Ask the Expert – June/July 2021
Reading Time: 18 minutes
Where we live in Central New Hampshire, the temps can stay below freezing for days on end. I try to collect eggs every day, but sometimes I skip a day, and when I feel the egg, it feels frozen. My question is, do eggs freeze, and is it safe to eat them after they’ve thawed? I would appreciate any advice you could give.
Bob Patenaude, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
I hate frozen eggs! Laying slows in winter anyway, then when you do find eggs, they’re frozen. If they’ve cracked, it’s best to toss them or use them on dog food, especially if there is any poo or mud on the outside. You can cook them and feed them back to the hens, too. If they aren’t cracked, you can determine if they’re frozen by spinning them on a counter. An unfrozen egg wobbles but a frozen or hardboiled egg will spin fast. Put these in the freezer until ready to use, in case there are microcracks that you can’t see. When ready to use, thaw them in the fridge, then use them as soon as you can. Thawing on the counter can allow bacteria to grow and enter through those microcracks. Don’t be surprised to find the albumen is rubberier than normal, though.
This hen (Pretty Girl) is going to be 16 years old in April. She was mixed in with a batch of Cornish Cross chicks. She is the only one of that breed that I’ve raised. Also, in that group of chicks were two turkeys! Those were the days when children were allowed to handle chicks at the feed store and didn’t always put them back where they got them. Pretty Girl has set many times, but never in the hen house. Several times we thought a hawk or eagle had gotten her, but then she’d show up with 8 to 12 chicks. For the last three years, I have trimmed her nails and beak and given her special treats. Since it has gotten cold, she doesn’t want to leave the hen house, so she has only been outside three or four times for the last four months. She has always been a loner, but now I feed her after all the other chickens and rooster go outside. I guess my question is, how long can a chicken live? Pretty Girl is a labor of love … but very time-consuming.
Linda Holbeck, Washington
Wow, 16 years! She looks great. What products does she use?
All joking aside, Pretty Girl has already surpassed the odds. Chickens normally live five to 10 years, with heritage breeds living longer than hybrids. In 2004, Matilda (a Red Pyle Old English Game hen) entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest-living chicken at 14 years. Muffy (a Red Quill Muffed American Game chicken) claimed that spot in 2011, with age verified at 22 years at the time of her death.
At that age, I’m sure Pretty Girl truly is a labor of love. But whatever you’re doing … you’re doing it right. Happy birthday, Pretty Girl!
I have two Old English Game Bantam hens, not a laying breed to start with, and now they’re getting older, six or seven years old. What is a good commercial feed for older hens like this? Or is layer feed still okay? They get lots of garden scraps, and I give them a pile of compost now and then. I can’t let them out because we have raccoon neighbors.
Continuing with a layer feed won’t hurt them, though they don’t necessarily need the feed’s calcium content. They also don’t need as much protein, except at molt, since they’re not laying eggs. Some people switch to a grower feed but offer oyster shell free-choice on the side, just in case. Others keep them on the layer feed, especially if the senior hens still live with younger, laying hens. Though some companies now offer specific food for senior hens, many chickens had lived long, happy lives before anyone ever invented this commercial feed. Offering garden scraps is a great idea to be sure they get the nutrients they need. You can also offer mealworms and soldier fly larvae to supplement the bugs they would find while free-ranging and offer a poultry vitamin supplement in their water.
Overall, what you’re doing sounds great and won’t negatively affect your hens.
I hope this answers your questions.
Yes, thank you, that answered my question and made another one: the compost was full of soldier fly larvae last summer, and the girls got on them like white on rice! How do I get the soldier flies to make more? Are they seasonal? And is there such a thing as feeding too many at once? The girls were really greedy for them.
Thankfully, that research is already done! The University of North Carolina wrote good tutorial on where to get them, plus temperature, humidity, etc. One of our writers is also working on a story for a future issue, but here are the basics:
You can purchase starter larvae by searching for “Phoenix Worms” then raise them at about 95 degrees F — the same temperature that newly hatched chicks need in their brooders. They brood at 77-86 degrees F, eat table scraps and composting materials, and like 70% humidity. Once you have your starter larvae, and a suitable environment, you can monitor both temperature and humidity then allow the soldier fly larvae to compost your kitchen waste into chicken treats (themselves).
Regarding feeding too many at once: Technically, any food that isn’t a balanced layer ration deviates from complete nutrition, so feeding ONLY soldier flies would cause an imbalance. But consider a chicken’s natural habit of scratching, hunting, then devouring all the bugs they can find when they hit the larvae jackpot. I doubt you’ll breed enough larvae to cause an imbalance, unless you start a large-scale operation, so I would say ration out what you have available, and you would be fine.
Rooster Having a Stroke?
I free-range my flock on five acres. They return to the coop every night on their own. Last night my rooster wasn’t in. I found him by my horses just standing quietly. His neck was going sideways and slowly. We carried him back to the coop and put him near food and water. I checked on him an hour later, and he was not roosting but was in the corner, sleeping next to another Orpington rooster. This morning his left eye is closed, and his left foot was clenched. Can they have strokes or seizures? Is there anything I can do for him?
Several things can cause that. Considering it happened so fast, I would suspect an injury first, perhaps to the neck or head. Second, it could be a nutrient deficiency. And third, they can have other neurological problems due to ingesting something they shouldn’t have. But to answer your question: yes, chickens can have strokes. There’s not much you could do about a stroke other than palliative care and adjusting his living conditions to compensate for his new disability. But if it is a nutrient deficiency, that’s easily fixed, and the “cure” won’t hurt him, even if deficiency isn’t the cause. Simply purchase a vitamin supplement formulated for poultry, and put it in his water. The vitamins would be good for him no matter what his ailment is.
Today I noticed that Miss Speckles, my young cuckoo Marans, wasn’t walking. After a closer inspection, I realized that her toes are curled and she can’t seem to unfurl them. Usually, she is very shy, but today she was very listless and allowed me to pick her up. Her comb was bloody so I administered a topical gel that is safe for animal use. I tried to give her water with apple cider vinegar, but she would not drink. She ate two bites of a hardboiled egg, she ate some Layena pellets and possibly a few mealworms this morning, but now she, unfortunately, will not eat. Is there anything else I can do? Do you know what could be causing these problems? She is currently inside, and we are keeping her warm, thank you, any advice would be very helpful!
It sounds like Miss Speckles is going downhill fast, so I hope this message reaches you in time. So many things could be causing her symptoms that it’s difficult to know just what the problem is. Have you palpated her vent and abdomen areas to rule out peritonitis, water belly, or being egg-bound? The toe-curling sounds like it might be neurological, but still, it’s so hard to tell.
Right now, keep her as comfortable as possible and eliminate whatever stressors you can to give her every chance of improving enough to beat the problem. You will probably need to dropper some electrolytes, mixed with water, into her beak to keep her hydrated. A good poultry vitamin solution can help if the problems are a nutrient deficiency and not a bacterium, virus, or mold. If your house is a little cold, put her in the warmest room and maybe even turn on a space heater. Keep up the palliative care until she is strong enough to eat again, then continue feeding her the vitamins and those power foods like the egg yolks and mealworms.
Black Java Chicks
Over the last year and a half, I have been trying to find Black Java chicks but have not had any success. I currently have a small flock but need to grow the flock to about 40 hens. If possible, I’d prefer to re-establish my flock with 100% Black or White Javas. Perhaps you could point me in the right direction or a hatchery where I could find these chicks.
Your assistance is greatly appreciated.
When in doubt, check with The Livestock Conservancy Breeders Directory. While many of the hatcheries sell mottled Javas, you could contact a breeder and inquire whether they breed the black orwhite varieties. Here’s a link to their directory:
Good luck, and thanks for doing the work to help the breed!
My sister thought she had two male geese, but one just laid eggs. Is there anything that will stop the geese from having any more babies after this clutch hatches? Also, how do you keep the sibling geese from mating with each other or their parents?
Male and female geese can be difficult to tell apart, so you’re not alone! After this clutch hatches, she likely won’t lay more until those goslings are raised. After that, simply find where she lays her eggs and check daily, then put those eggs in the refrigerator. Though the eggs may be fertilized, they won’t develop into goslings unless she sits on the clutch to incubate them. As far as stopping them from mating: you would need to separate males from females. Geese don’t care who their parents and siblings are, so it would be up to your sister to separate the flock as necessary if she didn’t want the mating to take place at all.
Good luck! We would love to see gosling photos after they hatch.
Ducks and Chicks
Can baby ducks and baby chicks be raised together?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is: yes, but keep in mind that chicks are chicks, ducks are ducks, and often duck behavior can put chicks in danger. The biggest hazard is water. Ducks, of course, LOVE it! Adding some clean marbles to a chick waterer, and leaving enough space between them that ducklings can still dunk their entire bills, will keep them from splashing in it and getting the chicks wet. A chill can kill a chick, even if you have a heat lamp in a corner. Also, since ducks drink more water than chicks, their feces are much more liquid, and they do tend to defecate more often. This means cleaning the brooder more often. And third: since niacin is crucial for ducklings, they cannot receive medicated chick starter, as amprolium reduces the amount of niacin available to the babies. You will need to provide non-medicated feed for everyone, which means extra sanitation to ensure you don’t have problems with coccidiosis. (Also: buying chicks that are vaccinated for coccidiosis will solve this problem.)
Dogs Killing Chickens
Do you have any advice as to how to cure a dog from chasing and killing free-range chickens? I know they are just doing what comes naturally, but it’s irritating and a little costly. The additional problem is that the dog belongs to my son and daughter-in-law, who live a quarter-mile away, up the county road. The dog is a purebred, so it’s not a matter of just taking him to the pound.
I understand your frustration. We had to deal with the same issue with our own dogs. After owning three dogs that lived peacefully which chickens, and even let hens sleep on them, we brought home a German Shepherd puppy that had other thoughts. I swear, we tried every tip that was sensible and humane, but eventually, we just fenced the yard in half. The chickens got one side; the German Shepherd got the other. Not all dogs are trainable, so setting boundaries may mean actual fences. Some, on the other hand, can get along great with chickens. It depends on the dog’s breed and age, its owners, and the training you use.
Blue/Green Egg Layers
Our blue and green egg layers have us rather perplexed! We have three Easter Eggers: two that lay a green egg and one that waited around a year to start laying. We really wanted some blue eggs, so we got two Cream Legbars. As everyone picked up their laying this year, I waited until all five blue/green layers laid on the same day. I cracked open the five eggs and looked at the shells inside since I had read somewhere that a true-blue egg would be colored inside the shell. Well, as you can see by the photo, the egg on the far left is the only one that really looks sky blue, and it is white inside. The others are slightly varying shades of blue-green. According to the eggs’ insides, we have three blue layers and two green layers, right? Or perhaps I should say that we have five blue/green layers and call it a day? Ha, ha!
Thanks so much for your help in figuring this out.
While it’s true that the oocyanin and biliverdin, the blue and green colors of Araucana chickens and their descendants, do permeate the shell, it can happen in gradients.
The membranes within the shell can also dull the color a bit. When the egg forms, a white membrane first forms around the yolk. Then calcite forms on that membrane which, with blue and green layers, has the color imbued within the calcium. After that, the egg passes through the oviduct, where protoporphyrin (brown layer) is “painted on.” This is why the brown never permeates the shell, but the blue and green do.
Regarding whether you have blue-layers or green-layers: The color saturation often depends on who bred the chickens! Some breeders focus heavily on color, and they can guarantee their birds lay a stunning robin’s egg blue that permeates through the shell. With other breeders … not so much. Cream Legbars can vary in quality from breeder to breeder, so simply purchasing a Cream Legbar doesn’t mean you’ll get these stunning blue eggs. If the breeder didn’t place eggshell color as a high priority, your hens might lay a more greenish hue.
I hope this helps!
Thank you! This explains a lot. I appreciate being able to turn to Backyard Poultry when I cannot find answers elsewhere!
While I’m disappointed that we don’t have distinctly green and blue eggs in our basket, I adore all of our girls, and they are wonderful layers, so that is most important.
Hen With Hepatic Lipidosis
My hen was fine at 1:00 pm and dead at 4:00 pm. She died in my arms. I took her to the vet for necropsy. She said it was hepatic lipidosis. She was less than a year old, fed organic food (New Country Organics layer feed, no corn).
I grow organic greens for my flock; they are not overweight. She was laying, eating, and drinking just fine. Exercise outside. I am just dumbfounded how she could have gotten this.
The other four hens seem fine. Does anyone have any experience with this?
I’m so sorry to hear about your hen! Fatty liver is actually quite common among chickens, especially hens. Just as with humans, it often has to do with overeating, but also as with humans, that’s not always the case. It’s easy to get discouraged when so much information indicates that you overfed your birds, when you know you didn’t. Fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome, in poultry, is when the liver gets so fatty that it hemorrhages, and death is sudden, just as it was with your hen. But researchers are still finding out why this happens, and it isn’t always because of eating too many treats. The Merck Veterinary Manual says it’s also associated with the increase in estrogen when a hen starts laying eggs. It has also been associated with heat stress and the consumption of mycotoxins (fungus) in the feed. Genetic predisposition also seems to be a factor.
Regarding prevention: At the risk of sounding like so many people who tell humans to “just lose some weight,” the best thing you can do is monitor their diets to be sure that’s not an exacerbating factor. Replacing some of the carbohydrate calories with fat calories is easier on the liver and results in less lipid accumulation. Avoid feeds with rapeseed meal (eurcic acid) and cereal grains with a potential for mycotoxin contamination. You can also provide a feed or a poultry supplement that contains vitamin B12, biotin, chlorine, inositol, L-tryptophan, carnitine, selenium, and/or methionine, as these support liver function. (Rooster Booster Poultry Cell offers most of these.) And if you haven’t already done so, add some shade and ventilation features to your coop for when the weather warms up.
I hope this helps!
I have a young Ameraucana hen (a little less than a year old) laying undersized eggs. Her first egg was bigger than subsequent ones. The included picture is of two eggs she laid on the same day. She’s active, vocal, and seems healthy. I’m wondering if this might mean somethings wrong or she’s just a unique bird.
I love your magazine and look forward to every issue.
M. Booth, California
Those are so cute! I understand your concern, but I wouldn’t worry since she is so young and it’s also still winter. As she gets older and daylight hours increase, the egg size may also as well. But maybe not. I had a Lavender Ameraucana whose eggs were always petite, but she was the BEST broody mama, so I didn’t complain about her eggs.
Broody Chicken Breeds
What are the broodiest chicken breeds?
Poultry enthusiast P. Allen Smith recommends Silkies, Orpingtons, Australorps, Cochins, and Modern Game hens. While I wholeheartedly agree with him, I should add that the best broody I’ve ever had was a Lavender Ameraucana. She wasn’t great for eggs since she went broody about five times a year, but if I had chicks arriving, I could depend on her to raise them. She raised egg breeds, two shipments of meat chicks, and even eight turkey poults.
I hope this helps!
Yes, this helps a lot!
I have a Silver Appleyard duck, 10 months old. She began laying eggs at six months old and generally lays one egg a day. In the past 11 days, she has skipped three days, but then on the following day, she lays two eggs, one of which is just a mutilated shell (see photo).
She eats layer pellets and has oyster shell available whenever she wants it. She always has fresh water available, which is changed daily, and she does like to sit in her water bowl outside regardless of the weather temperature. She gets peas twice daily and some salad mix (not iceberg lettuce) in the morning. She can forage all day outside. She has a Cayuga female companion, which she lives with; they are inseparable. She is very affectionate with me. She has a beautiful 10-foot by 10-foot by 8-foot-high handmade wood house where she is kept at night, although she has access to it all day.
Is there something I can do for her to avoid this egg problem? Is there something wrong with her health? Please advise.
I understand why you’re concerned. I would be, too! But I wouldn’t worry just yet. The occasional soft-shell or shell-less egg can be explained by a simple, enigmatic “stuff happens.” Occasional, deformed eggshells and cessation of laying are often the result of something stressful that happened. If this pattern continues, I recommend looking into her daily life to see if anything is stressing her out and looking closely at her to identify any symptoms that she isn’t quite feeling right. Also, be aware that she might start going broody, sitting on a nest and refusing to lay any eggs.
I hope this helps! Happy springtime!
Thank you, Marissa, for your prompt reply. We’ll keep an eye on her.
Silvererudds Blue Chickens
Hello, my name is Rylee, and I am creating an Isbar chickens breeding group. I have a few questions: are Isbars currently known as Silverrudd’s Blue or as Isbars? And do you know of anybody who breeds pure black Isbars? (Preferably a private breeder.) Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you!
In 2016, the Swedish Cultural Hen Association voted to make “Silverrudd’s Blue” the official name. However, in the United States, many hatcheries and breeders still lean on the “Isbar” name, especially those that imported the breed before the official name designation. One group relies on the real name: The American Silverudd’s Blue Association (silverruddsblue.org), formed in 2019. Their website has a Breeders List where you can see stunning black birds and contact the breeders to acquire quality stock.
Good luck with your breeding program!
Up here in New Hampshire, we’ve had our usual “cold, snowy” winter; however, this year, I’ve noticed some (or one) of my six girls have been laying what looks like “wrinkled” eggs. (Outer shell looks wrinkly). It hasn’t happened previously. The girls are approximately four years old. Is this normal? Is something lacking in their food? Or is just age-related? I feed them Blue Seal Extra Layer Crumbles supplemented with cracked oyster shells.
Bob Patenaude, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
If the shell is wrinkled but still good and strong, it’s not a lack of calcium. Most likely, the birds were stressed by the weather or disharmony in the coop. Stress slows the egg’s spinning in the shell gland, and it’s that spinning that makes eggs nice and smooth. This also tends to happen in older hens (and though a hen can live past 10 years, four is “older” when it comes to their lay cycle). I recommend keeping an eye on the eggs for now. If they don’t correct soon, then that “stress” could be an illness such as infectious bronchitis, which sometimes doesn’t present any symptoms other than dysfunction of the shell gland.
I hope this helps!
I am fascinated by the stories of guineas, peacocks, ducks, etc., being hatched and raised by broody hens. I don’t know how people happen to have broody hens just when they also happen to have the eggs that need to be hatched. I’ve had an ongoing flock of a couple of dozen chickens for years, but always all hens. From time to time, someone goes broody, but there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to who goes broody and when. If I wanted to have a broody chicken hatch out some peahen eggs (which we may or may not see this spring — the peahens and peacock are still a bit young), is there a way to encourage a hen to go broody? Or is having a steady supply of broody hens dependent on having a rooster in the flock? Thanks for any advice.
Mary McDermott, New Jersey
Great question! When I was brooding chicks (and ducks and turkeys), I had one dependable broody. She was USELESS for eggs since she went broody at least five times a year and refused to “break” unless we gave her babies. But each time I had chicks arriving, I had a hen ready for them. That’s how I, personally, just happened to have one available.
For others, it often depends on the breed. Buff Orpingtons and Silkies are great moms and frequently go broody, but Leghorns have almost had all the broodiness bred out of them. Cochins, Australorps, and Modern Game hens are also fairly dependable. Many people keep a few of these breeds, specifically to have a broody ready for chick season.
The season is a factor, with spring and summer being the most common time. And yes, you can encourage broodiness, but it doesn’t always work in your favor. Leaving eggs in a nest may prompt a hen to hatch them, and if you don’t want to chance it with your food, purchase some wooden eggs to line a nest. Also, hens encourage each other. When one hen goes broody, soon six more will follow. Broodiness is indeed contagious!
Probably the most common predictor of broodiness is Murphy’s Law. If you have a shipment of chicks coming, Murphy’s Law dictates that no hen will be ready for them. And if you rely on an egg supply, ALL of your hens will go on strike and sit until the imaginary chicks hatch.
Some people claim a rooster helps, but I haven’t seen that to be true. I kept urban chickens for 10 years, never with a rooster, and had my fair share of moms. A rooster would mean that when the hen decides to sit on eggs, they would be fertile, and you wouldn’t have to go searching for babies.
If you want more insurance that you’ll have broodies ready for chicks of any species, I recommend keeping a few hens from the five breeds I listed, putting some wooden eggs in the nest, and then trying to be flexible regarding the babies. Having fertile eggs ready from your peafowl, or purchasing chicks from the farm store for your broody, is more guaranteed than ordering from a hatchery two months in advance and crossing your fingers.
I would like to know the particulars of the Icelandic chickens. According to British experts, they have no genetic connections to chickens. How can we call them chickens?
Icelandic chickens are indeed chickens — but are landraced. This means they were introduced to an area then allowed to evolve via that area’s agricultural practices without outside influence. Norse settlers introduced them in the 9th century, then for over 1,000 years, they were allowed to adapt and evolve while their “parent” chickens evolved in their own direction elsewhere. That parent breed evolved so much that it no longer exists, with its descendants most likely becoming the standardized fowl raised in Europe now. So, both are “chickens,” but that 1,000+ years allowed them to have their own genetic identity that evolved far enough that researchers can’t determine exactly what breed was the ancestor. The same thing happened with the chickens kept by Mapuche people in Chile: we aren’t sure when they arrived in South America, but between that time and European exploration, they evolved to present the blue and green eggshells, feathered cheeks, and lack of tail feathers that we see in Araucanas and Ameraucanas today.
I hope this helps answer your question.
Can you tell me what this white spot is on her poor plucked bottom? Is it okay? Or is this a problem?
It’s difficult to tell from the photo, but that white spot can be one of many different things.
Considering it’s a newly bald area, it could be scar issue or a healing sunburn. It could be from staph bacteria, which is everywhere and can be an especially bad problem on bare areas. It could be a fungal infection. Or it could be the start of fowl pox, but unless you already have fowl pox in your area, this is unlikely since it’s primarily spread by mosquitos and ticks that aren’t out yet in most areas.
Keep an eye on it. I recommend using gloves and washing it with a gentle betadine solution, which would deal with any fungal and bacterial issues. Look closer to see if it’s just dry, flaking skin, white blisters, or a white layer that appears to scrape off. You can also cover the area with some Blu-Kote or Pick-No-More to discourage more picking from the other hens and to allow the area to heal.
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.