Ask the Expert February/March 2020
Reading Time: 13 minutes
I have seen comparisons between chicken and duck eggs, but what are some differences with goose eggs?
Several of my egg customers allergic to chicken eggs have no allergic reactions (such as anaphylaxis) when consuming duck, goose, or guinea eggs (the other birds in my egg production business). Could you explain in more detail why this is, other than allergies usually have something to do with protein structure (or so I been told)?
Also, usually geese have shorter egg-producing seasons, mostly spring and early summer. This year, not sure why, a goose we named Greta comes up to my flower bed next to my bedroom window, where I have provided nice hay and straw for her chosen nesting site. She is usually “guarded and escorted” by Spike, a rescued Appenzeller Spitzhauben rooster. She started to lay eggs in September, around the time the ducks quit laying, and has continued to produce two to four eggs per week, and it’s now February! She honks her arrival while I am enjoying morning coffee in our sunroom that protects this particular section of flowerbed from the north, flower bed on the east side of the home with spectacular sunrise views. Spike is dust-bathing nearby while she sits on her nest. When Spike and Greta are ready to rejoin the rest of our flock of 50-something geese and 30-something ducks, a trek about 300 feet from house to poultry houses and yards, they announce their “departure,” so I try to reward them with romaine lettuce leaves and a slice of bread. Then I can bring the goose egg inside before it has a chance to freeze.
My egg customer, Sue, that has serious egg allergies, has been feeling so blessed that Greta has been keeping her supplied in eggs over these winter months, this year able to make Hanukkah challah bread! We joke about our “miracle” producing goose. Is there any scientific explanation on why Greta has continued to produce off-season, even some mornings when outside temps are near 0 degrees F? Greta’s breed could be a mix of Chinese, African, and Embden.
This is the first year Sue has been a regular egg customer, and also the first year of my 22+ years of poultry raising that I am able to provide more than just chicken eggs through the winter. I call it a “God thing,” any other explanation?
I have an assortment of dog houses scattered in the duck and goose yard for shelter, but with a pair of Turkish Akbash guard dogs, we have not needed to lock the birds up at night to protect from predators. Besides, we have a six-ft-plus security fence around our 25 acres, and a guard llama on pasture (that almost killed the neighbor hunting dog had we not intervened).
This same flower bed had at least six mama geese with nests last spring, hatching out over a dozen goslings. I am not sure if Greta was one of the mamas or one of the goslings.
Cari Frahm, Frahm Poultry, AKA “The Egg Lady” of Laredo Montana
It sounds like Greta is earning her keep in so many ways!
The reason she is so productive right now is most likely because she is part (or all) Chinese goose. Not only are they some of the best egg layers among geese, producing over 50 per year, but they also have the longest laying season. Most poultry are prolific in the spring as they hatch and raise their goslings or chicks. Chinese geese take a break from laying in the summer, but many begin again in November and lay through spring.
A second reason could be that she is uniquely … Greta! I have my own stories of a specific hen or duck that outlived the others, out-layed the others, or was smarter than the rest of the flock.
Regarding why Sue can eat Greta’s eggs, but cannot consume chicken eggs, is because of her specific protein allergy. Most allergic reactions to foods are because of specific proteins within the foods. And chicken egg whites have over 40 different proteins! If a person is specifically allergic to the protein “Gal d 2” (also called ovalbumin) found within chicken albumin, they may be able to eat the egg from another species that does not have this protein. The same can be true for milk: Most milk protein allergies are from the Alpha s-1 Casein protein, prominent in cow’s milk, but the same people may be able to consume the Alpha s-2 Casein protein in goat’s milk just fine. This isn’t always the case, though. Sometimes, people are so deadly allergic to those specific proteins that doctors recommend they don’t consume food items created by species even remotely related.
Thanks for telling us about Greta! I hope she keeps laying those healthy eggs for many years to come!
Introducing New Chickens to the Flock
If someone can help me, my question is: when/how long does it take for a young chicken to be accepted into a flock? This bird (Petunia) got pecked so badly she needed stitches at the vet. Now she won’t go into the coop at night. She sleeps outside on TOP of the coop! The chicken of the same breed was the lowest on the pecking order; now Petunia is. The older chicken will not give Petunia any rest. I’m afraid (and she is) to go back into the coop at night, because that is where she got pecked so badly. I didn’t get early enough up to let her escape from her tormentor. Winter will be here soon. Luckily there are no predators here in the city.
Thanks for your suggestions and advice. Love the magazine, been reading it for years!
Normally it calms down within a week or so. But, just as Janet Garman described in her story about chicken pecking order, there are always chickens that are more dominant or “mean girls.” Bullies are just plain jerks, and it sounds like your aggressive hen has found someone to bully while the other knows she’s at the bottom and isn’t going to test boundaries anymore.
Rather than getting rid of either Petunia or her bully, are there ways you can augment their environment? Do you have room to add a secondary, smaller coop that only holds three or so hens, to give her another option for spending the night? How about obstacles in the run under which she can hide if her bully comes around? In one of my runs, I simply nailed a plank against the side of the coop, at an angle where young pullets could hide but older hens couldn’t fit without really cramming themselves in there.
Good luck, and I hope Petunia can find some peace!
My name is Chloe. I really enjoy your magazine. I’ve been getting it for almost two years now, and I like to read it while sitting near my chicken coop. The chickens love it too; while I’m reading, they like to sit on my lap or on my feet. I currently have four hens and three roosters. One of the roosters lives with my hens, and the others like to follow my guinea birds around our property.
About a month ago, I found one of my hens dead when I went to feed them in the morning. It was early, around 6am, so none of the others were up yet. She was lying under one of the roosts, and her neck was broken. I assume she broke her neck falling off the roost. My question is, do you think she fell off the roost while she was sleeping and broke her neck from the fall, or do you think she died in her sleep and then fell off? The roost is almost five feet off the ground, so I’m concerned that if she just fell off while sleeping it could happen to another one of my chickens. The hen was about three years old, and she didn’t have any visible health issues. She was acting normal the day before, and when I checked on them that night before I went to bed, she was on the roost sleeping with the others. I’ve had chickens for quite some time and I’ve never had one fall off a roost (that I know of).
Let me know what you think. Thanks!
I’ve never had one fall off the roost either, and I’ve been keeping chickens for a long time! But I have had chickens get scared in the middle of the night, fly up and hit their heads on the tops of the coop, and break their necks. Could it be possible that predators, including any domestic dogs, didn’t enter the coop but could have scared your hen from the outside? Your other theory is also possible: that she died of something else, or was ill enough that she couldn’t keep her balance, and broke her neck when she fell. Five feet is pretty high up when you’re as small as a chicken.
Chickens and Bacon Fat
I’ve made suet with beef fat before for our chickens, and recently read about someone using bacon fat. I’ve hesitated because I thought the level of salt and processing ingredients in bacon might be too much for the chickens’ systems. Any research/guidance on this?
Mary McDermott, New Jersey
You’re right to be concerned. Chickens need salt and are also sensitive to salt. In the wild, they acquire all they need through natural sodium levels in meat; in captivity, their feed should ideally include all the salt they need. Studies have been done where mixing mistakes in feed mills have resulted in chicken injury and death.
Studies also exist online regarding nitrite toxicity in hens which, for the most part, reduced egg-laying by drastic percentages. (Nitrites are used in the processing of cured bacon.)
Here is one that proves salt is lethal at 4g per kilogram of chicken. (That’s about 1.5tsp per 4.5lb bird, which is a lot if it all comes from a single source.) archive.org/stream/toxicityofsaltfo00mitc/toxicityofsaltfo00mitc_djvu.txt
Many blogs online advocate reusing bacon fat for suet, though few advise using it in moderation. But how much is “in moderation?” I haven’t seen any studies about “How much bacon fat is too much for chickens,” so let’s consider it this way: A handful of potato chips won’t hurt us, but they’re already above our recommended salt intake if we consume the standard recommended diet; eating potato chips nonstop could kill us with hypernatremia or blood pressure issues. Making suet from bacon grease means you are already giving the chickens more salt than they need, so if you’re going to do it at all, take it easy.
I hope this helps!
Glucosamine for Chickens
I was wondering if any of your chicken experts could help me with a question? I have seven wonderful girls who are four and three years old. They’re doing great and most are still laying. My one buff Orpington (I call her ‘My Yellow’ even though her real name is ButterBall) seems to be slowing down while walking. She is significantly larger than my other chickens so she has more weight to hold up … but she’s so cute! I was wondering if I can give my chickens glucosamine for joint health and if so, how much? Will it have any effect on the eggs? Thanks in advance for and advice.
Yes, both glucosamine and chondroitinhave been proven in scientific studies to improve joint health in chickens (specifically broilers.) Since I’m not a veterinarian, I cannot tell you how much to administer, but I can direct you toward this study which tells exactly how much was used:
However, are you sure she’s having joint issues? There are other reasons why your chicken could be slowing down. For instance, if she’s slower compared to the other hens, then what breeds are the others? Is ButterBall limping, favoring one leg, or resting a lot? Do her hocks appear to be swollen or tender to the touch? Here is a great story that that mentions articular arthritis, which is not curable and deals with kidney function or high-protein diets rather than synovial fluid. Author Gail Damerow recommends finding natural sources of the amino acid methionine for this specific issue.
Good luck! And if you find any supplements which seem to improve her comfort levels, please let us know so we can share them with other readers.
We recently bought a Cream Legbar chick from a local hatchery with hope that she would lay our first blue egg. Well, she has laid her first egg, but it’s a dark moss green color. She looks like a Cream Legbar but is not laying blue. Does this happen? Or is she a mixed breed? Thanks
We have an Olive egger that looks almost identical to her. We got her from a different hatchery, so we know she is mix of a Cream Legbar and a Welsummer.
Bonnie Gaor Kleber
Without wanting to discredit your local hatchery, I am going to theorize that either the breeders didn’t isolate specifically for the desired blue egg or that a fourth chicken breed was introduced into the breeding line.
Cream Legbars come from careful crossing of Leghorns, Barred Rock, and Araucana chickens. These three chickens lay, respectively, white, brown, and blue eggs. Here is a story that, while it talks about duck egg colors, discusses the oocyanin, biliverdin, and protoporphyrines and how the Punnett squares work.
Your olive egger produces her gorgeous shell color because the brown protoporphyrine layer (Welsummer) coats the oocyanin (Cream Legbar) to create an illusion that those two colors have mixed.
But any time you cross a new breed with one that has established characteristics, you introduce all new genetics into the mix. And then you have to breed selectively to be sure chickens that lay green eggs instead of blue aren’t allowed to remain in the breeding program. A new breeder might cross those three breeds in attempts to create their own Cream Legbar, but might then sell chicks before ensuring that their own line isn’t stabilized enough to reach desired standard. And even then, there are genetic “throw-backs” in established lines. It’s also possible that either an Easter Egger was used in breeding, rather than an Araucana, or that a rooster with the green-shelled gene made a short side trip into the breeding pen.
Either way, she sounds like a beautiful hen with beautiful eggs. But I wouldn’t suggest breeding her to hatch out more Cream Legbars.
I’ve looked high and low on the internet but keep coming up short handed.-Do ducks need normal light or a red light? And how old should new baby ducks be before entering the coop with the adult ducks? Thank you for your time and knowledge!
Great question! In general, their lighting needs mimic those of chickens, but let’s look at what “normal light” means. Contributor Rebecca Sanderson wrote a great story in the October/November issue of Backyard Poultry that looks into incandescent, fluorescent, and LED bulbs. The studies found that poultry don’t prefer one over the other, but they DO prefer a white light with a warm spectrum. (No “cool white” or “blue spectrum” bulbs.) A quick online search reveals warm-spectrum bulbs, often marketed as “nursery” bulbs for children. Red lights are best for nighttime heat for ducklings, where a white heat bulb might keep them awake and disturb natural circadian rhythms. Red lights are also good if you have a problem with feather picking, as they can help camouflage the blood.
Regarding how old they should be before entering the coop, follow the same rule as chickens: when they are fully feathered, if your temperatures drop below 70 degrees F. Ducklings grow much faster than chicks and appear huge when they are only three weeks old, but they still need full plumage for warmth. This is especially true if your ducks have access to swimming water; ducklings raised by mothers receive protective oils from rubbing against the mom but brooder-raised ducklings don’t have these oils until their true feathers come in.
Wintering Methods for Chicken Coops
Would you point me in the way of a resource for wintering methods for a chicken coop that will be outside all winter long in the Northeast part of the country? Seven hens and one bold rooster!
Sandy Pirdy, New York
This is one of our best resources for wintering chickens. Though the author lives in West Virginia, his tips apply in Minnesota, New England, and Alaska. People always worry when winter rolls around but, if you take a few specific precautions, your birds will be fine. Think of how many people successfully raised chickens in your area before electricity was even standard. Good luck, and let us know if you have any further questions!
Is there something you can give a hen or rooster when their backend is messy? They are lethargic, laying down, and then pretty soon they are dead. I am thinking they have worms. Is there something I can give that one chicken down their throat?
I don’t know of any that are approved for use in chickens, especially in laying hens. The only approved dewormer for laying hens is Safeguard Aquasol. It’s a fenbendazole product that is mixed in the water.
I know that many hobbyists use other off-label products, but I can’t really give recommendations for those.
If the hens have worms, it’s likely the rest of the flock would have them, too. I’m not sure those symptoms necessarily point to worms, but it’s a possibility. They could also be caused by a bacterial infection (peritonitis would be a guess), or possibly internal tumors, which are fairly common in laying hens.
Deworming won’t hurt the chickens, so it’s something to try.
When choosing which birds to breed, I want to increase the number of eggs from my ducks. It is easy to get an average count on number of eggs per duck, but how do I know if one duck is laying more eggs than another. Do I have to separate each I individual duck to count the number of eggs, and if so for how long?
I would say separation would be easiest. Each duck will need a companion so loneliness doesn’t affect egg production and overall health, so pairing her with either a non-laying duck, a breed that lays a different egg color, or even a different species would be best so you can keep track of the eggs. If your ducks are at peak laying season, and are the same age, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks before you can get a good idea of who out-produces the others. Other ideas I’ve seen include holding the duck upside down and dropping gel food coloring into the oviduct. Then, for the next few eggs, she will deposit a bit of that color. This would require supervision to keep applying food color. And, if you’re up for even more work and supervision, you could try “trap cages,” which have a trap door triggered when the duck enters the nest. You would have to let her out each time you count and record that egg. Whichever method you choose, be sure to take age into account, as a one-year-old duck will almost inevitably out-lay a four-year-old duck.
Good luck with the project!
Three weeks ago, a young Jersey Buff poult appeared in my yard (not even kidding!). I had never seen this breed before and researched it to find out exactly what breed it is. We love this bird and its history enough that we would like to start raising them. Here’s my problem … I can’t find this breed to buy and start our flock. Most people have never heard of a Jersey Buff turkey. If you could point me in the right direction, or have some you would sell me, I’d gladly buy. I looked on your website and didn’t see Jersey Buff.
Thank you for reading my crazy turkey story and I look forward to your reply!
A wandering Jersey Buff poult is an unusual find, especially since this is such a rare breed! The Livestock Conservancy website can help find breeders near you in its Breeders Directory.
However, since this is such a rare breed, here are my thoughts:
– If this poult is indeed a Jersey Buff, then one of your neighbors is breeding them as part of a conservation effort. They would probably love knowing where their poult went and have someone in their area with whom they could share breeding stock. I know this is a resource I wish I had with the rare goats I breed!
– There’s a very good chance this poult is a cross between two other heritage breeds, such as Bourbon Red and Beltsville Small White, which would produce a light-colored poult. Both Bourbon Reds and the white heritage varieties are much more common and a more likely find.
Wherever your poult came from, good luck! We do need more people dedicated to breeding and preserving those rare strains!
Originally published in the February/March 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regulary vetted for accuracy.