Ask the Expert — Spring e-edition 2017

Ask the Expert — Spring e-edition 2017

Picky Chickens

Any suggestions on how to get picky chickens to eat anything other than fresh fruit and scratch grain? They will sometimes eat a LITTLE “all flock” crumbles. They refuse pellets of any formulation. The ducks are similar, but they forage — bugs, worms, flies, horse droppings, whatever came down the ditch, etc.

— Jackie Bateman


Hi Jackie,

Chickens can be picky from time to time, much like humans. But, if your hens are of laying age, then they need good nutrition to lay healthy eggs. The scratch grains and fruit are considered treat foods and should make up no more than 10 percent of your chicken’s overall diet. You may want to try some different commercial brands to see what they prefer. You might also try the pellet versions instead of the crumbles. The commercial brand should be a formulation for laying hens. This will ensure they’re getting the proper amount of calcium. You could also try mixing the commercial feed and the scratch grains together. They may get a taste of the commercial feed and take it from there.

Good luck with your hens!


Increasing Egg Production

Can you feed yogurt to layers to increase egg laying?

— Mike Glassburn


Hi Mike,

We’ve seen this advice floating around the internet. Feeding yogurt to layers can be a great source of probiotics for your chickens and help increase their overall gut health. It can also provide some extra calcium. But it’s doubtful it can increase egg laying. The number of eggs a chicken lays has more to do with their genetics and their ability to fulfill that genetic destiny through proper health and nutrition etc.

It’s important to remember that dairy, such as yogurt, in small quantities is not bad for chickens. Chickens are not lactose intolerant. They can digest small amounts of dairy products. But, the effectiveness of probiotics can be reversed if you give your chickens too much dairy. Small quantities equal big happiness!

Hope this helps to clarify the ongoing yogurt debate!


Muscovies Eating Fire Ants

I have a question I’m hoping you can answer, I was reading your article about Muscovy ducks and I saw where you talked about them eating ants. Someone mentioned me that they will eat fire ants too? I currently have free range chickens and I would like to avoid using poison on my property to get rid of fire ants and was thinking about getting a couple female Muscovy ducks but wanted to make sure that they do eat them before getting a couple. I look forward to hearing from you.


— Elinor


Hi Elinor,

This is a question we ran by one of our writers, Lisa Steele. She advises that Muscovies are “awesome” at bug control. Certainly better than ducks are. She feels that if anything would eat fire ants, it would be Muscovies. However, she wondered about putting a bunch of Diatomaceous Earth on the ant hills. That would help control the fire ants without using harsh chemicals.

Hope this helps get rid of your fire ant problem!


Rare Ameraucanas

I had a few questions I was hoping you might answer for me. I recently purchased 26 chicks at an auction. We had 17 Rhode Island Reds and nine Ameraucanas. The plan was to keep the pullets for eggs and butcher the cockerels when they got big enough.

Now they are getting old enough to take on permanent color and for us to tell male from female. We ended up with two solid white female Ameraucana pullets and a solid white Ameraucana cockerel. My wife says these are rare and would like to separate them for breeding.

My first question is will all of her chicks end up solid white?

My second question is if solid white Ameraucanas are rare, is there a market for them?

I would appreciate your feedback. Thank you for your time.

— Chad Johnston, Phoenix Farms


Hi Chad,

We don’t have all the answers, but hopefully, we can help. First, it’s not certain how rare white Ameraucanas are.  They are one of the eight recognized varieties by the American Poultry Association (APA), so that helps for exhibition. There are two groups of breeders online that may have more information about the relative “rareness” of different varieties. The two different groups have differences of opinions on some matters – hence, two separate groups.

There’s not a perfect answer for the question about white coloring breeding true.  It’s fairly certain they will produce white chicks, but not 100% certain, because of the following explanation.

There are two different genes that cause white coloring in chickens. One is called recessive white and has been traditionally common in white varieties of Dorkings, Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, etc. If this gene is causing the white color in your birds, then they should continue to breed true and produce all white chicks.

There is another gene called dominant white, which has been historically found in Leghorns, games, etc. This gene inhibits pigmentation, but isn’t completely dominant, so heterozygotes (those with one copy of the dominant white gene), they often have black flecks and/or a fair amount of red color. So you would notice these if your chickens were heterozygotes. It is possible, however, that they are heterozygotes, and in that case, they could produce some colored chicks.

Whether your chickens carry recessive white, dominant white, or both, likely depends on what breed was crossed in to produce the white variety of Ameraucanas.

So, if these chickens meet most of the breed characteristics outlined in the APA Standard of Perfection, they could be somewhat valuable to produce chicks.

Hope this helps with your decision!


Smashed Eggs

I have three different breeds of hens, so it makes it hard to know for sure who is laying which egg, but luckily my Rhode Island Red is my white layer. I believe my Light Brahma has been the one laying the largest brown eggs I’ve been getting for several months now. My third chicken is a White Laced Cornish and I think she is the last of the three to lay eggs, and they are a very light brown, smaller egg. Back to my beautiful Light Brahma giving us our first eggs, the large brown ones — they were perfect. For about two weeks now, these eggs have been cracked on the smaller end. Twice the eggs were totally smashed, and with nothing left but smashed eggshell. I had run out of the ground oyster shell, and I thought maybe that was the reason for the small end, which I guess is the first part of the laid egg that hits the surface first. Today is the second day it was totally smashed. Can you please give me some advice on why this might be happening, and if there is anything I can do to change this behavior? These three beauties are my first chickens, and I have really fallen in love with each of them. Your Countryside Daily has already given me so much information! Thank you!

— Melody Larson


Hi Melody,

It can be hard to determine exactly what’s going on through an email, but there are some tips that might help. First, make sure you are feeding your hens a high-quality layer feed. That will give them good calcium for laying strong eggs. If you run out of oyster shell, you can always feed your eggshells back to your hens for extra calcium. Just wash the shells off, let them dry and then break them up into small pieces. Also, make sure your nest boxes are lined with lots of fresh chips or straw. That will cushion the eggs as they are laid.

Hope this helps!


Rooster with a Permanent Molt

Have a question and don’t know whom to ask. My rooster has lost all his main feathers late Nov and still has not got new ones. He is only covered in down, I also checked him for bugs or lice and nothing plus my girls look fine.

— Richard VanDeFlier


Hi Richard,

It sounds like your rooster made it through the winter without his main feathers! Since you’ve checked for parasites, we can probably rule them out. Other than that, it’s hard to know what’s causing the lack of feathers. It’s probably best to start with his diet. Is he getting a well-balanced commercial feed for most of his rations? If not, that may be the place to start. There is a commercial feed by Nutrena called Feather Fixer. This formulation contains extra protein to help with feather growth and does have a mite inhibitor. It’s safe to feed to your entire flock, year-round if you’d like. That would be a good place to start and see if the new feed stimulates some feather growth.

Hope this is helpful!


Sick Chicken

I am writing in hopes you will know the answer to this. We appear to have a sick chicken. She is about three years old. Her tail has dropped, she’s dragging one leg and appears to be compacted. She does want to eat but has the above problems. What is your best advice?


— Alice


Hi Alice,

It’s hard to know what is going on with your hen. The symptoms you have described are a little vague. The best option is really to find a veterinarian in your area that can deal with chickens. While many veterinarians don’t directly treat chickens, you may want to find one that treats pet birds such as parrots. Pet birds can have many of the same problems that chickens have, so the veterinarian may agree to help with your flock.

Hope your hen is feeling better!


Ask our poultry experts about your flock’s health, feed, production, housing and more!

Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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