Archive for the ‘Smells’ Category

Vent Gleet? Vent Gleet!

Friday, September 6th, 2013

(Broadcast 9/6/2013)

Sometimes things just seem to happen at the right times. One of the chickens had been acting a little odd every so often, and I was keeping an eye on her to try to figure out if she was just being weird, or if something else was up. The problem was that she was one of the Mandrell Sisters, so I wasn’t really able to tell which chicken was acting weird, just that it was a Buff Orpington. Then I happened to notice that one of them had, for lack of a better term, a “racing stripe” down her butt, so at one point in recent memory, there had been some digestive upset. I didn’t see any evidence of that as an ongoing thing in the coop, but I was now paying extra close attention, and also had a way to distinguish this one from the other two. What brought it all together was a blog post by one of my former writing students. She has chickens, and writes about them, and mentioned that she had had a run-in with something called “vent gleet.” As I read the symptoms, I realized that one of my chickens might have this same issue.

Hot new website

Not too long ago, if you had said the words “vent gleet” to me, I might have figured it was a city in Holland, and pictured canals, lots of bikes, and people so liberal they make Massachusetts look like Texas. This image is now gone, thanks to the fact that vent gleet is also known as “messy butt disease,” among other things, and if you do any sort of research on it, you will see things that cannot be unseen. It’s a fungal infection of the “vent,” aka the “cloaca,” aka the chicken’s butt (which is also where the egg comes out for one stop shopping!). Diarrhea is a symptom, which is how the feathers in the butt area get so messy, but if you don’t treat it, it can spread internally and cause lowered egg production, or even death. Once I saw all the symptoms tied together, I knew this was probably what this chicken had going on. Luckily, that chicken that had been acting weird acted weird again right around that time vent gleet came on my radar. Nothing huge, just things like sitting in the shavings rather than on the roost, but when encouraged to go on the roost, she’d then just wander outside into the run in the dark. Maybe she thought it was actually morning, but it seemed wrong to me. I shined the light on her hinder, and lo and behold, there was the aforementioned racing stripe. I knew it was time to treat this chicken.

vent gleet

Van Gogh’s Vent Gleet landscape

One of the main ways to cure this affliction is to put apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ water. I do this anyway, so I was a little miffed that she still managed to rock the gleet. But these things happen. I brought her into the quarantine pen, and began stronger treatments.

The big one people recommend is to give the chicken a bath. This may sound ridiculous, but you have to get the dirty feathers dealt with. An epsom salt soak is how many people do it, since this will also kill the fungus, but I didn’t think I had a large enough bucket or the patience to do this. I went the brute force route and snipped the dirty feathers off with scissors. I then gave her a dose of an epsom salt solution, which I had to administer a few drops at a time. I had the chicken wrapped in a towel as I hunched over her, trying to get her beak open to get the magic potion in. It took about a half an hour, but the humiliation I felt will last a lifetime. You can just leave this solution out for them to drink if there is no other water, but that seemed like an invitation for it to get dumped in the shavings. She eventually got her full dose, and then I put her in a dog crate with food, water, and some yogurt. The probiotics in the yogurt also help fight the fungus.

chicken bath

They love bubble baths, really.

I initially put the waterer they used as chicks in there with her, but she wasted no time in spilling that everywhere. Since we’re trying to fight fungus, it seemed counterproductive to have a moist chicken. I took that waterer out, put in dry shavings, and attached a hamster water bottle to the crate. After a day or two, I noticed two things. 1. There was no diarrhea to be seen, and 2. she didn’t seem to have figured out how to use the water bottle. She had also been away from the rest of the flock for five days at this point, and I was worried about having to reintroduce her if she stayed out much longer. Most people seem to think they need to be quarantined for a week, but I felt that since she seemed to be on the up and up, maybe I could put her back in after five days, at least so she’d get some water. I put her back in the coop the next morning, and she fit right back in as if nothing was wrong.

butt toupee

Next on QVC.

The good news is that the weird smell in the coop has disappeared. There’s a sickly sweet smell that the fungal stool gives off, and I realized in retrospect I had noticed an odd aroma and just chalked it up to humidity. I’m not smelling it anymore, so that’s a victory. The bad news is that she still sometimes sits in the shavings and goes out in the run in the dark if I try to put her on the roost. So maybe it’s not the gleet, or maybe she needs more treatment. Whatever it is, she’s missing a big chunk of butt hair, so for now I can keep a better eye on her until I figure it out.

(There’s an update to my vent gleet treatment here. There’s an easier way!)

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The Chicken Days of Summer

Friday, August 16th, 2013

(Broadcast 8/16/2013)

Summer chickens, make me feel fine. Something’s blowing through the jasmine in my mind and it’s got a hint of chicken poop in it, but that’s o.k. The humidity has been down lately, and so the smells don’t linger like they used to. Plus, we all know chicken poop is good for everything, so let it rip, ladies. However, summer seems to be winding down, or at least what most people think of summer is. Maybe technically we still have a bunch of September, but you know that if you don’t make August count, it’s all over. I’ve tried to explain this to the chickens, but they have odd interpretations of this advice.

Read this. It will change your life.

Read this. It will change your life.

Before I had my own chickens, I visited some at the Franklin Park Zoo. Apparently, the chickens there like to stretch out in the sun so much that they put up a sign to tell you that yes, the chickens were o.k. I had kind of forgotten about that sign until this past weekend. I was trying to make the most of a waning summer weekend by doing stuff in the yard because I like to maximize my pain and suffering. Amazingly, my mother in law claims to like mowing the lawn. I have never heard of such a thing, but at least I don’t have to mow anymore. But that unfortunately frees up more time for tasks involving manual clippers. So I was out clipping stuff, and came upon one of the Mandrell Sisters lying on her side in the sun. Of course, my first instinct was to assume that we were at Woodstock and she had eaten the brown acid even though they said not to, until I remembered that it was not the 60s anymore. I wasn’t convinced something else wasn’t totally wrong, and then that lesson I learned at the zoo years ago came back to me. “Yes,” I said, “that chicken is o.k. They like to do that.” The chicken gave me look like I was an idiot for talking to myself, and went back to sunbathing. At least one of us was having a good time.

sleep on sides

I haven’t had much problems with broodiness and the Mandrell Sisters lately, at least not until our little talk about packing excitement into the end of summer. One of them went broody last Thursday, and so I put her into the isolation of the Miracle Broody Hen Cure, aka, my mom’s old bird cage. Usually this can blast the broodiness out of them in a day or two. Well, a day came and went, and there she was, still brooding. Two days went by. She had turned around in the cage, but was still puffed out and making the “I am broody” noise. Three days went by, and I was impressed with her commitment to this bit. After four days, I started to wonder how long she could be away from the others before I had to do an elaborate routine to introduce her back into the flock. On the 5th day I approached the cage, and upon putting my hand close to it and getting the broody noise in return, I had had enough. I figured I would put her back into the coop temporarily for a change of scenery, and if she was still broody that night, I’d bring her back inside. That way she’d also get reacquainted with the others, so I could hopefully avoid any reintroduction rituals. I picked her up out of the cage while she did her best pufferfish impersonation, and there, underneath her, was an egg. She was most definitely broody when I put her in, and I didn’t think broody birds laid eggs until the real or imaginary ones they were sitting on hatched. This would probably explain why she wasn’t snapping out of it, but how that egg got there is a mystery. I took her outside and put her into the run while I filled up the feeder. She puffed around a little, then hopped up on one of the roosts, and began a run of top volume clucking for about 5 minutes. This was at 5 in the morning, mind you. My cries of “shhh, chicken!” did nothing to silence her. So I grabbed her and put her inside the coop with the others while I finished up. They all eventually came back out, and she went right back up on the roost, but rather than continuing her earlier monologue, she produced the gigantic, nasty poop that is the general indicator that broodiness has left the building. My plan that I didn’t really even think was a plan had worked. I allowed myself to feel good about it, while stepping away from the massive stool.

chicken is o.k.

That chicken is o.k. Both physically and existentially.

Clearly my standards for what constitutes making the most of the rest of summer have changed. But I suppose chickens will change a person. I’d like to be able to just hang out in the yard with the chickens without doing any sort of manual labor, but our yard seems unwilling to compromise. I suppose if I do have to be out there doing work, at least I have chickens around to keep it entertaining.

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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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The Big Coop Cleanout

Friday, July 19th, 2013

(Broadcast 7/19/2013)

The chickens moved out of our house and into the coop about a year ago. Maybe it’s a little less than a year, but given how time dragged during the building of the coop, I’m going to call it even. Whether you clean out all bedding regularly, or do like I do and use the “deep litter” method and just keep adding more shavings, it’s probably a good idea to clean everything out and wash it down every so often. When I was starting out, I read something that suggested doing this once a year, and so, with it being almost a year, my thoughts turned to the Big Coop Cleanout. I wasn’t terribly excited about this, as cleaning of most kinds gives me anxiety, but at least I only had to clean. I didn’t have to clean and organize, so it could have been worse.

el diablo

The inventor of cleaning and organizing.

The one thing I knew would help me out was that I had built the coop with this annual event in mind. On the backside of the coop I have a board that is held in place by wing nuts. My idea was that once a year I would remove this board, sweep everything into the wheelbarrow, which I’d park right in back, and everything would be easy. Now it was time for the big test of this plan. I’ll admit that I had worried at first that the bolts I used in conjunction with the wing nuts might rust, but I will also admit that I had forgotten about that worry. So the good news is that I had not worried at all. The bad news is that I was right about the bolts rusting. However, these bolts were too long in the first place, and really only laziness and forgetfulness had kept them intact. So I undid each wing nut to the farthest point it would go before sticking, and then used a hacksaw to cut the bolt before that point. They then came off fine, and I removed my magic board.

magic board

That’s a magic board alright.

I was greeted with a giant wall of pine shavings, visible chicken poops, and many more poops lurking deep in the pile. I girded my loins, picked up a rake, and plunged it into the coop.

Magic board, removed.

Magic board, removed.

I think my loins were the wrong thing to gird, because the rake didn’t work so great. I went back inside and got a shovel and the metal rake we use for the driveway gravel. I have never had good luck using the shovel in the coop, so I don’t know why I even brought that out. I think I just wanted to feel like I had options. The metal rake, flipped over so the non-pointy side was down did the trick. The bedding came right out, more or less into the wheelbarrow. I’m not going to claim I got it all in there, but I got enough in there. The floor of our coop is covered in linoleum that I ripped out of one of our bathrooms, and if you have the chance to put some linoleum in your coop, I highly recommend it. It was the perfect smooth surface for raking the shavings out, and it also protects the wood from the nasty moist things that come out of chickens.


You probably can’t tell, but this hole is full of ants. ANTS! And their eggs. EGGS!

When I originally read about this cleanout process, the instructions I read said to use bleach to clean everything in the coop off. I didn’t remember the ratio of bleach to water, and I didn’t want to overdo it, so I did an internet search to get a recipe. Remember how I’m always saying that people have opinions on the internet? Well, they had opinions about this too. Not only about how much bleach to use, but whether you should use bleach at all, or even if you should ever even clean the coop. Looking at the cobwebs that collected in the corners of the ceiling, I found myself on the side of, “yes, I should clean the coop once in a while.” As far as the bleach went, the internet made a good case about “do you really want to expose your chickens to this?” I don’t even like to use bleach in the house, if I can help it. I tend to use vinegar if I need to disinfect things, you know, because hippies. Why was that good for the house, but not the chickens? There were plenty of people who did do the annual cleanout who used vinegar, and they reported no health issues. The good thing was that if there was a patch of vinegar that didn’t dry before the chickens went back in, it wasn’t going to kill them. And it would smell a whole lot better than bleach, unless you don’t like salad. So I sprayed the whole inside of the coop, the roost, and the nesting buckets with vinegar, and then wiped everything down. I feared that the towel I used might no longer be among the living by the end of the process, but at least it would have died in the service of cleanliness. However, after a trip through the washer, it’s as good as new. It’s a Too Many Chickens! miracle. Anyway, some people say to follow a vinegar wash with peroxide, but I was fine with just doing vinegar. I opened all the vents to air it out and let it dry, and when everything seemed o.k., I threw down more pine shavings. It looked ridiculously empty. I guess when you’re used to a year’s worth of chips, enough to just cover the floor is about 5 inches too few.

clean coop

Cleaned out, and ready for shavings

The chickens have not registered any sort of complaints about any of this. I think they may be weirded out by how spacious it seems without the extra chips, but we’re all getting used to it.

As I was wiping off the nesting buckets, I wondered if maybe I should take out the one they never use, since they never use it. They are pretty into the other one. I put it back just to not change too much. And of course, since they can read my mind, they have been using the one they never used to use quite a bit now. I guess they needed to change things up, and this cleanout was enough to get them to act on it. The salad smell has subsided, and I think we are getting back to whatever normal is around here. It wasn’t so bad, but I don’t mind waiting another year before I do this again.


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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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