vent gleet, why would you stop thinking about it? I mean, aside from the fact that it’s gross, and usually means you have to either bathe a chicken or cut away dung-encrusted feathers. But otherwise it’s great, right? Not really. It’s bad business for butts. So in Spring, when the poopy chicken butts also bloom, my mind turns to vent gleet and it’s prevention and/or cure.

Can you smell it?

Can you smell it?

However, the cruelest trick the Devil ever played was giving other issues the same symptoms as vent gleet. Or at least maybe the grossest trick he ever played. What I learned last year was that nasty doodoo butt can also be caused by mites. So if you, like me, give your chickens nutritional support to ward off the gleet, and seem to have one chicken after another somehow developing gleet-like symptoms, it may not be gleet at all. It could be mites. This was the biggest discovery for me last summer. I thought the flock was falling to the gleet one by one, but finally realized that something else had to be up. And what was up was mites. And what they were up in was the chickens’ hinders. I figured this out because some of the chickens got nasty butt action, but others got bald butts. So I looked up bald butts, and that’s how I found that mites can also cause diarrhea as well as bald butts. I suppose at least it cuts down on the nasty feathers.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

You used to be able to get this on a t-shirt.

This year, since I noticed symptoms of gleet in Steve and John, I not only treated them for gleet, but I treated everyone for mites too. I’m not going down that road again. Egg production was way down for a while last summer because mites can really drain a chicken’s energy levels. Parasites are like that. Henny Penny still hasn’t grown her butt feathers back, either. They sprout, then disappear. So I’m not sure if I even fully vanquished the mites, or just beat them back enough to get everyone laying again, and all but Henny Penny back to fully feathered. But since I saw possible gleet, in I went with the diatomaceous earth to start fluffin’ butts as a pre-emptive strike.

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

I haven’t yet gone in with the “poultry powder” which is part diatomaceous earth, part poison, mainly because it’s part poison. As it is, I don’t want to put bedding with diatomaceous earth in the compost, because that alone will kill the good bugs who help break it down. I don’t want to be poisoning anything and everything that comes along. More than just bugs get into the compost, so I’m holding off on the nuclear option, for now.


There’s who in the what, now?

You’re supposed to apply the D.E. once, then again ten days later to break the life cycle of the mites. I’ve gotten into a weekly ritual, just to be on the safe side. I’m no math whiz, but I feel like this frequency must cover all my bases statistically, even if I start in the middle of a life cycle. I don’t know. But Sunday nights, butts get fluffed. If I make a routine like that, it’s much easier to remember to do it. If I have to do it on ten-day cycles, then I need to get calendars involved, and it’s just too much work. Since I get “Sundaynightis,” or dread of the coming work week, it’s easy for me to add things in my Sunday night rituals to try to offset it. Oddly, putting weird gray powder on chicken butts does seem to alleviate my symptoms somewhat. Not sure what that says about me, but here I am saying it.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Ma Rag Time Baby by Peerless Orchestra)

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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