Ask The Expert February/March 2022

Ask The Expert February/March 2022
Reading Time: 23 minutes

Barred Rocks Not Laying 

Carol: Hello, I have six 22-week-old hens. Four Barred Rock and two that are orange-brown colored. The two orange-brown hens started laying eggs two weeks ago at 20 weeks old. The four Barred Rock hens are not laying. Should I be concerned? 

Marissa: Hi Carol, I wouldn’t be concerned just yet. There’s a good chance that the orange-brown hens are Production Reds or Sex Links, which lay sooner than most breeds. Heritage breeds take longer to lay. Some take as long as nine to 11 months, though Barred Rocks typically take 24 weeks. It should happen soon. You will see their combs start to turn red, and they will begin squatting if you hold your hand above them, right before they start laying. 

Carol: Thank you very much. That’s a relief! Have a great day! 

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Sudden Aggression 

Reese: I’ve had six chickens for just over a year. They’ve been harmonious and sweet with each other the entire time. For a week now, the flock seems to be attacking what used to be the top chicken, and they’re plucking the tail feathers out of one of the other birds. 

This feels sudden, and nothing significant has changed. Where would I start to look for answers? Thank you for your help! 

Marissa: Hi Reese, it sounds like something is stressing them out. Have you had inclement weather lately, such as a lot of rain, that has kept them cooped up? Or a lot of heat that might stress them out? When chickens pick on each other, more than just the natural pecking order, it’s usually because something in their living situation isn’t harmonious. And even if your coop is amazing and the food is very nutritious, simple boredom can cause picking. I recommend reading this story to see if anything is out-of-harmony in your coop: https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/chickens-101/chicken-husbandry-five-welfare-needs/ 

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Diatomaceous Earth 

Carol: How do I use DE as a dewormer in chicken and duck feed? My six hens are 25 weeks old, and the ducks are 16 weeks. 

Marissa: Hi Carol, it’s still debatable whether diatomaceous earth actually acts as a dewormer, so while it won’t hurt your chickens (as long as they don’t inhale it), so far, studies haven’t proven whether it helps. Almost everything we have, claiming it works, is anecdotal. So, while it’s okay as a preventative, it’s not something to rely on if your chickens suffer from an infestation. That said … simply mix it in with feed or sprinkle it on top. I would do it a bit before feeding the chickens, so the particles have time to settle, and ensure the feed is in a ventilated area to reduce respiratory exposure. 

Carol: There is no infestation. Just using DE as a preventive. Thank you so much for answering my question. I will sprinkle it on their food. The membership cost is so worth it to me to have my questions answered. Thanks for your support! 

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Grass for Chickens 

Annemarie: I have a question about grass for my chickens. They are almost 12 weeks old. They have denuded their 16×21 foot run of all grass. The fellow that cuts my hay (timothy grass) has just finished cutting, and I wonder if it is okay for me to cut up some of the hay and feed my babies. I can’t free range — too many coyotes and foxes. Is there another option to providing grass? I’m a new chicken keeper and have read many books, but there seems to be a binary choice only — free-range = grass, coop/run-raised = no grass. Surely there’s something in between, hopefully. Thanks so much. It helps to have a person to ask. 

Marissa: Hi Annemarie. Yes, it’s okay to give them the hay, but it’s debatable whether they will eat it since it’s not fresh. They might just tear it up, which isn’t bad because it allows them to use their natural scratching instincts, but it doesn’t provide nutrition. I find that chickens like alfalfa hay, which provides great protein and calcium, but they only eat the leaves, and the rest gets torn and composted with their manure. (Again, not a bad thing.) Another option is to grow fodder for them. The cheapest way is to get some bulk wheat — the kind that is still in whole kernel form. Then plant it in seed trays, allow it to grow a few inches, and give the whole mat of fodder to the chickens. But yes, keeping them in the same place will eventually ruin any grass you had in the run. If you built a solid chicken tractor, you could move that to different places in your yard. Let them eat one area for a day, then move them the next day so that grass has time to recover. It’s how many “pastured poultry” operations do it when they have a lot of predators. 

There are some great options for fresh grass. I hope some of these ideas help. Good luck! 

Annemarie: I thank you very much for taking the time to provide these options. I especially like the third option and will start on that right away. Again, thank you very much, — Annemarie Lafreniere 

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Old and Young Hens 

It seems that I get a bellyache from egg eating. Some or a lot of my problem is weak shells from old hens. I ran them all together young, old, whatever. How can I tell an old hen from a young? How do I know which ones to cull? 

David Williams, Iowa 

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Hi David, 

While it’s easy to tell a pullet from a laying hen, it can be more challenging to tell the age past that. I often rely on my cell phone since I take way too many pictures, and the phone recorded when I took the pictures. But if you neither have a cell phone nor are an avid photographer, here are some ways: 

  • Older hens look more worn out. Their feathers aren’t as vibrant or as tight around the body. She may have scars on her comb and wattle from her sisters picking on her. Broken toes and other minor injuries may have happened over the years, so her feet are gnarly and a little crooked, not smooth and shiny. Skin and scales on the legs may be thicker. 
  • Her attitude changes. Young hens still run from you, flighty in their inexperience. Older hens act calmer, having learned how to express displeasure with a critical eye, and are more imposing while telling a teenage cockerel to back off. When the younger chickens cross the line, she reminds them who the boss is. 
  • Most hens lay best when two years or younger. After that, production slows; some may completely stop laying after five years of age. If your chickens lay different colors of eggs, it will be easier to match the egg to the chicken, so you can count how many she gives you. 
  • She may also move slower due to old injuries, gout, or even plain old arthritis. Because of this, she may seek out sheltered areas, might choose lower perches, and might even be the target of bullying from younger hens. 
  • The best way to determine her age, rate of lay, if she produces thin shells, and even if she eats eggs is to isolate her. Select the hens that you think are older and put them into a different coop. Then monitor how they act, how well they lay, and their eggshell quality. 

As you work to determine which hens are oldest, provide a free-choice oyster shell to help them create harder eggshells. Keep nesting boxes dark, adding curtains if necessary, with plenty of bedding. And gather eggs often, so there isn’t as much opportunity for hens to eat them. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Weak Yolks 

My New Hampshire Red hens, about one and a half years old, are laying well and have been so all winter. Well, what we call winter here in tropical north Queensland, Australia. 

About 40% of their eggs have very weak yokes. I don’t know if it’s 40% of the hens or all of the hens 40% of the time. This problem started around July (mid-winter here) and has gotten progressively worse. They are on good-quality lay pellets with shell grit available all the time and run free-range eight hours or so every day — real free-range, unlimited space, and forest and pasture access right beside the chook house. 

I have had chickens here for 33 years and never had much of a problem. This is the first time I’ve had New Hampshires; I have had ISA Brown chickens mostly. I changed because I wanted to breed purebred chickens and sell fertile eggs and chicks and point-of-lay pullets. 

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t even give these eggs away right now. 

I hope you can help. 

Thank You, 

Kevin 

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Hi Kevin, 

Since you’re in winter, I would rule out storage temperature; when weather is hot, yolk membranes easily burst. Health problems affecting yolk strength include age and infectious bronchitis. But if you know your chickens are young and healthy, you’re collecting the eggs often enough, and your chickens aren’t stressed, then I would instead look at protein content or the breed itself. 

Often, the protein in a higher-end food isn’t in a form that is easily digestible by the chicken. You can boost protein by adding in some mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, or hardboiled eggs as treats. 

But let’s say you fed this same layer feed to your ISA Browns and had no problem. Then I would look at the chickens themselves as the problem. You’re not the first to tell me that they tried out a new breed from a specific hatchery and had issues with the yolks. Genetics can be an issue. While New Hampshire chickens themselves aren’t known for problem yolks, the particular lineage from your hatchery could be. 

Good luck! I hope your problem is easily fixed by adding more protein, instead of replacing your chickens, as that’s much easier and more likely to provide the income from the eggs and the offspring. 

Marissa 

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Sick Chicken 

I have a seven-and-a-half-year-old dominant Barred Rock hen, Thelma. She is moving slowly, not interested in food (I made her some oatmeal), and is all fluffed out. She is isolating. Her breast, around/below her crop, is puffy. I thought I saw her stumble when coming out of the coop this morning. (I was trying to catch her.) 

About three to five years ago, I had a MEAN chicken who displayed similar traits, but by the time I discovered Meanie’s traits, she stumbled and could barely walk. Her feathers were falling out, and she was very heavy. I guessed that she had all sorts of tumors and some sort of neurological problem. I had put her down right then. I’m afraid Thelma is displaying the same symptoms as Bonnie (Meanie) did. I don’t want her to suffer as Bonnie must have. Do you know what this might be? What can I do to help her? Is this curable? How long should I wait to put her down? 

Thank you,  

Ann Gilmore 

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Hi Ann, 

I’m sorry to hear that Thelma isn’t doing too well! She is getting up there in age, so it’s tough to tell if she suffers from what Bonnie had or a list of other issues that can happen to older hens. Since you say her crop and the area around it are puffy, I would investigate that first. Can you smell a sour or yeasty odor on her breath? Has she regurgitated anything? If so, then she could either have sour crop or an impacted crop. You can handle sour crop with an antifungal like nystatin, but an impacted crop may involve a visit to the veterinarian. But if the tissue around the crop and at her belly is puffy, like a water balloon, then she has water belly. This can come from ingesting something toxic, an infection such as peritonitis, or ­ more likely, considering Thelma’s age —­ organ failure. Water belly is often fatal, so deciding when to put her down is mostly about considering whether the treatment is worth the pain ­—and if treatment will even make a difference. She is already feeling bad enough that she doesn’t want to eat, so Thelma may be trying to answer that question for you. 

Marissa 

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Thank you for your prompt response, Marissa. I had Thelma put down yesterday, October 3rd. It was hard. Her eyes were still bright! She got a scrambled egg as her last meal. I forgot to ask you about two golf-ball-sized eggs that she laid. They were mostly all albumin with a pencil-sized yolk! I figured that they were the last of her lifetime supply of eggs. Could this idea be right? Or was it from organ failure resulting from bacterial influenza all my chickens caught years ago? 

Thank you for the fun magazine! 

Best, 

Ann 

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Hi Ann, 

I’m so sorry for your loss but glad that Thelma is at peace. It is hard to put down an animal that we truly love, even knowing that we are doing what is best for them. 

Regarding the eggs: that’s difficult to answer because it could have been either of those. Also, stress itself affects egg production and quality, and Thelma was certainly stressed. It can be tough to tell without necropsy, and sometimes, even that isn’t definitive. 

Thank you for trusting us as your source of chicken knowledge! 

Marissa 

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Chicken Stumbling Around 

Hello. One of my hens started stumbling around today like she was dizzy. She’s eating and hopefully drinking. What can I do? Please advise. 

Carol 

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Hi Carol, 

If she’s eating and drinking, she most likely isn’t sick from mold or other neurological diseases. And if you can’t see any wounds, she probably didn’t get clocked upside the head. I would assume it’s nutrient deficiency first, both because it’s very common and because it’s straightforward to treat. Simply buy some Nutri-Drench for Poultry or some Rooster Booster Poultry Cell and put it in her water. You can even drop it into her beak; she won’t overdose since the vitamins are water-soluble. If this is nutrient deficiency, you should see improvement within a week. 

If you don’t see improvement, investigate for mold: in her feed, her bedding, corners of the coop, etc. While there isn’t a cure for mycotoxicosis, the best thing you can do is remove any mold once you find it because a chicken can’t even start to improve until you remove what is making her sick. 

Many neurological issues can cause a lack of coordination and vision problems. Since many are nutritional, there’s hope for your hen! 

I hope she improves soon. 

Marissa 

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Thank you, Marissa, for your info. When I let her out of the coop this morning, she seemed much better, normal even. I did give her Rooster Booster in her water last night. Also, I added some to all the hens’ water this morning. I also fed them oats with yogurt and molasses. Suspected nutrient deficiency surprises me because I feed them Kalmbach Feed. I give them half Flock Maintainer and half Layer feed. She is a very good laying hen. Should I give her ALL layer feed not mixed with maintenance feed? I didn’t want to overstimulate my hens’ reproductive organs by pushing for more eggs. Please advise me. Thank you! 

Carol 

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Chickens can experience nutrient deficiency even on the best feed. It can happen if the feed isn’t formulated so that she can use it, if she has genetic conditions, or if she has experienced malabsorption syndrome (a virus that interferes with how a chicken absorbs vitamins). Kalmbach is an excellent feed brand, though, so if it was a deficiency, it was caused by something specific to how she absorbs nutrients. 

Regarding overstimulating reproductive systems: that won’t happen with a good diet. A bad diet will keep a hen from laying eggs or will create flawed eggs, but a perfect diet allows her to lay eggs according to her body’s abilities. Overstimulating reproductive systems can happen if you don’t allow your chickens to experience seasons and circadian rhythms. (This often happens in commercial egg facilities.) Forced molt and providing too many hours of light can make her lay more or larger eggs than her body really should. If your hen acts healthy and energetic, and her shells are nice and thick, then there’s nothing wrong with how you are mixing her food. If you don’t already do so, I recommend providing a free-choice oyster shell because layer feed is intended to provide the right amount of calcium for regular laying, and deviating from that could mean she doesn’t get as much as she needs. Providing that oyster shell means she will eat her supplemental ration according to her needs. 

I’m glad to hear that she is doing better, and I hope this is a one-time malady. 

Marissa 

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When Do Hens Lay Again? 

I have a question. When a hen hatches her eggs, how long will it be before the hen starts laying again? 

Bill 

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Hi Bill, 

Great question! It can depend on how much time she is willing to dedicate to being a mom. I’ve had hens that raised chicks for four weeks, then they made it clear that the chicks were established and on their own, and the hens started laying again two weeks later. I’ve also had hens that wanted to keep being moms when the chicks were eight weeks old. After they finish parenting, they should start laying eggs if it’s not molting season or the days aren’t short due to winter. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Pelleted Lime 

Hi, I have read and liked the magazine for years. I need to lime my yard with pelleted lime and want to know if my ducks and chickens will eat the pellets and will it harm them. 

Travis 

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Hi Travis, 

This is a critical question! Not all “lime” is created equal, so it’s essential to buy the proper lime. Avoid construction lime (calcium hydroxide), which is for masonry and is caustic when wet. This will harm the chickens’ feet and their digestive tracts. It can also be labeled builder’s lime, hydrated lime, slack lime, caustic lime, and pickling lime. Agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) is essentially the same thing in baking soda substitute and a component of eggshells, so that is a lot safer. It can also be labeled barn lime and garden lime. Confusing, right? Often, poultry owners lean toward products already manufactured and sold to address these concerns. First Saturday Lime contains hydrated lime but blends it with other products, so it’s not caustic but provides the same benefits. Sweet PDZ isn’t lime at all but zeolite, which absorbs ammonia and neutralizes acids. Both products have great reviews. Both First Saturday Lime and Sweet PDZ are also good for gardens, so you’re adding more benefits if you compost your coop waste. 

Yes, the chickens could eat the pelletized/crushed kind. They can breathe the powdered kind. For liming your yard, you can apply it after the sun goes down, when the chickens are in the coop anyway, and it will settle overnight, so it absorbs by morning. For coops, thoroughly clean your coop, then apply the lime or zeolite into the corners and anywhere that moisture collects. Wear a face covering to protect yourself from the particulates as well as your chickens’ dander. Then put bedding, such as straw or pine shavings, on top of the lime/zeolite. The chickens will dig around in it since that’s what chickens do, but they won’t have nearly as much contact with it 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Breeding Light Brahmas 

Hello,  

This spring, I want to breed my Light Brahmas. We have an extra coop to do it in and wonder if you have any tips/tricks to help it go smoothly. 

Thanks 

Kiely Kinchla, MA 

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Hi Kiely, 

Breeding chickens is so exciting, and Light Brahmas are such great birds. Here are some tips: 

  • If you have any roosters that are NOT Light Brahmas and have been in the same coop as your Light Brahma hens, then you need to separate the breeding flock at least two weeks before you set the eggs, to be sure only the Light Brahma rooster fertilized the eggs. 
  • Be sure your chickens have gotten to know each other before separating them into the smaller coop. There will be fewer fights that way. 
  • Light Brahmas tend to go broody, but that can be hard to predict. If one goes broody, then all you need to do is gather fertile eggs from the other hens and stick them under her, and she will incubate them. You can probably set 12 eggs under her. Try to give her all the eggs simultaneously, so they start developing at the same time. 
  • Once a hen sits on the eggs, isolate her, so the other hens don’t go into her nesting box. They could break the eggs or lay more eggs. Then those eggs develop at a different rate and might not be ready to hatch until that hen is off the nest with her other chicks. 
  • If you can’t separate the hens, take a pencil and mark all the eggs that you want your broody to hatch, so you can remove any other eggs and put them under another hen or bring them into the house. 
  • If you need to store the eggs until you have enough to incubate, bring them into the house and keep them in a cool location, about 50-60 degrees F, pointy side down. You can store them for up to 10 days, but the fresher the eggs are, the better. 
  • Once your hens are sitting on eggs, or once you have enough eggs to incubate, it’s okay to remove the rooster from the coop.  

We would love to see pictures and hear how it went! 

Marissa 

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Raising Ducks 

Hi Marissa,  

I read the articles encouraging one to get ducks, and I looked carefully for the details which make it all work. I did not find everything explained. 

I had successfully raised chickens for over 20 years. When I decided to add ducks to my ranch, I read everything in Backyard Poultry magazine and books and spoke to the people at the feed store. The one, significant thing none of these sources revealed was the extreme libido of drakes and that you should have three to four ducks to each drake. I bought four ducklings and ended up with three males to one female. She suffered prolapses many times, and eventually, the drakes drowned her in their sexual overactivity.  We found her at the bottom of their pool. When I spoke to the people at Metzer Farms hatchery, they told me about the problem and suggested more females.   

The trouble is, most feed stores or hatcheries do not identify which sex you are buying. The other problem is anyone touting the joy of having ducks never mentions the overactive sexual activity of drakes. We would have spared our little duck pain and death, had I known to specify the sex of the ducklings when I purchased them. 

These articles you presented either did not mention drakes’ high sexual activity or mumbled something about having more ducks than drakes but did not explain why. It would help if you were sure all these facts are made clear to people wanting to get ducks. 

Thank you, 

Lolly Scholtz, AZ 

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Hi Lolly, 

Yes, you are correct! Thank you! In addition, people should never keep chickens with drakes because the drakes can kill a hen through mating. An article specifically on drakes and their drawbacks will be in Backyard Poultry’s near future. 

Marissa 

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Feeding My Chickens 

I have 12 chickens: three rooters and nine hens. They are five months old, so I feed them a mix of Flock Raiser and laying feed. They are both crumbles. I feed them in a large pan, and it seems that they are not eating all of the feed that I am putting out. I only give them two large scoops of each food in the morning and evening, but there always seems to be a lot left over. 

Should I feed them something else besides the crumbles? 

Raymond 

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Hi Raymond, 

I’m not sure if you’re asking about meeting nutritional needs or avoiding waste, so I will address both. 

Regarding nutritional needs: If you provide a balanced feed, don’t worry if they don’t eat all of it. They eat what they need. Adding something else to it, to encourage them to eat more, could make the chickens overweight. And Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome, from obese chickens, is deadly. To be sure the feed is balanced and good-quality, I like to look at unaffiliated reviews in addition to the nutritional analysis. Also, pay attention to how well the chickens grow their feathers back after a molt, how thick the shells are, and whether they have the energy to undergo all their natural behaviors. 

Regarding waste: When there is a lot leftover, or when the chickens scatter the food, it creates waste that eventually leaves a dent in your wallet. I solved this problem by providing pellets instead of crumble. Many food companies offer the same formulations in both pellets and crumbles, and I only need the smaller crumbles when I have smaller birds. Another option would be to remove the feeder at night, when you lock up the chickens and put it in a metal trash can (with a lid) until the following day. This would prevent spoilage and keep rodents away from it, so you can safely provide the remainder of the food the next day. 

I hope this helps!  

Marissa 

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Wishbone 

Is there any validity to the old farmers’ tale that a long egg will be a rooster and a round egg will be a hen? What is the function of the “wishbone?” 

Carman 

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Hi Carman, 

There is no validity to any claims that egg size/shape determines gender. The size/shape is usually determined by how long the egg stays in the oviduct and conditions of the egg process (such as whether the hen is stressed). 

You’re the first reader, so far, who has asked about the wishbone! Per our story by Tove Danovich, “The furcula, as the bone is actually called, hangs off the bird’s skeleton like a necktie and helps stabilize them for flight, a thing that modern turkeys don’t do much of anymore.” Here is Tove’s great story about the tradition of breaking the wishbone, if you would like an interesting read: 

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/eggs-meat/thanksgivings-wishbone-traditions-have-a-long-history/

Marissa 

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Soft-Shelled Eggs 

I have a Barred Rock chicken who always lays soft-shelled eggs. They are often wasted. I had her checked at the vets, and she has inflammation and is not lacking calcium. The vet suggested an ultrasound, but that is too expensive. Would you have any suggestions about how to help my chicken? 

Thank you.  

Linda 

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Hi Linda, 

If you announce on Facebook that a chicken lays soft-shelled eggs, they will scream at you, “Add oyster shell!” But you already know, per your vet, that it isn’t the issue. And often, it’s not. The truth is that many diseases can cause poor eggshells, and many of these don’t show symptoms. Egg drop syndrome and infectious bronchitis, both viral diseases that have to run their course, might infect a flock, and you may not notice any symptoms until you get those poor shells. Inflammation within the oviduct is an internal symptom of both EDS and IB. With both of these conditions, the eggs often return to normal, but it takes time. The average is six months to a year before shells appear normal. But please keep in mind that it might not become normal. At that point, it’s up to you whether your hen is a producer or a pet. You can provide vitamins and probiotics in the meantime, which are great for healthy chickens and those needing a health boost. Be sure the products are made for poultry because bacteria that serve as probiotics for humans aren’t always the same that benefit chickens. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa 

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Thanks so much. She will remain a pet, and I will just see how it goes after adding some probiotics.   

Linda 

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Silkie Questions 

Hello,  

I am in the process of constructing my first coop and run to purchase a small backyard flock of Silkie chickens in the spring. I have a couple of questions I’d appreciate your input on. 

1) Do the roosting poles need to be lower for Silkies in the coop than you would have for larger chicken breeds? If so, any suggestions on a good starting height? 

2) Are three to five chickens enough to create a healthy social group for them? Or do I need to expand my plans/coop size to include more? 

3) I’ve read that your site doesn’t advise cedar shavings for bedding. Are there any woods/materials I should avoid using when building the coop, such as pressure-treated lumber, etc.? 

Many thanks, 

Megan 

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Hi Megan, 

  1. I recommend lowering the roosting bars a little bit, or at least arranging them in “steps” so they can fly up and down in short hops. High roosting bars are a leading cause of bumblefoot because the chickens land so hard that they hurt their feet, so lower bars are a good idea in any coop. The lowest bar can be about two feet off the ground, with each bar about 18 inches higher than the last. 
  1. Three chickens are enough for a good starter flock, and they will provide enough companionship for each other. If one hen is a bully and she picks on another so much that you must separate the victim for her safety, then it helps to have a fourth chicken, so everyone has a friend. But Silkies are docile chickens, so this is less of a worry. 
  1. If it’s not wood that you would use as a toothpick, I wouldn’t recommend it as coop bedding. But feed stores have made it easy for you by selling bales of pine shavings — some of the safest and least expensive bedding material. You most likely wouldn’t find shavings from pressure-treated wood or toxic plants/trees unless you collected chips from a landscaper or arborist. So just stick to the feed store “flake” shavings, and don’t receive chip drops for your birds, and you will be fine. 

Good luck with your Silkies! We would love to see pictures when they’re in their new home! 

Marissa 

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Bumblefoot 

Hi, I have a chicken with bumblefoot and have been to the vet several times. She had both feet debrided and has been on several rounds of antibiotics, but she is still having issues. One footpad is quite swollen and hard. The vet said he wasn’t sure if it was scar tissue or an active infection. There isn’t a scab on the surface. It is bothering her because she limps and stands on one leg. I have read a lot and am out of ideas on how to help her.  

I lowered the roosting bar. Someone at the local feed store told me to put Vaseline on it every day, but I don’t understand how that will help if there isn’t a scab to treat or protect. Not sure if I should wait it out and see if it gets worse or eventually improves without treatment. I’m interested in hearing what you have to say or if you can point me toward any resources. Thank you! 

 Kelsey 

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Hi Kelsey, 

I’m sorry that your hen is in so much pain but happy to hear that you’re seeking veterinary treatment. 

First, I would like to direct you to several stories on our website which might provide some insight. In this first one, the author describes several antibiotics which did/didn’t work for her bumblefoot issues:https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/lessons-from-a-neverending-battle-against-bumblefoot-in-chickens/. 

This second story describes other foot problems you might consider since there isn’t a characteristic scab. Perhaps you could be dealing with gout, which is painful and causes swollen tissues, and not bumblefoot. There are two types of gout: articular and visceral. They can be caused by feeding excess protein or organ malfunction (mainly kidney malfunction), though other causes exist. While there is no cure for either, the author suggests several ways of relieving pain.  https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/a-guide-to-recognizing-and-treating-chicken-foot-problems/ 

I hope either of these resources can help your hen. 

Marissa 

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Chicken Challenges 

I am a new chicken owner, and I know so little! I got five chicks in March 2021, so they are about eight months old, and one turned out to be a rooster. I’m feeding Dumor Layer Pellets, which I believe has oyster shell mixed in. My rooster is pooping a black tar substance. The hens do not have this issue. What should I do? 

One other issue, one of the hens is missing the feathers on the midsection of her back. It has been this way for about two months. I thought they would grow back, but they don’t seem to be. I don’t see her being “bullied” that I know of. Thoughts? 

Thanks in advance for any help with my naïveté! 

Aimi Baker 

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Hi Aimi, 

Black tar-like poops usually indicate two things: blood in the stool, often from internal bleeding, or eating something black such as blueberries or ashes. (Keep this in mind if you use wood ash in your dust baths.) Hopefully, you’ve been feeding them dark berries, so it’s nothing to worry about. But layer pellets provide too much calcium for any bird not actively laying eggs. This includes chicks and roosters. Many chicken owners, who wish to keep their roosters with their hens, switch to a grower such as Purina Flock Raiser and offer oyster shell on the side, so all their chickens can eat the same feed without experiencing kidney issues. 

The missing feathers are most likely because of your rooster; this is where his feet hold on when he mates. They won’t grow back as long as he’s still mounting her. You could do several things: rehome the rooster if you don’t need him, buy her a “chicken saddle” to protect the area, or just let it be if she’s not getting hurt. Unless she has abrasions that are getting infected, the lack of feathers is unsightly and makes for some bad Instagram photos. The choice depends on your own flock management goals. 

I hope these answers can help alleviate your challenges! 

Marissa 

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Chickens Dying 

Hello, I have lost some chickens and hope to find out what is killing them. On day one, they are listless and white discharge is coming out of their butts, then I find them dead. 

Paula 

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Hi Paula, 

I’m sorry to hear that you’re having problems! White discharge and white feces can mean several things, so I recommend that you take one of your chickens to get a necropsy so you can target the problem. Examples include Mycoplasma gallisepticum, vent gleet, and Gumboro disease. Gumboro isn’t common in the United States, but if it’s diagnosed in your chickens, you need to act fast, so it doesn’t spread into the community. Mycoplasma requires antibiotics and respiratory care, and vent gleet often only requires bathing the vent in povidone-iodine to kill the fungus or bacteria that has infected the vent. 

I hope you can get to the bottom of what is killing your chickens.  

Marissa 

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Guineas and Chickens Raised Together 

I have let my Guineas out of the chicken coop and yard because they seemed not to want to be cooped at night. They now wander my 18 acres plus the neighbor farms, and frequently I see traffic on the farm road in to our house slow down or stop because they like to cross the street. 

When I let my chickens out to free-range under my supervision, the Guineas will come from wherever they are and attack my chickens, causing them to run back into the fenced chicken yard. Why are they attacking the chickens that I raised them with? 

Raymond 

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Hi Raymond, 

When trying to “train” Guinea fowl (and I use “train” in quotation marks because there’s only so much training that we can do), it’s important to remember that they’re still very much a wild bird, not that different from the ones still roaming free in Africa. Compare this to chickens, which have been domesticated for thousands of years and bred for certain behavioral traits. A “domesticated” Guinea still wants to roam, even if raised from keet age with a chicken flock. If you have enough Guinea fowl, especially enough males, they will develop an “us or them” mentality against all other species. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That depends on if “letting Guineas be Guineas” works for your setup. Some people control these issues by reducing the number of male Guinea fowl; some keep fewer Guinea fowl, so they depend on the chicken flock for protection. Others build their coops around Guineas’ needs since chickens are more adaptable. No matter how you choose to manage them, remembering that Guinea fowl are their own species — and not chickens — will help when focusing on their specific challenges. 

Good luck! 

Marissa 

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Reduced Eggs 

I have a hen around three years of age and two hens that are almost two years old. Until nine or 10 days ago, I got one or two eggs every other day. It’s been almost 10 days, and I haven’t seen an egg. I think this may be due to the days getting shorter, and possibly one of them is molting. Is this the case? I was wondering what you would suggest? What should I be feeding them? Thank you, and have a great day! 

Mollie 

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Hi Mollie, 

You’re seeing a combination of several natural and healthy factors: age, molting, and shorter daylight hours. Each of these will reduce your egg count, and if you combine all three, you might not see an egg until spring. 

While many breeds can lay right through their first winter, egg production significantly drops that second winter and after their second year of life. The older they get, the fewer eggs you get, especially during the winter. 

Chickens need 14 hours of daylight to keep laying eggs. Some people remedy this by putting a light in the coop. But if you do this, be sure to put the light on a timer so the chickens can maintain their natural circadian rhythms (day/night sleep cycles). Other chicken owners don’t add a light, letting the hens’ bodies replenish health and nutrients during the winter. 

And, if a chicken is molting, she will stop laying no matter her age or the season. Feathers and eggs both require so much protein that she can’t do both. Adding a little more protein to her feed will help her grow in those feathers sooner, so she can lay eggs sooner; many chicken owners switch back to a “grower” feed for molt then return to a “layer” when they see eggs again. But keep in mind that hens might not lay until spring anyway because of the other two factors of age and daylight. 

So, if you wish, you can add a light to the coop (but be sure to turn it off at 9:00 p.m.) and add more protein to the feed. But because your hens are about two and three years anyway, they might not lay again until spring, and they could benefit from a nice break. 

Good luck! 

Marissa 

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Double-Yolked Eggs 

Three of my pullets have started to lay. As the girls adjust to being laying hens, there have been several double-yolked eggs. I understand that it is because of two yolks in the tract getting trapped in one shell. However, it did cause me to wonder if hens can have twins and, if so, are they viable? Thanks! 

Ronna Brown 

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Hi Ronna, 

Great question! While it’s possible for both of those yolks to be fertilized, they don’t usually hatch out twins. The living space is so small, even though it is more significant than a standard egg because of the double yolks, and it doesn’t leave enough room for both growing fetuses. There are YouTube videos that show twins hatching, though. Many of these do have a tough time getting out of the shell. Here is one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Iu98rBcWu8 

Thanks for your question! 

Marissa 

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

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