Posts Tagged ‘reintroducing chickens’

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 Chicken Days of Summer

Friday, August 16th, 2013

(Broadcast 8/16/2013)

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.

Read this. It will change your life.

Read this. It will change your life.

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.

sleep on sides

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.

chicken is o.k.

That chicken is o.k. Both physically and existentially.

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.

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Chicken Disappointments

Friday, May 10th, 2013

(Broadcast 5/10/2013)

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

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


Get ’em while they’re fresh, ladies!

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

fresh eggs

Those are freshness lines, and I needed stink lines.

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

broody hen in solitary

Chicken solitary

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



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Boss Chicken’s New Digs

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

(Broadcast 5/3/2013)

When I left off last week, we were going to try to get Boss Chicken back in the good graces of the rest of the flock. We had to separate her in the winter due to a mystery illness that affected the use of her legs. The vet thought it might be Marek’s, but since the flock had already been exposed and Boss Chicken was lonely after months of quarantine, we recently started putting her crate into the run to reacquaint everyone. Things were fine, as long as we left her in the crate. This wasn’t ideal though, since the crate took up space, and the other chickens had started to roost on it, which meant they were pooping down on Boss Chicken. I don’t allow this sort of hazing, so I knew something had to change. On Saturday, we let everyone out in the yard to see if familiarity bred contempt, or acceptance. For a while, they all ignored each other. Boss Chicken did her thing, and the others did their respective things. The Mandrell Sisters, our Buff Orpingtons that I can’t tell apart, seemed to be the most accepting. They would wander around in Boss Chicken’s vicinity without batting an eyelash, if chickens have those. Suzy Creamcheese, who is the new alpha chicken, and therefore the one I was worried about, seemed fine with pretending Boss Chicken wasn’t around. This was an improvement, I suppose. Ignorance is preferable to belligerence, especially if you’re on the receiving end of that belligerence.

Make it rain.

Make it rain.

But just when it was looking up, everything went downhill. Without warning, Suzy Creamcheese was at it again, pecking away at Boss Chicken’s comb. We broke it up, applied Bag Balm to the injuries, and decided it was time to get a rabbit hutch for Boss Chicken. She seemed fine, and spent some time in Collin’s lap, though no eggs were produced during her time there. I assume this is because she too was upset about not being let back into the chicken clique. She did take her lumps without complaint, though, really making it seem like some sort of pledging ritual. Or, perhaps more accurately, like she was unable to defend herself.

Sunday morning we found a hutch for sale a couple of towns over that even offered free delivery. We made an appointment to go see it, and on the way over I was plotting ways to get the price down by substituting eggs for money. So when we arrived and saw the seller’s gigantic chicken coop, I felt as if I was the one who had been pecked in the head. We got talking about his chickens, and he suffered from Too Many Chickens! of his own. They had three left of their original batch, and had just gotten 8 chicks. “Here we are getting three eggs a day, which is perfect,” he said, “and now look how many we’ll be getting when the chicks grow up. What did we do?”

rabbit hutch

Where’s Starsky?

We liked the hutch and said we’d take it. Collin then informed the seller that we actually were going to use it for a chicken instead of a rabbit. He got a knowing look on his face. “We didn’t use it for rabbits, either,” he said. Our shameful chicken secrets were out in the open now. We explained what Boss Chicken’s story was, and he said this was very similar to one of his chickens, which had had a stroke. She lost the ability to walk, and would get picked on by the others, so they put her in the hutch, and she was happy. Until they let her out and a hawk got her, which can happen when you can’t run away. But it meant the hutch was available, and we took it.

This also gave us some insight into Boss Chicken’s condition. I had never even considered a stroke as a possibility, but it makes sense in terms of what may have happened to her. She doesn’t have the cloudy eyes that’s typical of Marek’s, and the other chickens have been unaffected. My thought is that maybe she was such a Type A chicken that a stroke was the result of that lifestyle. And the reason she has become so friendly now is because of either not wanting to return to her old ways, or brain damage. Not that nice people are brain damaged, but it was a big change for her.

chicken using water bottle


We’ve got her set up in her new home facing the other chickens so she shouldn’t be as lonely as she was in the house. She still wants to be with someone, so Collin thought out loud about getting a bunny to keep her company in there. It is a rabbit hutch after all. Of course, that was the moment our son decided to actually pay attention to what we were saying, and he may be holding us to this idea. We’ll see. If nothing else, we’ll be starting a collection of animals who produce the best fertilizers you can get. We may run out of spots to fertilize, but I can just bring piles of poop into work to give away, right? Why is it o.k. with zucchini, but not this?

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Reintroducing Boss Chicken

Friday, April 26th, 2013

(Broadcast 4/26/2013)

Reintroducing a chicken to the flock is a tricky business. You have to ease them back in. Boss Chicken was separated from the flock back in the winter when I found her suffering from some sort of leg ailment, which may or may not be Marek’s. Many people might think it’s a bad idea, but we have decided to try to reintroduce her to the rest of the flock. Even with the stuffed animal in the crate with her, she’s obviously very lonely, and squawks all day. She should be outside getting fresh air and daylight, just like the others. We do let her out in the yard from time to time, but it’s not enough. We also don’t 100% know she has Marek’s, as there’s no test, and someone who has a lot of experience with Marek’s wrote to me and said that even if that’s what Boss Chicken’s problem is, there are varying degrees of the disease. On top of that, the other chickens have already been exposed to it, since she was living in the coop when she became ill. She doesn’t seem to be getting much better, but she certainly isn’t getting any worse, so we’re giving it a shot.

My name is Boss Chicken

If only it were this easy.

An issue that has come up is that Boss Chicken obviously used to be the boss, but in her absence, Suzy Creamcheese has taken over. Back in the days when everyone was healthy, the two of them used to have a real rivalry going. Nothing terrible, but there was a lot of chest bumping, and Boss Chicken was usually all up in Suzy Creamcheese’s business, reminding her of who was Boss Chicken. Suzy Creamcheese doesn’t rule with an iron beak the way Boss Chicken did, but it seems like she hasn’t forgotten her old rival.

Once the weather got nice, we’d take Boss Chicken out in the yard and then let the rest of them out in a different part of the yard, so everyone got some free time, but they weren’t in such close quarters as to cause strife. Of course, the minute I turned my back, in comes strife. Luckily my wife was there to break it up. Suzy Creamcheese had made a beeline for Boss Chicken, and feathers would have flown, had a human not intervened. We kept them outside, but I resolved that from then on I would remain ever vigilant. These chickens were not to be trusted, especially since Boss Chicken’s legs are wobbly and she can’t just run away. Not that she would, but she has a big disadvantage.

I decided the best way to get everyone reacquainted while providing safety would be to keep Boss Chicken in her crate and put the whole thing in the run. That way they could get up close and personal without there being a worry about them having at it. This was a great idea until I was reminded how easily chickens freak out about change. A crate in the run is a huge change, and it led to 4 chickens cowering and squawking with fear in a corner across from the intrusive item. Until they realized they were cowering at the bottom of the coop steps, and just went up into the safety of the coop instead. Henny Penny was trapped under the coop, unwilling to walk past the crate to escape, and paced frantically until I took the crate out, let her run into the coop, and then put the crate back. Then it took a little while, but they eventually got used to this new addition to the run and went back about the business of being chickens.

boss chicken in the run in her crate

The plan in all its glory.

It seemed like a great setup until I let them all out into the yard again and noticed that Boss Chicken had blood all over her head and comb. My theory is that she stuck her head out of the crate and got a good peck in the head by Suzy Creamcheese, as there’s nothing in the crate that could cut her. Collin held the patient while I put Bag Balm on the wound, and we put her back down on the ground to make the most of what was left of chicken recess. She’s gotten very friendly since she’s been sequestered, and hung out with us, even sitting on Collin’s lap for a while. After a few minutes of lap time, she went back on the grass and promptly laid an egg, convincing me that Collin is some sort of fertility goddess. Collin is less convinced of this than I am, but I’ve never seen results like that before. I’m feeling a little fertile even just talking about it.

Chicken 911

My new reality show.

We’ve been putting her out in the run all week, and will see how it goes this weekend when they’re all in the yard. My hope is that everything will be smoothed over, but I haven’t found much information on reintroducing a former alpha hen back into a flock, especially a compromised alpha hen. I did find a lot about how if a chicken isn’t well, the other chickens may not accept her no matter what. If this turns out to be the case, I’ve been checking Craigslist for rabbit hutches and will move Boss Chicken into one of those so she can be outside near the others, but safe from avian mean girls. It’s less ideal, but she’s been inside all winter, and we’re not a house chicken family. As long as Collin goes out every day to radiate fertility and insure bountiful eggs, I think whatever arrangement we come up with will be a success.

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