Archive for June, 2013

Chickens And Heat

Friday, June 28th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/28/2013)

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

chill pill

I was told to take one of these.

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

sad vinegar

*sad trombone sound*

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

chicken and watermelon

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

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

dust bathhouse closed

Where will they bathe?

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


This image is not based in reality.

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


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Chicken I.D.’s

Friday, June 21st, 2013

(Broadcast 2/21/2013)

I have three Buff Orpingtons that to me are almost identical. So identical that rather than give them individual names, I chose to give them a group name, which is The Mandrell Sisters. I suppose I could have given them individual names within that name, such as Barbara, Louise, and Lurlene, just like the actual Mandrell Sisters, but aside from not being able to know which one was which, there’s also the issue of which one was going to be Lurlene. Lurlene is not a name given lightly. At least not by me to a chicken.


It’s a magical moment when this name is assigned.

I pay pretty close attention, but I’ve never been able to get a handle on them visually or personality-wise. They’re all roughly the same size, and pretty much the exact same temperament. My take on Buff Orpingtons is that they are pretty mellow, all around nice chickens. My Barred Rocks have more variation in personality, from the vaguely malicious boss type, to the afraid of everything type. The Orpingtons are sort of the everyman of chickens. This is fine. They’re the bedrock of our flock. I really just wish I could tell them apart. Partly because I feel like I’m slighting them, but also because they keep going broody on me, and I’m curious to know if it’s the same one, or some sort of rotation.

the brood wheel

How else do you know whose turn it is?

There have been times when I could tell at least one of them apart from the others. When they were still living in the brooder, one of them had managed to get some, er, “fertilizer” on her back. She didn’t seem too concerned about cleaning it off, and didn’t like it when I tried to. I figured if she was o.k. with it, then it was probably better to leave it than to stress her out by trying to rub it off. While it lasted on there, I referred to her as a form of “Poopy Mandrell,” that I can’t say on the radio. So let’s just pretend I called her Poopy Mandrell. The poop didn’t take too long to come off on its own, and so she disappeared back into the crowd of three.

Chicken needs a tissue

You have to be subtle when pointing this out.

Shortly after moving them out to the coop, I stuck my head in to say goodnight, and saw one Mandrell Sister pecking at another one’s back. This had apparently been going on for a while, as there was blood all over the place. I reached in and broke it up, and then went inside to figure out what to do. I looked up anything to do with pecking, and it’s kind of hard to know why this happened, but the gist of the fix seemed to be to put something called Blu-Kote on it. It would dye the feathers blue, but if the chickens kept pecking, they’d get a taste of Blu-Kote, and that would be the end of it. We didn’t have any on hand, so I grabbed some trusty Bag Balm, and put it on the wound to at least keep it from getting infected until I had the chance to get to the feed store. When I did get to the feed store, they told me Bag Balm would work fine too, so I lucked out. For about a month or two afterwards, the one who had been pecked had a stain on her feathers from where the Bag Balm was, so she stood out. It too eventually went away, and she eased back into anonymity. I still don’t know why she got pecked, though. Incidentally, I didn’t kill the chicken who did the pecking, and it hasn’t happened again. I’m sure someone told me to kill the culprit, but as has been my experience, I found it was a one time thing, and lives were saved.

bag balm

The balm squad

The Bag Balm stain got me to thinking about other ways to mark them. The obvious indelible option would be to write their names on their back in magic marker. It would be pretty funny to see a chicken with “Lurlene” written on her back in giant letters. It would even be funny to see one with “Poopy” written down her back, at least to me. However, getting a chicken to hold still long enough to write legibly on her is not a task I want to attempt. Plus, the joke might wear off after a while. It’s kind of like a regrettable tattoo. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I have a dumb-looking chicken. So I don’t think I’ll try this.

poopy mandrell

Not how you do it.

You can actually buy a device that will put a colored band on their legs for identification. The problem here is that they aren’t cheap, and I only have three chickens I want to distinguish. That seems like a big investment for something that’s not all that big a deal. I would like to know if it’s the same one getting broody, and I’d feel a lot better about myself if I could tell them apart, but I don’t feel so bad that I’m going to blow a lot of money on it. I can probably just get some zip ties or something if it finally wears me down. But I’m only going to do that once I know in my heart of hearts that I’ve got a Lurlene in there.

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Chicken Noise Complaints (aka Everybody’s Bawking At Me)

Friday, June 14th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/14/2013)

My wife was commenting the other day about how even though where we live is pretty far from a city, some of our city neighborhoods were actually quieter than where we live now. There are a lot of trucks that pass by on a nearby road, as well as frequent commuter rail and freight train horns. As the summer months approach, let’s not forget about motorcycles. And while we’re speaking of things on two wheels, we also seem to have wound up in a place where large groups of middle aged men put on silly spandex outfits and ride bikes en masse. The bikes themselves are quiet, but the chatter of the riders can make a din, and some of the outfits are quite loud. The good news is that very little of this wakes us up at night.


Who need alarm clocks?

The bad news is that there is something that wakes me up consistently on weekend mornings. Now that the sun is coming up early, it means the chickens are waking up earlier. They don’t have any curtains, so with the first light, they wake up and wait patiently for their master to let them loose into the run. Did I say wait patiently? I meant they begin to make constipated squawking noises at high volume until someone lets them loose. That someone is me. On weekdays, this isn’t a big deal. I get up disgustingly early during the week in order to make the train, and so I am up before the chickens get restless. But it’s exactly because I get up so early during the week that I want to be able to sleep in a little on weekends. Well, chicken culture doesn’t seem to have calendars, so they don’t know about the weekend. I suppose that it has to do with them working from home. Their job is never done! And they’re dedicated workers, so they make a stink when they can’t get out there and chicken.

 photo punchintheclock3_zps39810b8e.jpg

Here’s the scene: day breaks, the sun comes up, the chickens start complaining. Why is it such a big deal? Well, it seems to have to do with a flaw in my coop design. I have managed to lay things out so the large window in the coop points towards the window over our heads in the bedroom. So with the nice weather when the windows are open comes a relatively direct line of squawk from the coop to the bedroom. I’ve tried using earplugs, but chickens seem engineered to produce frequencies that cut right through those things. If I’m lucky, I get to sleep in until 5:30. I let them out, and they’re happy.


I said, “Who needs alarm clocks?”

The next problem arises when they get too happy. I’m not 100% sure what triggers it, but more and more often these days, at least one chicken will go completely berzerk and sound her barbaric yawp over the rooftops. Or more accurately, sound her barbaric bawk over the cooptop. The bawks are loud, frequent, and repetitive, but also joyous, so this is actually kind of fun. A new development is that one will start and the others will join in. So all six chickens are bawking in unison. The first time this happened I was certain something was threatening them, but when I got to the coop, there they were, all sitting on the roosts, squawk squawk squawking like it was perfectly normal. I took out my camera to get it on video, and they immediately fell silent. I have tried to document this on multiple occasions, even sneaking up on them with the camera, but they can sense when it’s out, and they clam up. I tried to explain to them that people often watch funny animal videos on the internet, but they’re not having it. These chickens value their privacy.

private chicken

Private chicken.

Sure, they’re noisy, but it could be a lot worse. There’s a farm down the road that has a bunch of roosters, and they don’t just crow when the sun comes up. They crow if the sun is out, or even if it’s overcast. There’s a housing development that runs along the side of the farm, and I suspect those people have some regrets about moving in, since they weren’t there first. We’re lucky to not have anyone living in the house next to us, so for now, I’m the only one bothered by our chatty ladies. If someone should move in, I’m sure you’ll be hearing about what happens. Unless my lawyer has advised me not to talk about it.

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The Incredible Rubber Chicken Egg!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

a rubbery egg


Here’s a video of an egg from one of my chickens a while back. I’ve gotten a few of these. My guess is that it has something to do with not getting enough calcium, though I do give them oyster shell chips as a supplement.


Rubbery egg! from Erik P. Kraft on Vimeo.


I came across this article the other day, that reminded me I had taken this video. Turns out it could be the work of The Devil! I suppose I should have called this post The Incredible Cock Egg! to be more in line with the folklore behind this.

One Year Of Chickens

Friday, June 7th, 2013

(Broadcast 6/7/2013)

We got our chickens the first week of June in 2012. They were a week old, so I did some math and figured out they were born the last week of May 2012. Last week was the last week of May 2013, and I said to my wife, “Hey, it’s the chickens’ birthday.” She didn’t feel like having a party. The chickens probably didn’t either, since I don’t think chicken culture has the concept of parties. I, however, have the concept of thinking about things too much, and so I decided to look back at the past year, and see if I have learned anything.

party chicken

Someone say “party?”

The big thing I think I learned was that you should not get the chickens until you have the coop. I spent a lot of last summer building the coop, as the chickens got ever larger in their brooder. If you do decide to build your own coop, I hope you have a plan, and some knowledge of how to use tools and/or how to build things. I didn’t really have those things. I pulled it off, but it got pretty hairy towards the end. The chickens were more than ready to go outside by the time we got them outside, and were almost out of space in their indoor pen (even after one space upgrade). I might have some idea of how to build stuff now, but I also probably aged myself a few extra years due to stress and forgetting to put on sunscreen while out working on this project. I will tell you to not get the chickens until you get the coop, but many people will not listen. I heard this rule, and I didn’t listen either. I think maybe it’s a rite of passage. I am now a man, and can take my place in chicken society.

My coop

They say a coop is never really finished.

If you’re new to the internet, you might not realize that people have a lot of opinions online. They do. I’m kind of amazed at how quickly people have gone from hiding behind screen names to using their real names and Facebook profiles to post mindblowingly vicious things online. However, I also read the comments on news sites, which I know I need to stop doing. It’s like staring at a car wreck full of kittens. (I totally apologize for that image. I may be turning into one of these people myself). People also have strong opinions about how to handle chickens. When we first got the chickens, I stumbled on a rant by a farmer about people naming their chickens and considering them pets. “Chickens drop dead all the time for no reason!” he said. Goldfish drop dead all the time for no reason, too, but those are considered acceptable pets. I think what he was trying to get at was that getting chickens isn’t the same as getting a dog. They have specific needs, and you have to commit a lot of time to them, and it’s not always as fun as throwing a ball, or letting them stick their head out the car window on a drive (though I don’t think you’re supposed to let dogs do that either). But as a farmer, I think the idea of chickens as pets was so alien to him he started to lose it. Or maybe building his coop wasn’t going so well. It’s hardly the worst chicken opinion I’ve come across. Often the first answer to a “my chicken is doing this, what should I do?” question is “kill it.” Euthanasia is something you have to keep in mind in many cases, but not always. Getting information from the internet should be like going to the doctor. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. There are plenty of them out there, and it is the internet, so many of them may actually be wrong.

chicken expert

Anonymous internet chicken expert.

The last thing I take away from my first year of this chicken business is that this has been far more enjoyable than I had any reason to expect it to be. Someone I know recently emailed me about having spent some time around chickens, and how he found it very meditative. I think that’s a good way to put it. In small numbers anyway, I find them to be very relaxing. Being in a factory chicken facility is another story. Chickens are also hilarious. One day one of mine found a worm in the dirt, and half of it was hanging out of her beak. Another chicken saw this, and wanted in. She lunged after it, and the first chicken spun in circles as she choked the worm down, with the other one in hot pursuit trying to eat it out of her beak. Double chicken spiral! Sure, there is work, but you also get entertainment. And eggs. Don’t forget the eggs.


Life enricher/guru.

Someone recently dismissed my first year of efforts as no big deal, since all the bad stuff happens in the second year or beyond. Nothing is worth doing if you look at things that way. I’m prepared to deal with tragedy if I have to, but I’m not going to let the fear of it stop me from enjoying the parts of this that aren’t tragic. I think there are still more good things to experience. In the past year, I’ve killed more hard drives than chickens, and I’m supposed to be a computer guy. Hard drives aren’t as charming as chickens, anyway. And you know what? Without chickens, I wouldn’t be able to come onto Garden Guys each week and share with you what a complete ding-dong I am. That’s something we all benefit from.


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