Ask the Expert — August/September 2019

Swollen Chicken Feet 

I’m very sorry to bother you, but I really need your help. I have an almost-nine-year-old Wyandotte hen who has recently presented with bilateral swollen feet. Today is the first I noticed the feet swelling. There are not any noticeable cuts, abrasions, or brown spots on her feet. It seems she has moderate pain with walking, more severe than usual. I cannot feel any cores.  
For the past two weeks, she has been in the house in a large cubicle, due to a severe cold snap and because I noticed she had lost weight over the past month. I have her on the tile floor with a quilt on top of the tile and then newspaper on top of the quilt. She is not on any hard surfaces. Since she has been in the house, she has gained weight back, but now has this swelling.  

What do you think her swelling is? I am not sure if she has bumblefoot, but I do not have any other differential diagnoses. I began treating her for bumblefoot, soaking her feet in Epsom salts and then coating her feet in a Betadine solution.  I thought soaking her feet wouldn’t hurt until I can find out what is wrong.  

She has a past history of being attacked by a hawk three years ago. Her entire side was ripped open, down to the muscle. It took one year for her side to completely heal and skin over. My vet couldn’t believe she lived or that the skin and feathers re-covered the area. She has been stiff ever since the hawk attack. Can chickens be given joint supplementation, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM supplement?  

Thank you so very much. I love reading your Poultry Talk column in Backyard Poultry!   
 
Sincerely,  
 
— Saura Rohrbach 

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Hi Saura, 

I’m not sure I have a great answer, but I’ll try. The health of nine-year-old chickens is sort of uncharted territory! 

There are a number of things that can cause swelling of the feet, so it’s a little difficult to know what to do. As you mentioned, bumblefoot is a common one. The pictures certainly look like bumblefoot, but I agree that you usually see some cut or sore on the pad. Hers look very nice and clean.  Bumblefoot is often a Staph infection, and it could be that the bacteria got there through her system, rather than through the footpad. Another bacterial disease, Mycoplasma synoviae, can also cause swelling of the joints. For both of these, an antibiotic might help. I’m not sure what antibiotic to suggest, and you’ll likely need a prescription from a veterinarian. 

There is a reovirus that can also cause swelling of the joints, especially in the feet. If this is the cause, there isn’t much you can do after it is there. 

I agree that soaking her feet won’t hurt. I’m not sure it will have much effect if there isn’t an open sore. 

I did find a research report on glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in chickens. It was done in Brazil, in broiler chickens. It did seem to show positive effects on bone health. A young, growing broiler would be quite different than a mature hen, but I wouldn’t expect these products to cause any negative effects. They might help. 

Sorry, I don’t have more to offer.  Good luck with her! 

— Ron Kean 

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Hi Saura, 

I’m sorry to hear about your chicken’s discomfort, but congratulations on nursing her through the attack and to such an advanced age! 

Could it be that her age is the problem? An often-overlooked chicken foot problem is gout, which is a complex form of articular arthritis. Many chickens succumb to issues such as predators or accidents before kidneys can lose function and gout can set in. Our story on Countryside describes three foot-related issues, including gout. Though there is no cure, there are ways to lessen the pain and support your chicken’s health. You can find the full story here: https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/a-guide-to-recognizing-and-treating-chicken-foot-problems/

Good luck! 

— Marissa Ames

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Thank you! I believe you are right! After I emailed you yesterday, I began doing further research and stumbled onto that exact article. It fits her signs perfectly. Unfortunately, I increased the amount of protein in her diet over the past two weeks, to promote weight gain. I was successful with the weight gain, but it probably triggered her initial gout attack. I stopped the extra protein yesterday and her swelling is slightly reduced, already. It is such a balancing act with geriatric chickens. I have a lot of old girls, the oldest I ever had lived to be 12. I currently have three seniors who are nine years old. Believe it or not, they still lay a few eggs. 

I attached a picture of my chicken, Wilamina, enjoying an Epsom salt foot soak before I figured out she had gout. 

Thanks again, 

— Saura 

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Peeling Hard-Boiled Eggs 

My wife and I are novice backyard chicken farmers. We have ISA Brown hens in upstate New York. We are having great success with the help of your magazine. 

Can you tell me the secret to easy peeling hard-boiled eggs? I love them but lost half the egg in the peeling process. Is there something we can add to the feed or to water upon boiling? 

Love your magazine an all you guys do for us beginners out. 

Keep up the good work! 

— Joe and Bridget Gaitan 

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Hi Joe and Bridget, 

I feel your pain! My dog Tater sits nearby when I peel eggs because I used to get frustrated and toss the mangled, half-peeled mess to her. Now, after I learned a few tricks, she is usually disappointed. (I do still toss one to her anyway.) 

The reason store-bought eggs peel easier than fresh eggs is that air has seeped into the shell. My favorite methods utilize air, either by pressure, steam, or through just letting the eggs get a little older. 

Trick #1: Label and date a “boil-only” dozen from your coop. After the eggs age for two or so weeks in your refrigerator, air will create that pocket between white and shell. Some people are horrified about “older” eggs, but those purchased at supermarkets are often over four weeks before they hit the grocery cart! 

Trick #2: Instead of boiling them, steam in the basket of a rice cooker. I set the “steam” function to 20 minutes, then I lift out the entire steamer basket and set it in a bowl of ice water to “shock” the eggs.  

Trick #3: I never thought I would advocate those trendy pressure cooker machines, but they work! Four minutes on high pressure, four-minute natural release, then quick release and “shock” the eggs in ice water. The one thing I do NOT like about this technique is there isn’t as much room for error. The eggs cook so quickly that an extra minute spent in the cooker could mean that ugly green ring around the yolk. 

I would love to hear from readers regarding tricks they use for peeling eggs! 

Good luck! 

— Marissa

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Poultry Watering Cups 

Will geese drink from poultry watering cups? The small red cups with the yellow plunger. 
Thanks,

— Chuck 

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Hi Chuck,  

While I want to say yes, because geese are so smart, your flock may be different. One of our writers tried it with her flock and the result was frustration and hilarity. I would say try it … but keep a backup method in case your geese are an exception. Be sure the cups are deep enough for geese to wash food from their bills. 

Good luck! 

— Marissa  

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Inbreeding 

Are there any complications that come from inbreeding? I currently don’t have any roosters so not an issue but just wanting to know for the future.  

— Damien Farris 

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Hi Damien,  

Yes, there are issues. Just as we breed for a specific trait, and pair a hen and a rooster that already have that trait so it can continue and strengthen in the future, the same can happen with the bad traits. Say you have a rooster with a strong genetic tendency toward blindness. All of his offspring have a 50% chance of having that gene. If you cross his daughter with another rooster without the gene, her offspring will have a 25% chance. Keep diluting like that and the potential offspring have even less of a blindness risk. But if you cross the daughter back with the father, her offspring have a chance of getting one blindness gene from each parent … which means a blind baby. Does this make sense? 
 
I see it a lot in some (human) tribal structures I work with. A friend married a woman from his tribe, though not even direct cousins, and they both had the albanism gene so both of their children are albino. 

— Marissa

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Tylosin in Eggs 

If I give my laying hens Tylon 50 how long before you can eat their eggs? 

— Jerry Corcoran 

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Hi Jerry, 

Tylosin soluble doesn’t stay long in eggs. This scientific study found residue in the yolk for only three days, and most veterinarian advice I’ve read said wait seven days, just to be safe.  
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/24853528/ 

— Marissa

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Small Chicken Eggs 

This spring when most of my Banties started laying again, I found an extremely small egg in the nesting box with three other eggs. It was the size of a quail egg or maybe a robin egg. I believe it’s from my smallest hen, a Mille Fleur d’Uccle.   

I did crack it to see if the egg inside was normal. The shell was so hard I had to cut it with a small serrated knife. As you can see by the picture, the egg was fine. The fried egg was about the size of a silver dollar. This hen had been laying since she was six months old. Her following eggs are her normal size. Have you seen one this small? 

— Sue Meyer, Iowa 

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Hi Sue, 

I see these once in a while with my flock, particularly in the spring. They can be nicknamed “fairy eggs” or “fart eggs,” and often do not contain a yolk. I find it interesting that yours does! It happens when a hen gets back into the egg-laying rhythm after an upset such as stress or just wintertime. No need to worry about these tiny eggs; unlike wrinkled or malformed shells, these are just one of those “glitches.” 

Thanks for sharing! 

— Marissa  

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Thank you for your response. At first, I thought someone was pulling a joke on me. But there wasn’t really any way I could see who or how! Then realized that I didn’t have an egg from Charlie, so figured it was hers. I’m calling it a Fairy Egg! Thanks again. Love your magazine!! 

— Sue Meyer, Iowa 

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Feather Picking 

I have four hens nearly 12 months old. Their run is about 10 meters x 4 meters with a swing, perches, mirror, and a dust bath. They have plenty of food and water and regular treats. Every afternoon, they are let out into the garden to have some grass. Even though they are very spoiled, I have one hen that is persistently feather pecking. They are all featherless around their bottoms and just above their tails. They look terrible. I have bought anti-feather-pecking spray, hasn’t worked, now we have painted Stockholm tar over the bare areas but Margot the speckled hen won’t leave the others alone and pulls out a feather every time she walks past them. I just don’t know what to do! 

— Philippa Ballistat 

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Hi Philippa, 

It sounds like you’ve covered all your bases! They have plenty of room, they have a great diet, they aren’t bored, and you’re covering the wounds with the right products. Margot still hasn’t stopped. Some hens are just like that; they won’t stop bullying other hens, or they won’t stop eating eggs, no matter what you do. It sounds like Margot won’t stop while she is still in your flock 

A hard part of the chicken world is knowing when to cull. Remember this just means removing her from your flock in whichever way you choose. I’ve rehomed egg-eaters, giving full disclosure to the future owners about the problem, but when in a new flock and new coop layout, the hens stopped eating eggs. Margot may stop picking on the hens when she’s thrown into a different pecking order. 

Though it can be difficult saying goodbye to a beloved hen, sometimes it has to be done for the wellbeing of the others. 

Good luck! 

— Marissa

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Chick Limping 

I was wondering what to do with one of our chicks. One of my brothers stepped on one of our six-week-old chicks (not on purpose). Now that chick is limping pretty bad. I put her in a pen separate from the other chicks, with food and water (with Quik Chik for stress). She is eating and drinking just fine. Please tell me if there is something else I should be doing for her. 

— Abby R., Minnesota 

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Hi Abby, 

Oh no! I’ve been there!  

Are you sure it’s broken? If you can locate an injured area on the actual leg, you can splint it by using craft sticks trimmed to size, held on with vet wrap. I like the vet wrap because it’s not actually sticky so it doesn’t cause trauma when you remove it. Otherwise, it sounds like you’re doing the right thing. Ensuring she can rest and won’t be picked on while she heals will go far toward getting her back on her feet. Does she have a friend that can keep her company so she doesn’t have to endure loneliness with her injury? I would also keep her in a slightly warmer environment (such as a garage, if it’s cold where you live) because warmer temperatures allow more blood to flow to the injuries so they can heal faster. 

I hope she gets better soon! 

— Marissa

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Coop Advice 

Is it better to construct a coop on grass or in a spare wooded area where leaves are the base? 

— Sue Ballhorst 

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Hi Sue, 

Will the chickens be walking on the leaves/grass? If so, I’ve found that the base doesn’t matter because they will scratch up either. They will eat the grass for nutrition, but if they don’t free-range, that grass will soon die from all the droppings. Chickens will scratch in the leaves for bugs … but again, after a while, it will be covered in poo. 

Overall, I find that the best coop location is in a sheltered area, away from too much wind, in a sunny area if your location is cold and in a shaded area if your location is hot. Be sure it sits on soil or root systems that are not toxic. So, if your location is hot, the wooded area may be the best. 

I hope this helps! 

— Marissa

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Hen Developed Rooster Traits 

Hello! 

First of all, I just want to say I enjoy BYP tremendously! I have a Black Star Sex-Link that is about three years old. I ordered her as a day-old pullet. For the first year and a half, she laid nice brown eggs almost daily. I noticed she stopped laying all together at about two years of age.  

She’s developed saddle feathers and spurs. However, she doesn’t crow, nor attempt to mate my other hens. My Silkie rooster, as well as my young Plymouth Rock rooster, allow her to live peacefully in the flock. Far as I’m concerned, she can live her days out on the farm.  

What causes this? I’ve raised many chickens over the years. This is definitely a first for me. Thank you for all the good info! 

— Jessica 

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Hi Jessica, 

You’ve experienced a phenomenon that has always fascinated me. Jen Pitino explained it best in our December 2014/January 2015 issue of Backyard Poultry

“A hen is born with two sex organs. One of these two organs is an ovary that functions somewhat similarly to a female human’s ovary. Normally, this functioning ovary is found on the left side of a hen and grows and develops as the chicken matures. It is this left ovary that produces the necessary estrogen in a hen’s body that regulates the production of ova (though these are called oocytes in chickens) and their release into the oviduct tract. The sex organ found on the right side of a hen is not an ovary at all. Rather it is simply an undefined gonad (yet to be determined as an ovary or testes). Unlike the left-side ovary, the right-side gonad in a hen will typically remain small, dormant and undeveloped throughout the bird’s life. 

“A spontaneous sex reversal occurs in a hen when her left ovary becomes somehow damaged or fails to produce the necessary levels of estrogen. Usually, it is a medical condition such as an ovarian cyst, tumor, or adrenal gland disease that causes a hen’s left ovary to stop working. A hen’s left ovary is the primary organ producing estrogen in her body. Without the left ovary properly functioning in a hen, the estrogen levels in her body will drop to critically low levels, while conversely testosterone levels will rise. Without proper estrogen levels, the hen will no longer produce eggs.” 

“More disturbing though, a hen, whose left ovary has failed and consequently has elevated testosterone levels in her body, will actually physically transform to take on male characteristics. Such a testosterone-addled hen will grow a larger comb, longer wattles, male-patterned plumage, and spurs. Moreover, this hen will also adopt rooster-like behaviors such as crowing.  

Your hen is still very much a hen, but with more rooster-like characteristics. You can read Jen’s entire article here: https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/spontaneous-sex-reversal-is-that-my-hen-crowing/ 

Good luck! 

— Marissa

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Rooster Plucking Hens Feathers 

My rooster is constantly plucking the hens’ feathers out of their backs. What is the solution to this? 

— Ruth Mudd 

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Hi Ruth, 

My first question is: do you see him actually plucking, or do you just see hens with bare backs? If you just see the bare backs, he’s probably ripping them out with his feet as he tries to stay on while mating. And if you see him plucking them out with his beak, it’s probably because he has discovered that the feathers are blood-rich, and blood is tasty to chickens. 

Some chicken owners choose to dress their hens in chicken saddles, which cover the backs, to protect them from roosters. These are most often used by people who breed and show high-quality hens and can’t have the feather destruction. Others decide whether they need that rooster, since he’s necessary for fertile eggs but not egg production in general. Whichever you decide, of course, is your choice for your own flock. 

I hope this helps! 

— Marissa  

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Yes, this did help. Thank you very much! 

— Ruth Mudd 

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Chicken Predators 

How do I keep red tail hawks away from ranging flock of chickens? I usually let out from 3:30 until dark!  

Thanks, 

— Dottie 

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Hi Dottie, 

Hawks are a problem in my area, too! I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t lost any to raptors (raccoons are another story) while they’ve been picked out of my neighbors’ yards. But the biggest reason isn’t luck; it’s because of overhead obstacles. My last house had a huge overhanging mulberry tree, that provided shade, and a six-foot wooden fence. Hawks didn’t have enough room for the downward swoop they would need to get under the tree. Of course, when I moved my farm to a more-rural location that had more hawks and fewer trees, I had to make my run enclosed. Any overhead obstacle can deter hawks, such as an old car-shelter frame with netting draped over the top. But you will need to design or move the birds to an area where they can stay under shelter at all times because hawks are some of the smartest animals I have seen. 

Good luck with your chickens (and those hawks!) 

— Marissa 

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Hen Eye Growth 

I am enclosing two photos of our Cuckoo Marans named Maisie. She is five years old. She has had this “growth” on her eye for over two years. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She acts like a happy normal chicken. Can anyone tell us what this is? 

Thank You, 

— Janie and Roger Ulsh, Pennsylvania 

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Hi Janie and Roger,  

Chickens (and other birds) can get swollen sinuses from a variety of respiratory diseases (mycoplasma, chronic fowl cholera, etc.). Especially when this is a bacterial infection, it often forms a plug of “cheesy” material in the sinus. This swollen sinus is often underneath the eye, but the swelling can be over the eye, too. It would probably need to be cut open and cleaned out, as the plug of material inside would need to be removed before it can heal. 

There is also a chance that it is a tumor of some sort, rather than a swollen sinus. If that is the case, it might be more difficult to remove. 

Alternatively, if she has lived with it for two years, and seems to be doing well, you may just want to leave it alone. 

Good luck with it! 

— Ron Kean 

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Sick Duck 

I have a Khaki Campbell duck that is very sick and has been going on for almost a month. I have tried giving her activated charcoal in her water but to no avail, I have also been giving her some wheatgrass powder in her water. We gave Ivermectin to our whole flock a few months ago. She only eats when I force and then barely. She is still drinking and when I let them free-range she will eat a few leaves. She is losing weight quickly and can be quite “Tipsy” or unstable on her feet, although she does not seem to have too much trouble walking.  We have one other duck, a Pekin, that is showing no signs of sickness. We are going on vacation for a week leaving Saturday and our neighbors will take care of our flock while we are gone and they are unable to administer any medication or anything so a cure has to be quick or she just has to not die while we are gone. Also, the vet is not an option for us. 

Thanks, 

— Calvin 

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I really have no idea what this might be. A veterinarian might be able to find something, but even that may be difficult without sacrificing the duck.  

I guess you might try giving it some added nutrients in the water since it is still drinking. Other than that, you may have to consider the duck’s quality of life at some point, and consider euthanizing her if she seems to be suffering. 

Sorry, I’m not more help. 

— Ron Kean 

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Scratch Feed in Summer 

I really enjoy reading your magazine and always find helpful information to use. 

In an article I read recently, it stated that scratch feed is given in the winter months when chickens need more feed to keep warm. If the chickens are free-range then they only need laying feed in the summer, not scratch feed. 

Is this correct? Our flock does free-range in the warmer weather. 

Thank you. 

— Sharron Ball, Fairmont 

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Hi Sharron, 

While scratch is delicious to chickens (which is why they go nuts over it), the main benefit of this high-corn mix is additional calories. Have you heard the fallacy that chickens shouldn’t eat corn in the summer because it will overheat them? First of all, that’s false. Second, the “heat” created is actually the scientific definition of heat, meaning it’s the energy that calories create. This fuels a chicken’s metabolism in the winter so they can stay warmer, but all it does in summer is provide empty calories. Layer feed and free-ranging are just fine in the summer, as long as fresh, cool water is always available. If you provide anything additional during hot months, I would follow Rebecca Sanderson’s guidelines: extra protein because they tend to eat less when hot, plus you could give them cool and high-moisture treats such as watermelon. 

Good luck this summer! 

— Marissa

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Boiled Eggs 

Is there a way to tell why an egg although boils for the same length of time as the others did not boil properly? It was still soft and runny. 

— Deisha Bailey-Browne 

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Hi Deisha, 

This is certainly odd! 

Did the odd egg boil in the same pan, at the same time, as those that ended up cooked all the way through? Was that egg larger than the others? Did you use a traditional boil-in-pan method or did you try an electric pressure cooker or rice steamer? And is it possible that you cooked the others then someone sneaked a raw egg in the batch, as a prank? 

By all rules of physics I’ve learned, if the egg was the same size and cooked simultaneously with the others, there’s no good reason why it should still be raw. 

Thanks, 

— Marissa

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Golden Sebright Bantams 

Hello,  

A few days ago I received my first Backyard Poultry issue. I really like it since I raise Bantams! I have been raising Bantams since 2017, and I am thinking about raising Golden Sebright Bantams. But first I’d like to know more about that breed: Do they get broody and hatch eggs like my other Bantams used to? And also, are there other sizes of the Golden Sebright?  

— John Yoder, Freedom, New York 

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Sebrights seldom go broody. Don’t count on them to hatch your other eggs like a cochin or silkie. Sebrights are a true bantam meaning they only come in petite. They are docile and beautiful and you should definitely add a few to your bantam flock! 

Here is my article on them:  

— Kenny Coogan, Backyard Poultry Contributor 

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Sebrights are a great bird. They are a true bantam with no standard counterpart. The males are hen feathered, one of the few breeds where males don’t show sharp sickle, hackle, or saddle feathers. Sebrights don’t brood often, so incubation is preferable. 

— Jeremy Chartier, Backyard Poultry Contributor 

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I don’t own Sebrights, but I did hear about them during a course at an agricultural college in the UK. The instructor warned that they are not a beginners’ breed: often flighty, difficult to breed (low egg production/low fertility/high chick mortality), and that they are an exhibition breed rather than a utility one. They are only available as bantams: there are no larger sizes. I have read that they don’t readily go broody. There is probably enough information there for me to answer your reader, but it is theoretical, rather than from my own personal experience.  

— Tamsin Cooper, Backyard Poultry Contributor 

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Egg Reduction 

I have been getting 80-85 eggs a week and now I’m getting 40. This has been going on for a month. They are not eating as much but are not sick. I have been selling eggs to the farmers market and this is hurting my sales. This started when we were having lots of rainy wet weather. Do you have any idea why this is happening? I’ve been searching all my Backyard Poultry magazines trying to find some clues. I would appreciate any help. 

— Troy Steele, Arkansas 

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Hi Troy, 

When I have such a dramatic decline and it’s not caused by winter, molt, or disease, it’s usually because of egg eaters. This can often start when chickens are “cooped” up and bored and is usually not because of any kind of nutritional deficiency. If an egg breaks in a nest, any chicken will eat it. Unfortunately, the smarter ones realize eggs are tasty and they will even bully other hens off their nests to access the eggs. The only sure way to stop an egg eater is to remove her from your flock. You can look for bits of shell in the nest (though offenders usually eat all the shell), chickens with egg or shell on their beaks, or install a trail cam pointed at the nesting boxes. For me, when I don’t have money or time for that kind of vigilance, my best (though often temporary) solution is to install curtains on the nesting boxes. Chickens enter and lay eggs just fine, but it’s too dark to see the eggs and dine in.  

Whatever your tactic, act soon! Your profits are already down by half, and egg eaters soon teach their nasty habits to the other girls. Once, it got so bad in my flock that I had to replace all my birds. The good news is that, once they were thrown in with a new flock, they stopped their sneaky ways. 

Good luck! 

— Marissa

If you have health-related poultry questions, use the chat feature, email editor@backyardpoultrymag.com, 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!

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