Ask the Expert — December 17/January 18
One of my older chickens keeps shaking her head back and forth and then going around in a circle and losing her balance and falling down. Yesterday her eyes were kind of black on the edges and today they are clear. I have separated her from the rest of the flock. I have her outside by herself. Would an antibiotic help and/or a dust bath for insects help? We don’t have many vets who deal with chickens here. Thank you.
— Joyce Kebless
It’s tough to give a definite diagnosis from this description. There are a few things that are possible.
Some diseases can affect the nervous system, which it seems may be occurring here. Newcastle disease viruses can do this. They can also cause respiratory problems, which might explain the change in the eyes. Some of the equine encephalomyelitis viruses might be possible, though they aren’t supposed to cause symptoms in chickens. They do produce similar symptoms in other birds.
Aspergillosis is a fungal disease that can affect the brain. It’s more common in younger chickens, but it would be a possibility.
There really isn’t any treatment for any of these diseases.
Several bacterial diseases can cause encephalitis. Potentially, an antibiotic might help, but it’s usually difficult to treat something like this. Nearly all antibiotics require a veterinary prescription now.
Since she is the only one showing signs, it could have been some physical trauma, too.
It is possible that it is not a nerve issue, but something in her throat or trachea since you mentioned shaking her head. Several things can cause respiratory infections. Again, you might try an antibiotic.
You might try contacting your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They would likely sacrifice this chicken, but they might be able to find a cause, so you could protect the rest of your flock.
Response from Joyce:
Thank you! I have raised chickens for four to five years and this one has me baffled. To date I have separated her from the rest of the chickens. When I first noticed it, she was sitting in the run, looking kind of bewildered and another chicken came over and started to attack her. I saw it when she started picking on her, and immediately removed her and put her in a separate single booth with a hook on it. I have given her vitamins and Vet Rx in her water She is eating well and is taking her treats and mealworms. She now seems a lot better. She still lowers her head but does not go around in a circle anymore. She straightens up and is trying to overcome this. I have taken her out of the coop and put her with me as I am working in the garden. She wants to go back with the other chickens, but I know that is not possible if she wants to live. I have located a vet and will look into this. She came from McMurray’s Hatchery and she had both shots that they offer when you buy the baby chicks. I have cleaned the booth and added new bedding. I will look into this further. No other chickens are having any problems.
Can you give me some information about aspergillosis in chickens? I lost a bunch of hens and roosters (between three to five years old) because of this disease. We took samples and sent them to the lab and the results came as aspergillosis. We tried to treat one of the hens with fluconazole, but she died anyway. They have difficulties in breathing and their faces turn to purple. What should I do to eliminate that fungus from my backyard? Is there any effective treatment?
I have to say that we have Muscovy ducks as well and because of that the soil is always wet.
— Renata Carvalho, Sete Lagoas, Brazil
Prevention of aspergillosis tends to be the best method. That can be difficult in some situations, as you have noted. Once the birds are infected, there aren’t really any effective treatments. There have been some attempts, using expensive mammalian treatments, especially with endangered bird species, but successes were fairly rare.
Some people have used copper sulfate in the water to slow the spread of disease to other poultry, but it is likely not effective for birds that already have aspergillosis.
Moldy litter or feed are commonly found to be responsible for infections. If the feed is moldy, it should be replaced. Wood shavings (or other types of litter) need to be kept dry and protected before they are used for bedding since they can mold and then spread infection. There have been studies showing that good ventilation can at least slow the multiplication of the fungi. So, try to get clean and dry bedding, and then try to keep it dry, even during storage prior to use.
Especially since you mentioned having ducks, it can be difficult to keep the environment dry. You might try putting their water source over a grate, and/or over a graveled or sand area. This should allow for better drainage, and keep the litter dryer. Adding ventilation, if possible, can also help keep things dry. Consistently moving the water and feed sources to different areas can also be helpful.
If the birds are in a fairly small and enclosed area, sand or gravel might be an alternative for bedding over the entire area.
Hopefully, these will help prevent aspergillosis in the future!
I am having two problems with my eggs. First, I have an occasional egg with very thin shells. It is usually broken in the nest. Second, I have an occasional egg with no white. I feed Purina layer pellets, some cracked corn, crushed eggshells and oyster shells are offered. I feed Happy Hen treats once in awhile and also some kitchen scraps. My hens vary in age from three years old to pullets. Thanks for your help.
— Jerry Bair, Irrigon, Oregon
It sounds like the thin-shelled eggs may be from one or a few hens. It could be that a hen has something wrong inside that interferes with proper shell formation. From the diet you described, there’s likely no nutritional problem. There is a viral disease (infectious bronchitis) that can damage the oviduct, so it is possible that a hen had it sometime in the past. This often causes wrinkled eggshells, but it can also cause thin shells. It’s also possible that a hen is laying her egg too early before the shell has been added. It generally takes about 20 hours to make the shell. If something isn’t right, she might lay it before this is done.
In any of these situations, there’s not much you can do about it. If most of the eggs are good, there is probably something about that hen (or possibly a couple of them). If you can figure out which hen it is, and depending on your situation, you might want to remove her. Having broken eggs in the nest can encourage egg eating, and that is not a good habit to get started.
An egg with no white is quite unusual. Is it just a yolk and shell? It’s more common to have whites and a shell, but never the opposite. It’s puzzling how this could happen unless the hen was somehow missing part of her oviduct. This would be quite strange.
Good luck with your flock!
My duck has been sick for a week. He has an impacted crop but has developed an upper respiratory infection. I have been treating him with poultry Rx and have separated him from the flock. He has bubbly eyes with discharge and doesn’t really want to preen himself. I made him stay in the pool and thought he was enjoying the eye relief but he now seems weak. What can I do?
— Laura Basile
Here are some ideas to explore. An impacted crop would severely limit your duck’s ability to get adequate nutrition. Usually, a bird with an impacted crop does not last long if it’s not treated. Aspergillus or Hardware disease may be the problem. Also, if your duck is not preening and is sitting in water it’s likely to be chilled which would lead to weakness. Ducks need to preen to distribute oil through their feathers. This keeps their feathers from getting wet while they are swimming and it keeps them insulated. The eye bubbling sounds like a respiratory infection.
It’s hard to diagnose from a description, so if you do have a nearby veterinarian, a visit would probably be best. A veterinarian can access all the correct diagnostic tools and prescribe medicine and treatment if necessary.
Good luck with your birds!
Response from Laura:
Thank you for your response.
Unfortunately after 10 weeks of trying everything in my power to heal him, he seemed to get better then worse again and continued to get weaker. He got to where he could hardly walk, despite all the care I was giving him, and I couldn’t watch him suffer any longer. We put him at peace on Monday but not all was lost. I have researched so much on ducks that I am confident I can care for my remaining flock without hesitation. I’ve learned way more than I ever thought there was to know about ducks. It was a sad but peaceful day here as we put him to rest. I was having a growing concern of his presence infecting the rest of my flock, even though I kept him separated. It’s hard to find a forum for ducks so if it’s ok with you I will save your email for the future, should I need to reach out again.
Thank you again. He was dear to my heart.
Rooster with Sore Foot
My rooster has a swollen left foot that is obviously painful. The lower part of his foot, below and between his toes is significantly larger than his other foot. He limps and does not seem to be able to put weight on it. He stands on his right foot and raises his left foot when he stands. He spends most of the day laying down. He is about six years old. What can it be and what should I do to help it heal?
The rooster most likely has bumblefoot. This is caused by an infection of the foot pad. It can be difficult to cure since there is often a fairly solid mass inside the swelling. This mass usually needs to be removed, or it will continue to be a problem.
Some people have had good luck cutting into the swollen pad and cleaning it out. Once it is cleaned, keep the rooster in a fairly clean area so that it can heal. Soaking the foot in an iodine solution can be helpful, too. There is a product called Betadine that is useful for this. If you have a veterinarian lance the swelling, they will likely also prescribe an antibiotic.
These infections often start from a sliver, or a small cut, in the footpad. To prevent future problems, you can try to make sure the roost doesn’t have slivers coming off, use litter that doesn’t have sharp edges, etc. There is also some evidence that having the roosts too high can cause problems as the chickens jump down, especially with heavier breeds. Wet litter can also cause damage to the footpad, so this should be avoided.
Good luck with him!
Thank you very much. We followed your advice. We cut off his infected area from the bottom of his foot, cleaned it real good, and put Neosporin on it. We bandaged it and kept him in a clean environment for two weeks. This is an eight by five dog kennel. We changed his bandage every other day and put fresh Neosporin. I put a hen or two with him to keep him from stressing. We removed his bandage and kept him separate but let him roam during the day outside the kennel for a couple of days so he could form a callous. Now he seems fine and he is back with his hens. Thank you very much.
Do my chickens have fowl pox?
— Alexa Lehr
From the pictures, you are most likely correct that this is fowl pox. If so, they don’t look too bad, and hopefully, the chicken will be able to recover from this. Try your best at keeping your bird comfortable and well-fed and watered, and it should be okay. If you have other chickens, you might consider vaccinating them. This has been shown to be effective in preventing further infection. Limiting mosquito exposure can help, too, as they can spread the virus.
Of course, for a firm diagnosis, it’s best you contact an avian veterinarian or your state veterinary diagnostic lab. It’s difficult to say for sure from looking at pictures.
Good luck with them!
Goose Egg Facts
How old must a goose be to lay an egg? Must it be fully feathered? Or does a double yolker duck egg look like a goose egg? Thanks!
— Abner, Pennsylvania
Normally, a goose will lay eggs the spring after she hatched, so she will be close to a year old. Some may lay a few eggs in the fall, but yes, they will be fully feathered before they lay. If you got a large egg, it may be a double-yolked egg from a duck. Often, duck eggs have more of a waxy feeling to the shell, so that might be another clue to check.
Hope this helps!
Two Eggs in a Day!
One day I had a surprise. My 7-month-old Silkie pullet laid her first egg in the morning at about 7:00. She was sitting around looking uncomfortable. Soon she was back on her nest. I felt her abdomen and could feel another egg close to the vent. Around 10 a.m. she laid the second egg. Two eggs the first time she laid, and only three hours apart! Has this happened to anybody else?
— Junior Wengerd, Ohio
While it is unusual for a hen to lay two eggs this close together, it does happen occasionally. For some reason, the first egg remains in the oviduct too long, and the second egg then forms above it. In fact, occasionally, one of the eggs will have a flat side where it has formed while pushing up against the first egg. These are often called slab-sided eggs. If your hen continues to lay two eggs a day, that would be something to look into. Most likely, it’s just taking a bit of time to get her body working properly, and she’ll settle into a normal pattern soon.
Good luck with her!
Eating Diatomaceous Earth
I feed Diatomaceous Earth (DE) free choice to my poultry with enough water to make it a mud-like consistency, and also separately free choice, granite grit, and calcium grit. They like DE quite well except for the Red Lake DE (OMRI listed) which they refuse to eat, which you have advertised in your magazine. Have any of your readers that feed DE separately free choice had this same problem with Red Lake?
Also, I found out that OMRI does not require a lab analysis for mined products fed to animals, but does if the mined product is sold for use as a fertilizer. Being they don’t require a lab analysis, there could be anything in it; which begs the question, “what good is an OMRI seal on a mined product sold for animal use?”
— Robert Peterson
Hi Mr. Peterson,
Thank you for purchasing our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite. We are sorry to hear that your chickens do not like the way it has been provided to them as free choice. Our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite is for use in feeds as an anticaking agent or pelleting aid for further manufacturing in feed, in an amount not to exceed two percent of the total diet. We would suggest adding the product to feed as indicated on the label as that is the registered use of our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite products. We have many customers who add it to feed in an amount ranging from .5%-2% of the total diet and have great success!
Our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite is OMRI Listed for use in organic production.
OMRI is a voluntary program that offers manufacturers an independent and confidential review of their products to assure compliance with the National Organic Programs organic standards. The OMRI review includes ingredient verification and evaluation of the manufacturing process to ensure that OMRI Listed products are made without prohibited substances that are not allowed for use in organic production. As a result, farmers and producers recognize and rely on OMRI and the OMRI seal to help protect the integrity of their organic systems.
We hope you will continue to use our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite.
Red Lake Earth®
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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.