Friday, June 29, 2012


I was never a bug person.  I never will be.  I have nothing against bugs and fully realize they have their place in our world.  They are an amazing part of the food chain and we'd be lost without them.  But I've been bitten and stung too many times.  And today, I have to carry epinephrin injectors to counter some bug venom so let's just just say, I'm not a fan.

Bugs can do as they please outside, but if you are going to live IN my house, you have to kick down towards the mortgage.  No $$ and out you go.  That's the rule.  Harsh?  Yes.  But it's expensive here in CA and I don't see why I should have to share my comfy little corner of the world with something that could potentially bite or sting me.

Most bugs get scooped up into a cup and set out on the front porch.  Those less fortunate, typically the bigger bugs, become a snack for one of my hens.  Cruel fate, but it's over quick and they probably never saw it coming.  And to those who still think chickens are stupid, you should see the stampede my chickens do when they see that red plastic cup in my hands.  Red plastic cup = BIG BUG!

Bugs, whether good or bad, are a part of nature and we're all going to have to deal with them on some level sooner or later.  My goal is not to rid the world of bugs, but to maintain a healthy balance.

Apparently, the last bag of feed I bought had moths.  Sooner or later, just about everyone who brings home these 50lb sacks of feed will have to deal with this.  Most likely, they were on the bag of feed and not actually in it.  Regardless of how they stowed their way into my garage, Monday, I saw one moth flittering around.  Tuesday, there were several and by Wednesday I had a full on infestation.

I tried to swat and smash them but there were too many.  One solution would have been to let the hens at them.  Unfortunately, the moths were mostly in the air and in the bag of sunflower seeds and I know had I put one up there, she would have just gorged herself on seeds.

Fortunately, these types of moths can be controlled rather easily with sticky traps for moths.  I'm not sure exactly what kind of moth I had.  Searching the internet brings up images of Grain and Indian moths that look very similar to what I have.  It really doesn't matter as they all fall into this flour or panty moth category.

I picked up one of these from the hardware store on my way home last night.  They are triangle shaped sticky traps that come with a small lure impregnated with female moth pheromones.

There are a few different brands but they all work on the same principle and I haven't found the one is better than another.

Within a few minutes of setting it up, I had a dozen moths.  This morning, both traps looked like this:

That little 1/2" red square dot on the left inside the trap is the pheromone lure.  They come sealed in a foil wrapper to keep them fresh.  You just tear open the packet and drop it into the trap.  It simply sticks to the sticky trap like the moths will once they come fluttering in. 

These work great in the kitchen too.  I'll typically leave one tucked in the cabinet with the flour and grains to nab anything that might decide to stow away into my home with the groceries.  They are inexpensive, non-toxic and they really work.

My only caution with these traps is that they are STICKY!  I would take care to keep them out of the reach of children and pets.  You can set them up high or even run a string through them and hang them.  I can see how a hen would be attracted to all those tiny little bugs and I'd hate to see her get her beak or feathers stuck on one of these.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

You MUST read this book

I can't remember if I blogged about this book or not.  And if I did, it certainly deserves another blog.  If you have a small flock of chickens or are thinking about getting a small flock for your back yard, you really MUST read this book.

And while it's more of a story than an instructional book, I found it to be the most accurate representation of what the small back yard chicken owner will face.  I also read more instructional books including Raising Chickens for Dummies and Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens.  Both are good books with lots of useful information and I'd encourage you to read one of them as well.

But I feel as though the information sourced for the instructional books, was from people with larger flocks.  And let's face it, those with larger flocks, say 15-20 chickens, and especially those with roosters, have a WHOLE different dynamic than those with 2-5 hens.  And expecially, those who consider those hens "pets".  Which you all know that I most certainly do.

For example, the instructional books tell you to introduce new chickens to your existing flock by tucking them into the hen house after dark and the older hens will simply wake up and think, hmmm, I don't remember you but okay, let's go get something to eat.  Well, that does NOT work when you have two hens.  And not only do I speak from experience, I have the scars to prove it.

I had the babies out in the run (but in their own pen) with the big girls for 6 weeks or so and tried to tuck one on the roost next to Coco and she attacked me.  She really went for me.  And that's just not like her.

Now maybe if I had a bigger house and two roost bars, one high for the senior birds and a lower roost for the junior birds.  But who knows.  My point is, I'm sure that technique works if you have 20, 30 or 100 birds.  But it does NOT work if you only have two.

My husband keeps telling me that I should write a book about my experience raising chickens.  I'm afraid that it would scare off those considering getting chickens.  But then I have had some wonderfully funny incidents too.

Just yesterday we had a service guy out at the house.  And he had to go into the back yard.  I said I'd go with him because my hens were out.  He stood there with this dumbfounded look on his face as though he had never seen chicken out of a "bucket" before.   Would you like to feel one, I asked?  They are incredibly soft.  But of course, when I called them, they ignored me.  My chickens always come when I call them.  You've seen a video of this.  I know they recognize him as a stranger and are ignoring me because they don't trust him.

And I don't want to go chase them because, well, I don't and the yard is muddy from the sprinklers.  So I disappear into the garage and return with the tub of giant meal worms.  Well, THAT got their attention and then next thing you knew, I had them all lined up at my feet staring up at me with this "Oh, yes please" look on their faces.

But back to the book.  I loved Martin's writing style and sense of humor.  I feel like we'd be best friends if we were co-workers comparing chicken stories.  It's an easy read and easy to find on sale at or other used book sources as it's been out for several years.  You might even check with your local library.  But I do think you will all enjoy it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Are broody hens contagious?

But first I want to give everyone an update on Spice.  She seems to be okay.  She still pants w/ her beak open each afternoon when the other hens are not.  But she's eating and drinking and laying eggs.  Her weight feels good.  Beside the panting, she likes to come stand up on the patio and just stand there.  Instead of going out into the garden to scratch with her sisters.  And she REALLY makes a ruckus over laying an egg which makes me wonder if it's painful for her.  But I'm going to just leave her be until we have a clear sign of there being a problem.

Egg production was definitely off last week.  I was thinking that Ginger hadn't laid at all.  But now I think she was laying smaller than normal eggs which was throwing me off.  At first I blamed it on mourning the loss of Sugar.  But now I think they were protesting my transitioning them from crumbles to pellets.  Or maybe we've got some broody hormones raging.

Friday afternoon Honey disappeared into her favorite nest.  She was still there after dinner and hadn't moved by 10pm.  I wasn't concerned until she was still there the following morning.  So I scooped up my 6lb ball of feathers from the nest and was a bit concerned at how limp she was.  But when I got my hand under her, I felt it.  Bare skin.  She's plucked her breast and tummy bare of feathers.  CLASSIC sign of a broody hen.

Honey's nest with her breast feathers and her prized purple egg.  (Shhh, it's plastic.  Don't tell her.)

I really hate to mess with my hens but I'm not ready for a broody.  And honestly, at 6.5 months of age, I don't think Honey is ready to be a mamma just yet either.  I've read that one way to break a broody is to  block off access to their nest to deter them.

Honey puffed up to twice her normal size giving her best stink eye to the plastic flower pot that is blocking her nest.  Apologies for beer box advertisement.  I was simply looking for things in the garage and garden to put in her nests and you have to admit, the size was perfect.

So here are the nests all blocked with random things from the garage and garden.  And I'm happy to report that today, no more broody.  Or so I thought.  I go to collect eggs, and there's one.  One lonely egg, when there should be three.  And then I notice that Coco has lined her nest with black downey feathers from her breast.

Oh boy.  Is broodiness contagious?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Photos of my girls

There's no change here with the girls.  Spice seems stable.  She is still easily excited in to a wheezing and open beak panting in the afternoon.  She will also scream, like she might be in pain, if I squeeze her in the fluffy butt region.  But she continues to lay eggs.  So I don't know what to think.

Ginger has not laid an egg in near a week.  I gave her a good feel up tonight and feel nothing wrong with her.  She's happy-go-lucky, eating, drinking, her tail up high.  Can a hen really turn off her ability to lay eggs?

I did feel that the hens were in some state of mourning when Sugar did not return.  Ask me to put that into words and I cannot.  But there was a change in their behavior and attitude this week and only tonight do I feel they are starting to come around.

Coco eating her final dose of medicine on Monday.  There was never an issue getting her to take her medicine.  She's a food eating machine.  She'll eat just about anything you put in front of her. 
Coco would prefer I not pick her up but she'll tolerate it.  She's a beautiful bird.  And being a Jersey Giant, she's a BIG girl.  I never cease to be amazed at what girth she has to her.
Sweet Ginger.  Never minds being picked up and cuddled.

Honey Bear also love to be picked up and is so very affectionate.

And finally, Spice.  Doesn't mind being held.  But isn't as big of a snuggler as Ginger and Honey Bear.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

No worms

The vet just called.  The girls do not have worms.

You'd think I'd be elated to hear this but I was really hoping that they did.  It would explain this random behavior change.  Spice seemed a bit better last night.  But now Ginger seems off.  And hasn't laid an egg since we put Sugar down.  Could she be mourning?  She always pecked at the Bunkies so I assumed she didn't like them.  But perhaps she really did love them?

The vet seems most concerned w/ her panting in the afternoon and not the morning and asked that I bring Spice inside where it's cool to see what she does.  So I'll give that a try.  But I really don't think that's it.  I mean, Sugar was panting and I brought her to the vet's office where it was nice and cool and we were there for hours and she only panted and wheezed harder.

But I'll give it a try.  Can't do any harm.  Sugar was full of fluid that was compressing her lungs.  That's why she was wheezing.  And when I give Spice a squeeze she feels fuller than she should and she screams at me and tenses up like it's painful.

I really feel the wheezing is a secondary effect of the "real" issue.  What ever that may be.

So I'm going to just let this ride for a while and see what pans out.  I really don't know what else to do.  I'm still beating myself up for not sending Sugar to UC Davis.  I will always regret that decision.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I could REALLY use your help

We had Sugar put down last week.

She just wasn't improving and the vet said that the fluid inside of her was solidifying and she couldn't drain it.

Just to quickly recap, she was showing signs of respiratory distress.  But the vet cultured her and it came back negative.  Xrays that showed she was full of fluid that was compressing her lungs making it difficult to breath.  She did drain off fluid the week before and it was milky, like egg white material.

We both agreed that she probably had a problem w/ her reproductive system and that there was nothing I did wrong and that it probably wasn't contagious.  So I opted to give her a proper burial and not send her off for a necropsy.

But now I'm really kicking myself.

I let the remaining four Spice Girls out yesterday for some garden time and watched as Spice  was visibly panting when the others were not.  Later, when I picked her up to give her her medicine she screamed at me.  A sound that I have only heard Sugar make.  And when I gave Spice a bit of a squeeze in the vent area, she screamed again.  And tensed up like she was in pain.

Oh boy, here we go again.

So now I'm just kicking myself for not sending Sugar off for a necropsy.  Because it really appears that Spice has the exact same thing.

So here's the deal.  She's a 6 1/2 month old Buff Orpington.  She's got free access to layer rations and fresh water all day long.  And I also have out a bowl of oyster shells.  She's eating, drinking and pooping just fine.  Nothing odd there.  She's also laying beautiful eggs.

I give them a treat every afternoon, usually a handful of Black Oiled Sunflower Seeds.

The only thing I can think of that is different in the last 6 weeks is that I started giving them 50% pellets and 50% crumbles in the hopes of switching them over to pellets.  I was assured that the pellets were the EXACT same formula as the pellets.

And three weeks ago, I bought a lead free drinking water safe hose from a camper store and started to fill their water w/ that instead of lugging it from the garage.

I posted to BYC and had a few people reply that she could have Fatty Liver Disease.  Which does cause leakage into the body cavity.  It kind of sounds plausible.  But I have 2 1.5 year old hens who I've treated this way for the whole time I've had them.  If it's Fatty Liver Disease, why wouldn't have have come down with it before it?

If anyone has ANY suggestions, ideas, ANYTHING, I'd love to hear from you.  I have a note out to my vet to see what she says.  I can't keep tossing these kinds of $$$'s at my hens.  But I do need to get to the root of this.  And I will DEFINITELY have Spice sent for a necropsy if she does parish so we can get some more factual info to work with here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sugar is REALLY sick

Three days into antibiotics and Sugar was really no better.  She wasn't worse, but I wasn't willing to go the whole weekend watching her wheeze and struggle to breath.  So off to vet we went.

I LOVE my vet.  I love the entire staff at West Valley Pet Clinic in San Jose.  I've never really had a pet before.  Not one I had to take to the vet so this has been a whole new experience for me.  The staff treat me as though my pet chicken is their favorite pet in the whole wide world.  But I know for a fact they treat lots of chickens, so that just can't be the case.  But it sure makes me feel special when I'm there.

So after some xrays and a culture, it was determined that Sugar does indeed have a nasty respiratory infection.  She also had an abdomen full of fluid.  Which is not good.  It's unclear if that is a side effect of the respiratory infection or if she has something wrong with her reproductive system.  So the doctor drained her abdomen, gave her some medicine to help make her more comfortable, and lubed up her vent as she had one HUGE egg ready to pass and she just wanted to make that as easy as possible for her.

My hens are so big and fluffy that seeing an xray of them is really quite fascinating.  You can so clearly see all their bones, their lungs, their digestive track and the egg that is ready to pass in addition to the next egg that is already starting to form.  How they get a chicken to lay still for an xray is beyond me.

But back to Sugar, the Vet sent me home with a big bottle of antibiotics and five different syringes.  One for each hen and each marked with the exact dosage that hen must receive twice daily.  I'm desperately trying to simplify my life and this is NOT helping.

I successfully got them to eat it mixed up in some wet feed.  Tonight, I mixed it in with some egg and they gobbled that down.  So I think I have this figured out.  I do have to let the hens out one at a time to give this to them.  Otherwise, it's a mass feeding frenzy and I can't control who's getting what.  Not to mention, Sugar gets an additional does of anti-imflamatory meds to help ease her wheezing.

And I must say, I noticed an improvement right way.  She was no longer open mouth breathing 24 hours later.  Here we are three days later and her wheezing is MUCH improved.  I can still hear it if I pick her up and hold her up to my ear.  But she's so much better.

What amazes me is that she's continued to lay eggs through this whole experience.

The three amigos.  Sugar is closest, Honey Bear is in the middle and Spicy is on the far end.  They separate a little more, especially in the garden as they each have their favorite plants to inspect.  But they always come back to a big preen session and nap together.

Photo of me after giving everyone their medicine.  Honey Bear was first to hop up in my lap.  Ginger, who does NOT like to share me, hopped up next to peck at Honey and try to get her to move.  That's why I've got my hands around her to protect her.  Then Spice jumped up just to really mess with Ginger.  Notice how red Ginger's face, comb and wattles are?  She gets really red when she's angry and she's not happy about sharing me.