It’s the busiest week of the year at work, and I have to read Kant for my latest class. (While it may be for the birds, it’s not about chickens, so I’ll spare you any attempts to bend it into a coherent narrative here.) If I survive the weekend, maybe I’ll see you next week. If I ever get done reading.
Posts Tagged ‘poop’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
I don’t know, doc. When I first got my chickens a couple of years ago, I was very excited to get some eggs. I had gotten the chickens to eat the ticks in my yard, but egg laying was an extra bonus. Vermin control that comes with breakfast should be the standard. Mouse trap companies should be hiring me for this stuff, man. If they threw a bagel in the package, they could be throwing huge piles of money at me, right? The thing about chickens is that they are ready to eat ticks much sooner than they are ready to lay eggs. So while they were out there laying waste to the tick population in the yard, I was wondering when they were going to lay eggs for the human population of the house.
What? My mother? What does she have to do with this? We’ve already talked about her. No, you’re always trying to drag her into it. Fine, yes. My mother had taken a particular interest in my chicken project, and yes, when my mother takes an interest, my mother asks questions. And when my mother asks questions, she asks a lot of them. And she sometimes asks them all the time. And this is what she did when we were wondering when the eggs would come. Chickens generally start laying eggs when they are six months old, but everyone’s different. Some may start sooner, some may start later, but when you’re in the middle of the general time frame, and there are no eggs, the pressure’s on. I was excited for it, and my mom was excited for it, and it seemed like every day after month 6 she asked if I had eggs yet, and every day I had to disappoint her. Like I always do. Until that glorious day when I finally found an egg in the coop, and we could go back to living our lives like normal people. Yes, normal people who have chickens for eating ticks.
This year my mother got into the chicken lifestyle herself. We split an order of chicks, and so she looks after three little ones, Gladys Knight and the Peeps. We got them slightly later than I had gotten my original chickens, late June instead of early June, but I knew December was our six month line, and “eggcitement” was going to kick in. No, I was not wrong. This time around, though, there was less pressure on me, since she had her own chickens to worry about. She would occasionally ask if mine had laid any eggs yet, and then confirm that December should be the time, but I felt much less harassed this time around. I can’t say what her chickens went through, though. Are there therapists for chickens? They might need it. Do chickens get neurotic? “After all I’ve done for you! I bring you food, I clean your poop, I give you shelter, and I don’t even get any eggs for my troubles!” Whatever did go on, they didn’t seem to mind, since they follow her around wherever she goes in the yard, though, maybe that’s just out of guilt. But it sounds like she did something right. Mine regard me with vague suspicion, and really only stick around because I’m the guy with the treats.
Her first egg came right around Christmastime, which was probably one of the better presents she got. Since then, she’s gotten eight total, and she’s convinced it’s the littlest Peep who’s been laying them all. I’m not sure how she came to this conclusion, but I will admit that a lot of my chickening isn’t exactly scientific either. I can tell which egg came from which breed I have, but unless you catch them in the act, there aren’t really egg fingerprints, which I suppose technically would be cloacaprints, what? I told you, it’s their butt/egg hole. No, I don’t have cloaca envy, thank you very much. Anyway, until it’s clear they’re all laying, she can develop whatever theories she wants. She was a little nervous to take on this project at the start, but has since totally gone cuckoo for chickens, even before the eggs arrived. Now that they’re here, she’s even more into it. Meanwhile, I’ve only gotten one egg from one of my new chickens. I guess that also gives her something to feel good about. She’s leaving me in the dust, egg-wise, because I can never do enough. I had chickens first, I taught her everything she knows about chickens, and yet here I am with one lousy egg to her 8. She texts me every time she gets a new egg, and my chickens can hear when I get a text, and they know what that sound means. Yes, I know that this is not a competition, but why can’t I ever come out on top for once? What do I have to do to . . . oh, time’s up? See you next week, then. NO, I don’t know when I’ll have eggs for you.
(The voice I use to imitate my mother is for comedy purposes only. My mother is a good sport (I hope). Hi mom!)
(Also, thanks to Wren Ross for her always helpful guidance, but particularly insightful suggestions on this one.)
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Childhood Memories by Beluga Ten, kitchen timer sound by maphill (with some looping on my part), and the ding sound effect by JohnsonBrandEditing)
Depending on your definition of “candy.”
I’m running out of space on this heap, and it needs time to mellow, too. I’d better find another spot to start a new one. This reminds me of a time a friend of mine, who was not a native speaker, asked what a dung hill was. Another friend replied, “It’s a hill of dung.” The asker, suprised, confused, and delighted, said, “There’s a word for everything in English!” She should try German sometime.
It seems to have gotten colder lately, and for some reason it’s getting dark really early. What’s up with that? Oh, right. It’s fall. Fall is great, but the big problem I have with it is that winter is always right behind it. I suppose winter is fine as long as I don’t have to go outside in the cold, but society seems opposed to letting me just hole up until spring. Of course, even if I could find a way to not have to go to work, the chickens are outside, so at the very least I’d have to go out there periodically to fulfill my chicken duties. And I suppose if I have to go outside at all, I might as well just keep doing what I’m doing. If you can tell me what that is, I’d be grateful.
But what about the chickens? How do they feel about winter? Well, I haven’t cracked their code yet, so I don’t quite have a handle on their feelings. However, I know that lots of people seem concerned about what I do with them in the winter. Don’t they get cold? I like to point out that they’re wearing down jackets, but not everyone catches my drift. What I mean is that they are covered in feathers, which keep them warm. They can probably deal with the cold a lot better than I can. What about putting a heat lamp in the coop? Again, they’re wearing down coats! But there’s more to it than that. There’s no electricity in our coop, and to run an extension cord all the way out there seems pretty hazardous. Then there’s the possibility that I could burn the coop down with a heat lamp. I’ve also heard that if you do give them a heat lamp, they’ll get accustomed to it, and so if something should happen to the lamp, like a power outage, they won’t be used to the cold, and this could cause problems. I’m not sure if that line of thinking is sound, but since I have no electricity anyway, I don’t have to worry about it. Chickens have been dealing with the cold without heat lamps for a very long time. I think they know what they’re doing.
Something I do get concerned about is making sure there are no drafts, but plenty of ventilation in the coop. This may seem like a conflict of interests, but it isn’t if you do it right. When I was building the coop, I came across a rule of thumb that said “think about how many vents you think you need. Now double that.” The concern with the coop is not so much the cold, but moisture. Chicken poop is very moist. If that moisture doesn’t have somewhere to go, it will get on the chickens and freeze, which is how you can come to get frostbite on combs and wattles. A big draft is going to cause problems because you don’t want a steady stream of cold air rushing through. But you also don’t want something air tight, or the moisture gets trapped. I see this come up in talks about insulating coops all the time. The insulation can also trap the moisture. Moisture is the villain, not the cold. So I made sure I put in vents up high that didn’t point right at the roost, and that’s about it.
I did once attempt to put vaseline on the chickens’ combs when the temperature dipped into the single digits. This might have gone better if I had had an assistant, but I was there, alone in the dark, with a chicken in one hand and a fistful of vaseline in the other. Some of that vaseline did actually end up on the chickens’ combs. The rest of it ended up everywhere else. I plan on rethinking this technique.
I do have some problems with dealing with the water bowl in the winter. An easy thing is to do is bring it in at night. They’re sleeping, so they have no need for it. During the cold days, though, it’s a little trickier. Some people use electric heated dog bowls, but there’s that “no electricity” thing popping up again. I recently saw a suggestion of putting ping pong balls in a bowl of water, and the balls floating around keep the water from icing up. I think this really only works for temperatures close to freezing. After a certain point, the ping pong balls can only do so much. The solution I use now involves a microwaveable dog bed heater called a “SnuggleSafe.” It’s a round disk you nuke for a few minutes, and it stays warm for allegedly up to 8 hours. I put that under the water and hope for the best. I had been using those little glove warmer packets for a while, so this is a big improvement. I also put apple cider vinegar in the water, which lowers the freezing point a bit, but not enough that I don’t need something else. If it’s really cold out, the water will be frozen when I get home, but I’m gone more than 8 hours. Maybe the claims of 8 hours of warmth are true, but I can’t really tell. The chickens seem fine though, so I’ll take that to mean the system is working.
Staying warm takes energy, so I also make sure they’ve got plenty of food. But other than that, I made sure I got breeds that could deal with cold temperatures. They’re built for this stuff. And when I start to worry that maybe it is getting too cold for them out there, I remember how many people from Minnesota or Canada have piped up in online discussions about how cold it gets where they live, and their chickens do fine without any extra help. I sure don’t want to be out there with them, but they seem to like winter just fine. I think they might be kinda nuts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Summer chickens, make me feel fine. Something’s blowing through the jasmine in my mind and it’s got a hint of chicken poop in it, but that’s o.k. The humidity has been down lately, and so the smells don’t linger like they used to. Plus, we all know chicken poop is good for everything, so let it rip, ladies. However, summer seems to be winding down, or at least what most people think of summer is. Maybe technically we still have a bunch of September, but you know that if you don’t make August count, it’s all over. I’ve tried to explain this to the chickens, but they have odd interpretations of this advice.
Before I had my own chickens, I visited some at the Franklin Park Zoo. Apparently, the chickens there like to stretch out in the sun so much that they put up a sign to tell you that yes, the chickens were o.k. I had kind of forgotten about that sign until this past weekend. I was trying to make the most of a waning summer weekend by doing stuff in the yard because I like to maximize my pain and suffering. Amazingly, my mother in law claims to like mowing the lawn. I have never heard of such a thing, but at least I don’t have to mow anymore. But that unfortunately frees up more time for tasks involving manual clippers. So I was out clipping stuff, and came upon one of the Mandrell Sisters lying on her side in the sun. Of course, my first instinct was to assume that we were at Woodstock and she had eaten the brown acid even though they said not to, until I remembered that it was not the 60s anymore. I wasn’t convinced something else wasn’t totally wrong, and then that lesson I learned at the zoo years ago came back to me. “Yes,” I said, “that chicken is o.k. They like to do that.” The chicken gave me look like I was an idiot for talking to myself, and went back to sunbathing. At least one of us was having a good time.
I haven’t had much problems with broodiness and the Mandrell Sisters lately, at least not until our little talk about packing excitement into the end of summer. One of them went broody last Thursday, and so I put her into the isolation of the Miracle Broody Hen Cure, aka, my mom’s old bird cage. Usually this can blast the broodiness out of them in a day or two. Well, a day came and went, and there she was, still brooding. Two days went by. She had turned around in the cage, but was still puffed out and making the “I am broody” noise. Three days went by, and I was impressed with her commitment to this bit. After four days, I started to wonder how long she could be away from the others before I had to do an elaborate routine to introduce her back into the flock. On the 5th day I approached the cage, and upon putting my hand close to it and getting the broody noise in return, I had had enough. I figured I would put her back into the coop temporarily for a change of scenery, and if she was still broody that night, I’d bring her back inside. That way she’d also get reacquainted with the others, so I could hopefully avoid any reintroduction rituals. I picked her up out of the cage while she did her best pufferfish impersonation, and there, underneath her, was an egg. She was most definitely broody when I put her in, and I didn’t think broody birds laid eggs until the real or imaginary ones they were sitting on hatched. This would probably explain why she wasn’t snapping out of it, but how that egg got there is a mystery. I took her outside and put her into the run while I filled up the feeder. She puffed around a little, then hopped up on one of the roosts, and began a run of top volume clucking for about 5 minutes. This was at 5 in the morning, mind you. My cries of “shhh, chicken!” did nothing to silence her. So I grabbed her and put her inside the coop with the others while I finished up. They all eventually came back out, and she went right back up on the roost, but rather than continuing her earlier monologue, she produced the gigantic, nasty poop that is the general indicator that broodiness has left the building. My plan that I didn’t really even think was a plan had worked. I allowed myself to feel good about it, while stepping away from the massive stool.
Clearly my standards for what constitutes making the most of the rest of summer have changed. But I suppose chickens will change a person. I’d like to be able to just hang out in the yard with the chickens without doing any sort of manual labor, but our yard seems unwilling to compromise. I suppose if I do have to be out there doing work, at least I have chickens around to keep it entertaining.
In spite of how often I seem to find ways to make mistakes, I sometimes feel like I have it easy with this whole chicken thing. We’ve got a ton of space to let them run around. We live 5 minutes from a feed store, so whenever I need anything, I can just nip over for it. No one lives in the house closest to us, so they can’t be bothered by noise. It could be a lot worse. If I find myself thinking some chicken-related task is a drag, I remind myself that I could be doing this in the city, and it would be a lot harder there. Then I think, “Well, how do people do this in the city, then?” My friend Scott lives in Brooklyn and has chickens, so I decided to ask him about it. Is that city enough for you? You got a problem with Brooklyn?
The big thing I was curious about was predators in the city. I’m a little obsessed with making sure nothing can get into our coop besides chickens. That’s probably a good thing, since so many things that like to eat chickens live where we are. When I think about times I’ve lived in cities, though, I start to think about rats, and how I am so much happier worrying about fisher cats and possums and raccoons than rats. Rats can pretty much get into whatever they want to, no matter what you do to stop them. I was once on a kick where I read a bunch of books about various types of vermin, and the rat one really kind of scarred me. I know what they’re capable of. So I asked Scott what predators he had to worry about. His answer kind of surprised me. Rats aren’t really the issue. Feral cats are. I had completely forgotten how many feral cats are kicking around Brooklyn, even though we have one as a pet, which we rescued when she was a kitten. Because of this feral cat situation, Scott has made the wise decision to not let his chickens out to free range in the yard. There are some rodents around, but the cats are probably the ones to watch. His own cat even once snuck into the coop and experienced a brief moment of what Scott described as being in the Thunderdome before beating a hasty retreat. I think street cats might not back down so easily. His coop setup is quite nice, and the chickens have plenty of room to run. They’re happy and safe inside.
It’s been a while since I lived in Brooklyn, but I never remembered seeing any feed stores around in my travels. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were there, since you can pretty much find whatever you need if you look hard enough, but I asked how Scott handled the feed issue. He said they used to just track down an Agway any time they left town, but they’ve recently found a guy who raises his own chickens and sells feed out of his garage right in the city. Of course, his garage is protected by security cameras, barbed wire, and a gate with a buzzer, so you might think he’s selling something other than chicken food. Maybe he is, but you have to applaud his industriousness for finding new markets. It’s certainly easier than having to go out of town any time you need to stock up on feed, intimidating though it may seem.
I suppose Scott could just get chicken bedding from this guy also, but why bother when the New York Times is printed with soy ink? He just shreds some copies of the Grey Lady, tosses it in the coop, and that’s all there is to it. Food for the mind, bedding for the other end. It’s compostable, and maybe the chickens will learn something. It almost makes me want to subscribe just to do this too. I really like this idea. He keeps the paper on a good rotation, and so there are few problems with smells.
The question I was a little afraid to ask had to do with the ultimate fate of these birds. Not everyone is a weirdo chicken-hugging vegetarian like me, so I had prepared myself for a less than storybook ending (depending on what sorts of storybooks you read). He did say that once they stop laying eggs they will have outgrown their usefulness to him, as he is not running a chicken retirement home. However, he has a cousin in Vermont with a fruit tree that is a magnet for a certain type of bug, and these bugs are considered highly delicious by chickens. So when the time is right, they will be sent out to the Green Mountains to retire in bug eating bliss. It’s the rare case where sending your pet off to a farm in the country isn’t actually a euphemism.
There are a million stories in the chicken city, and this is just one of them. What I love about raising chickens is that there’s room for everyone to do things their own way, and so they do. Loads of people in New York have chickens now, and I bet plenty of them do things entirely differently from Scott. If I hear about others, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’ll think about how my own coop could probably qualify as a highly expensive studio apartment in a trendy Brooklyn neighborhood, and remind my chickens how good they have it.
(All photos from Scott’s Facebook page.)
The chickens moved out of our house and into the coop about a year ago. Maybe it’s a little less than a year, but given how time dragged during the building of the coop, I’m going to call it even. Whether you clean out all bedding regularly, or do like I do and use the “deep litter” method and just keep adding more shavings, it’s probably a good idea to clean everything out and wash it down every so often. When I was starting out, I read something that suggested doing this once a year, and so, with it being almost a year, my thoughts turned to the Big Coop Cleanout. I wasn’t terribly excited about this, as cleaning of most kinds gives me anxiety, but at least I only had to clean. I didn’t have to clean and organize, so it could have been worse.
The one thing I knew would help me out was that I had built the coop with this annual event in mind. On the backside of the coop I have a board that is held in place by wing nuts. My idea was that once a year I would remove this board, sweep everything into the wheelbarrow, which I’d park right in back, and everything would be easy. Now it was time for the big test of this plan. I’ll admit that I had worried at first that the bolts I used in conjunction with the wing nuts might rust, but I will also admit that I had forgotten about that worry. So the good news is that I had not worried at all. The bad news is that I was right about the bolts rusting. However, these bolts were too long in the first place, and really only laziness and forgetfulness had kept them intact. So I undid each wing nut to the farthest point it would go before sticking, and then used a hacksaw to cut the bolt before that point. They then came off fine, and I removed my magic board.
I was greeted with a giant wall of pine shavings, visible chicken poops, and many more poops lurking deep in the pile. I girded my loins, picked up a rake, and plunged it into the coop.
I think my loins were the wrong thing to gird, because the rake didn’t work so great. I went back inside and got a shovel and the metal rake we use for the driveway gravel. I have never had good luck using the shovel in the coop, so I don’t know why I even brought that out. I think I just wanted to feel like I had options. The metal rake, flipped over so the non-pointy side was down did the trick. The bedding came right out, more or less into the wheelbarrow. I’m not going to claim I got it all in there, but I got enough in there. The floor of our coop is covered in linoleum that I ripped out of one of our bathrooms, and if you have the chance to put some linoleum in your coop, I highly recommend it. It was the perfect smooth surface for raking the shavings out, and it also protects the wood from the nasty moist things that come out of chickens.
When I originally read about this cleanout process, the instructions I read said to use bleach to clean everything in the coop off. I didn’t remember the ratio of bleach to water, and I didn’t want to overdo it, so I did an internet search to get a recipe. Remember how I’m always saying that people have opinions on the internet? Well, they had opinions about this too. Not only about how much bleach to use, but whether you should use bleach at all, or even if you should ever even clean the coop. Looking at the cobwebs that collected in the corners of the ceiling, I found myself on the side of, “yes, I should clean the coop once in a while.” As far as the bleach went, the internet made a good case about “do you really want to expose your chickens to this?” I don’t even like to use bleach in the house, if I can help it. I tend to use vinegar if I need to disinfect things, you know, because hippies. Why was that good for the house, but not the chickens? There were plenty of people who did do the annual cleanout who used vinegar, and they reported no health issues. The good thing was that if there was a patch of vinegar that didn’t dry before the chickens went back in, it wasn’t going to kill them. And it would smell a whole lot better than bleach, unless you don’t like salad. So I sprayed the whole inside of the coop, the roost, and the nesting buckets with vinegar, and then wiped everything down. I feared that the towel I used might no longer be among the living by the end of the process, but at least it would have died in the service of cleanliness. However, after a trip through the washer, it’s as good as new. It’s a Too Many Chickens! miracle. Anyway, some people say to follow a vinegar wash with peroxide, but I was fine with just doing vinegar. I opened all the vents to air it out and let it dry, and when everything seemed o.k., I threw down more pine shavings. It looked ridiculously empty. I guess when you’re used to a year’s worth of chips, enough to just cover the floor is about 5 inches too few.
The chickens have not registered any sort of complaints about any of this. I think they may be weirded out by how spacious it seems without the extra chips, but we’re all getting used to it.
As I was wiping off the nesting buckets, I wondered if maybe I should take out the one they never use, since they never use it. They are pretty into the other one. I put it back just to not change too much. And of course, since they can read my mind, they have been using the one they never used to use quite a bit now. I guess they needed to change things up, and this cleanout was enough to get them to act on it. The salad smell has subsided, and I think we are getting back to whatever normal is around here. It wasn’t so bad, but I don’t mind waiting another year before I do this again.