Posts Tagged ‘chicken nutrition’

Season’s Gleetings!

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

We had had a rough couple of weekends, and hadn’t had a chance to go grocery shopping. When you don’t have time to do anything during the week because you commute, you have to cram a lot into Saturday and Sunday, and when you’re exhausted from the cramming, the last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store. We generally have to go shopping on Sundays, which seems to be when all the sports or snowstorms happen, so it’s always a madhouse. That doesn’t help with the motivation to get to the store either. If I could go into work late one day a week so I could shop on a weekday morning, that would be ideal, but I see a tough negotiation ahead if I pursue that. So here we are. We were out of most things, including yogurt and apple cider vinegar, which are staples of my chicken regimen. Both keep some nasty stuff at bay, but I figured it was like taking vitamins. You don’t come down with rickets because you stop taking vitamins for a week, so a week without yogurt in a dish and vinegar in the water couldn’t possibly cause a problem, right?

What I've been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

What I’ve been led to believe a chicken with rickets would look like.

Well, the butts of Steve and John told a different story. The story they told was one of gross cloaca disasters. Or one specific disaster we all know as vent gleet. I usually have a run-in with the gleet once a year or so, and here it was just as Spring approached. The plus side, if there is one, is that Steve and John both have such big wattles that it’s very easy to get their beaks open to squirt the mixture of epsom salt and water down their throats that I’ve always treated this with. This is not an easy task by any means, but bigger wattles give me an edge. So I grabbed them one at a time, trimmed all the super nasty butt feathers off, then brought them inside for their “medicine.” (Side note: I ran out of my stock of rubber gloves during this episode, and when I went to buy more, the drugstore was clean out. Like, an entire shelf’s worth of rubber gloves was empty. How does this happen? What was going on in Harvard Square that that many people needed rubber gloves? Luckily(?), there are actually two drugstores of the same chain a block apart, so I was able to get more. I didn’t want to be touching these butts bare-handed.)

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

Oh, come on. No one has wattles this big.

I’m not sure if it was Steve or John who was the easier of the two, but one of them was a breeze. Open, epsom, open, epsom, open, epsom, until it’s all gone. I think I even managed to not get any on my pants, which is rare. I usually can be counted on to miss at least one shot, but not this time. Then I brought in the other one. Let’s just say it was John. John wasn’t having any of this. My pants got soaked, then she got away, and it was just a big struggle, even with the wattle advantage. Then I did the thing they warn you not to do. I squeezed the dropper too hard and I got some down the wrong neckhole, so liquid went into her lungs. I could hear it rattle with every breath. I had no idea what to do. I held her upside down in the hope that the liquid would run out. It didn’t. I looked online, and I found a lot of people saying not to do this, but no one saying what to do if it happened. I figured all I could do was ride it out. A ton didn’t get in there, so she could breathe, but enough was in there that she rasped. I put her in the coop, then she sneezed, and that actually seemed to make the rasping better. I had to hope it would sort itself out.

It went a little something like this.

It went a little something like this.

I posted on a messageboard for help. No one really had any input on how to handle this, but one person asked why I was still doing the epsom trick. I said it was because that was a thread that had been stickied on that website. The other poster pointed out that vent gleet is fungal, so it’s much easier to just spray their butts with athlete’s foot spray for two weeks. You’re supposed to do it twice a day, and I don’t see them sitting still for this in the mornings, but nights are easy. So I’ve been doing that in lieu of the second dose of epsom salt. John’s breathing was fine the next day, and the gleet seems to be on the outs. I do have one lingering concern, though. Last year what I thought was a vent gleet outbreak was actually mites. So is it really the gleet, or am I fighting the wrong foe? Time will tell.

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

Still an enemy, but the right one this time?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Some Smoke by National Promenade Band, record scratch sound effect by: simkiott)

Get Eating, Ya Ingrates!

Friday, February 12th, 2016

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

Wise guy.

Wise guy.

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

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

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

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

Not that not starving.

Not that not starving.

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

The things I get excited about.

The things I get excited about.

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

Somebody say pizza?

Somebody say pizza?


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

The Return of Vent Gleet

Friday, October 10th, 2014

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

gross chicken

They know how gross they can sometimes be, too.

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

chicken barber

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

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

recipe for a mess.

Recipe for a mess.

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

The doctor is in.

The doctor is in.

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

blow dry a chicken

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

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


Honesty is the most embarrassing policy.

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

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

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

What Are You Feeding Those Things?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

(Broadcast 11/15/13)

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, which means it’s time for two things. The first will be the beginning of news reports about people burning down their houses while trying to deep-fry a turkey, and the second will be the features on the horrors of the Turducken, which you may or may not know is a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey. These two things have become as much a part of Thanksgiving as anything else. I will not be eating a Turducken, nor will I be eating my chickens for Thanksgiving. I’m certainly not stuffing them into each other to make a Chichichichichichicken. No one in our household eats anyone else, and I aim to keep it that way. However, with the talk of what everyone’s having for Thanksgiving, it’s gotten me thinking about what I feed the chickens and how that changes with the seasons.

chicken centipede

It would be kind of like this.

There are a few constants. I always give them “layer feed,” so they have plenty of that if they want it. It’s basically corn pellets with vitamins added, though you can get it in “crumble” form, which looks like someone stepped on the pellets. It’s more a tiny nugget thing, whereas pellets are obviously pellets. I have a feeder hanging under the coop, so they can pick at this stuff any time they want. An interesting thing about layer feed is that it’s basically the same stuff as some types of natural corn-based cat litter, but way cheaper. A few times in a pinch we’ve dumped some chicken feed in the litter box and gotten decent results. Though, I don’t recommend giving it to the chickens after you’ve done this, no matter how mad you are at them.

litter and food

Two different things. Don’t mix them.

In the warmer months, the chickens can feast to their heart’s delight on bugs and worms and anything they can dig up out in the yard. Of course, in the winter months, there are a lot fewer of these things to choose from. We did just go through a Wooly Bear caterpillar explosion, so maybe they loaded up on those, and aren’t feeling too snacky right now. I don’t think that’s likely. They’ll always eat something else, and they’ll spend hours digging around in the leaf litter at the edge of the yard in the hopes of a treat no matter the time of year. Even it’s buried in snow, which I’m sure is not far off. It’s not the super buffet it used to be, but they must be finding something in there, or they wouldn’t keep at it, right? Maybe they’re just eternal optimists.

bug buffet

Coming soon to a Denny’s near you.

They’ve been getting a lot of bread ends lately, as my son generally is sent to school with a sandwich for lunch, so we go through a lot of bread. No one likes the ends, except the chickens. I would offer the ends to you if you like them, but the chickens called dibs. Greens from the garden have just dried up, but the bread ends will continue. We do eat other vegetables through the winter, but probably not as many as we had growing, so the flow of veggies to the chicken run has slowed. The bread ends are forever though. At least until my son realizes he can complain about what we’re feeding him. Hopefully that’s a little ways off. We’ve been getting good mileage out of this whole sandwich deal.


Please learn all the parts by Friday. This is on the test.

The newest addition to the chickens’ diet is yogurt. There’s a lot of information out there that much of our health may be influenced by gut flora, even mental health. I want to make sure the chickens aren’t feeling depressed in the winter months. What makes me depressed is when they get vent gleet, aka “nasty butt disease”, and yogurt can go a long way towards preventing that. Every morning I put a bowl of yogurt out for them, and they go nuts for it. One morning, as a test, I put a cucumber next to the yogurt to see which they would go for, and not one chicken touched the cucumber until the yogurt was gone. It’s also hilarious to watch them eat it, as it tends to get all over their faces, and they chew it with their little beaks. So it’s good nutrition as well as entertainment. They just get the plain stuff. No fruit on the bottom, fruit on the top, or memories of fruit from a summer program you were in back in college. The cheap stuff is the best. The chickens don’t even care what kind it is, they just dig it.


Yogurt fans unite!

In the colder months, the main thing they lose is some of the variety of treats they can forage on their own. They still get plenty to eat, and if I’m worried about it, I can spend vast amounts of money at the feed store buying all sorts of other treats for them. I think they’ll be fine without tons of treats. Waiting will let them build up their appetite for ticks and ants, and at the first sign of spring, I will release my chicken fury on the insects of the yard with renewed vigor.


More Gardening Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

My First Goose Egg!

Friday, October 25th, 2013

(Broadcast 10/25/2013)

Raising chickens has been full of milestones. There’s the excitement of the day I brought them home, the relief of finishing the coop (and the worry of their first night sleeping in it), and the thrill of the first egg. Not all milestones are happy ones, though. There was my first sick chicken, which now looks more like it should be counted as my first chicken to have a stroke. There was my first run in with the horrors of vent gleet, and as a result, my first time standing in the yard blow drying a chicken. I suppose if you think about it enough, anything can be a milestone. I happen to like thinking about it.


When the chickens first started laying eggs, it was December, and you’re probably aware of the fact that December has pretty short days. The amount of light chickens get has a direct influence on how many eggs they lay. Or that’s what I was led to believe. As soon as they all started laying, it was half a dozen eggs a day for a good long time, darkness be damned. We weren’t prepared for such an ovoid onslaught, but it was cool to be finally getting eggs, and nice to see the chickens all pitching in. The fact that they were really sticking it to the darkness tickled me as well. I like the underdog, or perhaps in this case, the underchicken.


Underchicken, of Saturday morning cartoon fame.

As time went on, the six-eggs-a-day rule seemed to be getting more relaxed. If a chicken isn’t feeling well, they won’t lay, and it’s even pretty normal to not lay an egg every day. Sometimes, the eggs would be there, but would be one of those creepy “rubber eggs” I’ve talked about. There are a lot of factors involved in egg production, and it’s unrealistic to think they’d operate at maximum capacity forever, or even for very long.

egg factory

Summer came around, and some days we’d get three eggs, some days more. Some days they’d lay them in the nesting buckets, sometimes next to them, and in the last few weeks they’d taken to laying them on the far side of the roost, which is very difficult for me to reach. I know when I’m being screwed with, but everyone likes sticking it to the Man, and I suppose I’m the Man in this scenario. I put a plastic easter egg in one of the nesting buckets, and they eventually got the hint. And the number of eggs we got continued to fluctuate. The vent gleet episode took one chicken out of production for a while, so I knew we wouldn’t be hitting six then. The only one I can reliably even keep a tally on is Boss Chicken, since she’s in her own coop (or rabbit hutch, really) due to her handicap. She seems to be easing into an every other day routine, but again, not always. There’s fluctuation, but always eggs somewhere.

egg journal

I keep a journal of how many eggs each day.

So the other day when I went to check the eggs and Boss Chicken didn’t have one, I figured it was one of her days off. Then I opened the coop, and there were none in the buckets. I felt around in the shavings, since they sometimes like to bury them, but still nothing. So then I climbed into the coop to check the far side of the roost. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. It appeared everyone had taken the day off. It was close to Columbus Day weekend, so maybe they felt it was a state chicken holiday or something. The only thing I do know is that the only egg I got that day was a big goose egg.

goose egg

Listen to the goose.

I was initially a little worried that maybe their egg laying days were behind them, but they’re only a little over a year old, not even a year and half. They’ve got more time. I think the erraticness of their laying schedules was bound to align eventually, and there we were. The next day, we got more eggs. Next summer I may need to start thinking about what’s going to happen to our egg supply, but we should be good through the winter. That’s not to say I’m not going to start obsessively hoarding the eggs, but you might as well hoard them while you know they’re still coming, right? Right?


More Gardening Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

Giving Chickens A Bath

Friday, October 11th, 2013

(Broadcast 10/11/2013)

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they find they need to give a chicken a bath. Wait, what? You say that’s not actually true? Most people haven’t ever bathed a chicken? Well, this is certainly unexpected. Regardless, I recently found myself in a position where I had to give not one, but two chickens baths, and I lived to tell the tale. I may die of embarrassment once the tale is told, but you know, I’ve had a good run. To keep the embarrassment to a minimum, I’ll only discuss the first bath today.

chicken hot tub

In the 80s, even chickens had hot tubs.

Remember my discussion of “vent gleet,” aka nasty chicken butt disease, from a couple of weeks ago? Maybe not. The gist of it is that I have a chicken that had a problem that involved really nasty tail feathers due to, let’s say cloacal issues. I did everything the internet said to do: I cleaned the feathers (opting to trim off the nasty ones), I administered an oral dose of epsom salts, I put apple cider vinegar in the water, and I dealt out lots of yogurt. She seemed to be doing well, until a week later when I stuck my head in the coop to say goodnight, and I noticed her tail feathers were befouled anew. You notice these things when the coop door is righ at their rump level. I shook my fist at the chicken butt gods and angrily approached the internet for guidance.

soiled rump

The look on my face upon seeing the soiled rump.

Upon rereading the article about vent gleet that had originally guided me, it did mention that sometimes two treatments were necessary. In my lust for success, I guess I missed that part. But at least it could still be vent gleet and not something worse. I redid all the original treatments, and hoped that this time it would stick.


Treat, and retreat.

Then I got to thinking that the one thing I hadn’t done was give the chicken an epsom salt bath. This was suggested partly to help soften the nasty feathers for cleaning, but also to help with the affliction itself. Vent gleet can be caused by fungus or parasites, and the epsom salts can help to defeat both those things. As a good chicken dad, I began to think that maybe I should give this a shot.

The problem with giving this a shot was that the time I had to dedicate to bathing a chicken was time that I was the only one home besides my son, who I was supposed to be watching. I thought I could interest him in helping out as a father/son project, but he was already annoyed with me because I told him he needed to come outside instead of watching TV all afternoon. So taking away something he liked and offering to supplement it with something that actually sounded kind of awful was not appealing. He opted to sit in a chair out in the yard and occasionally glare at me while the rest of this went down.

stink eye

The old Stink Eye

I got the only bucket we had, and hoped a chicken would fit in it. I added some epsom salts and water, and took it outside. I thought once more about if I really needed to do this. I had trimmed the chicken’s dirty feathers again, but maybe there was more going on in there that I wasn’t getting with the trimming, or couldn’t be trimmed away. Yes, I should do this just to be safe. I took the chicken and proceeded to the bucket.

chicken equation

An equation.

She kind of fit. I could at least get her butt down into the water. I called to my son to look at daddy, he’s doing something ridiculous. He grunted in response. The chicken squirmed a little and looked around, as if to see if anyone was watching. No one seemed to be, though we can’t rule out NSA spy drones. She sat still for about 3 minutes, and then the attempts to escape began in earnest. There was squawking and kicking, which means there was also splashing. I had a good grip on her wings, so she couldn’t flap them, but this was becoming more unpleasant by the minute, and it was never really very pleasant to begin with. I held on for a couple more minutes, then finally let her out. She was in there for a total of five minutes, tops. The instructions said to keep her in there for 20 minutes. No chance of that happening without me having a team of chicken wranglers.

I let her out in the yard, and figured since it was sunny and warm, she could dry off in the sun. At that moment, a cloud came by and somehow managed to blot out any sunlight for half an hour. I knew what I needed to do. I went and got our longest extension cord, and a hair dryer.

hair dryer

The cord was long.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever stood in your driveway holding a wet chicken like a baby while blow drying it, but it’s certainly an experience I never anticipated having. Cars were going by, but no one seemed to notice. The chicken lay there on her back, seemingly content. The smell of hot chicken feathers filled my nose, and I realized I had gone to a place most people never go to. I am still wondering if this is a good thing. But the chicken was dry, and so far we haven’t seen any more dirty butt feathers on her. We also haven’t seen any of the neighbors. But if we do, I suppose we’ll find out very quickly which ones saw my foray into chicken hairdressing.


Online Gardening Radio at Blog Talk Radio with Garden Guys Green Revolution on BlogTalkRadio

Somebody’s Molting!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

(Broadcast 9/27/2013)

Recently I’ve noticed loose feathers around the coop and run, which is really not shocking in the least. We’ve got a bunch of birds hanging out in there, it seems pretty obvious that there will be the odd occasional feather that comes detached from it’s host, and there you go. O.k., well, see you next week! Then one day I opened the coop door to get eggs, and it looked like one of the Mandrell Sisters had exploded. First thing I had to do was confirm that all chickens were in a non-exploded state. Check. Ok, so then what would make this happen? My first thought was someone was molting, but of course, being the paranoid type who likes to look things up, I decided to make sure there weren’t other, more sinister things at play.

shadow chicken

What evil lurks in the parts of chickens?

There are a number of things that can make a chicken lose her feathers. One is a change of diet. I knew I could rule this out, since we’re very much steady as she goes in terms of the commercial food they get. We supplement that with vegetable scraps and other odds and ends, but nothing that would cause a shortage of any nutrition, or be considered a shocking change. They’re nothing if not well-fed.


They like variety.

That brings us to the issue of parasites, which always makes me a little itchy. There are plenty of little nasty critters that can make a chicken’s feathers fall out, so this was a worry. These can usually be ruled out by an examination of the chicken and the coop. Having cats, I know what to look for if fleas are involved. They leave the innocuous sounding “dirt” behind, which is their poop. It’s not as helpful as chicken poop in the garden. It’s really only good for figuring out if fleas are around. But I didn’t see any of this dirt on my birds. I didn’t see much of anything, really. A lot of parasites will leave bites or other marks on the skin, which will be a giveaway, even if you don’t see the bugs themselves. All I was seeing was lovely clean chicken skin. If chicken skin can ever been called lovely. Let’s say normal chicken skin. The normalness of their skin also helped me to rule out another nasty cause of feather loss – aggressive pecking. I had a chicken pecking at another one once, but I caught it very early on. I know what the results look like, and they aren’t pretty. Lots of blood and scabs. I’d have noticed this.

itchy guy

Somebody say “parasite?”

Molting can be triggered by the change in the length of days. Well, here we are with it getting darker much earlier, so I was beginning to suspect this was definitely my culprit. Chickens do go through an annual molt, and since mine are just over a year old, it looks like it may be time to ring in the New Year. As time went on, it became clearer that one of the Mandrell sisters had lost some feathers. The area around her neck started to get very thin. A typical molt starts at the neck and then moves down the body. What’s cool about new feathers is that they look a little like fish bones when they first appear. The soft part of the feather is contained in a tube, which slowly breaks away and then the feather as we know it emerges. What’s cool in concept can be very freaky in reality, especially when you look at your chicken and she seems to be wearing a necklace of spines. So edgy.

punk chicken

It’s all the rage in London.

There are two types of molting. One is the “typical” molt, and one is the “rough” molt. The typical molt means that the feathers fall out, but it’s sort of like a cat shedding. The chicken still looks fairly normal, but may have some spots that look a little sparsely feathered. The rough molt is something out of a chicken horror movie, or maybe more accurately, The Chicken Road Warrior. There’s a lot of skin, and weird tufts of feathers sticking out all over the place. It looks like mange, but because chickens look so odd when you can see their skin, it’s much, much creepier.

road warrior

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Luckily, we seem to be going through a typical molt. The first chicken I noticed was molting had some spiny feathers on her neck, and now her wings look a little ragged, but otherwise she seems fine. She just looks a little shabby chic. Another Mandrell Sister seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, so they can at least commiserate about the indignities of molting in front of the others. Chickens need support groups too. I just hope the feathers are back before it gets too cold. I understand the biological mechanisms behind sunlight triggering the molt, but it seems silly to have it happen when it’s getting cooler, rather than when it’s really warm out. But I assume they know what they’re doing. Which is probably a bad thing to assume, since they are chickens.


Speaking of not knowing what you’re doing, this caterpillar is in way over its head.


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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 Mystery of the Weird Rubber Eggs!

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

(Broadcast 8/23/2013)

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


Green eggs, no ham

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

vitamin supplements

Try not to take the wrong one.

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

unfinished egg

An unfinished egg makes its escape.

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

rubber egg

Not that kind of rubber egg.

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

el diablo pollo

El Diablo Pollo


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

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

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Chickens And Heat

Friday, June 28th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/28/2013)

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

chill pill

I was told to take one of these.

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

sad vinegar

*sad trombone sound*

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

chicken and watermelon

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

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

dust bathhouse closed

Where will they bathe?

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


This image is not based in reality.

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


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