Ask the Expert — April/May 2016

Ask the Expert — April/May 2016

Can Dogs and Chickens Be Friends?

I would appreciate your advice of what species of poultry that I might consider acquiring in order to have the meanest type.

I have a two-year-old Blue Heeler and she has killed several chickens. Are turkeys or guineas more defensive, or is it a losing situation to think that a dog would stop attacking any poultry species once they have killed one?

— Les Storhaug

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Hi Les,
Well, we would suggest an ostrich. That might scare off the dog, but we doubt that’s going to be your best solution. Ultimately, we would suggest adding a fence to separate your dog and chickens. You are correct in your assumption that once dogs discover a taste for chickens, it is hard to ever be sure when that instinct will or will not return. So, our suggestion is to keep them apart at all times.

Blue Heelers are cattle dogs, which are generally okay with poultry, but there are always exceptions. If you’re looking for a good dog who can work with your poultry, breed and history do matter. Some dogs who have a higher prey drive should be lower on the list, including hunting dogs like terriers and retrievers, abused or mistreated dogs, and dogs that weren’t bred to be family animals, like Huskies. Shepherding dogs can be trusted more, and the Pyrenese and Akbash are among the most trustworthy, according to Marissa Ames, one of our expert poultry raisers and writers who lives out in Reno, Nevada. She added in a recent piece for us about it: “Age matters. This includes the age of both dog and chickens. When we started socializing our dogs with our chickens, we didn’t let them roam around together unless the chickens were full-grown. The dogs got their noses pecked and they learned from the bossier hens that they were not to be messed with. By the time we had this established, I started training them with the babies. And as stated earlier, Tater chased the chickens when she was younger. Now that she’s four years old, she doesn’t bother them at all.”

We also remind everyone that the master matters, too. Training is very key, and you have to teach your dogs to respect the chickens. And in the meantime, while you are training them, build that fence.

Good luck with your flock. We hope peace returns to them soon!

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Why is My Hen Not Eating Grain?

My one and only Transylvanian Naked Neck doesn’t seem to eat any of the grain that the other hens do; she loves greens though and will eat some of the scraps we put in, so it seems as though she doesn’t eat enough.

We let the hens out to free range for about an hour or two each afternoon and she pecks everywhere continually then, but because she doesn’t eat the grain that the others rush to, we wonder if she is getting enough food. She’s also forever going broody. She is very small but certainly very lively. The hens all feed together without any fights or pecking, so I believe they are happy and comfortable with each other. Any suggestions with broody hens, too?

Please advise.

— Sylvia White

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Hi Sylvia,
Unless you’re noticing other signs that she’s not healthy, then we wouldn’t worry. Chickens definitely have food preferences just like humans. So as long as she’s getting a balanced layer feed and plenty of fresh water, then she should be fine. We’d just make sure that when you’re giving everyone treats, you include some of her favorites, too.

We had a Partridge Cochin who went broody several times a year. We made  the decision to allow her to go broody each time. Here were our reasons. One, it’s really hard to break a broody hen. Sometimes it’s even impossible. Two, we had enough other laying hens that it didn’t hurt us to have fewer eggs. And three, she really didn’t interfere with any of our other hens. In the end, we accidentally got a rooster and our Cochin did get to hatch some eggs of her own. It was really cute!

It seems your hen is happy and healthy, so we wouldn’t worry too much about her. We would let her go ahead  and choose what she wants to eat. And,  as long as her broodiness doesn’t interfere, we would let her go ahead with being broody.

Ultimately, though, the decision is up to you. You can try to break her broodiness and try to make her eat other food, but we are not sure how successful those attempts will be.

Good luck!

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How Can I Stop An Egg-Eater?

My chickens are eating eggs. How can I stop them?

— Vanda

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Hi Vanda,

The good news is, it is preventable. By employing a few procedures and best practices, you can keep your chickens from digging in and stealing all your fresh eggs. We asked for advice from one of our writers, Colleen Anderson, who dealt with this issue — “I was really annoyed,” she wrote. (She writes a blog, Five Little Homesteaders, that we recommend.)

We will summarize her points. For one, make sure your chickens are getting enough protein and calcium. If deficient, both are reasons chickens will start turning to eggs for nutrition. Plus, this also ensures your birds are healthy, a bonus.

Second, collect the eggs frequently. Two to three times per day is recommended. Three, we recommend some tricks. One, you can fill an emptied egg with mustard, which will teach them quickly that other eggs might be nasty. (Trivia: Do chickens like mustard? Answer: Nope.) You can also put a round object into the nesting box that can’t be pecked open. This might distract them from the other ones, or teach them that eggs are unbreakable. Giving them things to peck at is always good advice, so they do not get bored.

Lastly, ensuring you only feed them crushed up eggshells (if you’re using them for calcium supplements) will help them not identify an egg as food.

Have fun with them.

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Does She Look Unusual?

answerman-1 answerman-2
Your input please. I bought two Rock Red sex-link chickens from a feed store two months ago. This odd little girl seems so round. Her tail is not growing much. Her sister has a tail but less than my other breeds. The round chick also comes up to me and is usually in the way when I work in the co-op. She likes to be picked up. Does she look unusual?

— Allie

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Hi Allie,
I think it’s great you have such a friendly chicken! I can’t tell much from the pictures except to say that she is missing her tail feathers. Without knowing more about her prior situation, it’s hard to tell why they are missing.

However, it does look like some are growing in. It’s also hard to tell her exact age but she’s not a young juvenile. I would make sure to give your new chickens lots of attention plus water and a good layer food. With time and care you should be able to see their full potential.

Good luck with them.

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A Nest Box For All?

Through the last couple of years, we have started to raise Rhode Island Red chickens in Northwest Ohio. My husband started with two hens and built a coop with two nest boxes, we now have four hens that we raised from chicks. These hens are starting to lay eggs, but not in the box. We found the egg in the pen by their food.

I keep telling my husband they need a clean box with lots of nesting material for each hen. He says two hens can share the same box by sitting on top or next to each other, since they do that at night when they go in the coop. I told him that’s why they laid the egg outside in the pen because they need a comfortable nesting area.

Can you please give us advice about hen laying? Thanks.

— Sophia Reineck

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Hi Sophia,
Your question made us laugh be-cause there are rules for chickens-to-nest-box ratios, but chickens don’t necessarily make those rules. And, that’s the fun part about having a back-yard flock!

The ratio we use is three to four birds per nest box. We’ve found, how-ever, that no matter how many nest boxes you provide, all the chickens will have the same favorite and they’ll all want to use it at the same time. So, you’ll see them hopping around on the floor in front of the nest box until the current occupant leaves. You’ll even see them double or triple up in the box because they just can’t wait for a turn. It’s something they don’t talk about in books, but most chicken keepers will see this happen in their coops.

It sounds like you’ve got a good ratio of chickens to nest boxes. The most important thing is to keep the nest boxes clean, and from there, the chickens will sort things out on their own. We would, however, discourage them from using the nest boxes at night since the nightly pooping can accumulate and create quite a mess.

Other than that, it sounds like you’re giving your chickens a good place to call home!

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Egg Strike?

We have been raising chickens for years and this is the first time I have gone without eggs for months! We have about 50 chickens of different breeds and sizes. We have had a mild winter so far. We stay on top of worming and mite problems, but don’t overdo it. We have then on Ware Mills Laying Pellets with no corn. But we are dumbfounded as to why this year we have gone through the last three to four months without eggs. They are in pens, and nothing can get in to the eggs to eat them. We are running out of ideas. Help is appreciated!

— J. Shaw

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It sounds like you have a full hen strike on your hands! It takes a little detective work, but often you can identify the reason for the strike. It can be related to stress and many other things. It’s important to remember that even when you identify and solve the problem, it can take your hens months to get on track again. So, you may be buying eggs for a while. Here’s an attempt to explain this phenomenon, and we hope it helps.

A few things can keep hens from laying, or trigger them to stop. Loud sudden sounds, predators or nutrition are great places to start. Some people see their hens stop laying when a construction zone moves in front of their home, or if landscaping work or other projects are occurring where power tools are in use for days at a time. Predators can also induce that level of fear.

Nutrition is the other key. If you tried a different feed or new feed, it can cause your flock to go into a tizzy and stop laying. Don’t go cold turkey, and blend any new feed with old feed gradually over the course of several days.

If those aren’t the obvious solutions, think about environmental issues like light, air quality or disease. If those aren’t it either, then it could also be related to a change in the pecking order if new birds are introduced. Giving them more space can often do the trick to get them back to being comfortable.

Molting can also be a trigger.

So, as you can see, it takes a lot of things to go right for chickens to lay eggs. You should be proud that this is the first time you’ve had such an issue. We hope this helps you investigate your flock, and gets them back to laying.

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What’s Going On Here?

bumblefoot
Please see the photo I included of a bump on my 2½-year-old Ameraucana hen’s foot. It is hard like a grain of corn and seems to be getting larger. How do I treat and prevent this? Thank you.

— Amy Daugherty

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Hi Amy,

It looks like your hen has a case of bumblefoot. When it’s hot, rainy, wet or humid, bumblefoot is pretty common. Just like your hands get soft when you sit in the bath too long, a chicken’s feet will soften as they walk around wet areas. Often, that softening creates a perfect way for cuts and infections to get into the foot, which after a while, turns into bumblefoot.

There is one other common cause of bumblefoot, and that’s the type of roost. A sharp roost or extremely narrow, the chicken can tear its foot just to hold on. Roosts should allow the bird to relax, so make sure their foot is not too curled.

Okay, but what to do? Bumblefoot is caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a staph infection, so you actually have to go in and give it a chance to get out of the body. Some will suggest cutting the wound open and removing any puss-filled materials. Others, who can’t stomach all that, recommend a more natural solution, which we’ll describe here. First, move your hen to a calm location away from a lot of distractions or threats. Then, holding her so she stays comfortable and does not hurt you, clean the area, using a Vetericyn spray or something similar, and wipe it down with a gauze pad or clean, soft rag. Then, using a sharp scalpel, scrape any scarring, and clean out the wound the best you can. You’re not doing sur-gery. You’re scraping away any infected skin and obvious bits of skin damage. Spray it again. After it’s dry, add some antibiotic ointment on the wound, and wrap it the best you can. Vet wrap works as a base, and works even better when a little electric tape (any weatherproof tape works) is applied as an outer layer.

Good work catching the injury, and best of luck addressing it and getting her back to health.

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Ask our poultry experts about your flock’s health, feed, production, housing and more!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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