Archive for April, 2013

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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Baking The Eggs(hells)

Friday, April 19th, 2013

I’m running low on the oyster shell chunks I bought a while back, so I thought I’d give making my own calcium supplements from our eggs a shot. I’m happy to report that if you do it right, there isn’t much of a smell. I’m less happy to report that I didn’t do it right on my first attempt, and there most definitely was a smell, and that smell was not good. Our oven is still out of commission, so I thought I’d try baking the eggshells in the toaster oven. Whenever I adapt a recipe to the toaster oven, I usually knock a bunch of time off, since the smaller oven heats up way faster. The eggshell baking recipe I chose said to bake them at 350 for 20 minutes. I figured I’d be safe and set the timer for 10 minutes. That seemed like way more than enough leeway. Until I heard the timer bell go off in the other room, and one second later got hit with a waft of smoking eggshells. They smelled a little like burnt egg, but with a real metallic tang to it. I, of course, had also tried this experiment on the coldest day of the week. I opened the window for a little while, but it was just too cold to air things out. I had also been home sick that week, and was in no mood to deal with any of this. The whole house reeked, even though they weren’t all that burnt. The stench was impervious to both scented candles and incense. Only time was able to bring down the hideous aroma.

Eggs waiting to be eggshells waiting to be supplements.

Eggs waiting to be eggshells waiting to be supplements.

I am not one to take defeat lightly, so once I was feeling better, I decided to set out to find the best way of baking shells for my current kitchen set up. I sheepishly returned to the toaster oven for round two. This time I decided to just try toasting them, rather than a full bake, and I set the timer to “medium” to really be safe. The toaster tends to undertoast, so this seemed o.k. I also did this while I was doing other things in the kitchen, so I would notice if things started to go south again. The medium setting did the trick. They were a little bit browned (this is a toaster, after all), but not burnt, and the shells were nice and brittle, so mashing them up was easy. So the toaster oven wasn’t totally evil, I just needed to be careful with the magic it contained.

Like everything involving chickens, there are about 100 different opinions on how to do anything, and preparing eggshells as calcium supplements is no different. I decided to try microwaving next, since that seemed like it would be super convenient, if it worked. I tried microwaving a couple shells on high for 20 seconds. There was a bit of a crackling sound, which made me a little nervous until I remembered I wasn’t nuking a light bulb. (Don’t ask me about how I know what a light bulb in the microwave sounds like.) I think the crackle was just moisture being cooked out. There was a bit of an eggy smell, but nothing too toxic. The quickness of the process couldn’t be beat, but the shells themselves didn’t seem as easy to mash as they had with the toaster. Which is better: quickness, or a mild degree of difference in the ease of crushing? Tough call.

Various stages of the mashing process

Various stages of the mashing process.

Things that stink up your house come in threes, so I decided to try boiling the shells also. I put them in a pot of water and let it come to a boil, and then took them off the heat. The good news is that there was no smell, save for the general smell our burners give off (which is yet another reason we need to replace the stove). The bad news is that there was a really creepy foam on top of the water, which I didn’t like at all. Also, the whole thing boiled over when I was taking notes. Yes, I was taking notes. This is science we’re dealing with here. The other bad news is that you have to let them dry afterward, which seemed to take a lot longer than I thought it should, and I think that’s just one step too many.

It’s supposedly important to cook the eggshells in some way in order for the chickens to be able to absorb the calcium. Raw ones will not do, though some people claim they just let them air dry over time and then grind them up. That seems like an invitation to fruit flies and mice. It also seems time consuming (though mostly involving waiting). And then on top of it all, it may not even provide nutrients to the chickens, depending on who you ask.

I suppose if you want to go the DIY supplement route, experiment and see what works best for you. We’re not all chained to our toaster oven. (And we actually just bought a new stove, so I may have to break it in with another test.) Of course, the internet being the internet, there are lots of arguments to be read about whether or not feeding the eggshells back to the chickens creates chickens that eat their own eggs fresh from the cloaca. I suppose this leaves me some room for yet more experimentation.


Or you can just give them yogurt

Or you can just give them yogurt.



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Spring Chickens

Friday, April 12th, 2013

(Broadcast 4/12/13)

Despite the fact that until a week ago we still had snow on our lawn, it is allegedly Spring. Now that there’s a lot more light, the chickens should be getting ready to step up egg production. No one’s broody, and Boss Chicken is no longer quarantined, so we should be up to our ears in eggs in no time. It just hasn’t really felt like Spring that much yet.

This is exactly what our house looks like.

This is exactly what our house looks like.

Until you go to the feed store, and see that they are getting baby chicks in. And baby ducks. And you remember how much fun baby chicks were when you had them a year ago, and you look at the baby ducks and think they look pretty fun, too. There’s something people call “chicken math,” in which you say you’re going to get 3 chickens, but you end up liking chickens so much you wind up with 15 in the end. I was never good at any sort of math, so I’ve been able to resist chicken math so far. However, I also haven’t been confronted with peeping little chickens very much lately, which helps. They’re totally easy to resist when they’re not there. When they are there, it’s hard not to buy them all. What tends to stop me is knowing that my coop probably isn’t big enough for many more chickens, and I’m not in any rush to put myself through the ordeal of building a bigger one any time soon. Plus, cute as they may be, these are living creatures that require a certain amount of care, and will need this care for their entire lives. It’s not a purchase to rush into.

Can't rush this.

Can’t rush this.

I certainly don’t want to put myself through the ordeal of building a duck pen, which needs a pool in addition to shelter, but it doesn’t stop me from checking them out. Last time I was in the feed store, I noticed stuff floating in the duck’s drinking water. I put apple cider vinegar in my chickens’ water, since it’s good for them. I thought maybe they cut up fruit and put it in the ducks’ water or something for similar reasons. I don’t know much about ducks, so that was my guess. One of the employees happened to be refilling all their drinking water while I was watching them, so I asked her about it. “What’s that you put in their water?” I said.

“What?” she said. “Oh, that. That’s wood chips.”

“Oh,” I said. “So it’s not something for nutritional value.”

“Oh, no,” she said. “They just kick the wood chips around like crazy. We put them in the pen, they kick them in the water.”

“I see,” I said. “I’ve always thought ducks seemed fun, but kind of messy.”

“Oh, they’re messy,” she said. “They’re nothing if not messy,” and she walked away. I had thought they’d be messy mostly just due to having water to kick around, I hadn’t even thought about ways they would contaminate that water. I thought the water would be doing all the contaminating. I guess water is much more versatile than I expected.

Drink it.

Drink it.

What I really enjoy about the baby ducks is the descriptions they have up, especially for the runner ducks, which mentions that they seem like they’re always in a hurry. I feel like I’m always in a hurry, so I wonder if I surrounded myself with a bunch of runner ducks on my way to work, if it would make me look less rushed. Or more crazy. It’s a fine line. If I sent them out ahead of me, would they clear the sidewalk, making it easier for me to get by? I doubt it, but these are thoughts I find myself having. Which maybe I shouldn’t share with others.

How I roll.

How I roll.

But again, I don’t have the time or the energy to build a duck pen right now. I still haven’t even had our chickens for a year yet, so I think I should get a better handle on them before branching out into different types of fowl. That doesn’t rule out more chickens, but there’s still the space issue. The ones I have are great, and while new ones might be great too, I’ll appreciate the ones I have for the time being. We all know about crazy cat ladies, but I’d like to avoid being the model for the crazy chicken guy if I can help it.


Supplementary Chickens

Friday, April 5th, 2013

(Broadcast 4/5/2013)

Are you taking any vitamin supplements? I worry about you, dear listener, and want to be sure that you’re getting all the nutrition you need. Sometimes we don’t get all the necessary nutrients through our food. Even chickens can use a little help every now and then. The days were getting longer, but egg production seemed to be tapering off. Some of the eggs that were getting produced were kind of pale, and the shells felt a little thin when I cracked them. Something wasn’t right, and I had a feeling I knew what it was.

It wasn't quite this bad.

It wasn’t quite this bad.

Even though I feed them a complete layer feed, I suspected the chickens needed a little extra calcium. This is fairly common. They can get it a couple of different ways. You can give them a supplement, usually made from ground-up oyster shells, or you can grind up their own egg shells and, wait for it, feed them back to the chickens. So you can feed them back the whole egg, if you are so inclined. I was somewhat tempted to try this, but I had to go to the feed store anyway, so buying the calcium seemed easier. To prepare the egg shells to go back into the chickens, you need to bake them, and our stove is broken. Even if it wasn’t, I was a little unsure of what sort of smell this might produce. Who knows, maybe it smells nice. But at the time, it was too cold to open any windows if it stank, and since I couldn’t open any windows I was pretty sure it was going to stink. I’ll try it when we have a new stove and the weather is nice, and report any olfactory disturbances. But for the immediate problem I bought some oyster shell fragments.

Gnaw on this, chickens!

Gnaw on this, chickens!

The way I’d read to administer these fragments was to leave them out where the chickens can pick at them as they see fit. This sounded to me like you needed a dedicated container to put them in. What should I use? A regular feeder seemed too big, a chick feeder could get knocked over by full-grown birds, and I had no idea what it should look like, so DIY seemed out. I asked the guy at the store, “How do I give these to the chickens?” He looked at me for a minute, and then said, “You throw them on the ground.” So while perhaps a little embarrassed, I left there with more money in my pocket than expected.

The problem I ran into with throwing them on the ground is that if I open the run and throw something in, it’s usually a treat, so they went nuts and started fighting over the shells when I first threw them in. But then the next day they all laid eggs, after several days of only getting 3 eggs, so maybe they all needed calcium? To try to keep them from eating it if they didn’t need to, I would dump a pile of the chips on the ground before I let them out. That cut out the thrill of eating gifts from the master. They continued to eat them all, but egg production was back at capacity, so I stopped worrying.

Or I did until I came home and saw only two chickens walking around in the run. There were others in there, but they weren’t standing up. Why not? Had I given them calcium poisoning? Is there such a thing as calcium poisoning? Did something get in there and eat their legs? What had I done? I hustled over to the run and they all stood up and ran to the door and clucked to be let out. Oh right. Sometimes chickens just like to sit in the dirt.

I got a small bag of calcium chips, which had no seal, so I dumped it all into a plastic bag and left it on the table with some of my other chicken devices. Now, I’ve never seen an enormous bag of crack before, but if I had, I have a feeling it would look exactly like this Ziploc bag of oyster shell chunks. I should probably move it away from the window, but I suppose if I leave it there and the cops show up, I’ll know the pizza guy ratted me out.

I hope I don't dump the wrong one in the coop.

I hope I don’t dump the wrong one in the coop.

The last thing about these chips is that they get kind of dusty. They’re sort of made of chalk, so that makes sense. One morning I had forgotten to put any in the run, so I grabbed my bag and a cup of chips, and thought, “I’ll put my bag in the car, and then give the chickens the calcium.” This was my fatal mistake. I put down my bag, and in doing so put my hand with the cup down enough that half the chips fell out onto the seat. My car is three months old, and has black upholstery. Now my car is three months old and has a gray passenger seat. Oh well. That makes it unique, right? Sure it does. Chicken customizing! I’ll be sure to work that angle when it’s time to trade it in.


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