Chickens

Mutant Egg

“All’s I can say is that I feel verrrrrry sorry for whichever of the girls laid THAT egg,” my husband said last night. I agreed. The egg was HUGE! So huge, I had to take a pic to compare the size with the some of the other eggs laid, complete with a tape measure to show just how big the darn thing was. See for yourself.

mutant-egg

Obviously I’m talkin’ about the egg on the far right, which was nearly 3 inches long!! I’ve never seen an egg that big. It literally spanned the length of my palm. Now you feel sorry for her, too, dontcha?

I cooked that bad boy up for breakfast this morning and was not surprised to find it was a double-yolk. We’ve had lots of double-yolk eggs since the girls started laying again after being on strike the last few months. They must have extra yolks stored up after molting and the shorter days of winter. Or maybe they are just trying to make it up to us as we were getting very frustrated with having to buy organic eggs from the store. They are so expensive and taste so bland compared to ours. Luckily for us, we are getting about eight eggs per day so the drought is over!

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The Roo had to Go!

No, we didn’t eat him. We thought about it but decided we weren’t quite ready for the whole slaughtering/butchering thing yet. Here’s the deal: Kanga, our beautiful roo, grew to be very large and very bossy with the girls, as I’m sure all roosters do. Then he turned six months old and the fun really started. Crowing at 4 AM, then crowing a LOT during the day, and terrorizing one of our hens (I’m sure he was just trying to mate with her but she was really unhappy about the whole thing). As I’ve explained we live in a semi-rural area, it’s a little strange. The half of the street we live on is zoned Single Family Residential; however, the houses/lots behind us are zoned Agricultural as is the other half of our street which consists of an olive tree orchard. Two doors down is home to seven roosters, but what makes us different is that we have neighbors on both sides as you would in a normal suburban neighborhood. Told ya it was strange. Long story short, the neighbors are our friends (we’ll call them J & J) and we wanted to keep it that way. They never complained about Kanga, preferring to be polite and wait for us to figure it out. Then one day my husband was awakened by the 4 AM crowing. And the next day. And the next day. So you can imagine we were concerned about J & J being disturbed by this. We brought it up to them soon after the third morning to which they replied, “Oh, yeah. He’s been doing that for a couple of weeks.” The HORROR!! We felt like the most inconsiderate, evil neighbors ever. We made the tough decision that Kanga had to go, despite how gorgeous he was (see pics below) and the fact he was an asset to the flock. J & J’s sanity had to be the priority so off Kanga went in late December to a local rescue on a farm. He had to have been a good ten pounds. It’s amazing to see a little, tiny two-day old chick grow that quickly into such a magnificent bird, and I do miss him. Not to mention I thought the name I came up with was pretty nifty.

kanga2     kanga3    kanga1
Kanga at about five months old.            Kanga the day he left us.               This pic is just for scale. Big boy!

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Another Death, Some New Life

Hello Friends! It’s been a while. Things always get crazy around the holidays and there’s a lot of news from the coop to report! First the bad news…

Sept. 13, 2012: Been away on vacation for a week when we get a panicked phone call from our neighbors, who are taking care of the girls, at about 7:30p. They were putting the girls in the coop for the night when one started convulsing violently and died, right in front of our poor neighbors. They were absolutely mortified and felt so bad; so did we but we felt worse about our neighbors having to see that than the hen dying. Who wants to go through that?? The hen that died had shown only mild signs of being ill, such as a few sneezes here and there but that’s it so her death kind of surprised us. She was the same breed as the hen we tried to save when we first started out with chickens (see “Chickens Sneeze?!” post below) so I can’t say we were really shocked. We had bought both at the same time from the same lot, and in looking back at that experience they were in a cage with one other bird of the same breed that didn’t look too good. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? So if I haven’t already said this, be SURE that you know where the birds you are buying came from and if any of them look ill then assume they are.

Upon returning from vacation, I decided to get more hens since I have friends and family clamoring for eggs constantly. (They really are super delicious. I have a hard time eating store-bought eggs anymore, which we’ had to do a LOT until recently since the girls were on strike. I digress…) SO: I found myself at the local feed store at the beginning of October buying six more girls, all of which were about two months old. The separated coop came in handy as it was time to move the roo and his sister into the main flock, and the new girls took over their half. We now have 13 hens and they are laying like crazy—finally! We are getting on average eight eggs per day, so that’s keeping my “customers” happy.

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What to do if a Roo?

End of June, 2012: Man, that one chick is sure getting’ big…

So Mama and her chicks are doing great, it’s been a couple of weeks and they are growing so fast! But one of them is getting a lot bigger than the other one. I chalk it up to the fact that the smaller one had a rough start as she’s the one that was attacked by the mean hen. Here’s a couple of pics of when we really started to notice the size difference.

 

A couple more weeks pass and the one chick is a LOT bigger than the other one, and a bit lighter in color. Hmmm…no biggie, right?

Relaxing one evening perusing my new hatchery catalog, girls scratching away in the backyard—yes, this time I am staying with them, lesson learned—and I come across the Barred Rock listing. “Oh, that’s the type I brought home for Broody,” I think to myself as I start reading all about Barred Rock chicks. You see, Broody is a Cuckoo Maran and I bought Barred Rocks since their coloring is very similar. Back to reading the catalog: “…popular dual purpose breed…very friendly…high egg production…cockerels are lighter in color than pullets…docile personality…”—WAIT A MINUTE—what was that about cockerels? Lighter in color than pullets?? Great…you know what this probably means. Of course, at this point I’m still holding out hope that the chick is just growing faster and happens to be lighter in color than “her” sister.

Fast forward to around mid-August, the chicks are about eight weeks old. I’m doing my morning routine, about to let the girls out of the coop when I hear this faint, strange noise coming from inside the coop.I think one of the girls is coughing, it’s a strange noise so I pause to listen. I hear it again, kind of like “err-errrr.” “Is one of the hens clearing her throat? What is that?” Pause again…”err-errrr.” It finally sinks in: my little cockerel is practicing his newly-discovered morning wake-up call. Holy schneikes, here we go. I’ve got a roo.

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Hawk Attack

Hopefully you’re up to speed with all of my chicken posts so you can feel my pain with this one. Just when we thought we’d dealt with just about every imaginable problem with our chickens…

The story unfolds at approx. 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 22, 2012. Super excited about relaxing with some wine and a movie after a tough week (I’m 40, what can I say). The chickens were outside of their coop run foraging in the yard with our two amazing Border Collies keeping a watchful eye over the flock—or so we thought. I had to run out for a few minutes so I left the girls out in the yard with the dogs. Trust me, the dogs wouldn’t hurt a fly and we’d done this before. They might herd a fly, but that’s another story.

Anyways, I arrive home about 30 minutes later and find one of the hens in the corner of the yard slumped down in the grass not moving. Oh, no!! Full-on panic mode ensues. I run to her and find a huge patch of skin missing from her back and puncture wounds in her bruised neck (pic from that night is below). I think she is dead but she opens her eyes as I kneel down beside her. Now I’m thinking her neck is broken and I will have to put her out of her misery, by myself—husband’s not home. Could this get any worse?? I check her over and she becomes more alert but she’s definitely in shock. I ever so gently move her neck and it doesn’t seem to be broken, so right away I’m thinking I can fix this. I run inside, grab a bowl of warm water, sterile pads and antiseptic spray. I tend to her the best that I can and find it strange that there’s not blood anywhere but her feathers are wet. After thinking about this, we concluded that a hawk that had been lingering as of late (a juvenile Cooper’s hawk), which I completely forgot about (I’m a HORRIBLE chicken mom!), must have grabbed her by the back and neck as the puncture wounds were consistent with talons (don’t I sound like a CSI investigator?) but that the hen was too heavy and the hawk ended up leaving with her back skin only, and as she crashed back down to earth the dogs raced to her and licked her wounds. It’s the only thing that made sense.

After washing her wounds, covering them with Neosporin and a gauze pad, and giving her lots of antibiotic water by hand, I did some speedy Internet research and concluded I had done all I could for the night. I had to separate her from the flock until she healed, if she healed, so her new home became a dog kennel during the day, and an empty table saw box inserted into the dog kennel at night (see pics).

The next day, I thankfully found her still alive in the box. I re-washed her wounds with antiseptic, covered them again with Neosporin and a fresh gauze pad. I gave her antibiotic water by hand and raced to the pharmacy. The pharmacist, bless his heart, heard my tale and suggested I also treat her wounds with iodine, so I bought some and raced back home. That afternoon, I saw some folks from the local raptor rescue center and told them what happened. They suggested I see a vet as she might need stitches, so I actually took my hen to the vet the next day. It was pretty funny, but $60 later I was told there was nothing the vet could do. The wound was too large to stitch but he did confirm that all the steps I had taken thus far were spot-on, then he gave me some antibiotic powder and some pills (again with the chicken pills??).

So here’s the routine that was followed twice daily for about three weeks:

  • Wash wound with antiseptic.
  • Apply iodine.
  • Apply antibiotic powder (saw it at the feed store later, so you might want to buy a bottle just in case. It comes in a shaker container and is small, probably just a few ounces.)
  • Cover gauze pad with Vaseline to prevent it from sticking to the wound.
  • Apply gauze to wound.
  • Administer oral antibiotic (i.e., shove pill as far down chicken’s throat as you can)

Since I could not cover her neck wounds, I had to be diligent about washing and keeping them clean. Her neck healed first and her back started to re-grow the skin—I couldn’t believe that I was actually pulling this off! I had to be sure to trim the feathers away from the wound to keep the infection down and prevent feathers from becoming caught in the re-grown skin/scab. Once the wound had healed over, the older scabs would lift off revealing new skin and feathers started to re-grow. It was truly a miracle! Once her feathers had covered the healed wound, I was able to let her back in with the flock. She was picked on a bit at first and is very fearful when a hawk calls out overhead, but she is laying again and still re-growing her missing feathers.

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Broody McBrooderton

Really??? So on the heels of the mite/lice problem we figured out that one of our hens was uber-broody (she wouldn’t budge from the nesting box, as noted in the mite post). What else could go wrong with our little hen family? Ugh. We let it go on for two months, mainly cuz we had no idea what was up with her until about one month into it. Once we figured it out, we began the process of trying to break her but to no avail. We constantly kicked her out of the nesting box, taking the eggs with us. We banned her from the coop. We kept her in a wire cage (terrible!) for a few days but this girl was DEE-TER-MINED. We finally gave up and went to our local feed store totally exasperated with this whole “raising chickens thing” (AGAIN) and sought advice. Little did the clerk know I had already determined what we needed to do but was secretly hoping for another alternative. Oh, sure, it exists but it involves chopping the hen’s head off. Not an option. What was the dreaded alternative, you ask? Buying a very young chick (or two) and stuffing it under Broody McBrooderton at night after she was asleep. In the morning when she awoke, she would think Chicken Santa had been there making her broody dreams come true. Of course, there was a chance she would reject the chicks (i.e., kill and dismember one of them or both) but what choice did we have? I left the feed store with a cardboard box, two peeping four-day old chicks (Barred Plymouth Rocks, I’ll explain) inside, after being assured that the odds of one of them being a rooster was only 5-10%. Remember this…

Why Barred Plymouth Rocks? Mama is a Cuckoo Maran, feed store didn’t have Cuckoo Marans, so they suggested I go with a breed that had similar colors, voila – Barred Plymouth Rocks.

The first day or two after Chick Christmas was a little stressful. Mama was a bit unsure of what was going on and another hen attacked one of the chicks. No, I’m not making this up but I do wish I was. This led to an entire drama of segregating the coop to separate mama and chicks from the rest of the flock, as well as the little chick limping around for a few days. Then it involved separating the chicken run. I admit I’m really questioning at this point whether this is worth all the trouble. I can buy eggs at the Sunday farmers’ market for $4.50 a dozen.

Here are some pics of how I segregated the coop and run, as well as one of the chicks upon their arrival at their new home:

Coop and run segregation complete, relief settles in, mama is doing great with her brood. I have two days of peace then one of the other hens is attacked by a hawk. Really, Universe?? Those $4.50 Sunday Special eggs are looking even better at this point. See “Hawk Attack!” post for more chicken drama!

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Chickens Can Get Lice?!?

Note: I’m playing a bit of catch-up. Disregard the posting date and know that the lice arrived immediately after the mites. Good times! Yes, poultry can get lice. I thought only elementary school children were prone to these yucky little bugs, but once again nature threw me, the novice chicken keeper, a major curve ball. And yes, this happened right as we were resolving the mite problem.

Remember the hen I mentioned in the mite post that wouldn’t budge out of the nest box? Well, turns out she was having another issue that I will cover after I tackle this lice post. I noticed when checking near her vent for mites there were also larger bugs, a gross yellow-brown color, hovering there—LICE. Since we were already treating for mites I thought the DE would work on the lice. As we resolved the mite issue, the lice refused to abate no matter how often we dusted her with DE. We tried for a couple of weeks but to no avail.

Notes re: lice: They are not blood-suckers like mites. They dine on dried skin, feathers and scabs on the bird, but they will ingest blood if it’s available from irritated skin. Lice spend their entire lives on the host bird, which is good news in that they don’t invade the coop. You will find them on the skin and they deposit their eggs on the base of the feathers—gross. More good news: they are host-specific which means they won’t jump to humans.

Usually, if one hen has lice the chances are good that others will as well. If you find lice on one, be sure to check all of your birds. Chickens will get pretty annoyed with them if they get bad enough, so watch your birds for excessive preening as that can be a cue.

So what did I do? Bought m’self some Poultry Protector, an all-natural spray to rid birds of these foul little creatures, among others. The active ingredient is citric acid, so you can apply it directly to your birds. It works REALLY well, we found. A few applications to the affected areas and within about two weeks they were gone. The hens were so happy!

As with mites, lice seem to be a cyclical problem so be sure to check your flock often for any critters. Pale combs and wattles can be a sign of pests, FYI.

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Chickens Sneeze?!

Here’s the first bump in the road of my chicken adventure. Within the first couple of weeks of having the hens, one started sneezing. Yes, sneezing! I suppose it makes sense, I suppose all critters sneeze, but a chicken sneezing just seemed strange. The gal at our local feed store (a different feed store than the one we bought the hens from), we’ll call her Lori, is a chicken pro and suggested we give all the hens an antibiotic because poultry illnesses can be very contagious, thus we gave the girls a water-soluble antibiotic for a week. They weren’t laying yet which was good since you can’t eat the eggs when they are on the meds, and when they are off the meds you have to wait weeks or a month before you can eat them. Lo and behold, we got our first egg just days after we started dosing their water. Naturally. Then another started to lay the next day, and then we had three laying then all did except for our Ancona. Aside: for a while we thought she was a rooster since it took her months to finally start laying, and since she has an insanely large comb. See what I mean? Update 10/3/12: her comb is STILL growing. It’s even bigger now, and it gets purplish on the tips because the blood can’t get all the way up there! Haha! Kinda funny.

After we completed the antibiotic cycle, the sick hen seemed to get better then she regressed a week or two later with the same symptoms. We took her to the vet this time and ended up having to give her antibiotics orally (??!?!) for a week. Ever given a chicken a pill? They REALLY don’t like it. Again, there was slight improvement then she regressed. Lori said the sneezing could just be a habit now so we quit worrying. She was laying, eating and drinking so we figured she must be fine. Then one day, about two months after the whole thing started, she came stumbling out of the coop, dragging a wing and foot so we thought she had a stroke (can chickens have strokes??). Lori broke the news to us that the hen would only get worse with her condition leading to full paralysis. After some discussion and additional research, we decided the best thing to do would be to put her down. Everyone agreed that the quickest, most humane option was to break her neck, so that’s what we did. My husband being the stellar guy he is took care of it despite my offer to help (I really didn’t want to). I’m okay with that being “the man’s job.” So that was our first trauma. A bit hard to take, but since we plan to have chickens for many years to come, we figured it was something we would have to get used to.

The moral of the story is: be sure, absolutely certain, that when you purchase chicks they are from a reputable hatchery/feed store, and have been given all the recommended vaccinations (they are usually listed in the hatchery catalog). Of course, our sick hen’s condition could have been genetic but we’ll never know. It’s best to take as many precautions as possible, especially if you are introducing new hens/pullets into your existing flock.

What happened next? Chicken mites. I already posted about that; see below.

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Backtrack: How I Started my Chicken Adventure

My main motivation was to be a bit more self-sufficient and to have eggs raised by hens the way I thought they should be raised. Eggs are such a perfect source of food that I thought we could add to our food security beyond the garden beds by having a backyard source, and so the adventure began in December 2011. First we ordered a really cute coop (don’t ever buy a coop because it’s “cute”*). Once it was delivered, we built a coop run around it so that the girls could scratch around during the day unmolested by the neighborhood hawks. Once everything was built, we brought home eight four-month old girls from a local feed store on New Year’s Eve of 2011. My husband had promised I’d have my girls by the end of the year and we just made it!

Thus began our chicken adventure. To date I’ve only been at this chicken thing for 7 ½ months, never had chickens before, and as you’ll see I’ve been through a lot with the girls. I will be sharing much about my chicken adventures in this blog as I’ve had such a hard time finding certain info that I wanted to share my experiences, successes and failures in order to hopefully help others. I’m trying to post my experiences in chronological order so you can really feel my pain—I mean, read what I’ve been through and how you can get through it, too, so I’m a bit out of order now. Mites came after we had to put one hen out of her misery. I really do love my girls, but I will admit they are much more work (and sometimes trouble!) than I thought they would be. So read on, fellow backyard farmers and homesteading enthusiasts!

*The cute coop conundrum: looking back now, I should have bought a large, tall coop, something I could stand in and walk into with a normal door. It would be so much easier to clean, and if you have a bad back (like me) the cute coop can be a real pain. Alas, it was a newbie mistake not to be repeated. Pics FINALLY posted below.

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Creepy Crawlies in the Coop!

“What the…???” A few months ago, I went to collect the eggs out of our coop and was horrified to find extraordinarily small, almost microscopic bugs, crawling all over the eggs in the nesting box. “What in the frickity frack are THOSE!?” I shouted to my husband, wondering what could now be going wrong with our backyard chicken project. We had only been raising chickens for four months at this point and already had to deal with a myriad of issues, including culling one of our hens due to a persistent respiratory infection that refused to abate.

Back to the creepy-crawlies. These things are tiny tiny tiny, and it’s almost impossible to find any decent info on them. After doing much worrying, and much research, I diagnosed the critters as chicken mites. Ew. These buggers hide out during the day in the cracks and crevices in the coop then feast on the chickens at night, little vampires sucking their blood. Swell. They can eventually kill hens if left untreated. One of our hens refused to budge from the nesting box so I checked her hind end and there they were, many of the ruthless mites all over her, crawling on her skin, near her vent, it was awful. Her vent was all crusty and she was missing a bunch of feathers. I felt like a terrible parent for not noticing sooner.

Anyhoo: after finding the critters on our hens, it was late, I figured I would have to do a serious coop cleaning the next day. All bedding out, removed it and placed it far away, scrubbed coop with soapy, slightly bleachy solution, and figured a generous application of FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth (DE) would do it, or so I had been told by the limited info I could find. Long story short, it didn’t work. I gave it about a week, but the darn mites were still there. Egads, now what do I do??

Head to the feed store, buy huge bag o’ pine shavings (kiln dried is very important!), a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE (I’ll explain why), Poultry Protector (a natural pest spray), and permethrin. No, I didn’t want to use any sort of pesticide but at this point I’m thinking if I don’t all my chickens will die and I’ve just started selling eggs to co-workers. I can’t lose my business, even if it’s currently only two dozen a week!

Why a fresh bag of FOOD GRADE DE? In my research I had discovered that if DE gets wet, it becomes useless. I had an “ah ha!” moment. Everything I had read indicated that DE does the trick when it comes to mites and other pests. Perhaps my DE had been wet at some point (it had) and that’s why it was no longer effective. Why do I keep capitalizing FOOD GRADE? Because that’s the type you need to use around your chickens. There are two types of DE, food grade and non-food grade. The non can be toxic, so stick to the FOOD GRADE. Go to any feed store, they should have it. I digress…

Oh–and wear a dust mask and safety glasses/goggles when applying DE, and don’t get it in your chickens’ eyes or around their beaks. I digress again…

So back to the coop I go for Round Two of thorough cleaning. This time I applied the Poultry Protector diluted spray after the bleach solution had dried. Then I sprinkled a little permethrin in the cracks and crevices in the coop, lots of FOOD GRADE DE all over, in every nook and cranny, a very thick layer. Then came the pine shavings, another sprinkle of DE, and I was done. Later that night, we applied DE to all the hens and I even applied a little permethrin to the vent area of the infested hen. I gave it another week and it had worked to an extent. We continued to dust the coop and hens for a few weeks, every few days. I also removed the majority of the poop each day and applied a little fresh pine shavings after dusting the coop with DE. It took a few weeks, but we ended up ridding the hens and coop of the mites. When using a natural method of pest control, you have to be diligent and give it time. I would discourage my fellow homesteaders from using pesticides because 1) they can be toxic, and 2) pests can build up a resistance to what you’re using. We only dusted with the small amount of permethrin once. Just remember when using DE to control mites you have to be patient and diligent. It really does work! Hopefully there’s not a next time, but should there be we will skip the permethrin and use it only as a last resort.

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