Ask the Expert April/May 2022

Ask the Expert April/May 2022
Reading Time: 22 minutes

Booties For Bumblefoot? 

Hi Marissa,  

Do you know about neoprene booties for Pekin ducks that have bumblefoot?  

Thank you,  



Hi Deborah, 

I haven’t personally used the booties, but reviews overall are good. One downside to these is that they hold moisture and bacteria against the skin, so I recommend changing them and washing them often. This will also allow the wound to get airflow and to be washed out, as well. If used JUST for injuries, these boots are great. The real danger comes in when people assume ducks need them for any other purpose, such as avoiding frostbite. If kept on the duck at any time when the duck doesn’t need them for wound care, the booties can interfere with natural temperature regulation in both cold and hot weather. Also, when purchasing for Pekins, pay attention to sizing. Many people wish they had purchased the larger goose size for their Pekins. 

I hope this helps! 



Sick Chicken 

One of my Rhode Island Reds lost her feathers on her abdominal area, which is turning red and swollen. I gave her baths for possible retained egg, but nothing appeared. I put an antifungal on the area, which helped with the redness and feathers coming in, but she is still swollen and bloated. I tried doxycycline but did not notice an improvement. My other chickens appear normal and not sick. I have isolated this one but wondered if there is anything else I can try. I am a first-time chicken owner, and there are no chicken vets around. 



Hi Linda, 

We received your question about your Rhode Island Red. 

Feather loss in the abdominal area can be due to many things: molting, external parasites, vent gleet, and water belly. Since you say she is swollen and bloated, I will rule out molt. So, I’ll address these other issues to help you find a cause hopefully: 

External parasites: ‘Tis the season (for lice and mites), and they can be difficult to see. But both cause feather loss and skin irritation, and both can be deadly if you let them go long enough. For lice, check the feather shafts for any white, plaque-like material. Those are lice eggs, and you may also see actual lice. For mites, go into the coop at night and shine a flashlight at the vent area. (Maybe take some reading glasses because mites are tiny!) Both lice and mites prefer to hang out in sheltered areas: under the wings, around the vent, and on the belly. You can treat both with an external product like poultry dust with permethrin. 

Vent gleet: The response to the antifungal medication is promising. Vent gleet is an infection — usually fungal — within the vent. (It can also be bacterial or viral.) When it gets bad enough, the vent becomes inflamed, eventually killing the chicken. Swollen bellies are common with vent gleet. Most cases can be treated by regularly bathing the vent with an antiseptic solution like betadine. (The cloaca will suck some of it into the oviduct, where it can disinfect inside.) If she doesn’t show improvement within a week, you can escalate and use an antifungal like nystatin. If you notice her health declining further, and she is listless and doesn’t want to heat, you will want to support secondary infections that may have happened because of the stress from the fungal infection. 

Ascites: I doubt this is the problem because you haven’t listed other symptoms such as panting, reluctance to move around, and cyanosis (blue discoloring on the comb). That’s good! Because ascites (water belly) is usually fatal. Infections can cause ascites, but it is most commonly due to organ failure. When a poultry owner has a bird with ascites, they must usually decide whether to try treating the bird — which involves fluid removal and often a veterinary visit — or to cull the bird humanely. 

The good news is that parasites and vent gleet are the most likely culprits, and both are easy to remedy without seeking a veterinarian. 

Good luck! 



Chicken Roosting Bars 

We are constructing a new chicken house to house 600 birds. What does an ideal roosting arrangement look like? We intend to create a ladder and seek advice on materials, spacing angles, etc. Any help would be greatly appreciated. 



Hi Penelope, 

Lisa Steele gave some great insight on roosting bars in her Backyard Poultry story, “Everything You Need to Know About Chicken Roosting Bars.” Here are some quotes from that story, which you can find here: 

I hope this helps! 

You can use sturdy branches, ladders, or boards for your chicken roosting bars. If you use boards, check for splinters and sand if necessary. A 2×4 with the 4″ side facing up makes a wonderful roost. You can round the edges a bit if you wish for greater comfort. Avoid plastic or metal pipes since they are too slippery for the chickens to get a good grip. Metal also will get cold in the winter and could cause frostbitten feet. 

You will want to place your roosts somewhere that it will be easy to scoop, shovel, or rake the droppings and soiled litter out of the coop. Also, feeders and waterers (if you leave them in the coop overnight) should not be placed under the roosts, nor should the nesting boxes. 

Chicken roosting bars should be at least two inches wide and preferably 4 inches wide. Chickens don’t wrap their feet around a perch as wild birds do, and they actually prefer to sleep flat-footed. This also keeps their feet protected from frostbite in the winter from below, using the roost as protection, and using their body as protection from above. Also, this protects their feet from mice or rats, who will often nibble on chicken toes while they are sleeping. 

Chicken roosting bars can be as low as a foot off the ground or as high as a foot from the ceiling. However, if you make the roost much more elevated than two feet, staggering several roosts like stairs at varying heights makes it easier for the chickens to get up and down from the roost without injuring themselves. Hard landings off a roost often cause bumblefoot (a staph infection of the foot and leg). Leave about 15″ headroom between the roosts to prevent those on the higher roosts from pooping on those roosting below them. 



Struggles of Owning Chickens 

I don’t have many birds. I have a flock of 10 large hens and one rooster, and the rooster is the only one of his kind in my flock. I have not bred any of them. I also have three show-quality Bantam hens, but I have never shown them, nor do I know anything about showing them. I don’t have a rooster for them either. My 1/3 acre is zoned agricultural, but zoning tells me I have to get rid of my chickens or move. I got prequalified through a bank. We found a house in the country with .55 acres and a large coop and barn. When it was time for the underwriters to agree to give me the loan, they turned me down. I would love to expand my chickens. I see people wanting Bantams, especially Silkies and Polish. I have always wanted to raise them, but I can’t where I am now. If you have any suggestions on how I can get where I need to be, please let me know then we can go from there. 



Hi Diane, 

I feel your pain, and so do many people in cities or zones that don’t allow chickens. For 20 years, I lived in Reno, Nevada, where — unless you lived in an HOA — the rule was that all animals had to be cared for, kept on the owner’s property, and not a nuisance. The law didn’t specify which kinds of animals applied to dogs, cats, chickens, and even goats. It’s the “nuisance” part that was the catch. If the neighbors were fine with it, and the owners cared for their animals, chickens were allowed! But just across the river, laws differed in the sister city of Sparks, Nevada. No chickens, period. Then, one day, a drunk driver crashed into an older man’s fence and secret chicken coop. The police arrived, of course. That man lost his fence and his chickens in one night. The incident prompted some business owners and community members to take action. They created a plan that included documenting why keeping chickens promotes community involvement and sustainability. And they convinced the Sparks city council that the no-chickens law, which had been on the books since the 1960s, was out of date. Sparks then allowed up to six hens (and no roosters) and did not allow processing within city limits. It wasn’t as lenient as Reno’s laws and didn’t allow any kind of breeding programs, but at least homeowners could keep a few hens for eggs. 

Many other communities have the same stories: they band together, collect information, and prove that these anti-poultry laws are outdated. Backyard poultry owners aren’t keeping large-scale production barns; we just want a few chickens to help us be more sustainable, find more joy in life, and even share eggs with our communities. Small-scale agriculture, even on the smallest scale, such as a few chickens, connects people who want to work hard to improve life for themselves and others. It’s a whole different lifestyle and mindset than urbanites’ content to live within apartments and away from any animals. Neither mindset is wrong, and both can work together in a municipality. 

Bringing the community together is important since many voices drown out just one. Since your plan of moving to the country fell through, my suggestion would be to reach out to like-minded people in your area: either in person, through social media, or even in community bulletins. Hold meetings. Research exactly what the laws say. Then speak to your city council members about how and why this modern trend of backyard poultry is beneficial to a community. And stay strong. If it doesn’t work the first time, take notes so you — or others — can create a plan to try again. 

Janet Garman has some amazing tips within her story: “How to Influence the Law on Keeping Chickens in Residential Areas.” You can find it here: 

Good luck, and we would love to be kept updated on your progress! 



Blind Birds

I got a dozen chicks from different feed stores in March. They are of different breeds. I integrated them with my regular flock when they were bigger.  

The problem I have is that one of them went blind. A couple of months ago, I noticed a white dot on the iris of one. Then the other eye became the same, and soon white covered the whole irises. She eats and drinks okay. Now another is starting to get it in one eye. In over 10 years, I have had this happen three or four times in the last five years.  

The chickens have an outdoor run, and I let them out almost every day in the yard and field. What could this be?  

Also, is it okay to feed cooked pasta, lima beans, lentils, and peas that have expired? This would only be a treat. They eat a 16% layer commercial mix and a small amount of scratch. 

Thank you, 

Don Robertson 


Hi Don, 

Let’s get to the good news first, shall we? Yes, feeding expired pasta and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) is just fine, as long as they have not gotten wet or moldy and if they are cooked. Raw legumes have glycoproteins called “lectins” that can cause gastrointestinal upset. But (cooked) legumes and wheat are ingredients in poultry feed anyway, so feeding them as a treat won’t hurt your chickens at all. 

I’m sorry to hear about this ongoing problem with blindness! There are many reasons that poultry can go blind. 

  • From your descriptions, the problem isn’t congenital or hereditary. 
  • Ammonia buildup can cause blindness, but I will assume that’s not the cause since your chickens free-range daily. 
  • Conjunctivitis, which passes from wild birds, could be the cause. But this affects the conjunctiva and cornea first, so you would have seen cloudiness and white patches on the lens covering the eye. From there, it spreads across the entire lens than can spread inward. Mycoplasma bacteria commonly cause conjunctivitis in poultry. You can purchase antimicrobial ophthalmic ointments, such as Terramycin, to apply directly to the eye. A tip for these ointments: Terramycin is expensive, but I find that the more you pay for the ophthalmic ointment, the better it works. 
  • You describe the whiteness starting on the iris and spreading. That sounds suspiciously like ocular Marek’s disease, which is rare and not nearly as deadly as the visceral and paralytic forms; mortality is about 25%. This is another disease that could spread from wild birds, especially if your chickens were not vaccinated for Marek’s disease when they hatched. If you have a Marek’s infection in your flock and endemic in your area, there isn’t much you can do other than help the blind birds find food and live as well as possible. I recommend vaccinating any new chicks before they come to your property, though. 

So, I advise that you confirm if the “white” is on the conjunctiva/cornea or the iris itself. If the outside of the eye is infected, you can most likely alleviate this with ophthalmic ointment. If it’s the iris itself, and especially if the pupil appears distorted, then I would assume you have Marek’s disease endemic in your area. 

I hope this helps and that you can get to the bottom of this! 



Vetericyn vs. Penicillin 

What is the difference between Vetericyn and penicillin? I could only get penicillin at our local farm supply. I gave cockerel the maximum of eight days with Epsom salt mixed with iodine. Then a week off, and I would repeat, trying to save his foot. When pulling the black out of his foot, it would leave a huge hole and show his bone. I wrapped his foot with antibiotics and even injected penicillin into his foot. Could I have saved him with Vetericyn instead of penicillin? 



Hi Diana, 

Vetericyn and penicillin are completely different products. While both can be used for wound care, they address different aspects of the wound and work in conjunction with one another. 

Vetericyn is the name brand for a line of agricultural wound care products, including Vetericyn +Plus Poultry Care, Pink Eye Spray, and Ophthalmic gel. These are antimicrobial products that cover the wound, keeping out debris and contaminants while also using pain relievers and gentle antimicrobial action to kill any surface microbes (namely bacteria). So Vetericyn, for animals, is like the Neosporin (first aid ointment) that we apply to a cut before we put on a bandage. It will keep more bacteria from entering the cut, but it won’t do anything for an infection that is already in our bodies. 

Penicillin is a type of antibiotic. It can be used topically but is most commonly used orally or injected intramuscularly or subcutaneously. (Never, ever inject penicillin into a vein. This is deadly.) Among livestock, penicillin is still the most commonly used antibiotic, as it attacks a wide range of bacteria — but not all kinds of bacteria. Procaine penicillin is one of the only antibiotics that cross the brain barrier — something to keep in mind if you have livestock with listeria infections. But since many humans are allergic to penicillin, they choose antibiotics such as oxytetracycline (LA-200) for their animals, in case of needle sticks or miscalculated withdrawal times. Penicillin is for active infections within the body and should only be used when there is an infection because overuse can create antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. 

So, to answer your question directly: It’s not an “instead of” answer but an “along with” answer. Vetericyn is what you would apply after removing the black part so outside debris doesn’t make it into the wound. If the infection were limited JUST to his foot and hadn’t yet moved into his body, then the Vetericyn should be enough. Injected into the foot, penicillin would target an internal infection that might become systemic, traveling through his body. But (and there’s always a “but”) bumblefoot is most commonly caused by bacterial strains Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas. Many S. aureus and E. coli strains have become resistant to penicillin because of overuse. So, if you see symptoms that the infection might have spread throughout his body, such as lethargy, a pale comb, fluffed feathers, or withdrawing from the rest of the flock — and you have already tried penicillin — consider a different type of antibiotic that is still legal to sell over the counter. 

Good luck with the bumblefoot. This sounds like a tough case. 



Broody Hens 

How can I tell if a hen has gone broody? Should I collect the eggs? 



Hi Raymond, 

Once you recognize the signs of a broody hen, you’ll be able to identify them forever. They just act differently. 

  • They stay on the nest, refusing to leave except to eat and defecate. So, if you see her on the nest, and she’s still there a couple of hours later, she is probably broody. She will promptly try to get back on if you take her off the nest. 
  • When you reach a hand out to her, she puffs up, hunches over her eggs, and makes a dinosaur-type sound. She may peck you if you reach under her. 
  • Some broody hens will pluck feathers from their breasts, so their skin can make contact with the eggs. 
  • Broody hens don’t lay eggs, so if you recognize a specific egg color from a specific hen and don’t see it during a time that the hen won’t leave the nest, there’s another sure sign of broodiness. 
  • Broodiness tends to follow seasons — most often in spring and summer — though some hens don’t care for those rules and will go broody at any time of the year. 

Should you take the eggs? That depends on if you have a rooster and if you want chicks. If you don’t have a rooster, then those eggs aren’t fertile and will just go rotten if you leave them under her. Then they could explode, spreading bacteria everywhere. If you have a rooster and are set up to receive chicks in 21 days, then go ahead and leave the eggs. You may even consider moving the hen and the eggs to a more secure location, so there isn’t any nest traffic to harm the eggs. I’ve had a few broken eggs because I didn’t move the broody hen, and the mama wasn’t dominant enough to keep away other hens that wanted to lay in the box. 

Some people argue that it’s “mean” to remove eggs from a hen that wants to sit on them. But there are so many reasons not to allow her to sit on the eggs. Even providing fake eggs to keep her happy could prolong the broodiness, so she doesn’t lay eggs for you and ends up losing weight because she only eats once or twice a day. In the end, the decision of whether to collect the eggs depends on your own goals for your flock. 

I hope this helps! 



I think I would be very uneasy about moving a broody hen to a safer place. I have one more question. I purchased 12 hens as chicks from our local farm store; however, there are three roosters in this batch of 12. Should I keep all of the roosters or get rid of two of them? They seem to like to chase the hens around and have sex. I have one rooster that will chase the roosters away from the hens. How should I handle the rooster problem? I do not want to hurt them. 




Too many roosters can create too much drama in any coop! A good ratio is one rooster to 7-15 hens, and surpassing that ratio creates competition. The roosters fight each other, run around so much that they lose weight, or harass the hens too much. The harassment slows when the roosters get older since cockerel hormones play a huge factor. But for the most peace in your flock, rehome two of the three roosters. Or you can build a bachelor pad, where these two roosters live with each other but don’t have any hens to fight over. 

To choose which rooster stays with your hens, look at several factors. Which rooster meets your breeding goals if you intend to hatch chicks? Which is kindest to your hens? Which is kindest to you when you enter the coop to gather eggs? Which is the most protective? Being the designated rooster is a serious position, so you want to choose the best man (rooster) for the job. 

I hope this helps! 



Water Sealer on Coop 

Hi Marissa  

Can I use Olympia WaterGuard sealant or Thompson’s WaterSeal on the outside of my wooden chicken coop, which is inside a screened enclosure, where the chickens and ducks can reach it? I am concerned that if they peck at it, it could create a health problem. 

Best Regards, 

Dr. Rich Reichel 


Hi Dr. Reichel, 

I have yet to hear about poultry that suffered from an appropriately applied water seal, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; it means it wasn’t reported. My short answer: It most likely won’t harm them if applied right, but use your judgment. Here is my long answer: 

The MSDS for Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Wood Protector Clear Wood Sealer lists five ingredients: paraffin oil, heavy paraffinic oil, paraffin wax, med. aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent, and 3-lido-2-propynyl butyl carbamate. The paraffin products are used in human cosmetics and medicines and aren’t problematic at low levels. The EPA says the 3-lido-2-propynyl butyl carbamate is “slightly toxic to practically nontoxic to avian species on an acute oral and subacute dietary basis” and that it degrades rapidly. While many solvents classify under “aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent,” the data for most products using this solvent (like Minwax) says it’s nontoxic after it has cured for 30 days. 

Olympic WaterGuard Clear Wood Sealer lists similar ingredients in addition to less than 1% concentration “folpet,” an antifungal that is also used in the production of fruits and vegetables grown in humid locations such as Florida. The EPA claims folpet has “low acute toxicity” but moderate toxicity if inhaled or if it gets into the eyes. So again, harmfulness declines considerably once the product is dry.  

Once dry and intact, chickens are unlikely to peck the product unless it’s particularly tempting (red coloring, anything shiny, flakes, spots, etc.). Most solvents have evaporated by the time these water seal products peel and become tempting, and since we don’t use lead paint anymore, the flakes won’t do much harm to a bird. Now, you could reapply the product before it peels, which means moving your poultry, scraping off the old product, reapplying the new, and waiting for it to dry at least 48 hours (or up to 30 days, just to be safe) before returning the poultry to the area. 

Instead of estimating if and when these water seals are still toxic, you could try natural products like linseed oil or tung oil. Also, different eco-friendly and pet-friendly products are making their way into the market, formulated to be safe for puppies in that chewing stage. While notably more expensive, these products have great reviews. Search “no VOCs” or “VOC-free” wood sealants to find them. Keep poultry out of the run until the product fully dries since even “safe” products can irritate birds’ sensitive airways. 

Many poultry owners keep their chickens in coops painted/treated with conventional products, but they often don’t report issues unless the paint contains lead. But for the utmost safety, avoid these products altogether and choose something nontoxic. 

I hope this helps! 



Hi Marissa,  

Thank you so much. You have been very informative and kind. I will take your advice and look for VOC-free wood sealant. 

Best Regards, 

Dr. Rich 


Encouraging Broodiness 


I love the in-depth information I find in Backyard Poultry with every read. 

I haven’t seen anything on this yet:  

I have a flock of seven heritage hens ranging from about two years old to 20 weeks, all purchased as pullets over the last year or so. I have read that hen-raised chicks generally do better in health, longevity, and integrating into the flock. 

Because I am allergic to bird dander, raising chicks inside the house is not an option, and roosters are banned in my community. So, the only option I see is to raise chicks by purchasing fertilized eggs and putting them under a broody mama. Three of my adult birds have been exceptionally broody a few times this past year, and one of the 20-week-old girls is a Buff Orpington, which is a pretty sure bet. 

My question is this: It seems I have a small window to synchronize encouraging a hen to go broody and receive viable fertilized eggs to get under her in time for the whole thing to be successful. Has anybody ever done this? I have successfully brought broody hens back to normal but never encouraged a hen to go broody. Keeping my fingers crossed that this is possible! 

Thanks much,  

Deb Silke 


Hi Deb, 

It’s not that often that we get questions about encouraging broodiness; it’s usually the opposite. We want our egg supply! But broodiness is a virtue when you don’t want a house full of chicks and dander or that six-week commitment to heat lamps and cleaning pasty butt. 

The biggest factors in broodiness are breed and season. Certain breeds are more prone to broodiness, and it happens more in the spring/summer than any other time. Also, broodiness is contagious; others decide it would be nice to play house, too, if one goes broody. I would suggest you keep an eye on your hens to determine who is the most likely to go broody, but you’ve already done this. Have you noticed that any of your hens are more dedicated and harder to break their broodiness? If so, put these girls at the top of your list. 

Though nothing is guaranteed, I suggest, in this order: 

  1. Decide where you want to obtain your fertilized eggs and ask about their availability windows, so you can plan. 
  1. Purchase some wooden or ceramic eggs from a craft store. Since leaving eggs in a nest gives hens the notion that it might be nice to hatch them, collect the fresh eggs and leave the fake ones. 
  1. Now, wait for hens to go broody. Bonus points if it’s one of your girls that is exceptionally dedicated. 
  1. After they’ve been broody for a week and look like they’ll stay dedicated, go ahead and order your eggs. 
  1. A fertilized egg can stay viable at least 10 days if stored pointed-side-down at 50-60 degrees F, but fresher is better. When you receive your eggs, take your time as you let them sit quietly for 24 hours (pointed-side-down, in a cool room), then candle them and discard any that show cracks or don’t show a distinct, unbroken yolk. 
  1. Set these eggs under your broody hen, preferably at night. 
  1. Candle those eggs in a week to see if veins are growing. If your hen is still broody after that week, you should be good to go! 
  1. Since broodiness is contagious, keep an eye on your girls. If the one who’s sitting on the eggs decides she’s done, you might have another hen ready to take over, thanks to the power of suggestion. 

I will include your question and my answer within our next issue of Backyard Poultry and see if the other readers have more suggestions that worked for them. 

Thanks for this great question, and good luck with your broodies! 



Egyptian Egg 

This is the most interesting egg we’ve ever gotten. I’ve declared it our “Egyptian Egg.”  Any thoughts? 


Cindy, Nevada 


Hi Cindy, 

What an interesting egg! Though it looks soft and wrinkled, I bet that shell is nice and thick. Usually, when these oddities happen randomly, and we know they’re not because of calcium deficiency or a disease like infectious bronchitis, they result from stress. Something disturbs the hen — maybe a raccoon that tried to get into the coop at night, maybe a cold snap — and this slows down the chicken’s egg-laying cycle in the same way that stress slows down human metabolisms. The egg slows its path down the oviduct and doesn’t spin as fast, which gives it more opportunities to wrinkle or become misshapen before the shell hardens. This slow-down is often responsible for thick blooms that make an egg appear purple. But since these are random and not a sign of a health issue, we gather the eggs and ask the hens, “So … rough day? Let me tell you about mine!” 

Thanks for sharing your egg with us! 



The shell is definitely thick! You’re right; we’ve had a cold snap. Thanks so very much for info.  

Absolutely LOVE Backyard Poultry. 



Winter Waterer/Winter Food 

I’m struggling with my hens to lay during winter. I have put a string of led lights in the coop that come on about 7 am. There is food in the coop but no water, as I’ve read water in the coop causes issues with frostbite moisture. My auto door opens at dawn. My run outside is enclosed with clear marine vinyl, so they are not out in the weather. I have a five-gallon bucket with nipples and I purchased a de-icer specifically for plastic buckets (Farm Innovators brand) and am using that.  

However, the chickens are not drinking as well with the heater in the water. The package stated that it was coated with some kind of silicone, but I don’t see that, and it already has a few spots that are showing rust. I’ve only been using it for about six weeks. I had a dog water bowl I used last winter and initially set up. They drank really well from the bowl, but they get so much crud in the bottom of it, and my little Milles can’t reach the bottom when it gets below a certain level. So, I thought it would be better just to put the nipple bucket back in so they had plenty of water and it would be clean. But they aren’t drinking all that well. I’m feeding 17% Kalmbach soy-free laying crumbles with extra oyster shell and grit mixed in they can have if they want. I have issues with soy, so I wanted to use a soy-free food. I added high-energy suet cakes two days ago. They just figured out to peck at them today. I do not have heat in the coop to reduce fire risk.  

They are about two years old; some may be closer to two and a half. They were given to us as mature laying hens, but I have struggled with them laying for me from the beginning. I have a 4×8 coop, raised up off the ground. The outside run is 8×12. I have 12 hens, one little Silkie rooster — nine different chicken breeds. I struggle with some hens having diarrhea no matter what I do for feed. From what I see, different breeds have different nutritional requirements. With so many breeds, it doesn’t look like I will get a nice little firm poop dollop from everyone. I’ve treated for coccidia; they’ve had pumpkin seeds this fall for worms. I don’t know if I should put the water bowl back in for them or leave the nipple waterer. From what I’ve read, if they aren’t going to drink well, they will not eat well either. Then poor egg production from that, weather, less light, etc. I don’t know what else to do to help them lay and would appreciate some suggestions. 




Hi Annette, 

I understand the frustration when hens are freeloading! Of all the factors that you can control, here are two that you can’t: 

  • The hens are over two years old. 
  • It’s January. 

Both of those automatically decrease the rate of lay, and when combined, you’re lucky if you get a few eggs here and there. Also, if any of your hens are still coming out of molt, it will be a while before they start laying again and might not be until spring anyway. (I don’t know about your flock, but I’ve had molting hens in January.) 

You’ve already taken care of supplemental light and good feed, so it looks like the only factor you can control is the water. Now, keep in mind that the three factors I’ve mentioned above (age, season, state of molt) can keep a hen from laying, even if all your other practices are perfect for egg production. Since you’ve seen moderate success with both methods but not an optimal success, would there be any issues with temporarily providing both water sources so your hens can choose which works best for them? 

You mentioned that you’d tried different types of feed. How long do you let them try one brand before switching to another? Switching feed — even the highest-quality of feed — is often a cause for diarrhea in any animal since their bodies need to adjust to each formula. If you aren’t already doing so, I recommend waiting at least two weeks before switching again to see how the chickens are really doing on the feed. Also, I recommend offering the oyster shell and grit in separate containers. Both hens and roosters are sensitive to too much calcium, and it can cause kidney damage, especially if the hens aren’t laying at the moment and expelling extra calcium in the form of an eggshell. Offering these in separate bowls means the hens can eat only what they need, and the rooster — who is already getting extra calcium just from being on the layer feed — wouldn’t eat it at all. 

But it could be that, no matter what you do, your hens won’t lay until spring. And that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. Winter is a time of rest for chickens and most of nature, including humans that like to cuddle beside the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. If you’re okay with purchasing store-bought eggs for a few months, then this period of rest and replenishment could do your hens some good. 

I hope this helps! Have a great 2022. 



Hen Sitting Oddly 

Happy New Year. I have a problem that I have never run into before. My oldest Easter Egger sits like an owl and just shuffles around. She barely eats or drinks, and now I have a second one starting to do the same thing. Do you think that there is any chance for recovery? 


Carman, NEPA 


Hi Carman, 

Happy new year! I would love to get more information, as your description is rather vague. How old is “oldest?” And when you say “sits like an owl,” do you mean fully upright? I’m trying to determine if she’s just old, broody, or if she has an infection. Does she walk like a penguin or a Runner duck? Are her feces pasted around her vent? If so, I suspect salpingitis or advanced vent gleet. These are both infections of the oviduct and the body cavity. One thing that you can do, right now, is to start bathing their vents in Betadine to take care of any infection that might be within the oviduct, though if the infection is within the body cavity, it might be too advanced for much recovery. 





Here is a picture of Sweetie. She is about eight years old and has been this way for almost two weeks. It is 12 degrees out right now, but she is hanging in there. 

Thanks for getting back to me. 

Carman, NEPA 


Hi Carman, 

That’s what I was afraid of. That upright posture is indicative of something going very wrong internally. It could be salpingitis, an oviduct infection that has spread to the internal organs. Sometimes it indicates ascites (which is usually due to organ failure), a heavy parasite load, or cysts/tumors that can happen with advanced age. Considering her age, any of the above could be the reason she’s unwell. Do you have a veterinarian who would see her and prescribe some antibiotics if they diagnose an infection? 



Bathing Chickens in Winter 

I have nine-month-old hens that have access to the outdoors, along with a chicken coop. One of the hens has poop on her feathers, not blocking the cloaca. Should we try to wash it off? We live in northern Michigan, and the weather is in single digits to below zero. The poop does not bother her at all; I am just worried it is not healthy.  

Thank you. 



Hi Pat, 

Great question. Considering how cold it is, and since it’s not blocking her cloaca, I don’t recommend bathing her. You would need to keep her inside until she is fully dry then that would cause more issues because she would be going from a warm house to a cold coop. But you can trim those feathers, so they’re less likely to catch more poop. Which brings up a question of my own: Does she have a particularly fluffy butt that just catches poop, or are her feces whiteish and runny? If it’s the latter, I recommend bathing her vent in Betadine just in case she has vent gleet. (Don’t worry; it won’t hurt her if she doesn’t have an infection.) 

I hope this helps! 



Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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