Ask the Expert – August/September 2018

Ask the Expert – August/September 2018

An Egg Divided

I found this strange egg in my laying box one afternoon. I have had eggs with just a membrane around the white and yolk, but never this! It looks like the egg white is in a soft, squishy membrane by itself, and is connected to what appears to be the yolk, which is also in its own membrane. Do you know what this is and why it may have been laid? I have a flock of eight hens and one rooster. The chickens eat 16% laying pellets and scratch grains in the afternoons as well as the occasional serving of greens. I also have a broody hen, but she was not setting on this bizarre egg. Any help will be greatly appreciated!

— Brandon Kaske, Louisiana


Hi Brandon,

It’s always amazing to see the many different eggs people find. Thanks for sending the picture! It’s also amazing that a hen could lay something like this without it breaking.
As you mentioned, it’s not unusual to see a shell-less egg in just the membrane. And, the larger section of your egg looks somewhat like this, although it does look like it might be mostly yolk. However, the added “balloon” of clear liquid is not common.

This is a situation where a guess is all we can make about how why and how this egg formed. The best guess is that the first segment formed and started to pass into the uterus (shell gland). For some reason — maybe a bit of tissue or something else stimulating the oviduct — it continued to produce albumen and the membrane around it. Then, for some reason, the entire thing was expelled before a shell could be formed.

That’s a bit of a guess, but it could be what happened!

As with many of these, if you just see this once, it’s probably just a random anomaly. If you see it multiple times, it could be a sign of an infection or some other problem with the hen’s oviduct.


Treating Leg Mites

I have enjoyed Backyard Poultry magazine for many years now and have gained a lot of good information and tips over the years. I may have gotten the following idea from your magazine, at any rate, it is a dandy way to take care of leg mites and might bear repeating.

When my chickens have leg mites, I dip their legs and feet in a narrow deep plastic container filled with cheap cooking oil. I also pour some tea tree oil into the cooking oil, but I don’t think that is essential. I do this at night, nabbing them easily from their roost and put them right back on the roost. Easy peasy. The first time we treated the birds this way I was dubious, but in a week or so the scales began to fall off their legs, revealing nice, smooth skin underneath.  This is totally amazing and not toxic to the birds, me, or the eggs, unlike the harsh chemicals people used to use years ago. It is always curious why some breeds of my chickens seem to get leg mites and others don’t, but this treatment is quite effective. In some cases, repeat treatment might be necessary, perhaps every two weeks for a series of three treatments.

I sympathized with poor Thelma last month. The powder she is referring to is tetracycline, I think, and farm and ranch stores still carry it. It is tricky to come up with a proper dosage for poultry, but I believe a teaspoon in a gallon of water container is about right. It is cheap and effective as a broad-spectrum antibiotic, but you should not eat the eggs or the birds when giving this, and I really don’t know how long it persists in a bird’s system.

Thanks for the years of enjoyable and informative articles.

— Marilyn Kukachka


Hi Marilyn,

Cooking oil will work for leg mites, as you mentioned. The idea is to suffocate the mites. It can be a bit messy, so some like to use petroleum jelly instead. That can get messy, too, as shavings will stick to it. You’re right about different chickens having more trouble with these mites. There are genetic differences, but age and general health probably play a part, too.

Regarding tetracycline, this is supposed to only be available with a veterinary prescription, as of January 1, 2017. If stores are still selling it over-the-counter, they probably won’t be for very long.

Most antibiotics now require a prescription. There are a few things (mostly those that are never or rarely used in human medicine) that are still over-the-counter.

Enjoy your flock!


Sick Chick

Lately, my chicks have been a little bloodthirsty and beat up several chicks and even killed three of them. We separated them out so they all have more breathing room now, but one of the chicks is not looking very well. She has a very hard time pooping and looks very much in pain when she tries, there is build up on her bottom and it looks rather swollen. I’m not sure what to do and have tried to wipe it for her but it seems to hurt her and she retreats. She also is the only chick without full feathers, she has wing and neck feathers while the rest of the flock has full body feathers. I’m not sure if that relates, but it is rather peculiar since they are all the same age. Please do get back to me soon, I’m quite worried about her. Thank you so much!

— Aislinn Korb

P.S. As I was writing this, I was watching her and as she struggled to relieve herself, gas was let out and watery noises as well.


Hi Aislinn,

It’s hard to know what to suggest. If there are feces stuck to the outside and blocking things, this can usually be gently removed with a warm, wet cloth. In this case, it sounds like there might be something going on internally. If that is the case, there may not much that can be done. Since she has not feathered out, she may have had some illness for a while. Sometimes, a chick can have an infection and live with it for a while. This might be the case with this chick. If you like, you might find an avian veterinarian to look at it.

As far as the pecking, there are a few things you can check. First, high temperatures can be a concern. If they can’t get away from a brooder lamp, for example, this might cause pecking. It’s a good idea to put heat to one side of their space, so they can move closer or get farther away as they like.

Bright lights can increase pecking, too. You might consider switching to a dimmer bulb, or a red bulb if they still need the heat.

As you mentioned, sometimes more space is helpful. Giving some hiding places for those getting pecked can be helpful, too.

If they aren’t on a commercial feed, there could be a nutritional problem. You probably want to wait until they are at least six weeks old before changing their diet. You could try adding something for them to peck at (instead of other chickens). Giving them some hay, or a root vegetable, or something like that might help. In that case, definitely keep the complete ration there for them, though.

If they continue to peck, you may want to consider clipping the tips of their beaks. This can be done fairly easily with a dog nail clipper, or a large human nail clipper. If you just take the tip, it shouldn’t bleed and will grow back. It might help blunt things for a while.

Good luck with them!


Ducks and Chickens

We had 12 ducks all different breeds. They were in with the chickens. A few months ago, we lost eight ducks. They were not able to walk, they got skinny, and after they died there was green poop on their body. They died one after another, week after week. Now we have four ducks left. Do you have any reason why they died?

— Terri Hinshaw, North Carolina


Hi Terri,

While it’s difficult to know what disease the ducks had, the symptoms (esp. green droppings) may give a hint.

There is a viral disease (duck viral hepatitis) which causes similar symptoms — green diarrhea, listless birds that stop eating, ducklings that can’t walk, etc. It can be spread on shoes, equipment, and/or by wild birds (sparrows, starlings), or rodents. If that is the problem, there’s not much that can be done. Improvements in biosecurity (disinfecting shoes or wearing clean boots, keeping wild birds and rodents out) can be helpful in the future. The remaining ducks could be carriers, so new ducks may be infected if the old ones are still there.

Another possibility might be Pasteurella anatipestifer, though that often causes respiratory symptoms as well. It is a bacterial disease, so antibiotics can sometimes help, though not always.

Again, these are just guesses. For a firm diagnosis, you’d need to find an avian veterinarian, or contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab. You could contact your extension office too. They may know of an avian veterinarian near you.

Sorry this isn’t a definitive diagnosis. It’s difficult to guess what disease they might have without further testing.


Dead Chickens

We have a flock of layers that are approximately 10 months old. They were laying well. Some of the chickens pooped thin, slimy, brownish-tan poop. Sometimes they died immediately and sometimes in a few weeks. We cannot find a poultry veterinarian around here. What do we do?

— Ron Braskamp, Wisconsin


Hi Ron,

It’s difficult to know what might have happened with these hens. Slimy, brownish-tan droppings can be normal, at least occasionally. Chickens have an organ called the cecum, where lots of microorganisms help to digest fiber. They will occasionally produce droppings from the cecum, and these are often similar to what you described. If all of their droppings are like this, however, then it is likely a sign of damage to the intestines.

Coccidiosis is a common intestinal problem in chickens, causing diarrhea. In severe cases, it can cause bloody diarrhea and death to the chickens. Most hens will develop resistance to it by that age, however, so it would be a little surprising. There is a treatment (amprolium) that can be mixed in the water, that should treat this. It should be available without a prescription.

There are also viruses that can cause intestinal damage. In that case, there isn’t any treatment, other than to try to keep the chickens healthy and hope they are able to fight off the virus. There can be some bacterial diseases, too, especially if the intestine is already damaged by a virus or coccidiosis.

Treating with amprolium would be an easy thing to try. Other than that, another option would be to submit one or more of the sick hens to your state veterinary diagnostic lab. There will be a charge, and they would need to sacrifice the birds submitted, but they should be able to figure out why they are sick. Then you could treat the rest of the flock accordingly. In Wisconsin, the state lab is in Madison. You could contact them at 800/608-8387 for more information. I think they charge approximately $100 for a full workup.

Sorry, there’s not a better answer!


Energized by Wet Straw

I have noticed that when water moistens the straw in the run, the chickens get energized and have a hay day. This leads to the question, do chickens prefer damp straw over dry straw in their run?

— Maureen & Ed Farrell


Hi Maureen and Ed,

That’s a fun observation! It’s always interesting to see what stirs the chickens up! It’s hard to know why they prefer the wet straw, but at the risk of raining on their parade (or not raining), a little caution here may be helpful.

In general, damp conditions are not good for chickens. Wet straw promotes mold growth. If the ground underneath gets wet, the organisms that cause coccidiosis tend to thrive. Bacteria in the litter produce excess ammonia, too, if it’s wet. Footpad health can also be poorer if the litter is wet — possibly because of the increased ammonia.

So, while a little moisture is probably okay occasionally, keeping the coop dry will be better in the long run.


If you have health-related poultry questions, use the chat feature, email, or send them to us at Backyard Poultry, Attn: Ask the Expert, P.O. Box 566, Medford, WI 54451. All submissions will be considered for print publication. Please include your name and hometown with your questions, which should be as detailed as possible. Pictures help us answer questions, so please include those too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *