Posts Tagged ‘diseases’

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)

It’s Mites Alright

Friday, May 27th, 2016

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

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

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

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

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

It goes a little like this sometimes.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

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

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

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

Mites Or Gleets?

Friday, April 29th, 2016

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

Can you smell it?

Can you smell it?

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

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

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

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

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

Butts! Consider yourselves fluffed!

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


There’s who in the what, now?

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

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

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)

Our Local Mite Suppliers

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Last time we were together, I told you about the ongoing mite issues I’ve been having. I’m not sure if we’re making any progress or not, because feathers take a long time to grow back, so I need to find a better benchmark for gauging how things are going. Suzy Creamcheese Junior was scratching under her wing last night when I checked on them, so everyone got another dose of diatomaceous earth, just for good measure. I also put a bunch of wood ash from the fireplace in the run, so they can take dust baths in it. That’s supposed to help a lot too. I’m keeping an eye on things, and for the time being, I think that’s the best I can do.

keep an eye on it

Maybe I don’t need to keep such a close eye on it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering why they got mites this year, but have never had them in the past. I don’t think I’ve done anything differently than before. Mites apparently like it when it’s humid out, and that can lead to an outbreak, but we’ve only had a couple of humid days, and it’s been much cooler than usual so far this Spring and Summer. I first noticed the butt feather loss back when it was still fairly chilly out. So weather conditions don’t seem likely to be contributing. However, one big source of mites for chickens can be wild birds. We live out in nature, on the edge of some woods, so there are a lot of birds around. They don’t get into the coop or run, but they are in the yard, and the chickens get yard time too. I suppose if the local birds are having a mite outbreak, it’s likely to spread. I could just keep the chickens locked up, but I don’t think that will help, and it will just make them crazy. They want to run around the yard, and I want them to as well. I suppose yard mites are the cost of doing business, in some ways.


The American Robin – Turdus migratorius. More like Turdus MITEgratorius, AMIRITE?

The other night I went out to our trash can, and happened to flush out a whole turkey family. There were two or three adults, and about 15 babies, which it turns out are called “poults.” If I knew the genders of the poults, I could call them either jakes or jennies, but we’re not that familiar. They are quite cute though. They wandered up the hill behind our house, and weren’t too frightened by me, but clearly wanted some personal space. Since then, I found out they also like to hide in our front lawn during the day. My mother-in-law saw them out there, and when they saw her, they just squatted down and somehow managed to disappear just like that. It seems crazy, but the other night we all were sitting outside, and suddenly a turkey materialized in the front yard, then wandered around back, more or less unfazed by us. I went inside, and looked out the back window, and there was the whole family. They wandered around for a while, and then, one by one, flew up into the giant pine trees behind the house. If you’ve ever seen a turkey fly, you know how strange it is. They’re big, and their centers of gravity seem off. But they got to the lower branches, which are about 50 feet up. Even the poults made it up there. Once they were all in the trees, they slowly leapt from branch to branch, climbing higher and higher until I couldn’t see them out the window any more. So apparently they have taken up night time residence out back, and spend their days out front. It’s cool to have them around, provided they remain non-aggressive. If these were geese, we’d be fighting for our lives every time we went to our cars, but the turkeys seem pretty mellow, for now.

canada goose

Canada Geese do their best to fight Canadian stereotypes.

I got to wondering if the turkeys are what brought the mites around, since we didn’t have these visitors last year. Maybe, maybe not. It may just be a coincidence. I’m also not sure how to tell a turkey family to go away, and frankly, I don’t really want to. Watching them do their thing is incredibly interesting to me. If having them around means I have to work a little harder to control mites, then that’s what I’ll do. Experiencing this sort of natural excitement is exactly why we moved out here. Nature can be fun, and nature can be parasitey. I can’t prove the turkeys gave us mites, and as long as they play nice otherwise, they get the benefit of the doubt.


Hello, neighbors!


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Persian Lamb Rag by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Chickens And Mites

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Henny Penny has a naked butt. At first I suspected that it was from butt pecking. Suzy Creamcheese Junior shortly thereafter lost a bunch of butt feathers, and I even saw wounds on her butt that totally looked like pecking wounds. I was putting Blukote on the affected butts, which is an antiseptic, and is supposed to stop butt pecking. But the butt feathers continued to disappear, and/or not grow back. Then I noticed that one of the Mandrell Sisters was starting to lose butt feathers too. So I either had a rampant butt pecker on the loose, or this was something else. And the something else that it probably was was probably mites. The story you’re about to hear will make you very itchy.

pecky the kid

Pecky The Kid – as seen in the book Buttpeckers and Bad Hens.

I recently thought Steve had vent gleet. She may still have had it. I almost hope so, otherwise I put her through the epsom salt drink ordeal for nothing (see last week’s post for more details on the epsom salt drink ordeal). But she had a poopy butt, and in my experience, that means vent gleet. However, it turns out that having a poopy butt can also be a sign of having mites. So I had thought that I had chickens with multiple butt ailments, and only when I looked at the big picture did I see what was really happening. There may not be a phantom butt pecker on the loose after all, just a ton of tiny butt biters.

butt crisis

Steve’s existential butt crisis.

Mites can be very hard to see, but I thought I’d look for them anyway. When the ladies were resting on the roost at night, I grabbed a Mandrell, and gazed deeply into her featherless butt area. I did see tiny dark spots on her skin. They didn’t move, like mites often do, but they also didn’t look like they should be there. It was time to treat for mites, just in case. The “good” news is that like everything to do with chickens, there are a million opinions about how to treat this. One was to use diatomaceous earth in the coop to kill the mites. That was lucky, because I have a bunch of diatomaceous earth. I sprinkled it in their bedding, and waited. Turns out I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, so a few nights later, I went in and patted some onto each of their butts, just to make sure it got where the little nasties were.

butt in the night

Things that go butt in the night.

People often complain that diatomaceous earth is bad for the respiratory systems of everyone who comes in contact with it. This may be true. Others say this is why you should use Sevin dust instead of diatomaceous earth, but if you read the label, Sevin is 95% diatomaceous earth, plus some poison. It also apparently is terrible for bees, and I am a big supporter of bees, so I crossed that cure off my list. The next thing I heard about was called “poultry powder.” This seemed to be the thing that people who didn’t like Sevin recommended. It’s also a poison, but allegedly less dangerous than Sevin, so I ordered some of this just to hedge my bets. Then I got it, and on the label it says it too is bad for bees, but only if you put it on flowers bees are pollinating. I wasn’t doing this, and there are no flowers near the coop, so hopefully no bees died in the treating of my chickens. However, chickens can die from mite infestations, so it was important for me to get this sorted out. I did the same thing with the poultry powder that I did with the diatomaceous earth. I snuck in at night, patted some on the infested butts, and hoped for the best.

love the bees

Love the bees

One dose won’t do it. I have to repeat this procedure in 10 days, since the powder doesn’t kill the eggs, just the live mites. So in 10 days the mite eggs will hatch, and then I’ll get those mites too, I hope. I also cleaned all the bedding out of the coop, washed the entire coop in vinegar, and let it air out. It smelled like a salad for a while, but who doesn’t like salad? I’m not sure how I’ll know if the mites are defeated, since feathers can take a while to grow back. This may be a slow process. I guess I’ll repeat the treatment as needed until I see butt feather regrowth occurring. I suppose I have all summer, huh? This is not the vacation I was hoping to take, but maybe with the right amount of marketing, butt mite excursions will take off. Another million dollar idea from my chickens’ hinders.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Guatemala – Panama March by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Steve’s Got The Gleet!

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Vent gleet has been a continual burr under my blanket for a very long time. Some people call it “nasty butt disease” due to the lovely symptom of diarrhea, but it’s really a fungal infection of the vent (aka the chicken down-below hole). There are things you can do to ward it off, such as give your chickens yogurt, since probiotics are anti-fungal, and you can put apple cider vinegar in the chickens’ water for the same reason. You know what? I do both these things, and every year I have to deal with at least one chicken coming down with it. Would it be worse if I didn’t do these things? I don’t know, and I’m not willing to find out. It’s annoying enough dealing with one chicken that has it, I don’t want a bunch of them to get it at once.

Saturday Night Gleeter

Saturday Night Gleeter

For a while now, I kept looking at Steve’s butt in the yard and wondering if she had the tell-tale nasty butt. I would look quickly, see what looked like crustiness, and then a minute later everything would be fine. “A trick of the light,” I’d think, and go about my business. Then a little while later, this scenario would repeat itself. It eventually happened enough that I finally remembered that I kept thinking she had something up with her butt, and I should probably get a closer look. That wasn’t going to happen during the day while they were out in the yard; I would have to strike at night.

night coop

It’s easier if you bring a flashlight.

After the sun had gone down, and the birds were on the roost, I crept into the coop and took care of some business. Henny Penny and Suzy Creamcheese Junior had been having their butts pecked, so I gave each of them a dose of Bluekote while I was in there. (It’s an antiseptic thing to protect them from infection.) Everyone probably hoped that I had finished my tasks at that point, but then I grabbed Steve. You may have heard of people screaming bloody murder before. You may not have heard of a chicken doing this, but I can assure you that this is exactly what Steve did. You know bloody murder when you hear it. I flipped her on her back, which usually calms a chicken down, but this only seemed to make her angrier. She managed to get away, but since it was dark, as soon as she hit the ground, she froze, since she couldn’t see where she was going. I grabbed her again, and the bloody murder began anew.

bloody murder

Nobody ever whispers bloody murder.

Eventually, I got her to sit still, even if she continued to make an unholy racket. It seems Wyandottes like Steve have fancy butt feathers that are layered, so when I was able to get at them, I could see that she did have poo-caked feathers under her butt, but they would just tuck back up under other ones after she had pooped. This explains why I’d see them, but then they’d be gone in the blink of an eye. I took out some scissors, and tried to cut the matted feathers off with one hand, while holding her in the other. This was proving to be more difficult than any other chicken I had dealt with. I almost walked up to my son’s bedroom window and asked my wife to come outside and help, since I knew she was in there. I stuck it out on my own though, and got most of the feathers removed. You can theoretically soak a chicken in a bucket for 20 minutes to ungunk the feathers, but I have never been able to get one to sit for more than 3 minutes before we both have enough. Steve had already shown her feisty side, so bathtime was not going to happen. Snip snip, and then the next step began.

chicken haircut

We’ve all had bad haircuts before.

I brought her inside, where I had a mixture of 1 ounce of water with 1 teaspoon of epsom salts mixed in. This was to be administered orally to the chicken. This has always been the worst part of the treatment, usually leaving me soaking wet, since chickens don’t like being made to drink from a dropper. You gently pull on their wattles, and it’s supposed to open their mouth so you can squirt a little of the solution in. It does get their mouth open, but you usually have a nanosecond before it closes again. Steve, being a Wyandotte, doesn’t have much of a comb to speak of, but her wattles are quite large and luxurious. So much so that getting her mouth open was the easiest thing I had done all night. I got all the epsom drink down without getting any on myself, and briefly sat there amazed. Then I realized I still had an angry chicken to deal with, and brought her back to the coop.

If only I could convince them it's a trendy cocktail.

If only I could convince them it’s a trendy cocktail.

I’ll need to do this again. It usually takes two doses to work, so after the first dose, you get to spend a few days thinking about how much fun it will be to do again. I’m still dreading it, since she’s such a firecracker, but hopefully the wattles will work in my favor once more. I can’t handle an epsom drenching. Not when it’s humid like this.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Whistling Rufus by Heftone Banjo Orchestra)

Chicks And Ticks

Friday, May 1st, 2015

The other day at work I had a discussion with some coworkers about ticks for at least 20 minutes. It is tick season again, after all, and so that means it’s time to complain about ticks. (We’re hopefully done complaining about snow for a while.) There was a lot of squirming, use of the word “nasty,” and the general feeling that we were just all going to itch for the rest of the day. And in case we weren’t, I was sure to mention that bedbugs also exist, so hopefully at that point itchiness was a slam-dunk. “They don’t have these tick problems in the South,” was brought up, but the presence of roaches that can fly was deemed possibly even worse. So finally we just expressed our general disgust with both ticks and flying roaches, and got back to work.

flying roach

Roaches always fly first class.

I have to say I have a slightly mixed set of feelings about ticks. If it weren’t for them, I never would have gotten chickens. We got the chickens to eat the ticks, and I think it’s safe to say that getting chickens has been a very pleasant experience for me, even with the number of times I have had to stick my finger in one of their butts. But ticks are also disgusting disease-spreading parasitic monsters, and I’d be fine with them not existing. But they do, so I have to assume they serve some purpose. Is it merely as a disease vector? I complain about the mosquitoes a lot, but I can see that mosquitoes serve as food for bats, and I love bats. I understand that though mosquitoes are also unpleasant, disease-spreading monsters, they have a role to play. They suck, but they’re someone’s food. Who eats ticks in the wild? Anyone? Not me.

theater ticks

I only eat ticks at the movies.

We had a very mild winter a few years ago, and the following summer, the tick population surged. All the talk was that it was because we need the cold and snow to kill the ticks as they await spring. So this winter, with the feet and feet of snow we got, must surely mean that we have wiped them out really good, and there will only be like 10 ticks this year, right? Nope. Now everyone on the news is just talking about how the snow actually insulates the ticks and protects them from the harsh temperatures. Mild is no good. Frigid and snowy is no good. I suspect there’s really nothing that will keep the populations down, and the news just tells us that whatever sort of winter we had was the wrong kind just to dash our hopes that this year will be a mild tick year. I wouldn’t put it past them.

tick report

Most news networks are on the payroll of Big Tick.

My mother in law found three ticks on herself after just being out in the yard the other day. She hadn’t even ventured into the leaf litter like I usually do. That’s not good. On the plus side, I know I had already had my first tick incident of last year on Marathon Monday, and that’s come and gone and I’ve remained tickless. But spring has just begun. They’ll get me for sure, it’s just a matter of when. My personal record is four on me in one day. Not something I’m looking to beat, but it’s out there.

tick track

My marker is at the ready.

I take all the right precautions, and still get these awful creatures on me. They even get into our house. Do we need to start keeping chickens in there? That might not sit well with the cats, or the carpet. I’ll let the ladies out as much as I can to try to decimate the tick population, but I know they can only do so much. We need a lot more chickens working a lot more hours to really get results. I may have to quit my job and dedicate myself to eradicating ticks in the yard by means of chickens full-time. I’m sure it pays well, and will provide good insurance to cover the inevitable tick-borne illness when one sneaks past the goalies. Ticks are awful, awful things, but we’ll just have to deal with them living where we do. At least I got chickens out of the deal.


A chicken, in case you’ve forgotten what they look like.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: 1910-The Flatterer by Victor Herbert Orchestra)

Guess What? Chicken Butt!

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Every night I stick my head inside the coop door and say goodnight to the chickens before I lock them in. This is not just because I am a nurturing chicken owner. I also do it to make sure they’re all there, as Boss Chicken once spent the night outside in freezing weather because I hadn’t noticed she was missing. I can also often get a better look at them while they’re roosting than I might normally while they’re running around. Of course, when I stick my head in the door the chickens use to enter and exit the coop, I am right at butt level. This isn’t always the place you want to be. However, on more than one occasion, this view has allowed me to save the day by noticing something was wrong with a chicken. The butt can often be the window into a chicken’s health. In the past, I’ve been able to spot vent gleet, thanks to its telltale symptoms that give it the nickname of “nasty butt disease.” Your grandparents possibly frequently asked you if you had had a bowel movement. They probably would have been good with chickens, as what comes out, or does not come out of a chicken’s butt is something you need to keep an eye on.

They'd ask anyone, anytime.

They’d ask anyone, anytime.

It’s always a surprise to peek in and see something amiss, and sometimes, given the way the chickens like to sit on top of one another, I don’t always get a good look. But sometimes I do, like the other night when I stuck my head in and got an eyeful of Henny Penny’s alarmingly featherless hind end. I had been a little worried about her anyway, since she had had really long molt this winter. Long enough that it made me paranoid. Like months. She’s seemed fine otherwise, but here was some evidence that maybe things weren’t great. My first thought was that she had been getting pecked there, since my mom had been calling me about problems with her own chickens pecking butts. I figured if this was it, I should put some Bag Balm or something on the raw area, so I’d need to grab her. The small door my head was in was too small for me to get at her, so I had to go around back where she would be farther away. I had no good options, but the need to protect her kicked in, and I managed to get her with one quick nab. She made an unholy noise, but I flipped her on her back and she calmed down. I took her inside, and realized the Bag Balm was deep inside the house. A house full of cats. Then I remembered that I had some Blu-Kote, which I had just recommended to my mom, in a catless part of the house. I brought her there, swabbed her with some dark blue antiseptic goodness, and brought her back to the coop. Then I remembered why you’re supposed to wear gloves with Blu-Kote. Luckily, my hands weren’t too Smurfy, and I put them to work on the computer, checking on any other possible causes for this feather loss.

smurf hand

Gotta keep my Smurf hand strong.

Feather loss can also be caused by an egg being stuck inside the chicken. We have had days where we get 5 eggs in the coop, but there are 6 chickens in there. That doesn’t mean anything really, but this created enough doubt in my mind that I knew I was walking into another “I stuck my finger in a chicken’s butt” story. I got my rubber gloves, grabbed poor Henny Penny again, and once again stuck my finger in a chicken’s butt. I didn’t feel an egg, which is good. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel, but there certainly wasn’t an egg right at the threshold. Still, I figured I should keep an eye on her, so I brought her inside and put her in the dog crate Boss Chicken spends the winter in. She walked normally, so that was another egg bound symptom dismissed. I put her to bed, and went to bed myself.

Egg Bound For Glory - The Woody Guthrie Chicken Story

Egg Bound For Glory – The Woody Guthrie Chicken Story

The next morning, as I was getting the chickens’ breakfast ready, I was debating bringing Henny Penny back out, or if I should keep her quarantined, just in case. Then I opened the door and got hit in the face with the smell of the Chicken Butt Apocalypse. I went in, and not only had she pooped, but it was enormous. I knew then that no egg was blocking anything, and I brought her back outside. Maybe she’s getting pecked, maybe it’s something else. I’ll continue to monitor the situation. But that smell left no doubt in my mind that there were no clogs in this bird, and she was o.k. to rejoin the flock. At least one problem is ruled out, and time will tell what the cause of this actually ends up being. In the meantime, I’ll add another notch to whatever it is I use to track my exploratory chicken probings. That seems like the best euphemism for this.


Coming soon to a theater near you.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Fluffy Ruffles by All Star Trio)

We Need To Talk About Boss Chicken

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Those of you who are regular listeners and readers know about Boss Chicken. For those of you who aren’t, or are just forgetful, let me give you a crash course. Boss Chicken was my first alpha hen, who we really worried might be a rooster until she started laying eggs. She was that aggressive, and had been since she was a week old, when we got her. She and the late Suzy Creamcheese had a real rivalry going for a time, which involved a lot of chest bumping, and basically Boss Chicken being up in Suzy Creamcheese’s business at every turn. I suppose you don’t get to be called Boss Chicken without having to constantly remind people why that’s your name. But one morning I went out and found that Boss Chicken had spent the night under the coop, in temperatures in the teens. “What’s up with that?” I asked. The chicken didn’t answer, but when she tried to walk, I figured it out. Her legs no longer seemed to work properly, so she obviously could not have gone up the ramp into the coop. The vet said it could be Marek’s Disease, a potentially deadly affliction that can affect the legs, and can be fatal. There’s no way of knowing though, until you do a necropsy, which you need a dead chicken for, and she was still very much alive. I later met another chicken enthusiast who described a chicken with similar issues, and he was under the impression that his bird had had a stroke. So I suppose that’s a possibility too. Whatever the cause, she got way less aggressive, and since she couldn’t move quickly, we had to keep her separate from the rest of the chickens. You’ve heard of the pecking order, right? It involves real pecking. Gruesome “Planet of the Chickens”-style pecking. Suzy Creamcheese now rose to power, and in order to assert her position, pecked Boss Chicken bloody the first time they met post-injury, and so Boss Chicken now lives in a nice rabbit hutch. She can see the others, but at a safe distance.

chicken fight

A tense peace.

Since Boss Chicken lives by herself, she doesn’t get the benefit of clumping together with other chickens on cold nights. Her hutch keeps her out of the wind, which is very important, but I often worry that on really cold nights, how cold is too cold? Minnesotans and Canadians often post online about how cold it gets where they are and their chickens are fine. But that’s usually a flock, not a lone chicken. And I am a worrier. So is one chicken capable of withstanding extreme temperatures? Is this a test I’m willing to undertake?

america's test chicken

My new reality show.

As we entered our first cold snap of the Fall, this was on my mind. Some people wonder, “when is a good time to turn on the heat?” I wonder about when a good time to bring Boss Chicken inside is. I have a dog crate in our storage area that I put her in during inclement weather. I had almost made up my mind over the summer that she would be fine alone all winter, as long as I gave her plenty of wood chips to nest in. And then I noticed that she had a few bald spots on her wing bones, sort of what amounts to a chicken’s elbow. This is probably because when she walks, it’s so wobbly that she has to balance with her wings. The skin looks fine, and not irritated, but some of the feathers have worn off. So now I had to consider if the bare skin could take the cold. My sense was that this was risky.

chicken elbow

You can’t get this map at rest stops.

Then a weather forecast called for nights to get into the twenties. This could have been the big test, except I couldn’t help but notice that the rabbit hutch was looking more feathery than usual. Of course she had also started molting right as the cold front came in. I’ve had other chickens molt in very cold weather, but they had the rest of the chickens to act as blankets to make up for their lost feathers. It seemed like I had to bring her in now, except that molting can make it painful for chickens to be touched, and obviously, I had to touch her to get her inside. I looked at the forecast again. It was going to hit the teens in a few nights. I apologized for any discomfort I was about to cause her, and carried her inside, leaving a pretty large trail of feathers behind me.

feather trail

Now I can find my way back to the coop.

This may seem like a lot of unnecessary worrying, but Boss Chicken is a special case for me. Even when she was a terror, she was my favorite, because she had such a big personality. Now she’s ill, or at least damaged in some unknowable way, and her days could very well be numbered (though sometimes I suspect she’s lived this long, she may outlive everyone). If something happened to her and it was my fault and preventable, I would be devastated. I’m going to play it safe. If it warms up, I’ll bring her back out. But for now, she can enjoy her tropical vacation to our unheated storage room. Some chickens have all the luck.

chicken crate

Swanky digs.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Amorosa by Orquestra Internationale)


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