Archive for June, 2016

My Way Or The Highway

Friday, June 24th, 2016

If you come here regularly, you know that I was out of town for a week recently. This is the longest I have gone away since I got chickens (and, come to think of it, the longest I have gone away for much longer than that). I’ve gotten used to being o.k. with leaving the chickens in the hands of someone else for a weekend, or even a long weekend. It took some work getting there, but I did it. I can be a bit of a control freak, and since the chickens are my pets, I worry. For a long weekend, I know I can fill up the feeder, and they’re good until I get back. Basically, all someone needs to do is fill their waterer and cover their poops. They can go without their morning yogurt for two days (I usually leave them some on the Friday morning we leave), and so while I realize they’re not getting doted on the way they’re used to, it’s a short blip in the history of the universe and they’ll get through it.

Things that make you go blip.

Things that make you go blip.

Going away for a week, now that’s something else. Food will need to be replenished. Yogurt will need to be offered, lest vent gleet sneak one past the goalie. For that same reason, I feel it’s necessary to request apple cider vinegar in their water. Missing two days of that is acceptable, if barely. A week seems like asking for trouble. I’ve constructed the coop in such a way that the food and water fits under it nicely. The food hangs from a hook, the waterer sits on some bricks, so it’s level. However, the feeder is heavy when full, and you have to use a long pole with a hook on the end to get it hanging again after you fill it. I have a hard time with this, and I’ve been doing it for years. The water is somewhat easier, but I realize that I have long monkey arms, which make it easier for me to reach under there and get the water on the bricks. Other people who have cared for the chickens in the past have been unable or unwilling (or just forgot) to do this. The rest of the ground isn’t very flat, and the chickens are ding dongs, and they’ll knock it over if it’s anywhere else. So then I worry that they won’t get enough water in the summer heat. It’s probably not rational, but this is how my mind works.

Well, it's not spilled milk, so it's o.k. to cry, I guess.

Well, it’s not spilled milk, so it’s o.k. to cry, I guess.

I wrote up a list of the things I do for the chickens for my wife, so she would know exactly what to do while I was gone. It didn’t seem like too much, but it did start to worry me about asking a lot, since she would also have to take care of the cats and be a solo parent during this time as well. So then I completely shuffled the order in which things can be done to make it easier. Morning now only required a water check, and food for Boss Chicken (who is 1000x easier to feed than the flock, since she’s in a rabbit hutch). After work was now when most of what I do at 5am can get done. Chips on the poops, some scratch, yogurt, collect the eggs. Get it all done as soon as you get home, then all that’s left is to refill the waterer after the birds have gone to sleep. Refill the waterer after dark, and add some apple cider vinegar to it. And then put it on the bricks, or then you have to recheck it in the morning to make sure all the water didn’t leak out overnight because it wasn’t level. This wasn’t going as I had planned. The waterer is always a problem, and then I just bailed on the feeder altogether. “The feeder will get them to Monday, at least,” I said. “After that, just fill the container I use to refill the feeder, and dump it on the ground in the run.” It seemed undignified, but they are chickens. They enjoy eating things off the ground. This would be fun for them too. Who doesn’t like fun? I knew the chickens would be fine, and I had to accept that there were other ways of doing things, but these were my ways, and the chickens have survived throughout my doing them, so that’s reason enough to keep it up. My superstitious nature was really taking a drubbing. That’s fine. I think it needs to be drubbed. We’ll all come out of this stronger, right? It’s only a week, right? Right?

Just the man for the job.

Just the man for the job.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Textraño by Colectivo Etéreo, universe image by the Hubble Space Telescope)

Of Mites And Men

Friday, June 17th, 2016

In spite of everything I do to treat the mites, the damage they’re doing to the chickens’ feathers seems to be getting worse. Steve and John are losing feathers on their backs at a rapid pace. I’ve been powdering them weekly with the “poultry powder,” but I don’t seem to be getting results. I decided it was time to reset the clock, as it were, by completely cleaning the coop and taking it from there. If I could wipe out anything that was living off the chickens, then maybe I could begin to get the things living on the chickens.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

Maybe I overdo the powder a little.

I’ve been a practitioner of the “deep litter” technique from the start of this chicken experiment. Basically, you cover all poop with wood chips, and once a week scoop out the worst of it under the roost, but leave the rest. This creates a sort of compost pile right there in the coop, and that helps keep it a little warmer in the winter. It seemed like a good idea when I read about it, but given my annual mite problems, I’ve begun to wonder if it wasn’t somehow contributing to these problems, by creating a large habitat for invisible bugs. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it was time for the annual clean out anyway, so I went at it. Usually I dump all the chips, spray the inside of the coop and any of the “furniture” with white vinegar to disinfect it, and then add fresh chips, leaving behind the faint scent of salad. This year, I had to take it a little further. Since I had read about using dishwashing detergent to kill mites, I went in with a bucket of soapy water and a rag first, and wiped everything down, making sure to get it into any cracks. Then I dried that off, and sprayed the vinegar. Then I wiped off the excess vinegar, and sprayed everything again with Poultry Protector. At this point, I figured I had covered all my bases.

It gets deep.

It gets deep.

The biggest surprise was how much diatomaceous earth was in the bedding. There seemed to be a good layer of it under all the chips, so I was amazed that any insect could live in there at all. So either what’s bothering the chickens is getting on them out in the run, or it’s something completely impervious to DE. Hard to say, but the DE may not be cutting it, at least at the level we’re working on here.

It's entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

It’s entirely possible they protect themselves in tiny space probes.

I sprayed the Poultry Protector all over the run and outside of the coop as well. The bottle says to get the whole area, so that’s what I did. Of course, it’s not a very big bottle, so I had used most of it by the time I had finished spraying the run, but felt like I had enough to get the birds as well. Supposedly this stuff doesn’t actually kill the mites, but instead keeps them from reproducing. So they may live for a while, but it sounds like they’ll eventually die out. I’m pretty sure not reproducing is why there aren’t any more Shakers, so this should do it, even if it takes a little longer.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they'd be easier to spot.

If the mites just held a dance like this, they’d be easier to spot. (Those are Shakers, btw. This image is relevant!)

The same night I did the big cleanout, I went into the coop, and instead of dusting the chickens (which I had done the night before), I sprayed each of them in their bald areas with the Poultry Protector. It turns out chickens do not like being sprayed with stuff. They did their usual act of running into the corner of the coop and trying to get behind each other, but this time they seemed much angrier than usual. Luckily I could spray them from farther away, and it went much faster than powdering, so I was done before they revolted. I still have a little spray left, and I’ll use it next time I change out the chips, and this time I’ll be changing them all out, not just the ones under the roost. I think it may be time to try a different approach to coop maintenance and see what works. If I still find that I’m having feather loss, it may be time to try the “flea drop” method, which, unsurprisingly, is controversial on the internet. Basically, you dab some popular flea and tick liquid on the chickens and this does the trick, even though it’s not approved for chickens, and you have to chuck your eggs for a while. This feels like a nuclear option, so I’ll keep dusting a little longer, and see where it gets me, beyond covered in poison dust, of course.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Lu Lu by National Promenade Band)

Brief hiatus!

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

I’m heading out of town for a week, and in the mad rush to get ready, I neglected my podcasting duties. I’ll be back in 2 weeks with more exciting chicken news. Try to contain yourselves in the meantime.

The chickens are actually staying home.

The chickens are actually staying home.

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