Ask the Expert — December 2016/January 2017

You Ask Expert Poultry Questions, We Give Expert Poultry Answers

Is My Langshan Rooster Losing Leg Scales?

First, let me thank you for the magazine and the Poultry Talk column. I have only had chickens for three years, and I enjoy reading the magazine and get a lot out of the articles.

My question: I have a 14-month-old Langshan rooster that I hatched last spring from eggs I bought from a breeder. This spring, I noticed he was getting dark red lines up the sides of his legs. They did not seem to bother him, and another poultry fancier, when I asked her, said that some roosters get red on their legs, so I paid it little mind, but kept an eye on him.

He has no other symptoms, but the red has gotten worse, and I have found out that red on the legs happens to breeds with yellow-pigmented legs, but not on ones with black legs. Also, this is not a pigmentation issue. It looks like the scales are coming off and leaving bare, red skin. The legs are not swollen, and the feet are not deformed. The bottoms of the feet are unaffected and look very healthy.

I have called the breeder from whom I bought the hatching eggs, and who has more than 45 years of experience in poultry, and has raised Langshans for years. He has never heard of or seen any such thing on any of his chickens.

I have seen nothing of this sort of any of the hens or on my other rooster (Jersey Giant, hatched at the same time). I do have one Langshan hen (same hatching) who looks like she might be getting some pink strips on the outside of her legs, but I have not caught her to check. For one thing, I have no idea what to do about this, so why stress her?

Chicken Leg Scales

The photos, in order of appearance, are: the leg, the top of the foot, the chicken coop, and the Langshan in question. The photo of the rooster was taken when he was only about seven months old. Now, at about 14 months, he is a gorgeous guy, much taller, with a lovely erect tail, and, of course, the beginning of spurs.

When we caught the affected rooster to take the photos, we put a sulfur/pine-oil ointment made for stock on the areas. He did not act as if touching the areas causes him pain, and there are no weeping or open sores present. He does not pick at his legs.

At the same time I checked the rooster over well, and he had no mites, and no other discernible health problems. I use diatomaceous earth in the chicken house bedding, which is pine shavings, and wipe it on the perches, working it into any cracks and crevices. I do run deep bedding, but it is turned daily and kept dry and changed every few months. The chickens have a coop that is designed specifically for northern climates, for excellent airflow, and the ability to close some of the venting for the coldest parts of the winter. The back of it, where the roosts are, is completely draft-free.

The poultry is a mixed flock, and share a pasture with wooded areas with four ducks. They are fed layer pellets and fermented feed (2/3 organic scratch and 1/3 organic game bird starter), and have access to the mixed greens of their pasture. Sometimes crows visit the feeders, and I am sure other wild birds do as well.

Any help with diagnosis as well as treatment and prevention would be very much appreciated. I have looked in my poultry diseases book, and find no mention of this sort of problem with scales.

Thank you for your time.

— Margaret Black


Hi Margaret,

We both looked at your question and the provided pictures. From the pictures, neither of us can see anything wrong with your rooster’s legs. It doesn’t seem any scales are missing or there are any problems that we can see.

We, too, have a rooster that has red tissue areas on his legs. He’s a healthy rooster and the pigmentation changes are natural in areas of exposed skin. Another example of this in the chicken world is the naked neck of a Turken, which becomes very red. Our guess is that this is what is happening with the skin on the side of the rooster’s feet, especially near the feather follicles.

Our recommendation is to continue watching him. If you see signs of trouble like limping or irritation, then it’s a good idea to consult a veterinarian so they can take an in-person look and diagnose what’s happening.

Good luck with your rooster!


First-Time Chicken Owner Questions

I bought a hen two days ago. She laid an egg on the same day she arrived. But she didn’t lay an egg on the next day. But she laid one today. So I want to ask if this egg is because of my rooster. So my main question is, does a hen needs to be mated every day to lay an egg every day? And what is the ideal age of a hen to lay eggs?

— Taha Hashmi


Hi Taha,

Hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs. Their rate of laying depends on their breed and environmental factors such as the amount of daylight. Most hens will not lay every day, and they start laying eggs around 18 weeks.


Eggs Without Hard Shells?

One of my hens named, Mary, who is a three-year-old Ameraucana, has egg laying problems. When she lays an egg it has no hard shell and looks like a small water balloon. Please help me with this problem.

— Andrew Karr


Hi Andrew,

Eggs with soft shells are a pretty common problem with backyard chickens.

Here’s an interesting egg fact for you: Warm weather brings thin shells as chickens pant. That’s why you see more soft or shell-less eggs in the summer. Panting helps water evaporate, which cools the chicken and causes a reduction in calcium being put into egg production.

Stress can also cause chickens laying eggs to rush, which will leave the eggs unfinished. When you’re raising chickens for eggs, it’s best to keep them as stress-free as possible. A soft shell, or an egg with just a membrane, can happen when a hen rushes laying; maybe she’s startled by a predator or loud noises. Remember, when raising backyard chickens, it’s important to learn how to protect chickens from hawks, owls, raccoons, dogs and other predators.

It could also be health related. Even if you have the best chickens for laying eggs, soft shells can be signs of a sick chicken. Symptoms like soft eggs can mean disease has infiltrated your flock. It’s good to perform a comb-to-toe checkup on your hens to make sure the flock is healthy.

Finally, age could be a factor. Older hens need more calcium. A great supplement is to feed your chickens their own shells. Save the used shells, clean and microwave them for a few seconds. When they’re crispy, break them up and mix them with their feed. You can also add more calcium into your flock’s diet by purchasing a commercial feed with added calcium.

Overall, the occasional soft eggshell isn’t a cause for concern, just something to keep in mind. Best of luck with your flock!


Runny Egg Whites?

I need information regarding about why the whites of some of my fresh eggs run all over the frying pan when cracked, and the yolks are very easy to break as well. Also, the shell colors have gotten lighter and lighter, a cream color where they were once brown (I have Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and a few Sex Links).

I feed them layer crumbles, crushed oyster shell, cracked corn (treats), greens and kitchen scraps (no potato peels). I also give them dog food for extra protein. I would appreciate your input.

— Patricia Dosher


Hi Patricia,

It sounds like your chickens are getting a nice, healthy diet. Beyond that, we don’t know much about your specific hens. But I can tell you that runnier-than-normal eggs can be caused by high temperatures. Since we’ve had such a hot summer, that would be our best guess. Age can also play a factor in runny eggs, so if you have an older flock, you can also experience this problem. There are diseases that can present with this symptom, so if you feel like your hens are unhealthy then it is wise to take them to a veterinarian to be safe.

We hope this is helpful. Good luck with your flock!


Wet Vent Issue?

I am new to poultry. I have only had chickens for one year. I have 15 hens and really enjoy them. The problem is, I have one hen that has a wet vent. She seems to keep trying to go to have a bowel movement. Her butt area is extended and she seems to have lost weight. All the other hens are doing fine.

I have given the birds three doses of probiotics over the last six days. Do you have any idea what is wrong and how it can be treated and what can be the problem?

— Chuck Lederer


Hi Chuck,

From your description, it will be hard to know not exactly why that is happening with your hen. But if you notice the hen straining, spending lots of time on the nest, and generally acting different, it could be egg binding. You can sometimes feel the egg in the vent area. The first thing to try is to add a lubricant. It seems odd, but just adding a little vegetable oil in the vent area and lightly massaging it in may be enough to help. Another thing that can be done is to warm the area slightly. Warming up the muscles may relax them slightly and allow normal contractions so she can lay the egg.

Some people suggest using steam for this. It can work, but probably as many hens have been burned by steam as have been helped. Warm water can be used. The hen won’t like it, and you’ll probably get soaked, but it’s considerably safer than steam! This should help most of the time, but if none of these things work, there’s not a lot else you can try. If the egg breaks inside the hen, it’s very likely she’ll get an infection, since it’s very difficult to get her cleaned effectively. Eggshell fragments can also be sharp and can cause some damage to the oviduct. A veterinarian may need to intervene at this point if you want to save the hen.


A Hen Getting Pecked

I am an 87-year-old woman, and I was raised on the farm. I still live on the farm, in fact. In all these years, I have never known a rooster to take a spat out on just one hen, but for the past two years, our rooster has bullied a white hen. He won’t let her come up when I give them treats and pecks her head. She has stopped coming to my house in the evenings, and stays by herself around the chicken house, or in the pasture with the cows. We got rid of one rooster, and a friend gave us a white one. But he is doing the same thing with the same hen. Do you have any clues about this?

— Ruth Hill


Hi Ruth,

As you have learned, it does not take long for the chickens to establish the pecking order. A flock has a keen sense of who is at the bottom, and in their own way, communicates that to the rooster. Some roosters will not be as violent as others, but it sounds like you’re on a bad streak.We would suggest, come treat time, that you separate the rooster from the flock if you can. I realize that can be tough, especially if they are free-ranging. The

We would suggest, come treat time, that you separate the rooster from the flock if you can. I realize that can be tough, especially if they are free-ranging. The other option is to find a way to give treats to the hen in her location near the cows or in the chicken house, away from the rooster and other birds. There is a small chance that the rooster will recognize that he will not get treats unless the other bird gets treats, but most likely, this will continue if you try to feed them all together.We have heard some chicken owners having success in showing the rooster who is

We have heard some chicken owners having success in showing the rooster who is boss, by lightly pushing the rooster away when they attack with a broom or broom stick. You do not want to injure the rooster, but just show them you are the boss! After a few days, when they are being pushed away as they peck at the hen, we have heard that they can change their behavior.

In any way, what the rooster is doing is hard-wired into his instincts, and is not an easy thing to fix. Best of luck with your flock, and enjoy the farm life!


Boys or Girls? Worms or Not?

How can you tell the boys from the girls in your flock? And how can you tell if the birds have mites or worms?

— Courtney Lamb


Hi Courtney,

Your first question is the easiest, so we will start there. It takes an expert eye to tell the sex of chicks, so most of us have to wait until the chicks grow up to truly tell if they are roosters or hens. You will start to notice the roosters taking on male characteristics, depending on the breed, as they start to get fully feathered. The roosters also grow spurs, and, of course, crow, as they mature. Hens will start to lay eggs around 18 weeks, and generally are smaller than the roosters. So, the short answer is, you probably have to wait a bit to really tell the difference.

For your second question, we’ll look at mites first. Scaly leg mites seem to be a common problem. It is interesting that different chickens seem to have more resistance to them than others do. You will notice the scales starting to push up and become inflamed, if mites have burrowed in underneath. We like to apply petroleum jelly on the scales (you can also use vegetable oil). The jelly is more viscous, so it stays on the tissue longer, and it’s better at suffocating the mites. Some permethrin-based sprays may work to treat these mites, as well. Ivermectin will probably work, but it is not approved for use in or on poultry. There are no published directions for use, withdrawal times, etc. If you are not using the birds for consumption, or are only using them for your own use, you will likely want to give them two to three weeks away from the spray before you ingest the eggs or meat. I believe some people apply it in the water and administer it that way. At least some of the Ivermectin products are oil-based, so I’m not sure how well they will dissolve in the water. Regarding where the mites come from, most likely they are either coming from wild birds or from exposure to other chickens that have them. So it’s important to make sure you are cleaning your coop regularly, and looking for places were mites might be collecting.

The worm question is a little more difficult. We would suggest reading Gail Damerow’s piece on deworming in our October/November 2016 issue. She goes into great detail on the ways to detect, prevent and treat worms. Most chickens have worms in them that will not cause any problems at all, but if you start to notice issues like a lack of egg-laying, or the hen acting strangely, then you may need to aggressively pursue a deworming strategy. We hope this helps. Best of luck with your flock!

We hope this helps. Best of luck with your flock!


An Unbalanced Duck?

Hi, I’m a reader of Backyard Poultry and I look forward to each magazine. Last spring, when I picked up my order of ducklings from the local feed store, I noticed one of the clerks putting four ducklings into a box.

When asked what she was doing, she informed me that these particular ones would not make it, and because she couldn’t stand to watch them suffer and die she was putting them out of sight. I volunteered to take them home and see if I could give them a second chance. One would not eat, even when fed hydrating fluid, would not swallow, and died within two days. Two ducklings, after hydration, melded into the rest of the flock and there was no telling any difference from the others.

However, one duckling, a Rouan duckling, would eat and drink but was unable to keep its balance to stand. So we made an eating and sleeping station, a wheelchair and a separate place to sleep and play from the others. He is now 5 months old and still has no balance as he falls over on his back. He swims, preens, stretches his wings and does everything else a duck is supposed to do except walk.

Have you ever heard of this before? His feet and legs are strong and he can take a few steps but always falls over. Sometimes he can right himself but not for long. Also we have noticed that when in the water (his own private kiddie pool), he constantly scratches around the location of where his ears are supposed to be. I have not been able to locate his ears, but I know he hears me because when I call out to him when I come to feed him and put him in his pool, he answers me with his duck quacks.

Do you have any suggestions of anything else we can do to help him?

— Gerrie Whitley


Hi Gerrie,

We both looked at your question. We definitely feel you deserve an award for persistence for keeping your duck this long! It sounds like you’ve done a great job with him.

We are not sure what’s wrong with your duck. If you have access to a veterinarian, you may want to have him checked. The veterinarian can do a much more thorough investigation than we can. There is one thing you mentioned that did pique our curiosity — your duck scratching near his ears. The ears are important for the sense of balance (in birds as well as mammals), so there could be a connection. The problem is that we don’t know what to suggest you do about it, even if that is the issue.

We think it’s a possibility that the duck has an infection in its inner ear, but it’d be surprising if he lived this long with it, and if it didn’t get worse.

Given that, you could try giving an antibiotic, though we don’t know what antibiotic, or what dosage, to suggest. And it’s definitely a long shot!

We’re sorry to be so vague. We wish you, and your duck, the best of luck!


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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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