Archive for October, 2014

It’s Molting Time Again!

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Fall is a time for change. The leaves on the trees are the obvious example of this, commemorated by horrible traffic as people from out of town drive really slow, while oohing and aahing. Our gardens whither and die, leaving us to rely on frozen vegetables as side dishes. And in chicken coops across the country, chickens begin to explode on their roosts, leaving nothing but piles of disembodied feathers behind.

spontaneous combustion

Like spontaneous human combustion, but with chickens.


Well, o.k., they don’t really explode, but it certainly looks like it. If you’ve ever seen a chicken, you’ve probably noticed that they are covered in feathers. Now imagine those feathers without the chicken attached to them. This is kind of what molting is. The chickens ditch their old feathers and grow new ones in order to be ready for winter. Think of it as buying a new down jacket each season. Maybe wasteful for humans, but chickens make their own, so they don’t have to worry about blowing all their money. Must be nice.

expensive coat

I’m going to be buried in mine.

Molting this year is coming as part of a perfect storm for me. It’s triggered by the days getting shorter, which also affects how many eggs the chickens lay. When chickens are molting, they tend to not lay eggs either. And my chickens are nearing henopause, so our egg supply is really running low, until the new chicks start laying.

gollum eggs

Gollum had similar problems.

I’ve always thought it was a little crazy that they lose their feathers right when it starts to get colder, but I suppose the point is that they stick it out for a little while when it’s sort of cold, but are ready when winter hits. Being exposed to the chilly fall nights probably makes them tougher.

cold chickens

Or it just makes them cold.

Every year when my chickens start to molt, there are obviously feathers everywhere. I get most of them out of the coop when I do my weekly poop cleanouts and chuck them in the compost, but the run has too many hard-to-reach corners, and those ones end up just getting mashed into the dirt where they become one with nature. Or more than one with nature, since they’re already a natural thing. They get buried. That’s what I’m trying to say. They get buried. But there’s a part of me that feels like this is wasting an opportunity. I built my coop out of reclaimed materials, so I’m totally on the re-use tip. I find myself starting to wonder if there’s anything I can do with all these feathers. I just hate to have so much of something and not put it to good use. But what would I honestly do with them? Make a comforter? Some pillows? Re-stuff a sagging down coat? Make a boa? Just have an enormous pile of chicken feathers in the middle of the living room? The possibilities seem endless. The possibilities also seem stupid. Maybe there’s a legitimately good use for them, but I don’t know. This might be where I find the limitations of my DIY recycling attitude. Some stuff just doesn’t need to be reused. Since feathers decompose, I suppose that’s fine. It’s not like the chickens are shedding rubber feathers that take 100 years to break down. We get a ton of leaves in the yard every fall too, and I don’t do all that much with those (though they do make good compost). I need to pick my battles, and maybe it’s time to concede to the feathers.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Frogs Legs by Columbia Saxaphone Sextette)



Friday, October 24th, 2014

I come up with a lot of different ideas. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re so bad they’re good. And sometimes I think I’ve really hit on something that no one else possibly could have thought of before. I am almost always wrong. When thinking about how egg production is slowing in my older hens, I had a flash of genius. Surely, the thing to call this was henopause, and I absolutely had to the be the first person to think of this. Upon consulting the internet, I might actually be the last person to think of this. I’m going to use the term anyway, since it’s a good way of describing what happens with chickens after a while. They have a finite amount of eggs, and so one day, sometime between ages two and three the eggs are going to stop coming. My chickens are just a little over two. Henopause looms.

henopause looms

(Henopause may not actually be a dark cloud that says “Henopause!”)

At one time it seemed like our chickens would never start laying eggs. I had heard they could start as early as 18 weeks, or as late as eight months (which I suppose is 36 weeks). The average seemed to be about six months. I was eager for it to begin, but knew that all things come in time. However, everyone knew I had chickens, and everyone was asking if they had started laying yet, and that starts to get to you. Every day I would go out and check the nesting buckets, but there’d be nothing in there. I took plastic Easter eggs, filled them with dirt, and put them in the buckets as a hint that hey, this is what goes in here. They may have gotten the hint, but hints don’t magically make eggs fall out of chickens that aren’t ready. I tried to be patient – both with the chickens, and the people who kept asking me about eggs. I had an easier time with the chickens.

shake out an egg

Can’t shake ’em out, either.

Then, at about the six and a half month mark, in mid-December, the egg floodgates opened. It was a trickle at first. I got one egg, then nothing, then a couple more a day or two later, and then suddenly the ladies were firing on all cylinders. We had six chickens, and were getting half a dozen eggs every day. That is a lot of eggs. I went from “where are my eggs?” to “what are we going to do with all these eggs?” Luckily, home-raised eggs are not hard to get rid of. I brought some into work, gave some to my parents, and soon learned that fresh eggs can be used as currency in some situations. This was a great development. What was nuts was that chickens generally don’t lay much in the winter. Egg laying depends on how much sunlight the chickens get, and there’s not a lot of that in the middle of December. But this one magical winter, they laid eggs like there was no tomorrow.

plague of eggs

A plague of eggs upon me.

The next winter wasn’t as fertile. They got the memo about the sunlight, and I had my first day of no eggs being produced. In fact, there were no eggs for exactly a week before the winter solstice, and for exactly a week after. Even before this they had stopped all laying at once. Instead of six, I’d average about three eggs a day, which was more than enough. I had plenty for my family to eat, and some surplus to trade or give away.


Translated from the original Chicken.

This summer things started to slow down. We hit the two year birthday of the original flock, and the days of no eggs sometimes started coming for several days in a row. This was when I knew henopause was coming home to roost. I can keep varmints out of the coop, but some things come from within.


It’s difficult for a dark cloud that says “Henopause!” to rest on a stick, whether or not it is actually a dark cloud that says “Henopause!”

I had known this was coming, which is why I got a few new chicks this year. They can start fresh while the old guard gets ready to retire from the egg business. I assume we’re looking at December before we see any eggs from the new jacks, though. That seems like a long way away, and some weeks we don’t get enough eggs to have enough for breakfast on the weekend. Aging and the waning sunshine that comes with Autumn are working together to grind the egg factory to a halt. That’s o.k. Eggs are only part of what’s great about having chickens. They’re still hilarious to be around, and they eat ticks, which is why we got them in the first place. We’ll be keeping them around for a long time after the last egg is laid. We just may be having oatmeal for breakfast instead.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Don’t Drink Nothin’ But Corn by Black Twig Pickers)


Time For Some Names

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Naming your chickens is a very important step in your role as one who chickens. Or at least I think so. There are plenty of people out there who are fine with chicken anonymity. It probably makes it easier if you’re the type who lops their heads off and then gets on with your life, but that’s not my style. I’m not a head lopper, or a neck twister, or whatever other ways there are of dispatching a chicken. To me, they’re pets who happen to also produce food, which puts them slightly above our cats. I’m not about to eat what those ding-dongs produce the most of. But pets need names, and I am not one who enters into giving out names lightly. But if I do give a name, I don’t always stick to it. My attitude is that you don’t always know what to call someone until you really get to know them. Because of this, I find myself in situations like where my cat Hamish is known as “The Bone,” thanks to the convoluted logic of my mind. If you know him, it makes sense. My wife often has to tell my son, “you know how daddy always calls things by different names.” I need to experience your essence before I can figure out your true name, man.


Your Essence, available wherever horrible smells are sold.

With our chickens, I had tried to not give them names the first time around. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I really thought I was going to mess it up and kill them somehow, and I figured no names would give me some sort of emotional distance. But because it turns out chickens had more personality than I was expecting, I found myself referring to them by names in my head, and those names stuck. Boss Chicken got her name because from day one she was all up in everyone else’s business, pushing them around. Henny Penny, as cliché a name as that is for a chicken, got her name because she was afraid of everything. Suzy Creamcheese . . . well I suppose she just seemed like a Suzy Creamcheese. And then there’s The Mandrell Sisters. They got their name because there were three of them, like the actual Mandrell sisters, and I couldn’t tell them apart, so a group name was the only way to go. I couldn’t just not give them a name after I had named the others, now could I? That’s just rude.

Mandrell Sisters

They even had their own TV show at one time.

Now that we’ve got three new ones, I knew the naming issue would come up again. My parents, who I split the chick order with, first considered doing a Mandrell Sisters type group name for their chickens, and then settled on Gladys Knight and the Pips. It works out well, since Gladys is a different breed of chicken than the Pips, and she’s also the Boss Chicken of that bunch. We didn’t have any strong personalities here with our new ones, so that made it harder to come up with anything. I wasn’t too worried about it, though. I knew with time I’d figure something out, and I was so focused on getting the new chickens integrated with the old ones, that I barely had time to think about names anyway.

midnight train to georgia

Leaving on the midnight train to Georgia, by way of Tidmouth Sheds.

Then my son began to ask what I was going to name them. I told him I hadn’t thought of any names, and suggested that he could name them if he wanted to. I knew the risks involved here. When my wife was his age, she named her dog “Oscar the Baseball Player.” To be honest, that’s not too far off from some of the names I come up with anyway. The new chickens are two of one breed, and one of another. My son said he wanted to name the lone one Suzy Creamcheese, since the original Suzy Creamcheese died back in spring, and he had been fond of her. I said we couldn’t name her Suzy Creamcheese, because there had already been one, but we could name her Suzy Creamcheese Junior. He was o.k. with that. That left the two of the same breed. He thought about it for a few minutes, and then decided he wanted to name them Steve and John. My wife pointed out that the chickens were girls, but he didn’t care. Seeing as how I once had a girl cat named Phil, I was in no position to complain. And frankly, I don’t think I really have anything to complain about. Steve, John, and Suzy Creamcheese Junior are names that any chicken would be happy to have.

name day

Chickens are so excited the day the new names come out.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Dance Of The Priestesses of Dagon (Saint-Säens) by The Victor Herbert Orchestra)


The Return of Vent Gleet

Friday, October 10th, 2014

I’ve apparently been doing this chicken stuff long enough that I’m beginning to forget some of the things I’ve experienced. I mean, you never forget the first time you stick your finger up a chicken’s butt, but some of the less glamorous  problems may begin to fade from memory after a while. Because of this, I almost missed a nasty disease that snuck back into my flock. The following account may be considered shocking to some listeners, but if you have chickens, you know how gross they can sometimes be.

gross chicken

They know how gross they can sometimes be, too.

On one of my nightly egg checks, I opened the coop door and found that there was a chicken sitting in the nesting bucket while all the others were roosting for the night. This is never good. I figured if I was lucky, she was just broody, and I’d separate her from the others until the urge to hatch an egg subsided. But when I reached in to move her out of the bucket, she got up and ran away, and there was a real mess left behind. An egg was cracked in the wood chips inside the bucket, and her rear end looked really bad. I panicked that I had another chicken with a prolapsed vent, so I ran inside, got rubber gloves, and began my examination. It turns out that she merely had pooped and it had stuck to her butt because the broken egg had made everything super sticky. That was a weird thing to make me feel relief, but believe me, it was better than a prolapse. I tried to clean her off as best I could, but ended up trimming the soiled feathers, since it would not just wipe away.

chicken barber

At this rate, I’m going to open a chicken barber shop soon.

This happened right around the time I had put our new chicks in the run, with their chick food, which the adult hens kept eating. I thought that maybe she wasn’t getting all the nutrients a hen that lays eggs needed from eating baby food, so I added more calcium chips to the run to try to compensate. I figured that would be the end of it, but about a week later, the same exact thing happened. Broken egg, stuck to butt, combined with poop. Nice. I again trimmed the feathers as best I could, and thought about how to stop them from eating the chick food, as I was convinced this was the culprit. I then made a mash of layer food mixed with yogurt and calcium chips, figuring the novelty would attract the refined adult hen’s palate. They did eat it, so I kept doing it, figuring once she got her good nutrition, all would be well.

recipe for a mess.

Recipe for a mess.

Until the night she came outside and laid a brittle egg in the run, which she also sat on. I was now really beginning to worry. Then I remembered my run-in with vent gleet from last year, and it all started coming back to me. Vent gleet is a fungal infection of the vent, a.k.a. the chicken’s butt, which can cause strange chicken behavior, and egg problems. I hadn’t considered it as a possibility because I give the chickens apple cider vinegar in their water, as well as yogurt every day, both of which should ward it off. She also didn’t have the diarrhea that you usually see, but I was pretty sure this was what her problem was. Luckily, I wrote about this last time it happened, and I now suspect I have a chicken that just may be prone to it. The chicken having issues now is a Mandrell Sister, and the chicken who had it before was also a Mandrell Sister. Of course, I can’t tell them apart, so it might not be the same one, but for now I’m thinking it is. I brought her inside and began the treatment.

The doctor is in.

The doctor is in.

The first thing I did was clean her up as best I could. It’s not easy. When the poop gets mixed with egg, it’s like cement, but I trimmed the dirty feathers again. You can bathe them to break it up, but my attempts to do that before have ended with me blow-drying a chicken in my front yard, and I’m not going back. Once she was clean, I gave her butt a quick spritz with athlete’s foot spray to kill any bacteria. Then the real fun began.

blow dry a chicken

They may have enjoyed the blow drying more than I did.

The best method to cure this is to give the chicken a dose of epsom salts and water. Getting it in their beak is not easy, or enjoyable. You can get the beak open by gently tugging on their wattles, and then you drip a little of the solution in there, and repeat. It takes a long time to give the suggested amount. Also, I do this while straddling the chicken. When you miss the beak because the chicken moved, you then spray your crotch with epsom salt solution. The chicken will move a lot. Then you go back into your house and everyone wonders what you’ve been up to. Your explanations do not help your case.


Honesty is the most embarrassing policy.

Anyway, I got her to drink as much of it as I could. You’re supposed to keep the sick bird away from the others for about a week, but much like last time, she wouldn’t eat or drink while isolated, and after the epsom salts, she should really drink a lot. After a day of her rejecting a mash of water, apple cider vinegar and yogurt, I put her back with the others. She seems to be doing fine, but I know she’ll probably need a second dose. They usually do. Maybe I’ll put on some waterproof pants next time. But regardless of my pants, vent gleet is going to be something I remember from now on.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Frog In The Well by Lucas Gonze.)

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Too Many Chickens! on iTunes.

Introducing New Chickens Part 3!

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.

bad clock

I really wasted money on this clock.

After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.

heads out the coop

In, but out. Very Zen.

My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.

head in sand

Their necks are too short to actually stick directly in the sand, so they make do.

I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.

That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.

That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.

on the roost

The thrill of the roost!

The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)


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