Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Rebuilding The Flock Part 2

Friday, August 29th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had ordered new chicks, and my mother was going to take care of them for a couple of weeks until their Marek’s vaccines had kicked in. I had forwarded her the email about new chick care, and was waiting for her to read the part about “pasting up,” also known as when their tiny butts get clogged with tiny poops. She did get there, and seemed less than thrilled about this prospect, but on the other hand, didn’t really dwell on this part, because she felt pretty overwhelmed by the whole email. I assured her that like most sets of instructions, it seemed like a lot, but wasn’t so bad when you actually got into it. It boils down to: keep them warm, make sure they have food and water, and check their butts for the first week or so. She calmed down, and shifted back to being excited about the chicks arriving. I did get the occasional text message with a question, but this was more out of wanting to do a good job with the chicks, rather than “oh no what have I done?” This was a good sign.


Usually with more swearing and sad faces.

Then, the chicks arrived. As soon as she opened the box and saw them, it was all over. She was no longer worried, she was thrilled to death over how cute these things were. The question texts turned into texts about how adorable they were and how much she loved them. Another convert to the chicken side had arrived! My father apparently had yet to come around to them, but it didn’t really matter because my mother was so into them.

When I first got my original batch of chicks, I didn’t have a coop. I managed to build one, but not without a large amount of stress during the whole process. My parents learned from this experience, and ordered one online. Of course, they were only getting three chickens, which gives you many more affordable options than I had when I started with six. More than five chickens puts you in a whole different coop bracket, and it gets expensive. Maybe this was why my mom was being relatively relaxed about everything. They had the coop issue sorted out. They even have a dog kennel to put the coop in, and use as a large run. A little hardware cloth on that, and they’ve got a pretty secure chicken space.

dog jail

Formerly dog jail.

My father did slowly begin to start coming around to the chickens, though he wouldn’t admit it. Since they were keeping three of the chicks, and I had three chickens that I referred to as the Mandrell sisters, he wanted to give theirs a blanket name like that. He was leaning towards the Andrews Sisters, though he admitted it wasn’t as catchy as the Mandrell Sisters. If you’re going to name your chickens, this can be a good way to go, since it still gives you a tiny bit of emotional distance. You’ve still named them, which means you’re attached to them one way or another, but a general, catch-all name keeps you from getting too attached. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. The important thing was that if he was thinking of names, that meant he must be coming around to the idea of keeping chickens. After all, if he hated them, why would he bother to give them names? Unless it was the kind of thing people tend to do to identify anonymous people they always see and dislike, like “creepy thong guy,” “leg disease lady,” or “that smelly guy on the train with the big bag of equally smelly garbage who in spite of it all seems to have a job he goes to every day.” This didn’t feel like that, unless my father secretly had a vendetta against the Andrews Sisters. He was getting there, but still gave me a line of, “I don’t think this a good idea. I don’t know why your mother is doing this,” when I was visiting.

andrews sisters

All packed into the same nesting box.

Almost two weeks had passed, and so it was almost time for me to take my half of the chicks home. But I hit a snag. I could only get out to my parents’s house on a weekend, and the closest weekend to the two week quarantine period was slighty earlier than two whole weeks. How exact was the two week window of the Marek’s vaccine? Did a few days make a difference? Would they be fine, or should I wait? Now who was worrying needlessly?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Fourteen Days by the Blue Ridge Highballers)

Almost there!

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Next week is the start of the new Garden Guys season, so it’s also the start of the new Too Many Chickens! season. Next Friday, February 28th at 3, the magic begins anew. Look how excited they are to have their personal secrets told to the internet.

anticipation chickens


Beats molting in a box.

molting chicken

Is it cool if I leave all my feathers in here?

See you (or be heard by you?) on Friday!

One Year Of Chickens

Friday, June 7th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/7/2013)

We got our chickens the first week of June in 2012. They were a week old, so I did some math and figured out they were born the last week of May 2012. Last week was the last week of May 2013, and I said to my wife, “Hey, it’s the chickens’ birthday.” She didn’t feel like having a party. The chickens probably didn’t either, since I don’t think chicken culture has the concept of parties. I, however, have the concept of thinking about things too much, and so I decided to look back at the past year, and see if I have learned anything.

party chicken

Someone say “party?”

The big thing I think I learned was that you should not get the chickens until you have the coop. I spent a lot of last summer building the coop, as the chickens got ever larger in their brooder. If you do decide to build your own coop, I hope you have a plan, and some knowledge of how to use tools and/or how to build things. I didn’t really have those things. I pulled it off, but it got pretty hairy towards the end. The chickens were more than ready to go outside by the time we got them outside, and were almost out of space in their indoor pen (even after one space upgrade). I might have some idea of how to build stuff now, but I also probably aged myself a few extra years due to stress and forgetting to put on sunscreen while out working on this project. I will tell you to not get the chickens until you get the coop, but many people will not listen. I heard this rule, and I didn’t listen either. I think maybe it’s a rite of passage. I am now a man, and can take my place in chicken society.

My coop

They say a coop is never really finished.

If you’re new to the internet, you might not realize that people have a lot of opinions online. They do. I’m kind of amazed at how quickly people have gone from hiding behind screen names to using their real names and Facebook profiles to post mindblowingly vicious things online. However, I also read the comments on news sites, which I know I need to stop doing. It’s like staring at a car wreck full of kittens. (I totally apologize for that image. I may be turning into one of these people myself). People also have strong opinions about how to handle chickens. When we first got the chickens, I stumbled on a rant by a farmer about people naming their chickens and considering them pets. “Chickens drop dead all the time for no reason!” he said. Goldfish drop dead all the time for no reason, too, but those are considered acceptable pets. I think what he was trying to get at was that getting chickens isn’t the same as getting a dog. They have specific needs, and you have to commit a lot of time to them, and it’s not always as fun as throwing a ball, or letting them stick their head out the car window on a drive (though I don’t think you’re supposed to let dogs do that either). But as a farmer, I think the idea of chickens as pets was so alien to him he started to lose it. Or maybe building his coop wasn’t going so well. It’s hardly the worst chicken opinion I’ve come across. Often the first answer to a “my chicken is doing this, what should I do?” question is “kill it.” Euthanasia is something you have to keep in mind in many cases, but not always. Getting information from the internet should be like going to the doctor. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. There are plenty of them out there, and it is the internet, so many of them may actually be wrong.

chicken expert

Anonymous internet chicken expert.

The last thing I take away from my first year of this chicken business is that this has been far more enjoyable than I had any reason to expect it to be. Someone I know recently emailed me about having spent some time around chickens, and how he found it very meditative. I think that’s a good way to put it. In small numbers anyway, I find them to be very relaxing. Being in a factory chicken facility is another story. Chickens are also hilarious. One day one of mine found a worm in the dirt, and half of it was hanging out of her beak. Another chicken saw this, and wanted in. She lunged after it, and the first chicken spun in circles as she choked the worm down, with the other one in hot pursuit trying to eat it out of her beak. Double chicken spiral! Sure, there is work, but you also get entertainment. And eggs. Don’t forget the eggs.


Life enricher/guru.

Someone recently dismissed my first year of efforts as no big deal, since all the bad stuff happens in the second year or beyond. Nothing is worth doing if you look at things that way. I’m prepared to deal with tragedy if I have to, but I’m not going to let the fear of it stop me from enjoying the parts of this that aren’t tragic. I think there are still more good things to experience. In the past year, I’ve killed more hard drives than chickens, and I’m supposed to be a computer guy. Hard drives aren’t as charming as chickens, anyway. And you know what? Without chickens, I wouldn’t be able to come onto Garden Guys each week and share with you what a complete ding-dong I am. That’s something we all benefit from.


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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.


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Chicken Backsliding

Friday, May 17th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/17/2013)

When we first started letting the chickens out in the yard, it was sometimes kind of a headache getting them back into the coop. It’s not really a surprise that given the choice of the great outdoors or a confined run, they’re going to choose the great outdoors. Unfortunately, the great outdoors is also fairly fraught with peril, if you’re a chicken, so we like to get them back into a safe area once chicken recess is over. You can’t really explain to them the different things that would like to eat them if they don’t go inside. Well, you can try, but they don’t listen. It’s a little like having an argument on the internet, just that the other person isn’t fighting back by blaming everything on Obama. Maybe it’s more like arguing with a feathery wall. However one chooses to describe it, the end result is that nothing changes no matter how persuasive you are. I went through all this trouble of making them a nice coop, and this is how they thank me. I have had some successes in the past year with getting them back in with less effort, but lately we’re slipping back into the bad old days.

chickens running away from me

Run away!

        When they were young, it was very difficult to get them back into the coop. They could possibly run off in any direction if I approached, which always made me think they would run off in the opposite direction from whatever direction I needed to them go in. I began to approach them with my arms out wide, in the hopes that I would make myself appear larger. This is actually what you’re supposed to do if you’ve encountered a mountain lion, but I was putting a new spin on it. I could sort of direct them as a group this way, and at least get them in the general vicinity of the run. If I was lucky, I could get a few into the run, close the door, and then go after individuals. Have you ever chased a chicken? If you have, you know how stupid you feel doing it, and how hard it is to catch them. This is why in Rocky II, Burgess Meredith says of a chicken, “If you can catch this thing, you can catch greased lightning!” The easiest thing to do was corner them, then grab them and put them back. This is assuming they didn’t put up too much of a fight. I’ve had times where I held them close, only to get thrashed to bits when they made a break for it. My arms began to be monuments to the power of chicken claws. I needed a change.

chicken tattoos

Chicken tattoos

The change came in the form of “The Chicken Stick,” which is the long wooden rod from our closet. We put in a whole new system for hanging stuff, so we didn’t need it, but it’s about 8 feet long and seemed useful to me. That was a good hunch. I took it outside, and used it to steer the chickens in many different directions without even having to get too close to them. I am the shepherd of the chickens and now I had the correct accessory. It also made me feel a little like a ninja or wizard. How could I lose? Well, when the neighbors saw me following around a bunch of chickens with a giant stick while talking to them. “The guy next door was totally watching you out there,” my wife told me one day, somewhat deflating my feelings of success. But I stuck with it. I could steer them between the open door and the stick, and funnel them all right into the run easily.

the chicken stick!

The Chicken Stick!

        This was until I discovered mealworms. The mealworm revolutionized the chicken re-cooping process. Once they got a taste of these, if they so much as heard the bag crinkle in my pocket, they would stay so close to me I would trip over them. A few times they heard it right at the beginning of recess, and it killed the free ranging. They knew I had better stuff than what they’d find in the undergrowth, and it was less work. I stuck to bringing the bag out only when it was time to go back in, and then they’d run right into the coop without a fuss.

mealworm chicken treat

Don’t believe his lies. He does smell nutty, though.

        Until they started not to. Lately they have grown tired of this mealworm ruse, and they’ll follow me with the bag, but they won’t go in the run. When I do get them in there through some means, they fight over the worms, so those haven’t lost their charms. It seems to be me that’s lost charm. My guess is that everyone likes sticking it to The Man, and I am The Man in this scenario. They’ve apparently had it with me, and despite my gifts, they’re going to give me a hard time about everything. I don’t know how our relationship deteriorated to this point. Until we start counseling, I’ll have to use a combination of the Chicken Stick and treats until they find a way to rebel against that. It’s going to be a constant struggle, but I swear I will win out over these chickens.

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Chicken Disappointments

Friday, May 10th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/10/2013)

I know I like to come on here each week and act like having chickens is totally cool, and that’s because, frankly, it is. When we got chickens I didn’t really know what to expect, and I figured there would be parts of it that were kind of a drag, but I have enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I even prefer cleaning the coop to cleaning the litter box (though, if you knew our cats and the butt crimes they commit, you’d understand why.) But I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of what chicken keeping is like. There are a few disappointments I’ve had so far, and so I thought I’d share them in the spirit of openness.

The first thing that people with chickens were always saying was to keep them away from your garden. “They’ll eat all your plants!” they said in horrified tones. I had already encased my garden in fencing prior to chickening thanks to the huge number of pesky rabbits that seem to live in our yard. They were hot-pepper-on-the-ground resistant, so I sucked it up and got some chicken wire. It’s not pretty, but it allowed some vegetables to make it to maturity last year. This year when the weeds started popping up in the yard, I figured this was the chickens’ big chance to do their thing. I know they like these weeds, since I have often plucked them and tossed them into the run, and a fight breaks out over who will eat them first. Come on out in the yard, chickens! There’s plenty for all! Plenty of weeds popping out of the ground, sure, but how many of those weeds are pulled up and being brought to their feathery highnesses? I apparently have created some real dandies who insist that their weeds be brought to them. They’ll scratch up the yard like crazy looking for bugs or worms, and every so often they’ll eat some leaves from a nearby pricker bush, but all those dandelions? No interest, unless they’re already out of the ground and presented to them. I’m hoping they’ll come around as the season progresses, otherwise I’m going to have to trade them all in for a goat, and I think goats will have a hard time laying their eggs in the buckets I’ve provided for nesting.


Get ’em while they’re fresh, ladies!

Fresh eggs are a high point for keeping chickens. I had some random eggs at a restaurant recently and I thought they had slipped me scrambled cardboard. I had a feeling I would be let down, and I was right, but pancakes just don’t fill me up, so I gave their eggs a shot. I’m totally spoiled by how great our eggs are. I may have to start bringing my own on the few occasions I go out for breakfast. That’s acceptable, right? The one way these eggs fail is that fresh eggs are terrible for making hard boiled eggs. You might not think that’s a big deal, but I like bringing a couple of hard boiled eggs in my lunch as snacks, since they are good and filling. The problem is, since our eggs are usually no more than two weeks old, they just don’t do it right. They’re hard to peel like you wouldn’t believe. I had two this week that by the time I got all the shell off, there was really only the yolk left. Everything else had stuck to tiny shell bits. I’ve tried different methods of preparing them, but the sticky shells almost always get me. I finally found a website saying your eggs had to be at least a month old to work well with hard boiling. We eat them too fast, I suppose. I’ll allow the slight chance that maybe I just suck at boiling eggs, but I think there’s something to this “old egg” business. I can live with something else in my lunch, if I have to.

fresh eggs

Those are freshness lines, and I needed stink lines.

A final disappointment has to do with my Miracle Broody Hen cure. I had a hen go broody a while back, and I managed to snap her out of it in a day by isolating her in a bird cage. It was great. I now have one that is like a broody yo-yo. She gets broody, I put her in the cage, she snaps out of it, so I put her back with the rest of the chickens in the morning, and by evening she’s broody again. For most of the day she’s fine, but for some reason going to bed and seeing those nesting buckets sets something off, and she’s back into it. It’s like gambling addiction for chickens. It’s more annoying than anything, and this is really a problem with this specific chicken, not chickens in general, so maybe this doesn’t count.

broody hen in solitary

Chicken solitary

These aren’t really horror stories I’m relating here. It’s more a series of bummers, and not even a very long series. My disappointments are themselves pretty disappointing. We’re coming up on a year of having the chickens, and I’m sure in the years to come there’ll be more let downs, but right now I’m not about to go seeking them out. I dig raising chickens, and I aim to keep it that way.



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The Question Everyone Asks

Friday, March 1st, 2013

(Broadcast 3/1/2013)

There is a certain question that people will ask when they find out I have chickens. Well, actually, there are two. The first is usually, “Can I have some eggs?” Depending on who asks, the answer is sometimes yes, but I don’t give these out to just anyone. The other question is usually something along the lines of, “Who’s going to kill them?” This is a pretty terrible question, for a number of reasons. If you’ve listened to me talk about chickens before, I think you’re aware of the lengths I have gone to to keep my birds alive. I hope you at least aren’t going to ask me this, but let’s explore this question.

An obvious answer would be that if I kill them, then I don’t have any eggs. The main thing everyone gets excited about is the eggs. No chickens, no eggs. I get a lot of my food from the grocery store. Would I blow up the grocery store? No. Maybe that’s an extreme analogy, but you need to think about the supply chain here. Say I did want to kill and eat the chickens. (I assume they think I am going to kill them to eat them, or else I need to worry about the people I come into contact with). I can get one or two meals out of one chicken, and then I need a new chicken. Or I can keep getting eggs every day for years, and eat those. I’ve got a pretty good deal going where for very little money I get about a half dozen eggs a day. The cost of eggs vs. the cost of chicken feed is not even a question. Eggs are not cheap, and the ones that want you to think they treat the chickens well are even more expensive. I know my chickens are treated well. And maybe I wouldn’t be buying several dozen eggs a week, but when I have them, I don’t need to eat them. I once saw a post on the internet that said, “Never underestimate what you can trade eggs for.” Sometimes it’s just good will, sometimes it’s something more tangible, but eggs, especially home raised eggs, have a definite value.

I'm rich!

I’m rich!

A larger aspect to why this question upsets me is that I am a vegetarian, and try not to kill anything. We even have a catch and release policy towards bugs in our house. (The mosquitoes the size of small bats that inhabit our area are the notable exceptions). My reasons for this decision are complicated and personal, but a big part of it has to do with not wanting animals to die on my behalf. I don’t wear a scarlet letter V on my shirt, and I generally keep my beliefs to myself, so people probably have no reason to suspect I don’t eat meat. It still seems an invasive thing to ask.

A face only a mother could eat.

A face only a mother could eat.

Taking this line of questioning a little further, someone even once asked me if I’m going to kill them once they stop laying eggs. I think this person must be the type who on the first date talks about what it’s going to be like after the two of you are married. Hold on a minute! You only just found out I have chickens, and now you’re already years in the future speculating about their fertility and what it means to me? Let’s back up a bit. If we look at this solely in terms of what the job of these chickens is, I’ll remind you that we got them to eat the ticks in the yard. That is their first purpose. Eggs are a nice perk, but even after they stop laying, they will still be be able to wander around eating ticks. I’m not going to fire someone because they used to make coffee in the morning when they got into the office, but then stopped. And if we killed everything that outlived its usefulness, we’d have no Congress. (*rim shot*) But these chickens are also our pets, and we don’t kill our pets. The cats haven’t caught a single mouse, but we allow them to live, the least we can do is extend that lax attitude towards job performance to the chickens.

Itchy yet?

Itchy yet?

I actually think some of it may have to do with people just not having much exposure to chickens outside of the grocery store or drive-thru. You don’t think of chickens as a pet-style animal until you meet them and see that they have as distinct personalities as any cat or dog. And it’s true, chickens are generally thought of as a food animal, so I get the reasoning, even if I don’t like it. But please people, we’re trying to have a society here. Let’s have a little tact. The answer is no one is going to kill them. And since you asked, no, you can’t have any eggs.


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