Ask Our Experts
From the June/July 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry, and regularly vetted for accuracy.
MOVING A NEST
When a nest is found, can the eggs be moved, and will the mother sit on them?
What kind of nest did you find? Domestic poultry or a wild bird?
The answer to all of this is, “It depends.” The wilder the bird is, the stronger its instincts toward self-preservation. Often, wild animals that feel threatened will abandon a situation where they haven’t yet invested much parental effort. If you moved a wild bird’s nest, that bird may feel in danger since humans are predators, and the bird may never sit on the eggs again. Once the eggs hatch, the parents often feel a stronger bond and will parent/protect the nest more.
But that can vary based on species; where one fights to protect its babies, another has evolved to lay more eggs a its biological answer to predation and therefore will abandon the endangered nest to save itself.
If you’re talking about domestic poultry, then the answer is, again, “It depends.” Some breeds go broody very often, and stay broody for so long, that you have to physically restrict them from a nest if you don’t want them to hatch eggs. I once had a Narragansett turkey that lost so much weight after staying on a nest for four months that I gave her duck eggs just so she would hatch them and start eating regularly again. I had removed her from the nest so many times, but I couldn’t break her broodiness. And I had a
Lavender Ameraucana chicken that went broody so often that I could never depend on her for eggs, but she raised about four shipments of chicks for me each year. Another chicken, a Black Australorp, stopped being broody the moment I moved her nest. I wanted chicks from her, but when I put the eggs in a safer location, she decided not to hatch them.
If you’ve encountered a wild nest, it’s best to leave it alone. You can add some implements to make the nest safer, though, without moving it — such as rocks and fencing that camouflage the nest better. You can even do this with poultry when you don’t want to break the broodiness. I built a cage around a turkey’s nest because she had a specific area where she wanted to hatch her eggs, so I brought in some small fencing panels to predator-proof her little area. And some hens will do great if you put a nest within a dog crate, put the hen in the crate, and close the crate door until the hen
gets reacquainted with her new location.
Though I haven’t provided a strong “yes” or “no,” I hope I’ve provided enough information to help you decide whether to move the nest.
We have two hen turkeys that are 2 months old and have balance problems when they walk. They are staggering; what could be causing this? We give them turkey starters and mealworms every couple of days. We also put a probiotic for game birds in their water. What else can we try?
First, I’d like to suggest a possible vitamin deficiency. Are you giving them a poultry multivitamin? You can add Rooster Booster or Nutri-Drench for Poultry into their water. Deficiencies usually correct within a week, once the birds have adequate vitamins. Even if your birds are suffering from other issues, the vitamins won’t hurt because they are water-soluble and will pass through their intestinal tract easily.
More serious possibilities are coryza or mycoplasma infections. Are you noticing additional symptoms such as runny noses; swollen sinuses, joints, and/or wattles; and foamy eyes? You’ll need to have a blood test or PCR test to
confirm. Antibiotics will bring mycoplasma symptoms under control but not clear birds of the disease, which can appear again later in life.
Bordetellosis (turkey coryza) is a respiratory disease, so you’ll see respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and open-beak breathing.
Why are my scrambled eggs turning blue?
There are several reasons why cooked eggs have a bluish tint, but it is all related to chemical reactions with heat. Scrambling eggs at a high temperature, especially in a cast iron skillet, is more likely to create a reaction between sulfur and iron, which brings out the sulfur-blue color. Hard-boiled eggs will also often have a blue-green tint around the yolk,
which is the same sulfur reaction to heat. The eggs are safe to eat, unless you react badly to sulfur, but you’re probably not eating eggs then anyway.
REFRIGERATED EGGS FOR WATERGLASSING
Can I waterglass farm-fresh eggs after they’ve been refrigerated?
We do not recommend waterglassing eggs that have been refrigerated. It’s best to use fresh (within one week), clean, unwashed eggs. Check eggs carefully for cracks. And be sure to use chlorine-free water.
My one-week-old duckling is “low in the pasterns,” walking on her knees rather than her ankles. She is bright, holds her head up well, eats and drinks, but chirps loudly very often, unlike her quiet roommates.
Ducklings that “walk low,” have bowed legs, or enlarged hock joints are usually suffering from a niacin (B3) deficiency. You can offer them niacin-rich foods such as peas, sweet potatoes, tuna fish packed in water, cooked salmon, sardines packed in water, pumpkin, or nutritional yeast. There are also niacin-fortified feeds available for ducks. Be sure you’re not also feeding medicated feed to ducklings, as it restricts niacin to dangerous levels in waterfowl. Make sure that they also have lots of fresh, clean water to drink so their bodies can process the niacin. Niacin is water soluble and so you’ll need to offer fresh niacin every day until the symptoms resolve.
I think one of our little chicks may have vent gleet, but am not sure how bad it is or if that is actually what’s going on. Can you help?
Vent gleet doesn’t usually happen with small chicks. If you notice swelling, discharge, or poop clinging to their bottom, it’s more like to be pasty butt in chicks. You can soak their bottom in warm water and gently wipe away the poop. Never pull at it, just go slow and wipe it away as the water hydrates and loosens it.
Vent gleet is a cloacal fungal infection (Candida albicans) and is characterized by a sticky, yellow, whiteish paste-like discharge, crusting on the tail feathers, and a strong, unpleasant odor. The treatment is similar to pasty butt: Put two tablespoons of Epsom salts into a bowl of warm water and soak your hen’s
bottom. Gently wipe away any loosened discharge.
Quarantine the bird. You can then choose several different treatments, depending on what you’re comfortable with. VetRX, a homeopathic remedy using essential oils, is often recommended, gently applied to the outside of the vent.
Canesten antifungal cream is another option, also gently applied to the vent. Plenty of clean, fresh water is best, and consider giving the infected bird a probiotic.
Finally, check the coop area for any molded food or bedding. Remove it, clean the area with soap and water, air dry, and then put down fresh bedding. Whenever it’s damp, check for mold and clean it up right away. Good luck!
I had three of my chickens killed inside of my coop. Went in during the day, heard a noise, looked up inside near the ceiling, and noticed a brown weasel.
I checked for holes and spaces it might have gotten in. Then nothing happened for four days. I just went in my coop this afternoon and seven of my hens were dead inside of my coop. I’m so sad I lost my girls, but one of them was unhurt. I did try to catch it but no luck. I’m not sure how to get rid of this weasel. I could use help to get this thing out.
Sorry to hear about your loss. Weasels are indeed weasely. They can squeeze through very small spaces, and they like to dig. Check around all the edges to see if there are small holes. You can bury ¼-inch hardwire under the bottom edge of the coop to limit digging. Also check for small holes under the coop eaves, and around the edges of doors. Add hardwire anywhere you see small gaps. You can try live trapping the weasel and then calling your local branch of Fish and Game, or a local pest control company.
My wife and I have raised chickens for many years at our farm in Virginia. Lately, we’ve noticed broken eggs in the nesting boxes. We also have noticed that the eggs have become fragile and will break when you handle them. Are we not giving the hens the nutrients they need? We have used layer feed from Tractor Supply and wonder if the feed they supply has been comprised and has resulted in the breaking of eggs. It’s not all the eggs but enough to be concerned about. These hens are free-range. Hope you can help.
Thin eggshells are most often the result of too much phosphorus, too little calcium, and/or too little vitamin D3. You are already using a layer feed, which has most of the needed nutrients, but sometimes you have to add some
extra calcium, especially for laying hens. You can put out a small dish with crushed oyster shells in it and let the birds choose how much they need. In the winter, you can add a bit more vitamin D to their diet, but they won’t need this in the summer months if they’re outside during the day. Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, offer it in the form of nutritious foods such as cod liver oil and/or tuna or salmon.
Check that your birds are calm, and seem to feel secure. If they are nervous or feel threatened, their egg-laying cycle can get interrupted, leading to oddly shaped or thin shells.
How do you stop bullying in the flock?
Bullying usually resolves itself among hens. It’s jockeying for the pecking order. You can try separating several birds into their own mini-flock for a while and see if that changes the group dynamic. How much space do the hens have?
You also might try adding some extra “entertainment” into their run. A head of cabbage hung from a string so they have to jump a bit to peck it will keep them busy and distracted.
Here’s an article that may help and give you more detailed information: https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/flock-files/a-chickens-five-basic-needs/
I would like to know what kind of rooster this is. We
got him before his spurs came out; he has them now,
but no one seems to know what kind he is. His name is
Marlin, and he’s about a year and a half old.
Thanks so much for sending us the clear headshot. That really helps. Marlin is definitely a Speckled Sussex. The other possibility we considered was a Jubilee Orpington, but his comb would be shorter and his feathers longer, curlier, and fluffier.
PUPPIES AND POOP
I have backyard chickens and a new puppy. How much
should I be concerned about the puppy being in the same
area where the chickens roam (not at the same time)? I
don’t know how much to be concerned about salmonella
or other bacteria from the ground for my puppy.
You are smart to take some precautions with your puppy.
Dogs like to taste things, and your dog can get salmonella from eating chicken poop. We’d recommend keeping your dog on a leash around your birds while you are training them.
There are several methods recommended for training dogs around chickens: Stop and Pull, Restrain and Reward, and the Drop Method. You can choose which method works best for you and your dog. Training lets you teach them how to act around your poultry, and not to eat poop, especially as a pup. Symptoms of salmonella in dogs include fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. This article may help you with training and give you some ideas for how to work with your dog.
Let us know how it goes! And feel free to send pictures!
I was wondering how you clean your chickens’ poopy butts.
The best way is the gentle way. Soak the chicken’s butt in warm water and gently wipe off the poop as it loosens. Never pull at the poop as that can damage their vent. Just keep soaking and wiping until all of the poop is removed. You can also trim feathers away from the vent. If poopy butts are a frequent problem, and the poop is white, consider treating for vent gleet.
Are nandina berries toxic to chickens?
Nandina berries (Nandina domestica), also known colloquially as Sacred Bamboo or Heavenly Bamboo, are bright red berries that contain cyanide and other alkaloids that produce highly toxic hydrogen cyanide (HCN).
If your birds eat just a couple of berries, they can detoxify the cyanide. But consuming large quantities of berries is dangerous. The USDA (and many states) classify nandina as a non-native, invasive species. If you really like the plant in your yard, you can trim off the fruit clusters to keep your
birds from consuming them.
BUGS AND SPRAY
I have teeny (barely pinhead-size) black critters jumping on me when I go in to gather eggs. I find them on me later. They have buried their heads in my skin and itch; there are black dots around my chickens’ heads and eyes.
Their legs look clean. I didn’t think mites or lice jump! And I’ve never had fleas bury their heads in my skin like a tick! What are these and how do I get rid of them? I’ve resorted to spraying my boots with Off! before gathering eggs, but still find one or two on my boots. I bought some Elector PSP but haven’t used it yet. Is this what I need?
I think Elector PSP is a good idea if you have cats, since permethrin (which is the active ingredient in most other livestock dusts/sprays) is toxic to cats. But be aware that Elector PSP may take a couple of days to work, so you won’t see the results as soon as you would if you used permethrin. Whether using spinosad (Elector PSP), permethrin, or diatomaceous earth, wear breathing protection and treat chickens in a ventilated area, such as taking them into the run to dust them, plus chasing them out of the coop when you treat the bedding and corners.
FEED FOR NON-LAYERS
What’s the best type of feed for my chickens who are not laying?
There are several reasons why chickens stop laying.
Winter — some breeds will keep laying in the colder months, some will slow down, and some breeds (especially Bantams) will stop laying altogether until the weather warms up again. It takes a lot of energy to produce an egg,
so in the colder months, chickens use that energy to keep warm instead of making eggs.
Molting — most chickens stop laying eggs while they are molting. Some breeds do a hard, fast molt, lasting about a month, and then get back to the business of laying. Other breeds do a slow molt that can last several months. You’ll definitely see a reduction in egg production during molting season (typically the fall). And often, once one hen starts to molt, others will join the party, so your flock’s overall production will go down. If you have a flock with roosters and chicks that all eat the same food, use and “all flock”
feed, as layer feed has too much calcium for birds who aren’t actively laying.
Parasites — If you’re noticing a reduction from the whole flock, all at once, check them for parasites: mites, fleas, and intestinal worms. Treat what ails them.
Now to the question of feed. There really isn’t a “best overall” feed, because feeds are formulated for different bird needs. Are you feeding chicks, or laying hens, or winter feed? The key is to make sure that they are getting enough protein (they need the energy), and supplemental minerals. 18% protein for laying hens is typical. You can supplement this in winter with mealworms as a treat, but not too much. Birds can develop fatty liver from too many treats.
HOMEMADE CHICKEN FOOD
A few years ago, there was an article about
homemade chicken food. It consisted of rolled oats,
ground corn, ground kelp, fish meal, and more. I
cannot find that article or recipe anywhere. Would you
have this article or recipe available?
I believe that this recipe from the delightful Janet Garmen is the one you’re looking for: