Ask the Expert — April/May 2017

Ask our Poultry Experts About your Flock's Health, Feed, Production, Housing, and More

Treating a Wound from a Predator

My dear chickens have had two predator attacks in the past few weeks, resulting in some head feathers being ripped off one of my Ameraucana hens. It healed and we put her back in the coop. The next day her head was quite swollen on one side. This resulted in her being unable to open her eye; she is now in our basement. We don’t know if it’s infected or there is something wrong. Please get back to us as soon as you can. I don’t know what to do. I’m not that experienced, but please help! It’s much worse now than in the picture at this point.

— Aislinn Korb

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Hi Aislinn,

It’s so sad to hear about the predator attacks! It’s hard to diagnose from a picture, but it seems like your hen has some type of infection from the wound. Bite marks can certainly spread germs. And open wounds are an invitation to infection. It’s a good idea to try calling a local veterinarian. Even if they don’t normally take chickens, an infection isn’t just specific to chickens so they should be able to handle the situation. If you’re having trouble finding a veterinarian, try looking for one that treats pet birds. Although not exactly the same, it’s similar enough that they may treat your hen.

Until your doctor’s appointment, try drawing out the infection with a warm, not overly hot, compress at the wound site. Make sure the wound is clean and then cover it with Neosporin. Do this two to three times a day.

Good luck with your hen! Here’s to a speedy recovery!

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Is Treated Wood Safe?

I have been wondering for years, is pressure-treated wood exposed to chickens harmful?

— Keith Eisenbarth, Sardis, Ohio

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Hi Keith,

There haven’t been reports saying that pressure-treated wood caused “x” problems in chickens. There has been evidence of the chemicals (esp. arsenic) leaching out of the wood into the surrounding soil, which then could be ingested by the chickens, or plants grown in that soil could be ingested by the chickens. The fear is that trace amounts might be transferred to the eggs. It’s hard to find any data showing this (arsenic in the eggs) — it’s more of a theoretical possibility.

Indeed, in the past, some arsenic compounds used to be fed to prevent coccidiosis in meat chickens. It is no longer used for this purpose, but this was mostly due to the concerns about its buildup in the environment after the litter was applied to the fields. There was some research showing very low, but measurable, levels of arsenic in chickens actually fed those diets.

The arsenic treatment (CCA) has not been allowed for use in wood sold for residential or general consumer uses since January 2004, but some older wood could still potentially have had it. (It can still be used for poles, bridge pilings, etc.) The newer pressure treatment (Alkaline copper quaternary or ACQ) doesn’t use arsenic and is considered much less toxic.

The new pressure-treated lumber is most likely not a concern for use with chickens.

One other note — the new treatment can be corrosive to metal fasteners (screws, etc.), so if you’re using it, you may want to check to make sure you’re using the proper hardware.

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Disinfecting After Marek’s Disease

I recently lost my last two nine-year-old hens to Marek’s disease — one from the ocular form (she was vaccinated) and the other from the neural form (she was not).

What is the best method for disinfecting the coop/run? I know the virus remains viable for years. My veterinarian said anything that is used for Parvo would be sufficient. I have checked several disinfectants and most indicate “do not use on untreated wood.” I do have several unpainted areas in the coop, so I will clean and then paint those first. My run is large (20’x40′) and completely wire fenced, including the top. It is dirt and there are several large rocks. I don’t know if it is possible for a disinfectant to work on organic matter (soil/rocks) and I would need one that is also noncorrosive on metal wire. If I have to resort to just sunlight and disturbing the soil, how long would you recommend waiting before introducing new, vaccinated birds? I had planned on waiting until spring 2018. Is steam a viable option against this virus?

Thank you for your help with this.

— Gail Frank

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Hi Gail,

It sounds like these hens did pretty well if they lived to nine years old!

As you mentioned, Marek’s disease virus is very common in the environment and can remain viable for a long time. According to some old studies, the virus does seem to be pretty vulnerable to several cleaning agents. Chlorine (sodium hypochlorite, or bleach), quaternary ammonia, phenolics, and cresols all seemed to be effective. Typically, the phenolics and cresols tend to do better in the presence of organic matter. Getting the sanitizer to the virus may be the most difficult thing, as little bits of dust can settle in lots of nooks and crannies.

Heat (and especially moist heat) was somewhat effective, too. When stored at four degrees C (so just above freezing), the virus remained infective for at least two years. At 37.5 C (so close to 100 F), and at 80% humidity, it was no longer infective after one week. Steam may be a solution, though it’s unclear how long you’d need to use it. This study didn’t do any tests shorter than one week, from what they reported.

Again, one of the biggest issues with any of these is getting rid of as much dust and feathers as possible first. The virus spreads in the feather follicle tissue, so any dust that contains dander is likely infective. Even vaccinated chickens continue to spread the virus, if they are infected — they just don’t show symptoms of the disease. It’s important to note, however, that the vaccination itself is a different virus (turkey herpes virus), so vaccinating won’t introduce Marek’s disease into a flock. It’s just that if the chicken becomes infected, the vaccination won’t stop them from spreading Marek’s.

Certainly, if you are able to get vaccinated chicks, that is the best solution. If not, keeping them isolated from dust from any other chickens is good biosecurity. In places where other chickens are around, it may be difficult to completely eliminate exposure to Marek’s disease virus. It is thought to be present in most places throughout the world.

Good luck with a new flock!

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The Best Way to Clean Eggs

What is the correct way to clean eggs? I have read various ways but I’m not sure which is the best way.

— belenjeske

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Hi there,

Fresh eggs have a bloom which surrounds them and keeps bacteria from entering the egg. Washing your eggs removes this layer of protection and leaves them vulnerable.

The best advice is to help make sure your eggs aren’t dirty in the first place. Make sure you give your hens plenty of clean bedding to protect the eggs. Remove the eggs often throughout the day. And, don’t let your hens sleep in the nest boxes since they will defecate during the night and soil the bedding.

With that said, it’s inevitable that your eggs will get dirty at some point. This is especially a problem in wet weather when hens come in from outside and have dirty feet. If your eggs are soiled, it’s best to wash them in warm, running water. Don’t scrub too hard. Just lightly use your fingertip to remove soiled spots. Dry your eggs gently and then immediately store them in the refrigerator. It’s a good idea to eat the washed eggs first.

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Keeping Your Flock Safe

Last year it was raccoons, opossums and maybe a fisher who raided and took half my chickens — 20 in number! They even opened the door to one coop! We hired a professional trapper to eliminate the problems. Since my husband’s death four years ago, my chickens give me a reason to get up and get going every morning. New year, new problem! I watched a Peregrine falcon as he captured one of my two little brown bantam hens, just outside my kitchen window! Falcons are protected; my chickens are not. No, I cannot fence them and cover the pen with a net, as the Game Commission suggested. I need my chickens to free range, to control fleas and ticks around my house. I am hoping for a wonderful way to discourage the falcon.

Many thanks,

— Grace Mack

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Hi Grace,

Your frustration is understandable. It’s important to reinforce something you mentioned. Birds of prey are a protected species, so you can’t legally harm them in any way.

With that said, there are ways to help. For more information, there is a link below to an article we have online about protecting chickens from hawks. For the most success, use a number of different methods at the same time. Put scarecrows in your yard and move them frequently. A fake owl, purchased from a local farm store and moved frequently, can be helpful. A diligent rooster is always watching the sky and warning the ladies if danger is near. And perhaps best of all, provide your flock with lots of cover including shrubs and standing structures, like a deck, where the flock can take cover.

How to Protect Chickens from Hawks

Standard-size chickens are not a favorite for most hawks and falcons as they’re often too big to make an easy meal. But, bantam chickens are another story. They are the same size as many of the wild birds that hawks and falcons eat on a regular basis. With a healthy raptor population, you may want to consider switching from bantams to standards in the future.

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REPLY: Thank you! We have them all: raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes even an occasional fisher! Last summer we hired a professional trapper after half of my chickens were victims. 36 varmints left with him! We have used old CD discs to discourage hawks around the coops, but Mr. Falcon was right outside my kitchen window! I think he has cleaned out all the chickens and pigeons and the coyotes have taken all the small rodents in our area, so I think the falcon has to look hard for his food source. I really appreciate all the information and we will be considering all our options!

— Grace

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Can a Guard Goose Be Effective?

Which variety of goose is a better selection for chicken flock protection?

— Jeff

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As you probably know, geese are naturally territorial and they will defend their space if threatened. They can be an effective watchdog for a flock of chickens. Interestingly, when people use geese to protect their flocks, they will normally have just one goose and raise it with the chickens. The theory behind this is that if you have more than one goose, they will bond together and become a flock unto themselves with little concern for your chickens. A single goose will bond with the chickens and they become part of its territory.

Some people have favorite goose breeds for guard duty, but just as many say that any goose will do the job. When you’re considering a breed, you may want to pick a larger and louder goose since protection is your goal. Mixed breeds work well too.

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Success with Pekin Duck Hatching?

I have a Pekin duck fertility question for you. I remember reading that female turkeys “contain” so they only actually have to couple with the tom once. I was wondering if ducks are the same way? And if so, how long would she still lay fertile eggs?

I have a pair of Pekin ducks. She lays a lot of eggs and sits on them quite often. The cage is 7’x7’x4′ high, with a 3′ wide x 7′ shelf to run around on. I have a small pond for them (a concrete mixing tub) and they love it. I am wondering as I am able to hatch the eggs, maybe he is bothering her so much that she does not sit long enough?

If she is fertile after a coupling for a few days, I was thinking of moving him to the other side of the cage and giving her time and peace to perhaps raise the ducklings.

Thank you for your time

— John Bailey

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Hi John,

Ducks are about the same as chickens. Both are prey animals and are designed to make the most of their reproductive capabilities. A duck can lay fertile eggs for about two weeks after she is separated from a drake. Once she lays an egg, it has about 10 days or so before it starts to lose its viability.

With that said, you can try separating the female. Pekins, and really most domestic ducks, aren’t generally known for being broody. In order for them to set, they usually want a dozen or even more eggs in their nest before they’d consider the task.

Good luck with your hatching!

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Help! My Hens are Dying! 

My husband and I have been raising hens for about five years. We purchased laying hens from a hatchery and they were 22 weeks old. They were Barred Rocks and Ameraucanas. They are now 10 months old. We have never had any problems at all with any of our hens until now. In the last few months, we have had three hens die. They eat well and have a good yard to stay in during the day and are penned up at night. We feed them regular laying pellets and some cracked corn and treats. We have red wood cedar shavings and pine shavings on the floor. They have water with some cider vinegar in it. We have found three hens just sitting on the floor, not moving and eyes closed and they gradually die. No distress at all. Please help if you can. I need to find out what is the problem before we lose them all. Thanks!

— Wanda Duncan

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Hi Wanda,

It is definitely frustrating to have chickens die and not have a good explanation for it. From your description, it sounds like your hens are well cared for. In situations like this, it’s important to remember that chickens are prey animals and they are flock animals, so typically you don’t see symptoms of illness until your birds are quite sick.

Your best course of action would be to find a place to have your birds that have passed away necropsied. A necropsy is like an autopsy for animals. Hopefully, the necropsy will allow you to determine what caused your birds to die and allow you to treat the rest of your flock if necessary. If you’re unsure of where a necropsy can be done, a good place to check is your local extension agency. Often they will have a list of resources for your area. If it’s too late for a necropsy, then it’s important to watch the rest of your birds carefully. If you start to see symptoms of illness, then a veterinarian will be able to diagnose what’s happening.

Wishing you the best of health for your remaining flock!

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How to Use an Antique Egg Scale

My husband and I have chickens and received an egg scale for Christmas. It’s a vintage “Unique” scale made by “Specialty Mfg. Co.” Unfortunately it came without instructions. Does anyone on staff know how this scale works? Thanks so much!

— Cheryl Burrier

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Hi Cheryl,

What a great Christmas present!

The models vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they’re really meant to weigh individual eggs to see how large they are. After looking up Specialty Mfg. Co. vintage egg scales online, it looks like it works by laying the egg on the metal oval disk on one side of the scale. The weight of the egg will push the lever so it lands at the egg’s appropriate weight. (That’s hard to describe, so hopefully this makes sense.) Depending on the condition of your scale, it may or may not work accurately. But regardless, vintage egg scales are a great piece of the history of egg production in our country.

Enjoy your scale!

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Stopping a Determined Broody

I am having a problem with an Orpington hen, who was sitting on her eggs, but the eggs were removed, and she has been crying for them and won’t stop! My husband has been trying to discourage her, but she refuses to believe that they are gone! (That has been for over a week, and she had laid the eggs in our garden, on top of some stones, so she keeps sitting on those stones, and won’t go back to her coop!) I’m concerned about her eating and drinking, as she doesn’t seem to care about food or water, just her ‘babies’ who are gone. What can we do to help her realize that they are gone?

— Patricia Barboza

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Hi Patricia,

The main concern for your hen is being unprotected from the elements and predators. The best place for her at night is inside a predator-proof coop. If the pile of rocks she’s sitting on is inside a protected area, then try removing a rock each day until there are no more rocks for her to set. Also make sure to remove her from the rocks a couple times each day so she can get some exercise and some food and water. If the area where she’s setting isn’t protected then you can try two things. One, just remove her from the rocks in the evening before dark and put her in the coop. She will make a fuss, but it’s paramount she’s safe. You could also take the rocks and move them into the coop for her to set there. Sometimes just the movement of the “nest” will break her broodiness.

Good luck with your hen. It seems like she’s one determined broody!

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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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