Ask the Expert —December 2015/January 2016
You Ask Expert Poultry Questions, We Give Expert Poultry Answers
Broody For Too Long?
We have a six-month-old Bantam hen, “Little Girl,” who has been brooding for 24 days. We took away her eggs in the chicken house and in the barn, so she laid eggs in a very large slash pile behind the barn and we can’t see her. She comes out once a day to eat and drink. She and the rooster, “Rooster,” also a Bantam, were together a lot before she started nesting. He is a one-year-old rooster, so we assume the eggs were fertilized. We can’t see her and so far we don’t hear any peeping.
My questions are: wouldn’t the chicks come out with her when she comes out to eat, and do the chicks stay quiet in their nest?
Thanks for your help. We really love “Little Girl.” She is very smart and affectionate. All our chickens die of old age and they all have names, so we want to do whatever we can.
— Lynn Woehrle
We are so excited for you and your possible new chicks! At this point, we wouldn’t worry. It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch but this is not an exact science. They can hatch on either side of that timeline. We find it helpful to remember that it takes a hen a few days to lay all the eggs in her clutch. So, some will naturally take longer than others.
A momma hen is attuned to her eggs. She can hear and feel the chicks inside the eggs. She will even cluck to them to offer comfort. As the last few days approach, a momma hen won’t leave her nest. And the babies don’t need to leave the nest for three days after they hatch because they can live off the yolk they got during hatching. So, it may be a few days before Little Girl comes out. She’ll determine when the hatch is over and when it’s safe for everyone to venture out. A momma hen will initially try to keep everything quiet so she doesn’t attract predators.
Egg Inside An Egg
Good morning! Yesterday, I discovered a huge egg in a nesting box. When cleaning, the thin shell broke. Inside was another egg! How does this happen?
— Amy Wilson (Photo by Amy Wilson)
Wow! What a cool find! An egg inside an egg is a rather rare phenomenon and very interesting.
Jen Pitino wrote about this exact issue in January 2014, explaining: “The cause of this phenomenon is called a counterperistalsis contraction and occurs while the hen is in the process of forming an egg in her oviduct. A hen typically releases an oocyte (the ovum that becomes the yolk of an egg) from her left ovary into the oviduct every 18 to 26 hours. The oocyte travels slowly through the oviduct organ adding layers of the egg along the path to the chicken’s vent from which it will lay the egg.”
The second eggshell gets built, she explains, “after a counter-peristalsis contraction, when a second oocyte is released by the ovary before the first egg has completely traveled through the oviduct and been laid. The second oocyte then travels down the oviduct and has albumen and a shell deposited over it and first egg together. This creates a very large egg for your poor hen to lay.”
Ouch. Luckily this is usually a rare occurrence, and we hope everything returns to normal.
Adopting A Wild Duck?
We live on the lakeshore, and there is a lone wild duck left behind during migration south. Can we house her with our chickens? We have two coops, one with three Barred Rock hens, and the other with five Golden Buff pullets.
We would be worried about this compromising your biosecurity. There is likely a reason the duck is not migrating. If it has a disease, it could transmit it to your chickens. Also, since avian influenza is a recent issue in poultry in North America, we think there is some risk that the duck might be carrying it. They can carry this virus without being sick, but can transmit it to domestic poultry and make them very sick.
If you decide to take the risk, you might try to quarantine the duck before mingling them. This likely won’t eliminate the risk of avian influenza, but it might decrease the risk of some other potential diseases.
Also, you may have local laws that prohibit this. It would be best to check in with your local fish and wildlife service before you decide to adopt any wildlife.
Who do I contact if I think my flock has the bird flu? They have all the symptoms!
The USDA has a toll-free hotline at 1-866-536-7593 to call if you have sick birds that need to be checked.
Do Ducks Need Grit in a Bowl?
Hi! I have five Pekin ducks as pets. I have offered them granite grit and sand for grit. They really prefer the sand over the grit. I had been using play sand, but since I need to buy more, I am wondering, what’s the best kind of sand to buy for them?
— Laura Snyder
We can’t tell how and where you’re raising your ducks, but ducks do not need grit offered in a bowl or feeder as chickens do. The key is that ducks are usually raised on the ground so they get into plenty of dirt on their own. By foraging and scooping up bugs and other goodies, they are getting plenty of dirt and grit from the environment. The only people who need to worry about grit are people raising show ducks or keeping them in wire pens, which is not a good idea because it can lead to all sorts of foot problems.
Good luck with your ducks!
I own 13 chickens. Five are older, and eight are new layers. There are three particular chickens I am confused about. I have two White Leghorns and one beautiful Light Brahma. The Leghorns are what’s known as a Mediterranean breed, which usually means that they don’t take to humans well. But my duo of Leghorns are extremely friendly!
And that’s not the end of it. Brahmas are large breed, and those are supposed to be friendly, right? Bock O’Brahma (that’s the Brahma’s name) hates us and won’t stand to be within 10 feet of any humans. We raised them from one day old. Why are the usually-intolerant Leghorns friendly, and the usually-friendly Brahma mean?
— Will Geddes
As with people, we’ve found that each chicken has a distinct personality no matter its breed. We’ve also found this to be true no matter if two chickens are raised together and in the same way. For instance, Pam Freeman has two Buff Orpington hens, and writes: “They are supposed to be a friendly breed. One is just that — she’s very friendly and loves to be petted. The other is awful. She pecks at people and never gets petted. But I do have to say, that I have had White Leghorns, and like you, I find their personality to be wonderful. My white leghorns were some of my friendliest chickens. I even had one that would lay upside down in my hand and fall asleep.”
We hope this sheds some light on your chickens and their personalities. Have a great day!
I am having problems with my laying hens. I have a flock consisting of 80 hens of various varieties and ages. The flock consists of four-year-old Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks; three-year-old Black Australorps, Production Reds, and Buff Orpingtons; two-year-old Austral Whites, Red Sex Links and Brown Leghorns.
My problem is this: They are not laying. Of the 80 hens, I manage to get two dozen per day. About eight months ago, I was getting 4½ to 5 dozen per day and some of that time was in the winter. For some reason this summer I have had more of them becoming broody. I have some now molting. I have tried everything I know to do. The weather here in central Missouri has been very pleasant this summer with highs only in the 80s, so it is not a hot weather problem.
I feed 16% laying crumbles mixed with some cracked corn. Since the decline I have added to the feed mixture: 22% game bird crumbles, a protein flock block, Feather Fixer and 26% protein dog food. They have access to the pasture during the day. Nothing seems to help. Someone told me to create a mash by mixing water with the feed and allowing it to ferment and adding apple cider vinegar to the water and nothing has helped. All of this is creating some really expensive eggs.
Can you please help me?
— Mary Jenkins
That’s a tough one! It can be hard to identify the cause of a hen egg strike. Although some of the issues you mentioned are common causes: molting and broodiness. Combined, they could be making up most of your problem. Other causes could also include loud noises like new construction, the presence of predators, and changes in air or light. So going through each one of those and eliminating them is the only way we know to get the egg engine restarted.
That said, it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to make sure your chickens are happy and healthy. And it’s great you added the Feather Fixer to their feed. We use that with our flocks around molting time and it really helps.
I reside in Northern California and have about 30 chickens of various breeds. I have laying hens that are three years old and added some new chicks in February this year. I have discovered that they have stick tight fleas — a lot of them. I cleaned and sprayed their pen with a pyrethrum-based product and sprayed the chickens as well. I also used diatomaceous earth and sprinkled their nesting boxes and pen frequently. I had to tweeze off many of the fleas from their eyelids and head-comb area but this is very time consuming and seems like I am not making progress since there are literally thousands on one bird. We did not have a freeze this year and the flea problem is vicious this year for many pet owners, but I have never had fleas on my chickens before.
Is there any advice you can give me?
— Susan Stocks
We turned to our expert network for advice on your question. It turns out the Alexandra Douglas, a poultry farmer with a degree in poultry science, has fought an infestation of stick tights before and has the following advice.
“Stick tight fleas are nuisances. I experienced it one summer and it was terrible to get rid of. I took one bird to the vet to seek treatment options. Tweezers will get them off the bird, and then an antibiotic ointment was used to help the inflammation caused by the fleas. It was recommended to rid the infestation by burning the litter and anything the fleas could get on. I have not had an infestation since. Pyrethrins will help prevent infestations but when they infest, tweezers, antibiotic ointment and burning are the only things that helped me.”
We hope this is helpful and your birds soon return to good health.
Death By Broody
I’ve only had chickens for about a year and a half now. I had a broody hen sit on eggs for about five days now and she recently passed away sitting on them. She never did drink water or eat. I was wondering if I should try to incubate the eggs or not? She just died today. What should I do?
We were sorry to hear about your hen dying. As you learned, broodies can be very determined when sitting on eggs. We like to keep a watchful eye when we have a broody and we actually remove her from the nest once a day. At that time, we make sure to have lots of food and water nearby so she’ll grab a bite. If anything like this happens again, you can try to incubate the eggs. Many people who have broodies experience problems with them abandoning the nest or their chicks. So, it’s good to be prepared to step in and take over the parenting.
A Wet Coop
We have had serious rain in my area and the chicken coop is very wet. What can I use to help dry the ground? Mulch? Straw? Wood chips or wood over the ground?
I just started raising chickens and I am enjoying having them. The city allows us to have eight hens and no rosters.
— Gloria Largel
Ugh! A wet chicken coop is the worst. Not only is it gross, but it’s bad for the birds. I’m not sure what part of your coop is wet. But if the inside is wet, I would clean out the soiled litter and let everything dry out as best as possible. Hopefully it’s dry before evening, then you can add new bedding and you’re back in business! If it’s the run, then I’ve been known to muck out a lot of the wet litter and try to let things dry out. Then I replace it with fresh litter.
One caution. You are in an area with a lot of mosquitoes and recently we’ve seen some pretty severe cases of fowl pox. It’s transmitted by mosquitoes (and can’t be transferred to humans). But it can be very serious for your chickens. So I think you’re right to try to remove as much water as possible. That just becomes a breeding ground for pests.
Good luck with your flock!
My chickens have started to eat the eggs around the coop. What should I do?
Egg eating is a frustrating problem. It’s actually a form of cannibalism that often starts when eggs are accidentally broken in the nests, either because there aren’t enough nest boxes or because the hens are laying eggs with thin shells. From your description, it sounds like thin shells may be the case. What happens is that somebody accidentally cracks a shell and discovers the insides are quite tasty. And, it snowballs from there.
Once it starts, it can be really hard to stop. To make sure the shells are hardy and not cracking, we actually feed the chickens back their own eggshells. We dry out the eggshells and then grind them into large and small pieces. Our hens love them and their eggs usually improve quickly.
If your hens free range, you may also want to give them some interactive treats so they have somewhere else to focus. We like hanging a cabbage from the ceiling at the height of the bird’s heads. They have a good time busily pecking it. We also like to use a Flock Block by Purina for a little variation. We put in on a big planter tray that catches all the stray pieces. Our chickens love it!
You also want to collect the eggs frequently throughout the day, so the hens don’t have much time to eat them. If you don’t actually see the chickens eating the eggs, then you may also want to consider the problem may not be a chicken at all. It could be an egg-loving predator. With a predator, you’ll either find the nest empty of eggs or find broken eggshells in or around the nests.
Unfortunately, the only sure-fire method to stop egg eating is to remove the culprit early. But we would try to get the problem under control before taking drastic measures.
Help With Feather Regrowth?
I am a fairly new subscriber, but I have a question for you. We have had chickens since the spring of 2012, when I was in third grade. I am now going into seventh grade, so that makes it four years, because they turned four in the spring. But, here is my question: The Pearl White Leghorns that turned four started to molt last year, but never finished it. They went a whole winter with broken feathers. Snowflake has completed her molt this year, but the other two, Peekaboo and Daisy, still have shabby feathers and aren’t showing many signs of molting at all. I am concerned that they will be cold this winter if they don’t get their new, silky soft, insulating feathers. Is there some kind of supplement that is all natural that I can give them to help them molt? They are free range, and happy, healthy and get plenty of treats. I think that introducing some new members to the flock with a separate coop (who are currently just under a year old) just around molting time could have done something, but I don’t know. We live in West Texas, on the very tip of the Rockies. I hope you can help.
By the way, I love your magazine, and I plan on entering a lot of cover photo contests.
Molting can be hard on hens. It sounds like you’re doing everything you can for them. But we do have a feed recommendation that can help. We like to use
Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer. It’s a feed that can be given year round and it helps to support feather re-growth and strong eggshells. It has really been helpful with my flock and we hope you find it helpful too.
Combining flocks can also stress out the hens a bit. But if they are not acting aggressive toward each other and you don’t see signs of pecking, then you can probably eliminate this. Otherwise, it could be timing. Allowing the flocks to adjust to each other will decrease stress and, hopefully, increase egg production.
Good luck with your hens! And we can’t wait to see more of your pictures!
I have three three-week-old chicks. This is only the second batch of chicks I have raised.
I am concerned about my Black Australorp pullet chick. Her toes are badly crooked, bending outward and even somewhat backward and twisted, with the claws on their sides. They were not like this when I first got her as a day old chick. The other two chicks (white Plymouth Rock and Gold Star) do not have this problem.
She seems to be getting around okay, and doing well otherwise, but I am still concerned about this. I have searched the internet for help, and most seem to suggest taping or splinting crooked toes for a period of time to get them back to straight. I’m hesitant to try this, and am concerned I may cause other problems. I would appreciate your feedback. What, if anything should I do? If I do nothing, how will she do as an adult hen? Also, what causes this?
Please provide guidance as specifically as possible.
— Steve Mlejnek
There are a few things that can cause crooked toes. Deficiency of the B-vitamin riboflavin is one. This is not very common today, since most people feed a complete diet that is fortified with vitamins and minerals. Genetics can also be a cause. This is why we usually don’t suggest keeping a crooked-toed bird for breeding. This is not a real common occurrence either. The most common cause of crooked toes that we have seen is poor incubator conditions. Incubator temperatures that are too high or too low can cause this. Delayed hatching for any reason can also cause crooked toes. Since you only see this in an occasional chick, perhaps there may have been a warm spot (or a cool spot) in the incubator where that egg was sitting. If the chick was weak, even during hatching, it may have other problems, which could add to the general unthrifty nature.
Crooked toes can often be corrected, if you have some patience. Treatment usually involves taping the toes to a small piece of cardboard so they are held in a straight position. A few days of this (on a small chick) will often straighten the toes. If the condition is not too bad, it may occasionally correct itself as the bird gets older, too.
We hope this sheds some more light on how and why this is happening to your chick. We think you’re doing the right thing by switching the feed and trying to tape the toes. It looks like, with some patience, you might have success correcting this problem.
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.