Category Archives: Chickens

Chicken Infirmary, Part Two

Luma joined Petunia in the chicken infirmary. Two weeks ago, we went out at dusk to administer Petunia’s second-to-last Baytril pill, only to find that Luma showed no interest in treats, had fluffed up her feathers, and was standing around listlessly.

Turns out she has an infection in one of the lobes of her left lung and has been on the same quarter-pill dose of Baytril ever since. What’s happening to our chickens?! She subsequently took a six day break from laying before going back to her amazingly consistent laying routine (she usually misses a day once every three or four weeks).

Luma puts up more of a fight than Tuni did over taking her medicine. In medicating technique number one, Kelly holds Luma firmly in her arms while I attempt to pry open her beak long enough to drop the pill down her gullet. At least half the time she manages to chomp down on my finger. She also wrestles so violently that she sometimes gets her wings free from Kelly’s grasp and begins flapping.

In medicating technique number two, I pick Luma up and kneel on the ground with my thighs pressed firmly against her wings. I then have to restrain her from lunging forward while at the same time attempting to pry her beak open long enough to drop the pill down her gullet. Kelly is out of town for the weekend, so I am resorting to technique number two. Fun times.

Fortunately, Luma will finish her antibiotic round in a few days, and we can start counting down the four weeks to when we will actually be able to eat her eggs again. In the meantime, we have amassed nearly three-dozen inedible eggs since the chicken health scare began with Petunia in September.

In the midst of all this, my time spent working at my real job has increased dramatically and, to top it off, I am attempting to prepare to apply to graduate school this December. I mention this by way of excuse for my lack of blog updates this month. November should be just as crazy, but with any luck, Kelly will soon chime in to tell you all about her wine making adventures.

News from the Chicken Infirmary

Despite her various ailments, Petunia has been perfecting her mountain climbing skills on our recently delivered pile of wood chips.

Petunia popped out another egg sans shell last weekend, and we finally decided to take her to the vet. Long story short and one avian exam and blood test later, we have learned that Petunia has a number of potentially serious health issues.

We were a motley crew of four at the vet appointment. Kelly and I, equally anxious and ignorant, grilled the vet on every detail. Luma also came along for the ride to help avoid chicken attachment anxiety. She stayed in the crate throughout Petunia’s exam, clucking indignantly at not being able to come out and visit with the rest of us.

The vet discovered a pea-sized nodule just inside Petunia’s vent, though he was unable to get a look at it. Possible explanations include a benign growth that may or may not grow to obstruct her vent, a cancerous growth, an area of walled-off parasites, or an abscess.

As soon as the exam was over, Petunia flapped up to Kelly’s shoulder for reassurance and a better view, while we discussed options with the vet.

We ended up opting for a blood test so as to be better informed in deciding how to treat Petunia. The test shows signs of an active bacterial infection for which the vet prescribed a two-week course of Baytril (you were right, Jackie!).

In addition, the blood work showed evidence of abnormal hormone activity in the form of elevated levels of triglycerides (fat). Petunia also has more than twice the normal level of calcium in her blood. The vet speculates that the high calcium level is due to an infection in the oviduct, which may be causing Petunia to lay eggs prematurely and without fully formed shells.

Poor Petunia! It never fails that we come by the most endearing and physically troubled animals. As with the bees, we have to pause at a certain point and ask ourselves where we draw the line with vet procedures. But, of course, we love her.

Petunia is being a real trooper about taking her quarter tablet of Baytril twice a day. I kneel over her with a knee on either side to gently pin her wings, open her beak and drop the pill in. She swallows it right down.

Besides the vet bills and concern for Tuni’s health, we are also disappointed to learn that we won’t be able to eat Petunia’s eggs for four weeks after she finishes her antibiotics—a full six weeks of only one egg a day. We haven’t purchased eggs since the girls started laying in July, something that greatly pleases my inner would-be farmer (sure, we spent a fair bit of money and countless hours building a critter-proof coop and run, but look at all the money we’re saving on eggs! Not.). Now we’d better get an Araucana ASAP, or suck it up and head to the grocery store.

Eggs Without Shells

There’s never a dull moment in the garden. Petunia, the Barred Leghorn, surprised us by laying Frankenstein shell-less eggs on September 11th and 12th, leading us to wonder if something was terribly wrong. The eggs were translucent and appeared to have a considerable amount of blood in them. They were soft to the touch, buckling at the slightest pressure and were covered in a strange, dark, powdery substance.

We found each egg below the girls’ roost in their coop, making us wonder if Tuni had laid the egg during the night. We called our most knowledgeable chicken friends, consulted our chicken book, and searched the Internet for clues. We also did a thorough check of the girls’ vents to ensure there was nothing untoward happening. They both checked out fine. I looked the offending egg over with my hand lens, but the powdery grit still just looked like powdery grit.

Bottom line: it seems like she’s probably alright. While frequent laying of eggs without shells is cause for major concern and can indicate a serious illness according to Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, occasional naked eggs can show up if a chicken experienced a stressful event, is at the beginning or end of a laying cycle, or has a lack of calcium in the diet.

I’m pretty sure our chickens are covered where diet is concerned. It seems more likely to me that Tuni experienced a glitch at the end of a laying cycle. That said, I wasn’t able to find any references to the fine, gritty, powder on the eggs, nor did I find anyone describing eggs with a significant amount of blood in them (much more than the occasional spots I’ve seen before in fully formed eggs).

If it happens again soon, or lasts any longer, we’ll probably call the vet. In the meantime, after a day of rest, Petunia is back to laying perfectly respectable white eggs every morning.

August Harvest

It’s a lean summer in the garden. In an attempt to make less gardening work for ourselves, we opted to leave two beds unplanted. But besides that, the tomatoes haven’t done much, and the eggplant is taking its sweet time.

When I told Kelly I was going to write about our garden harvest this month, she laughed outright. But there have been a few gems.

Cucumbers

I made my second batch of pickles tonight with a combined total of 6.25 lbs. of Bushy Pickling and Lemon cucumbers. The Lemon cucumbers were impersonators—they were in amongst the Bushy Pickling and had the wrong tag. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they turn out alright as pickles.

Today’s cucumber and pepper harvest.

Serrano peppers

These sweet and spicy little peppers found a home in a few experimental jars of dill pickles. Kelly grows them to add to her Indian cooking and will dry any remaining at the end of the summer.

Dinosaur kale

We let one of our kale plants stick around this spring. It is still big and beautiful. The chickens, who were raised on kale (I suspect it’s a comfort food for them) positively adore a ration of Dinosaur kale with their daily treats. When I added it to a stir-fry, Kelly gave it more mixed reviews.

Jerusalem artichokes

They grow like weeds around the chicken coop. Kelly dug some out to clear the path recently and cooked them up as part of a quinoa salad. Delicious! I maintain that Jerusalem artichokes are one of the most under appreciated and utilized garden yums around.

Bartlett pears

Although the Comice produced a grand total of zero pears in its second year, the little Bartlett gave us seven beauties. We even managed to save them from the neighborhood squirrels, rats, and raccoons by picking them early and letting them ripen inside.

Golden Delicious apples

It’s not a great year for this apple tree, but I harvested 6.5 lbs. of apples a few days ago. The other producing apple tree (a mystery variety, perhaps Granny Smith?) is not ripe yet, but it has more fruit.

Figs

The centenarian fig tree’s fruit is starting to ripen. We picked the first figs tonight, and Kelly added them to a scrumptious baked apple, pear, fig, walnut, currant, and brandy concoction for which, tragically, there is no precise recipe.

Raspberries

The raspberries are just beginning to produce again. Think palmfuls, not basketsful of berries.

Grapes

Our first and only bunch of grapes this year was delicious. I suspect that its proximity to a beehive spared it consumption by birds and squirrels.

Eggs

The girls are keeping up egg production. Luma has missed two days of laying since the beginning of Jluy, and Petunia has missed three or four since the end of July.

Honey

I pulled two deep frames of honey from our superstar hive, Dave, at the beginning of August. We are due to make the rounds of the other hives and do more harvesting.

Wax

We melted down beeswax for the first time using our bee guild’s solar wax melter. We are now the proud owners of two slabs of wax that we will make into candles whenever we have time (ha!).

…With a penny for scale.

Looking toward a winter garden

With any luck we will start seeds for the winter garden in the greenhouse within the next few days. We are liking this minimized production, lower stress gardening (though Kelly misses larger quantities of produce), and are considering playing around with cover crops/bee food for the unused garden beds this winter.

 

The Mysterious Case of the Misshapen Egg

Luma’s laid a few doozies before, but yesterday’s egg was particularly funny looking. There is a distinct bulge on one side, and it has an overall cockeyed appearance, as if it were a fossil egg inexpertly chipped out from sedimentary rock.

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but click to enlarge for a better view of the bulge.

Luma seems healthy and happy enough, but I started fretting. A few quick Internet searches and a flip through my copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, yielded many possible explanations, but no concrete answers.

One interesting cause of lopsided eggs is especially frequent ovulation on the part of the hen. Sounds like, if a hen is ovulating too often, the unformed eggs may bump up against the egg that is on its way out. In this case, the less developed egg can get slightly “smooshed” by the one with the hard shell. Could it be that Lu’s marathon egg laying is leading to a traffic jam of sorts?

Folks in online forums have discussed pullets laying oddly shaped eggs when they are getting into their laying groove. Should a month and a half be long enough for our Barred Rock pullet to find her groove? I don’t know. As a side note, I have never been quite sure what the term pullet means. A pullet is a hen that is less than a year old. We’ve got a while before the girls graduate to full henhood.

But I digress. Two other possible causes of eggs that are less than perfectly shaped are infection or other stressors. Kelly tends to be of the opinion that our pullets are perfect in every way, and it’s a bit of a hard sell to convince her that a mere egg bulge is cause for questioning. She agreed, however, that perhaps it’s worth doubling back and checking that our laying mash has the proper ratio of calcium and other nutrients (though one would think it would be formulated to have just that).

In the meantime, the Barred Rock and Leghorn flock is devouring all treats, laying on an (almost) daily basis, and making a rather horrifying ruckus every morning at seven o’clock. Roosters, we have come to realize, are not the only ones that disturb the peace.

Olympic Egg Laying

It’s been a long and eventful month since I last wrote. Despite my best intentions, family reunions, memorial services, and obsessively watching the Olympics have precluded blogging.

Luma peers out the back door of the nest boxes.

We have our own little Olympian around here. Luma, who laid her first egg on July 6th, has gifted us with 32 perfect brown eggs in the past 33 days. She has deposited each egg without mishap in the upper right-hand nest box. Egg laying seems to have mellowed her; she no longer runs to avoid us, investing her energy in hunting down treats instead.

Petunia, meanwhile, laid her first egg on July 28th and has taken two days off so far. In the days leading up to her first egg, Petunia became increasingly interested in Luma’s morning egg ritual. At the risk of audacious anthropomorphism, I would venture that Petunia was apprenticing, if you will—watching Luma in order to learn how to be a hen. On several occasions, she accompanied Luma into the coop, cackling with her over a new egg.

The morning before Petunia laid her first egg, I found Luma pacing up and down the run cackling to high heaven. Petunia had tucked herself into a nest box, practicing.

Petunia’s eggs are smaller than Luma’s, and white. The girls do not share a nest box. Instead, Petunia has set up camp in the upper left-hand box.

The girls’ eggs. Note the blood smear on Petunia’s first egg. Ouch!

Kelly and I have been enjoying lots of devilled eggs. We continue to talk about finding another hen to join the flock. I have suggested an Araucana. They’re said to be good layers, and the green eggs would allow us to keep track of each hen’s laying cycles.

Breaking News: Barred Rock Lays First Egg at 20 Weeks, Three Days

Luma, caught in mid-cluck just after consuming a special post-laying snack of sunflower seeds.

20 weeks to the day after bringing our Barred Rock chick, Luma, home, she laid her first egg this morning. She’s proved once and for all that she is the baby sister no longer, beating out our slightly older Barred Leghorn and claiming the title of “First Laying Hen”.

We suspected something was up when, last night, we discovered that the girls had removed the straw from their coop. This morning, while I was at the nursery picking up replacement pickling cucumbers (most of mine mysteriously died after planting out), Kelly called to report that Luma had disappeared into the coop and was again moving straw around.

Upon my return, I peeked into the nest boxes and discovered the most adorable little brown egg.

Luma’s first egg.

Seems the Barred Leghorn, Petunia, may be quick to follow Luma’s example. This afternoon she too went into the coop and scratched through the straw for some time. This is a behavior we’ve never witnessed in them before. They appear to be taking the prospect of motherhood quite seriously and are going to great lengths to prepare appropriate nesting sites.

Smaller than a bread basket.

I was particularly impressed that Luma deposited her first egg in a nest box, since I’ve heard stories of clueless young hens that don’t realize what’s happening and lay on the go. My only concern at this point is a large peck on top of the little egg, suggesting that Luma considered eating the egg before she thought better. Let’s hope she doesn’t make a habit of it.

Perhaps it took Luma a moment to realize that she was pecking at potential offspring. Or am I hopelessly anthropomorphizing?

Low Maintenance Gardening

You call that five foot tall pile of newly pulled weeds low maintenance???

We are done. We’re done with backbreaking labor and DIY projects that drag on for months (I won’t name names here, but it knows I’m talking about it). We’re done with spider mites in the greenhouse, and rats in the garage, and half blind city-squirrels that take a few bites out of each persimmon, apple, loquat, and fig. We’re done pulling Bermuda grass and digging ivy. And we’re done having piles of bee equipment in the kitchen and mountains of cardboard stockpiled against the back of the house.

Most of all, we’re done with our own minds and our tendencies toward stress and anxiety.

We’ve decided we need a garden slave (or at least a housemate who pays their rent in gardening services). The only sticking point is that Kelly is unwilling to live with them. As a compromise, we will endeavor to practice low maintenance gardening, something we have always strived toward, but virtually never achieved.

Low maintenance gardening, a five-step plan

1.  We will spend our gardening energy this summer tidying and catching up, rather than rooting around for more hair-brained projects to embark on.

2.  We will plant out only the starts we have in the greenhouse and will leave several beds mulched and fallow.

3.  We will thoroughly mulch the summer garden with leaves to cut down on watering.

4.  We will finish installing drip irrigation to further cut down on water use and time spent watering.

5.  We will spend time enjoying the garden and relaxing in it. (Bring on the iced tea and garden hammocks!)

My precious ‘Sweet Meat’ squash in its new home beside the chicken coop. (Notice the dutifully placed leaf mulch for lower maintenance plant care through the summer!)

Gardening has become a bit of a chore and a stressor. While I can’t imagine postponing time in the garden for when I am 70 or 80 and finally get to retire, something has to give.

There are baby cucumbers languishing in the greenhouse. There are beehives bursting at the joints, in need of honey supers and frames, and there is Kelly and me, utterly exhausted and miserable. Low maintenance gardening, here we come.

Mealworms Bite the Dust

I killed the mealworms. For months, I heard their rustlings as they navigated through layers of laying mash and newspaper. I dutifully gave them halved potatoes and cabbage leaves to keep the proper level of moisture. When the roosters moved away and the hens took up residence in their outdoor coop, I slipped. There’s no good excuse. I just wasn’t passing through the former chicken room as often, and the poor mealworms weren’t on my mind.

Then Kelly informed me that the rustlings had ceased. I went to take a look and found a crowd of dead beetles lying atop the mash. This is what I get for being too busy and too careless to notice. Rest in peace, mealworms.

The Pesky Chicken

Petunia is happiest when she’s off the ground, and shoulders are a top perching choice for her.

I never thought I’d tire of having our little Barred Leghorn flap up to perch on my shoulder. Petunia’s all feathers, really—a lean, spry little thing, no heavier than a loaf of bread.

She has toenails, though—sharp ones! And she has a powerful little beak and a bad habit of pecking the backs of our heads and shoulders in search of edible morsels. At first, she only flapped up occasionally, tilting her head from side to side to gauge the distance and strategize a flight path.

These days she’s more confident, arriving suddenly on our shoulders amidst a cloud of feathers and dust. This morning, Kelly wiped down scratches on my back with hydrogen peroxide after I took an ill-advised trip to open the coop wrapped only in a towel following my morning shower.

I’ve decided that Petunia takes us for granted, that she has come to see us as purveyors of treats and handy vantage points from which to catch a better glimpse of her surroundings. Kelly gives her the benefit of the doubt and remains convinced that Petunia is just highly social and enjoys our companionship. This may also be true.

I have to wonder, though, what her crash landings on our heads and shoulders will feel like when she is full grown and whether there is some way to train chickens in the etiquette of personal boundaries.

I’ve begun reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow, and take comfort in the knowledge that the book does contain a section on chicken training. I’ll keep you posted.