Posts Tagged ‘Bugs’

Hair Club For Hen

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

Strange things are afoot in the coop. Some not so strange things as well. For example, it would seem that most of the chickens are molting. That makes sense, as the days have been getting much shorter, and that’s when nature decides that chickens will dump a bunch of feathers and then grow new ones. It looks like there have been pillow fights going on every night, but I’ve been through this before, so I know it’s actually molting. The tricky thing about molting when your chickens have been dealing with mites is trying to figure out what’s feather loss from molting, and what might be mites making a comeback. Last year I was never quite sure. The mites had really dug in. This year they may have been even worse, but I tried my new treatment of spraying them with a spinosad-based gardening liquid, and something has happened that makes me think it actually worked. Henny Penny is sprouting butt feathers.

Luckily her "down below" bits are covered, as this is a family show.

Luckily her “down below” bits are covered, as this is a family show.

You might think this is no big deal. Chickens lose butt feathers, chickens regrow butt feathers. Circle of butt life. However, I should remind you, or tell you for the first time depending on how long you’ve been around, that Henny Penny has had a bald butt for over a year. It was pretty bad. She was the first to lose butt feathers last spring when the mites first arrived. The other chickens lost butt feathers too, but none quite as badly as Henny Penny. Then, when it seemed the mites had been vanquished, the other chickens grew their feathers back. Not so Henny Penny. I began to worry that there was actually something else wrong with her. There did seem to be some other ailments out there that led to bald butts, but she never fit the full profile. She went through last winter with a bare butt, and luckily didn’t get frostbite, but it was a pretty mild winter. I was always keeping an eye on her, but she seemed fine otherwise, and at some point or another I think I resigned myself to never solving this particular chicken mystery.

I write Sherlock Holmes chicken butt fan fiction sometimes.

I write Sherlock Holmes chicken butt fan fiction sometimes.

Until a recent evening butt check. I sprayed them all with spinosad every week for a month this summer. I figured that ought to cover any mite life cycle. Then I had to just sit and wait. Feathers take a long time to grow back, so it’s always tough to know if a treatment is working. I’ve been so busy lately that I would check to make sure nothing was getting worse, but I didn’t have the time to work up another plan of attack, so my being preoccupied actually created enough time to for nature to run its course. I do believe the mites are gone, and I am basing this on the fact that Henny Penny has little feather nubs popping out of her formerly long-term area of baldness. At first I thought the dark spots were the mites themselves, as it’s been so long since there were feathers there that it seemed hard to imagine them ever coming back. But they’re there for sure. Each day they come in a little more. I wonder if it’s weird for her. Like when you wear shorts all summer and then you have to wear pants one day and it feels unnatural. Except this is all in the butt area.

Skinny pants are even harder to get used to.

Skinny pants are even harder to get used to.

Now the problem is that I’m so excited that her feathers are coming back, I’m totally worried that something is going to happen to destroy them again. I initially thought other chickens had been pecking them out. What if they decide to do that now? What if the mites mount a last ditch effort to reclaim their old territory? I gave everyone a bug spray top-up last weekend, and may go for a repeat dosing, just to be safe. I’d hate for things to look up, only to, er, bottom out again. But I’m now convinced that she just had a super bad case of mites that resisted all my previous treatments. For now, spinosad will be my go-to treatment, assuming we’ll have to deal with this again next year. I’m ready. The chickens are also ready, since they hate being sprayed so much, that if I keep the coop door open for too long, they suspect I’m up to something, and nervously make their way as far away from me as they can get. I tend to have this effect on people too.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Rag Pickins by Fred Van Eps)

New Frontiers In Mite Maintenance

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and mite infestations are nothing if not desperate times. I was powdering the poultry with the poultry powder, and I was protecting them with the Poultry Protector, and I did not see any progress. I may even have seen things get worse, but it’s always hard to tell once the mite ball gets rolling. And so, I returned to the internet to watch people fight, and to try to glean some helpful information out of what I witnessed.

Mite Ball - It's a ball of mites! (Not available in stores.)

Mite Ball – It’s a ball of mites! (Not available in stores.)

There seemed to be more options for mite control out there than when I last looked, or maybe it was just that the current situation had Steve (or John) losing feathers all up her back, which really worried me, and so I read more before I collapsed in an exhausted heap. I was very close to using dog and cat flea drops on them and then just throwing out the eggs for weeks afterwards, as horrible as that would make me feel. It seems so wasteful to just chuck eggs, but you don’t want to eat them if they’re toxic, and I obviously was ready for the big guns. Then I stumbled across a thread that pointed out how odd it was that no one was talking about the product they had come to use. Then they linked to a study showing that it was effective against mites, and that you could eat the eggs after using it. You just spray it on, and since it’s just topical, it doesn’t affect their egg system (though the flea stuff is topical too, but perhaps chickens are more absorbent in that case). And to make it easier, the person who started the thread explained the ratio of water to poison (yes, it’s still a poison) to use, so you didn’t have to use the complicated math in the scientific study. This was a dream come true, even if this explanation of it sounds like I fell for someone’s paid endorsement.

Chicken infomercials

Chicken infomercials

The chemical is called Spinosad, and apparently it’s the by-product of some type of fermentation. This may or may not make it organic, and since what you buy in the store may actually be created synthetically instead of through the normal fermentation method, an argument about organicness broke out. I wasn’t so worried about what was organic or not at this point, I just wanted healthy chickens. So I bought one of the bottles of concentrate that contains this stuff, (there are a few different products by different brands) and mixed up a dose.

(file photo)

(file photo)

In spite of the fact that there’s a study about the effectiveness of this stuff on poultry mites, and that the company that holds the patent on this chemical says it’s cool for chickens, this is apparently still an “off label” treatment, unless maybe you buy the industrial vat of the pure stuff direct from the manufacturer. The concentrate I bought was for plants only, but the guru of it on the internet said this was good, and others backed up the claim, so I went in a-spraying. The chickens ran to the corner and tried to hide, but I got them all in their problem areas. Then I waited a week, and went in again. I even went in a third time a week after that. I’m not 100% sure, but it looked a lot like Steve (or John) was starting to grow back some feathers. This was a good sign.

Eternal vigilance is the price of feathers.

Eternal vigilance is the price of feathers.

The issue I’m now running into is that chickens are waterproof. So you can spray them in the area where the feathers have been cleared out, but not anywhere else. In some cases, it looks like the mites have migrated to the waterproof areas, and begun defoliation. So I’ve sprayed those areas too. The other issue is that the way this stuff apparently works is to jump-start the mites’ metabolisms, so they basically work themselves to death. In some cases, the de-feathering got worse before it got better, since the mites got some last bits of feather eating in before their passing. I’m keeping an eye on things, but for now, this seems to be something that mites have yet to develop resistance to. Variety is not only the spice of life, it can also be the death of mites.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Medley of Country Dances by Jaudas Society Orchestra)

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)

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)

Lousy Mites

Friday, October 30th, 2015

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

how mites work

A little itchy reading.

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


Tufty in the front, bald in the rear.

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


Another popular mite gathering place.

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


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

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

Hello September!

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Well, my little August break was nice, but now it’s back to work. I mean, it was still back to work in terms of the chickens, since I couldn’t just go on a vacation from feeding them without any repercussions, I was just taking a break from talking about them. Not from talking to them, though, which I find myself more and more aware of now that there are sometimes people in the house next door. I suppose they’re the ones who need to get used to it, not me. I’m so used to it I don’t even notice I’m doing it half the time.

chicken talk

They don’t talk back . . . yet.

Beyond my own experiments in inter-species communication, things have been pretty good with the chickens lately. The mites still seem vanquished, and butt feathers are still sprouting. Maybe not as fast as I’d like them to, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned since getting chickens, it’s that everything ends up taking way more time than it’s supposed to. Case in point: building the coop. Hopefully that was a one-time event. As I predicted, molting season may be combining with butt feather regrowth season, since I’ve been seeing a fair bit of Mandrell Sister plumage floating free in the coop lately. I suppose seeing it early is better than seeing it later, since last year they all molted quite late, and it was a very cold time to not be fully feathered. I figure if you’ve got to grow some feathers back anyway because of the mites, why not just dump a bunch and totally start over? I’m not sure that’s how it actually works, but I need to impose some sort of logic onto all this.

chicken butt

Guess What? Bald, but recovering chicken butt!

We haven’t seen much of the turkeys lately, but that doesn’t mean they’re not around. I suppose since August is when many people take vacations, who’s to say turkeys don’t do the same? Probably people who study turkeys. But since I’m throwing around hare-brained ideas, I might as well get this one in there too.

idea bag

I’ve got bags and bags of these things.

One big event that happened during my hiatus is only marginally related to the chickens, in that it only happened because I was going out to the coop to feed them. But if they weren’t there, I wouldn’t have been out there alone in the dark, so I guess it’s totally related to the chickens. So let’s proceed from there. I’ve mentioned before that where we live has basically every predator that you can get in New England. I haven’t seen them all personally, but the farmer down the street has, and so I am generally quite vigilant about keeping everyone safe. In the winter, I always look for tracks around the coop in the snow, but so far I haven’t seen any. Either the animals can tell the electric fence, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, is not something to mess with, or they just are really bad at figuring out that there are chickens in there. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying I’m a little surprised that we haven’t seen more break-in attempts. But the other morning as I was coming out with breakfast, I saw a set of eyes reflected in the light of my headlamp. (Sadly, those glorious weeks when it’s light when I get up have passed.) Normally, if I see some eye reflections, they turn and disappear as soon as I approach. This time, not so much. In fact, the eyes began to approach me. This was not good. I quickly began to make out the shape of the creature, and I began to worry that I was looking at a baby bobcat, which could possibly mean that there was a mama bobcat nearby. As my bowels contemplated voiding themselves, I happened to catch a shadow of a tail in the ever-shortening distance between me and the eyes, and thankfully realized that it was just a regular cat, and one we see pretty often. I joke that he’s one of our cats’ boyfriends, since he sits outside the sliding door and looks in at her, but she seems to hate him, so I guess maybe he’s more of her stalker. Either way, if he’s trying to get in with her, I recommend he knock off the scaring me in the morning. He stopped walking towards me when he got to the steps of the sliding door and assumed his place, gazing indoors at our cat who clearly was not pleased about having a visitor. The chickens were safe, and ⅓ of the cats were annoyed. A pretty typical morning.

kitty love

If I’d noticed the eye reflections were shaped like hearts, I’d have figured it out sooner.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Snake Rag by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band)

A Mite Impatient

Friday, July 24th, 2015

When someone I care about is sick, I worry a lot. Right now six people, er, chickens, I care about have mites, and so I get preoccupied with thinking about how to make sure this problem is taken care of. I’ve tried diatomaceous earth, and I’ve tried “poultry powder,” yet their butts are still featherless, and egg production is down. I powder them with one substance or another once a week, and yet I don’t see any progress. I even went into both our fireplace and wood stove and took all the ashes out and put them in the chicken run. This is so they could take dusts baths in the ash, which is supposed to fight mites. There are a few things I haven’t tried yet, and I’ve been reluctant to do so, since they all have side effects of some sort or another.

side effects

Also, probably diarrhea. It’s always diarrhea.

In my original post about the mites, I mentioned that Sevin dust is one big gun people turn to for mites when other cures fail. It’s mostly diatomaceous earth, but has poison mixed in. It’s a different poison from what’s in the poultry powder, and apparently quite bad for bees. It’s also not technically approved for use on poultry, so there’s that too. But I was worried enough that I was beginning to think that maybe it was worth a shot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it, so I looked into other ideas.

other ideas

Sometimes they keep this bucket behind the counter.

You can apparently use the type of flea and tick drops that you put on cats and dogs on chickens, but I get the feeling this may be a mildly sketchy, or at least “experimental” treatment. You need to use a very specific brand of the drop, one not easily had at any pet store, so you need to find the right source. You also have to apply it to a chicken, which seems tricky. I have had a hard time putting this stuff on dogs, and they sit still. A squawking, unhappy chicken in one hand, and flea and tick juice in the other is not my idea of a good time. And to top it all off, if you go this route, you can’t eat the eggs for weeks afterwards. I like eating the eggs. I’m good at it. I also share them with people and spread chicken goodwill. Throwing out large amounts of eggs was just not something I wanted to do. If you can’t eat them, I’m sure they can’t go in the compost. Dumping them in the trash seems so wasteful. I put this idea on hold too.

trash can.

Gonna need another can.

The last option is to give them a flea dip. This, again, got into the weird territory of “you can only use very specific brands of flea shampoo that are hard to find and probably expensive.” Also, you have to dunk the chicken in a bucket of water. Frankly, I have had an easier time getting my finger up a chicken’s butt than I have soaking them in anything. Plus, then I’d have six chickens that then need to be dried off (Boss Chicken doesn’t seem to have the mites, for some reason). I was beginning to develop a vision of what hell must be like. Blow drying six chickens is straight out of Dante.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

A job not even Satan himself wants to do.

Back in the winter our local feed store closed. A few months later, it opened back up under new ownership, much to my surprise and delight. I swung by the other day to get more chicken food and bedding, and a guy who worked at the old version of the store was now working at the new version. He had always given me good advice in the past, so even though I was there for something else, I asked about the mites, and what I could do. He asked if I wanted an organic solution or otherwise. I said at this point I’d try either. I mentioned that I had tried diatomaceous earth, and he said “well, that’s the organic option.” Then he showed me a different brand of the poultry powder than the one I had. I said I had tried that too, but their feathers weren’t growing back, and the eggs were less frequent than usual. He said this was pretty typical, and as long as I got some anti-mite stuff on the chickens, in the nesting buckets, and in the coop, the problem would go away, but it might take a few weeks before I noticed an improvement. They need time to recuperate, and sometimes that takes longer than I like. On the plus side, I’m doing everything right. Everything except being patient, that is. I can work on that, and see if I’m better at it by the time my birds have some new butt feathers. I think it may take even longer than that. My impatience is much peskier than mites, and just slightly less bitey.

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

Too Many Crickets!

Friday, October 18th, 2013

(Broadcast 10/11/2013)

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

lions, tigers, and bears

Oh my!

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

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

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

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


This is supposed to be a caterpillar.

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


They were pants . . . JUST LIKE THESE

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


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

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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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