Ask the Expert – February/March 2021

Ask the Expert – February/March 2021

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Stopping Boredom 

Can you give newbies some ideas for keeping young chicks/pullets from getting bored in their pen? The ground is bare.  

Susan Creamer 

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Hi Susan, 

Thanks for asking! Boredom is a common cause of behavioral problems with chickens, and adding the right elements to the coop and run can solve this problem. Here are some great stories that discuss both the reasons for these needs and ways to alleviate boredom: 

This one is from Tamsin Cooper, one of our foremost experts in livestock welfare, that talks about a chicken’s basic needs and how to provide for them within your coop: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/coops/chicken-coop-basics-chickens-need/ 

This one discusses the need for enrichment and gives a few ideas: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/do-you-need-toys-for-chickens/ 

Plus: a tutorial on how to build a chicken swing: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/coops/make-a-chicken-swing/ 

My go-to favorite chicken toys are a string of red beads, encouraging the chickens to peck the beads instead of each other, and food on strings such as a cabbage suspended on a rope. Be sure any elements you introduce cannot be eaten, such as using beads that are too large to fit inside chicken mouths and sturdy strings that won’t break and enter the chicken’s crop.  

Good luck on your new chicken-keeping adventure! 

Marissa 

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Good morning,   

Please tell me how long I can store chicken eggs for hatching and at which temperature and humidity I should store eggs. Give me complete detail thanks. God bless you and all your family members.  

Aqeel Ahmad 

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Hello Aqeel, 

After a chicken has laid an egg, store it pointy-side-down in a room that is around 50-60 degrees F (10-15 degrees C) for up to 10 days. With each day of age, the hatchability is compromised, especially after that 10 days. Humidity before hatching doesn’t matter as much, and most people can store them in a breathable cardboard box within their houses if the house is the right temperature. Here is a story about setting the eggs for incubation once they are collected:  

backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/eggs-meat/hatching-eggs-for-sale-getting-started/ 

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Cold Lonely Chicken 

I need a heater for my chicken. I only have one. Could I put a chicken in with her? 

Charlene 

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Hi Charlene, 

If you only have one chicken, then adding another would provide multiple companionship benefits, including helping her stay warm. That would be the best way to provide heat, in my opinion, since combining body heat while combating loneliness is so healthy for her compared to the fire hazards of supplemental heat. There will be a few ruffled feathers as they figure out which one is boss, then they should get along just fine.  

Depending on where you live and your chicken’s age, you may not need any additional heat sources. If your weather doesn’t get below 0 degrees F and her coop isn’t drafty, she shouldn’t need any electric heat. Adding straw to her coop can raise the temperature quite a bit and make the coop much more comfortable.  

I hope this helps. Good luck! 

Marissa 

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Swollen Foot 

One of our chickens has a swollen foot. We thought she broke it, but she’s really sick now. I don’t think it’s bumblefoot because we can’t find any wound in her foot. It might be a staph infection or scaly mites. What are some symptoms of these two diseases, and what else could be causing her foot to be swollen? What can we do to help her?  

Ella  

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Here is an amazing story that discusses different chicken foot problems, all of which have different causes, symptoms, and treatments. It’s worrying that your chicken is sick, so I would suspect staph first. I recommend giving this story a good read to see which matches your chicken’s symptoms then, if necessary, consult a veterinarian for any medications that you can’t get over the counter.  

backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/a-guide-to-recognizing-and-treating-chicken-foot-problems/ 

I hope she recovers soon! 

Marissa 

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I am sorry to say that she died before I got your email. I don’t know what it was, but I did read through the article. Her death was pretty fast. From what it looked like she had only been sick for three days. So, if another one of our chickens were to get it, we would have to treat it right away. Thank you for the article.  

Ella 

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Chickens Not Laying 

Hi,  

I have four hens that have stopped laying since the smoke from the Oregon fires caused us to have very hazardous air quality in September. I live in Vancouver, Washington. The hens were laying up until the air got bad and now have not laid since. I even put a fake wooden egg in the nest box to help remind them, but to no avail. Do you have any idea how to get them back on track? It’s been over a month now. The hens are three years and nine months old, so I know they slow down, but didn¹t think they would completely stop. I appreciate any thoughts. Thanks.  

Greg 

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Hi Greg, 

Except for the smoke, I’m sure what your hens are doing is perfectly natural. Unfortunately for you and your egg supply, your ladies hit a quartet of mitigating conditions: The stress of the smoke, their older age, a reduction in daylight hours, and they’re probably about to molt if they haven’t already started. Just one of these alone can cause a cessation in laying. Although adding a light to the coop, so they receive 14 hours of light a day, will help, it won’t eliminate all these factors. My recommendation would be to add more protein to their diet to help them regrow new feathers faster. You can do this safely by simply mixing their layer feed half-and-half with a grower or game bird feed, or even switching completely over to that higher-protein feed while offering oyster shell on the side. But the hard truth is that you may be visiting a supermarket until their bodies decide that they’re over all four of these factors, and that may not be until spring. Winter is a hen’s time to rejuvenate her health while taking a rest from production.  

Good luck, 

Marissa 

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Frozen Eggs 

I am new to chickens, and this morning I found an egg that one of my girls laid overnight, and it was frozen. What do you suggest I do?  

Thank you, 

Rebecca Thomas 

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Hi Rebecca, 

I’m glad you asked! Nobody wants to throw away eggs, but frozen eggs do happen, so the USDA addressed this specifically in the Food Safety Portion of their site fsis.usda.gov: “Shell eggs should not be frozen. If an egg accidentally freezes and the shell cracked during freezing, discard the egg. Keep any uncracked eggs frozen until needed; then thaw in the refrigerator. These can be hard-cooked successfully, but other uses may be limited. That’s because freezing causes the yolk to become thick and syrupy, so it will not flow like an unfrozen yolk or blend very well with the egg white or other ingredients.” 

Micro-cracks could have formed in the shell during freezing, and you don’t see them, but if the egg then sat on a counter for a few days, bacteria may grow inside the shell. By keeping the egg frozen then refrigerated until it’s time to cook, bacteria don’t have much time to grow. 

If you’re not sure if your eggs have frozen, you can “spin” the egg; place it on your counter and spin it to see how it moves. Frozen or hard-boiled eggs spin fast while fresh, unfrozen eggs just kind of wobble. If the egg spins freely, keep it frozen as the USDA recommends, then be sure to fully cook it. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Turkey Debate 

If a couple of you who also hunt would write me back, it would be very nice. We are in an argument here over turkeys on this block: over 100 people on this block, and they have it in their heads that turkeys can’t fly … I told them maybe the tame ones raised for food. 

But I took pictures when I was 16-18 years old of wild turkeys flying up into the trees, so I know turkeys most certainly can fly at least that far. I would love to share some info with these guys. 

Thank you! 

Glenn Bailey, Pennsylvania 

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Hi Glenn, 

Thanks for your letter! I can attest, from years of trying to retrieve my turkeys from rooftops out of concern that predators would eat them during the night, that turkeys can indeed fly. Broad-breasted turkeys, the kind sold en masse for Thanksgiving, cannot fly because they have so much breast meat that they can’t lift themselves off the ground or even breed naturally. Heritage turkeys and wild turkeys, however, can fly very well and commonly roost in trees. 

I hope this helps solve the argument! Your block-mates are halfway correct: the commercially raised Thanksgiving types cannot fly. And this is one reason I prefer to raise heritage birds. They can physically do what most birds were born (hatched) to do. 

Thanks! 

Marissa 

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Complicated Chicken Situation 

I have several generations of hens and currently no roosters. Each group has its own coop and yard. As their numbers dropped this summer due to numerous predator attacks, I wanted to move them around, but the youngest would not stay in the new pen at night but flew into trees and on shed roofs. Their original pen is too small for grown birds, but after much chasing, etc., I returned them to their old site. They are two breeds, a set of Goldens and Easter Eggers. I had to install numerous perches to keep them from flying into the side of the pen. All relocation has been at night. Also, the older hens never accepted them even after two weeks. Everyone was unhappy. I plan to move the Goldens to a separate pen with a roof. Any ideas on how to integrate generations? 

I also have a young hen that was the victim of a raccoon attack; under her wing, the skin was pulled back to the bone. After one day, she did not allow a bandage. It is not oozing, but it smells.  Now I wash it daily with Wound Wash and spray with Dermoplast. She doesn’t put the foot down on that side. 

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My favorite way of integrating younger birds with an older flock is to put them in pens where they can see each other but cannot hurt each other, usually with wire in between. This could mean putting the younger ones in a large wire dog crate, then setting that inside the coop. Or you could stretch wire across half of the coop to separate them for a few weeks. When you remove the wire, they already know each other, so the scuffles are much less. (There may still be a few scuffles, though. Such is the nature of chickens.) 

Regarding your hen’s infection: bad odor is a bad sign. You’re caring for the outside very well, but it’s probably worth your time to call a veterinarian and inquire about the best way to administer internal antibiotics, whether it’s the injectable medication sold at feed stores or feed-based antibiotics that you can only get from a veterinarian. 

Good luck with your chickens! 

Marissa 

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Chicken Feed 

Is there any way it could hurt my girls if I feed them two different layer crumble feed brands? I mean simultaneously, of course. It seems like they would just choose and eat the one they like best. Correct? 

Lynn Yamas 

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Hi Lynn, 

No, there would be no harm in that, as long as they are both nutritionally sound brands. It would then be a matter of preference. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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White Eggs 

Some eggs from my Easter eggers have turned almost white, and some of my brown eggs, the darker color washes off. I provide them with quality feed and oyster shell with ground eggshells. 

I also give them a head of cabbage every day for greens. When available, pumpkins or squash. My flock is made up of many different hens. Have a mild winter and stay well. 

Carman Spadafora 

P.S. I buy my feed at Tractor Supply. 

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Hi Carman, 

Several factors influence how much oocynin/biliverdin (blue/green eggs) and protoporphyrin (brown layer on the outside) go into shell production. Genetics can determine the base amount for a hen, but colors may lighten due to stress, mineral deficiencies, diseases that affect the shell gland (such as infectious bronchitis), and housing. It’s often just because of the hen’s age or that they’re near the end of a laying cycle and transitioning into molt and winter. So, your hens could be ready for a rest. Based on what you’re feeding them, I doubt it’s a mineral deficiency, but it doesn’t hurt to add a poultry multivitamin to their feed and water. If your coop isn’t too hot, your chickens appear happy, and you haven’t noticed any signs of disease or malaise in the past six months, then I would assume the pale colors are because your hens may be getting older or that it’s just late fall. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Ascites 

I had a two-year-old Silver Laced Wyandotte pass away yesterday. I kept her till today and cut her open to see what I could find, checking to see if she may be egg bound. I did find a flat piece of what looks to be an egg inside her, but when I cut her vent open, she was full of water like maybe a fourth of a gallon. Do you have any ideas? 

Ernie 

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Hi Ernie, 

I’m sorry to hear about your hen! 

It sounds like she had ascites (also called water belly), a condition where the bird retains water due to infection like peritonitis, organ failure, or ingesting something toxic. Mold is toxic and could also cause organ failure, which could then cause the ascites. Or your hen could have laid an egg internally, causing an infection (peritonitis). It’s difficult to tell what caused the ascites without getting a necropsy. 

If you can at all get a necropsy right now, with Covid-19 going on, I recommend it. That can give you a definitive answer. But many labs are closed because of the pandemic. 

Here is a story about one experience with ascites. Though the story is about a duck, the same issues cause ascites in chickens. It’s a members-only paid story, so you will need to log in with your All-Access membership to read it: backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/poultry-101/my-experience-with-ascites-water-belly/ 

Good luck, and I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Strange Thing in Egg 

My aunt recently found something odd in an egg from one of her hens, and I was wondering if you might have any idea what it might be? I’ll attach the picture below.  

She has no roosters, but something seems to have been growing in the egg. We would love to know what it is if you have any ideas as to what it might be. 

Chloe Couch 

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Hi Chloe, 

We’re amassing quite a collection of “weird things found in eggs” photos. Yours isn’t as odd as some that we’ve received! At the risk of grossing you out with biology, here goes: Meat spots are when a piece of tissue is picked up by the egg traveling down the oviduct, before shell formation. That tissue could have been a small tumor or infection that the hen’s body isolated and shed as it healed, or the epithelial lining of the oviduct from a healed infection. (I warned you this might be gross.) Meat spots, blood spots, and shed tissues happen in commercial eggs as well, but the candling process identifies them so they never reach the customer. Is it safe to eat? As long as there is no smell or odd coloring, yes it is. But whether you actually want to eat it is up to you. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Brown Egg Layers 

I am a brown Bovans Goldline farmer. I will like to know how I can produce my own breed of good brown layers. 

Elikem Keteku 

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Hi Elikem, 

Bovans Goldine are a great laying breed, as you already know. They’re not common in the United States but other hybrids of the Rhode Island Red are — such as ISA Browns. 

This great story talks about how to breed chickens, including selecting for the best traits and ensuring the breeding pairs are not related:https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/chickens-101/selective-breeding-how-to-breed-chickens/ 

And if you want to create your own breed of sex-linked hybrids, this story is valuable for identifying which hens to breed to which roosters:https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/chickens-101/understanding-sex-link-hybrid-chickens/ 

Good luck! 

Marissa 

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Cleaning Chicken Feces 

Please can you discuss more on the best ways to clean chicken feces and how to save the chickens from the stench of smell that oozes from the floor. 

Looking forward to hearing from you on this.  

Kind regards. 

Irene 

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Hi Irene, 

I’m glad you asked. An excessive coop smell indicates the presence of ammonia, or bacteria, or both. This great article, from Backyard Poultry contributor Jeremy Chartier, focuses on chicken coop smell by addressing the problems that cause it: feces, moisture, bugs, and bedding. Adding a mitigating product below the bedding, such as zeolite (Sweet PDZ), lime (be sure to choose a gentle kind that won’t burn feet), and diatomaceous earth (below the bedding so it doesn’t harm chickens’ lungs or yours) also helps keep the ammonia down. 

Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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