Quick Update

The weather has a rare warmth to it this morning. For the past few weeks I have walked outside to the earth blanketed with heavy frost, hauling buckets of hot water out to my chickens at 6:30 in the morning. But today, it is almost humid, and bright from the tropical like rain yesterday. I just got back from a four-day school field trip to Washington DC, and although it was fun to explore the monuments and historical sites with my friends, I am incredibly glad to be back in my quiet home. One can only spend so much time with a group of teenage girls and keep their sanity…

On the topic of chickens: Mary is in the finishing stages of her first molt. Her back is now covered in soft, shiny feathers, but her body is still lopsided from losing half of her tail feathers. Her foot feathers are a gorgeous cream colour- she is certainly a beauty! Cora and Mabel still have that patch of skin on their backs… I see the feather shafts beginning to poke out, and downy feathers are making their way down the painful looking skin. They have just started molting since I returned a few days ago- I opened the coop door to see a flurry of gray and red feathers drifting to the ground.

Around three weeks ago, I opened the coop door to see a dropping, and as I looked closer I saw something so incredibly disgusting I will refrain from describing it: worms. I immediately bought a bottle of Wazine dewormer from the tractor supply and gave them a dose. I’m hoping that did the trick! Let’s just say I won’t be eating spaghetti any time soon…

A little about worms…

From my research, I was able to identify the parasite I saw as roundworm. They are typically long, spaghetti like worms in the bird’s intestines. Symptoms include: diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and actual worm sightings. Cora has always had loose droppings that absolutely ruin her butt fluff, but I never suspected that it could be the product of a slight worm infestation. And I have noticed that they were looking a bit skinnier, but I attributed it to molting stress. But now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense that they have it. From my understanding: although chickens will always live with a small amount of worms in their system, it is best to deworm them with Wazine or another medication if it gets to the point where they have symptoms.

My treatment plan:

  • Deworm with Wazine dosage twice, with a 30 day interval (requires egg withdrawal)
  • Supplement this with free choice pumpkin (sugar pumpkins cut in half) and a few garlic cloves in their waterer just in case the natural chicken keepers are on to something
  • Spread straw or leaves down onto their dirt run to make droppings less accessible

Running Through The Woods

There is a trail right up the street from my home that winds up and around a little mountain. Its soft dirt takes you through streams, over snaking tree roots, and past rocks deposited by glaciers long ago. If you look carefully through the branches, rolling farmland is slightly visible. Before the 1600s, Abenaki Native Americans walked through its forests, hunting deer and fishing to supplement their tribe’s food. Since Monday I’ve begun running through its two mile long loop every day (except Thursday). I’m ridiculously out of shape, and have to stop at the bottom of each steep slope to catch my breath and snap a few pictures. But there is something about running through the woods that frees my soul. After a long day of school, and a long frustrating evening of keeping Boris from destroying everything, moving among the trees makes me feel in control. The sound of my shoes pounding the dirt and mud, squirrels rooting around in the undergrowth, and birds singing fills me with exhilaration. I think I’m addicted to trail running!

***

Right now I’m taking a break from another deep coop cleaning. Several chicken-keeping resources recommend cleaning out the coop with vinegar when scaly leg mites are discovered. The chickens have been locked outside, and the walls have been completely scrubbed down with a vinegar-water solution, then rinsed with plain old water. Then I gave everything a spray down with Manna Pro Poultry Protector, just in case it actually worlds. Ugh I am so disturbed by spiders- there are a few hanging out (literally) in my coop, or there were… I got a huge broom and just kept swiping it out their webs while closing my eyes. I must have looked crazy, and definitely made quite the racket. Its strange. I’m fine with all other insects- In fact, I’ve been known to rescue the beetles, lady bugs and crickets from the pool by hand. But show me an arachnid and I’m running in the other direction.

I got a late start to the cleaning because my hens kept insisting on occupying the nest boxes. Mabel camped out in there for an hour, and then Mary simply would not settle for the make-shift outdoor nest box I made. She kept throwing herself at the walls of the coop, until I relented and opened the door and she strutted in triumphantly. She then settled herself in the box, and glared at me, as if daring me to try and move her. Just for fun I took the Mabel and Cora’s eggs and put them next to her chest feathers. She promptly rolled them underneath her mass of fluffy feathers, tucking them in cozily with her beak. Of course, she lurked in there for another forty minutes, and an extra fifteen minutes even after she lay her pale brown egg. *Chickens*…

I think I’m going to post an ad for Edith on Craigslist, and see if I get any offers. I’d only give/sell him to a home where he would be well cared for until an old age. Its probably naive of me to look for such a place, but I want only the best for my little fellow. He is just so incredibly good at being a rooster, but my hens look like they’re in pain. Despite the hen-saddles, their shoulders have become raw and pink. He basically crushes Mabel and Cora under his weight because he’s so huge. So if I can find a place with a few more hens, and a bigger space, wouldn’t it be selfish to keep him? We will see. There is no harm in looking… right?

It was a long day…

I cleaned out my coop today. What a production that was. I locked the chickens out of the coop at around 12pm with their container of water and feed. I scraped out every last pine shaving with a giant snow-shovel, swept the floors, and mixed a solution of half vinegar-half water. With that I took a little scrubbing brush and wiped down the roost. I also tried getting rid of the horrible blood stains splattering the walls, but I don’t think that stuff is coming off any time soon… It looks like I converted it into a slaughter house or something. Well, maybe its not quite that bad.

I proceeded to rinse off the vinegar solution, and spray every last nook and cranny with Manna Pro Poultry Protectant. To be honest, I have no clue if it actually works or not. Its hard to tell with the chicken blogs scattered across the internet because they are constantly advertising for their sponsors. So basically I fell for their trap and purchased some at the Tractor Supply. As I was spraying, the nozzle fell off, and the bottle part went careening towards the ground. The liquid sloshed everywhere, and I lost about half of it. Ugh.

I opened every single window and aired the coop out a bit. As it dried I dragged a pallet over to the driveway and began scrubbing a waterer with the vinegar solution. I’ve been meaning to sanitize it for months, since it was the waterer Mary used when she was ill. I put it inside their coop, sparkling, along with all of the shavings and feeders, etc…

All of this took from 12pm to sunset. As the sun sank below the trees in the distance, I sat back and watched my chickens interact. The chicken saddle is continuing to work wonderfully for Cora, so I made a mental note to order one for Mabel, whose back has scraggly bald patches. That’s when I saw the gash.

Just under Mabel’s wing was a big cut, dark in color, being concealed under what little feathers she had left. If this had happened earlier this year, I would have burst into tears while thumbing through my “raising chickens manual” thing. But after all I’ve been through, this didn’t seem quite that bad. Once again, I find myself remarkably unprepared. All I have for a chicken first aid kit is Neosporin, some syringes, Tylan 50, Duramycin 10, Blu-Kote, and eye dropper and some paper towels. Since my parents didn’t particularly want to host another chicken in the basement, I had to venture out to the coop at dusk to deal with it.

Now, if you don’t remember, Mabel really doesn’t like people. “Doesn’t like” is a total understatement. She ran away for three days because she doesn’t like people.

Wanted chicken

Mabel is a free-spirit, meant to be admired from afar. These traits are rather unfortunate in this particular situation. Under the cover of darkness I crept into the coop and quickly snatched the unsuspecting bird from her spot sandwiched in between Mary and Cora on the roost. She started squawking, and struggling, kicking and flapping, all at the same time. I held on for dear life, holding her football style with her head underneath my arm. Finally she gave up, her little heart beating rapidly. I lifted her wing, and saw a mostly scabbed over wound with some dirt on it.

I syringed some warm water over it, rubbing gently. Before I could smother it with Neosporin, however, Mabel escaped from my grasp and began to systematically beat herself against the walls and windows of the coop. She knocked over my water, scattered my paper towels, and clucked in a panic to Edith, who is throwing himself against the chicken wire in an effort to rescue his hen. He clucks angrily at me, Mabel wails at me, and I am covered in dirt, pine shavings, and water.

As she continues to struggle I ask, out loud,

“What are you even trying to accomplish?”

She glares at me, and I tackle her little self as gently as possible to the coop floor. Once I have her under control I quickly cover her in Neosporin and Blu-Kote, then drop her in the pine shavings below. She fluffs up her feathers with as much dignity as she could muster, and returns to her spot on the roost.

It was a long day for both of us.

Spring Is Here (Theoretically)

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

The little red coop is illuminated in the setting sun

Spring is here, according to the calendar. The snow falling from the sky seems a little contradictory. Frankly, I’ve just given up. I have accepted the fact that warm weather is never going to happen again, and that I should just get used to the winter jackets and sweatpants.

The lazy chickens have retired early...I peeked my head in and found this...

This New England weather has gotten me so confused. It rises into the 40s, and all of a sudden I’m walking around outside with just a t-shirt shirt and jeans on. But then it starts snowing the next day, and it is back to the multiple layers of coats, sweaters, and socks. I just know that the tulips, crocuses, and daffodils are trying to arise from the dirt. If only there wasn’t a foot of snow barring their path to the sun.

The other day I strolled outside to my chicken coop, and did a double take as Edith stepped out into the run. His comb had fallen off, leaving a strange looking (for lack of a better word) nub… I started laughing immediately, but halted when he glared at me, as if to suggest that it was my fault. I retreated back into the warmth after doing the daily chicken chores, feeling slightly bad that his once majestic comb has been diminished so completely.

The other issue I have been facing is eggs. I have too many!  I’ve resorted to handing them out by the half-dozen to neighbors, out of complete desperation for more fridge space. I really want to sell them, but I’m not sure if I need a license for that, and since my chicken operation is supposed to be “covert” (I’m pretending that my neighbors can’t actually hear Edith serenading them in the mornings) I don’t want to draw extra attention to it. I’ll have to do some more research. Farm stands are a really popular thing in my town- people just set up a table on the side of the road with a box for money and piles of fruit vegetables. Asparagus and strawberries decorate these stands in the spring time, and then lots of corn and tomatoes in the summer. Pretty much every turn you take leads you to another one. Why not have one of my own?

The Chickens Getting Ready for Bed

Photo Mar 18, 6 40 58 PMThey were slightly offended by my intrusion A curious angle of chickens roosting...

Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning lately, something that is very rare in my life because I hate every second of it. But some cleaning is absolutely necessary, as I found out last weekend. For a week, whenever I entered the coop a strong smell made me want to gag. People will tell you that chickens are foul and dirty creatures, but this is simply not the truth. Sure, they poop a lot, but if they are well managed, the smell isn’t all that offensive. So when I walked into that gross, chemically smelling coop, I knew that it was in need of a good cleaning. But the weather lately has been far below freezing, so if I tried scrubbing it with water, it would freeze to the sides of the walls. Instead, I settled for a thorough dry cleaning.

I took a much needed trip to the Tractor Supply store, and filled the shopping cart with more layer pellets, a bale of pine shavings, a soft brush and a stiff-bristled brush, as well as a spray bottle that supposedly protects the chickens from poultry mites and lice (I thought I saw a poultry louse on Edith the other day). The next day happened to be unseasonably warm- a balmy 35 degrees, and out the door I went.

I started off by scooping out all the soiled shavings with a big snow shovel. It worked great! Then I got every last piece of shaving out with a broom and the stiff bristled brush. After this, I scraped off any remaining excrement with a mini flat rake. I took out the poultry parasite spray and used it according to the directions (I sprayed all surfaces, in the corners and cracks, nest boxes, etc…

While I waited for that to dry I refilled the food container and scrubbed down the waterer with warm water and the soft-bristled brush. By this time, the coop was pretty much dry (I had left all the windows and doors open), which allowed me to fill it with four to five inches of pine shavings. I am lucky enough to have a water heater, which I prop up on concrete blocks to prevent fires from the pine shavings. This also raises it above the pine shavings to prevent them from dirtying the water. Unfortunately, when I removed all the shavings, the wood was wet and the shavings underneath were caked to the wood. I wish I could keep the water outside in the run, but there is no way to thread the chord through the hardware cloth at the moment.

After this whole ordeal I let the chickens back in to their new, fresh smelling, home.