Ask the Expert — December 2018/January 2019

Ask the Expert — December 2018/January 2019

Washing Eggs Before Boiling

How do you handle eggs if you want to hard boil them? I usually wash in 90 degree water and put them in the pan with warming water to boil … is this correct?

— Denise Hurley


Hi Denise,

An egg is laid with a protective cover called a bloom. This cover keeps bacteria out of the egg. Washing an egg removes this bloom and leaves it vulnerable.

Many backyard chicken keepers do not wash their eggs so the bloom stays intact as the egg is stored. This means they don’t wash them before hard boiling either.

If an egg is lightly soiled, it’s best to gently remove the offensive material without washing. If an egg must be washed, it’s best the water temperature is 20 degrees warmer than the egg. And, you should eat those eggs sooner than your unwashed eggs since they no longer have a protective bloom.

Your question really comes down to personal preference. If you’re just quickly washing your eggs immediately before they’re placed in the pan for boiling, you’re probably fine with a wash.  But for long-term storage in the refrigerator, it’s best not to wash.


Broody Hen Smashing Eggs

My hens had laid eggs and I wanted them to sit on them and hatch them. But after a few days, I went out and all the eggs were smashed. What do you think is wrong?

— Judy Kelly


Hi Judy,

That is disheartening!  There are a number of things that may have happened, depending on the individual circumstances.

First, it’s unclear to whether or not you actually had a broody hen (one wanting to incubate)? If you don’t, it’s generally best to remove the eggs and store them in a cool place (around 55-65 degrees) until you have a broody hen. They can usually be kept for about 10 days and still remain viable. They will stay much cleaner and have less chance of being broken. There isn’t a reliable way to “make” a hen go broody, and some breeds are much more inclined toward broodiness than others.

If the nest is in the main coop, where other hens have access to it, there may have been issues with other hens. This happens fairly often. If you have a broody hen, it’s best to move her and her eggs to an isolated place. If the other hens have access, they may try to get in the nest with her, which can result in broken eggs. On a side note, they may also lay fresh eggs in her nest, and this can lead to a huge headache later on. The eggs will take 21 days to hatch (from the start of incubation), so eggs added later will hatch later. When the first chicks hatch, the hen will leave the nest with the chicks, and those later eggs will need to be incubated artificially (or with another broody hen), or they won’t survive. If you absolutely can’t move the broody hen, it’s best to mark the eggs and check daily to remove any fresh (unmarked) eggs.

If the shell quality is poor, eggs can be broken easily. Briefly, poor eggshells could be caused by nutritional imbalances, excessive heat, genetics, excessively large eggs, etc.

It could also be that the hen is not a very good broody hen. Some heavier hens have trouble with breaking eggs. Feather-footed hens can sometimes have more difficulty.

Finally, something else may have broken the eggs. Lots of things like to eat eggs, so I’d look for evidence of an intruder. Dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rats, and other chickens would all be potential suspects! Depending on where you live, there could be others, too.


Chicken Eating Feathers

I have a flock of 11 hens — 10 layers and one retired. Several of them are in a molt so there are feathers everywhere. Today, I observed my Ameraucana hen inside the coop picking up feathers and seemingly trying to place them on herself. She did this with a few pieces of shavings too.
This hen’s name is Holly and she is a little less than a year old. She is not molting. She’s healthy and has turned out to be very tame. In all my years of raising chickens, I’ve never observed this kind of behavior. Have you ever heard of chickens doing something like this?
— M. Booth, California



That’s quite unusual behavior. A guess is that it may have been a type of dust-bathing/preening behavior, but it’s hard to know for sure. She may have been trying to eat the feathers and was twisting her head to try to get them down her throat. But that would be less likely with the shavings, however.

Chickens certainly have some interesting behaviors sometimes!


Chickens Not Laying

I love your magazine. The ideas are great! Your magazine is awesome!

My age is nine. I’m wondering why my chickens aren’t laying. They are eight weeks old. I have 12 and they are Rhode Island Reds. They are very sweet. I give them grit, eggshells, scratch, and lots more.

I’m wondering why my chicks are very scared of the kittens.

I hope to hear from you soon.

— Summer Hickson


Hi Summer,

Your chickens sound like they are getting the best of care. There’s nothing wrong with them. They are just too young to lay eggs yet. Most chickens will start laying eggs at five to six months of age. So, you’ve got a few more months to go. Remember, however, that’s just an average age, so some may lay sooner and others may lay later.

Until your chickens are old enough to lay eggs, it’s important to keep them on a starter/grower feed that doesn’t have calcium. Feeding calcium to chickens that are not laying age, can be harmful to their health. You can also hold off on the eggshells until they are laying.

Your chickens are very sensible to be scared of kittens. Your kittens have claws and sharp teeth and they can do a lot of harm to a baby chicken. Once your chickens are full grown, then they can defend themselves. But at this point, both the kittens and the chicks are too young to be together without supervision.

Good luck with your flock!


Feeding Show Chickens

I have Old English Game bantams. I would like to know the best regimen of feeding for the best plumage possible. I would like to raise birds to show. Thank you very much.

— Patricia Beard


Hi Patricia,

Feeding show birds is pretty much the same as feeding your backyard flock. They need a good all-purpose chicken feed — laying feed for the hens and general feed for the roosters if kept separately. Nutrena does make a good feather fixer feed that helps promote feather growth during molt and can be used throughout the year. This may be something you’d like to explore.

All-purpose feed should comprise 90 percent of a chicken’s diet. Healthy treats should comprise the other 10 percent. The treats are where many people that show birds have a secret sauce. Most folks have something they feed that they swear helps with better feathers. Many feed their chickens black oil sunflower seed and say it helps the feathers to be shiny. Black oil sunflower seed, in general, is a great chicken treat, so there’s nothing wrong with seeing if it makes a difference in the feathers.

We recently printed a series on poultry show birds that you may find interesting. The links are below.

Good luck with your birds!


Nails in Eggs

My wife purchased some eggs from a local farm and there was part of a nail in the scrambled eggs. The same thing happened last week. I thought last week that perhaps one of us had a nail on the counter and somehow it got mixed in but today there is no way. We were serving guests with a 16-month-old baby! Luckily the baby did not have that part of the eggs. The nail is quite narrow/thin. Is it possible for a chick to ingest metal and it ends up in their eggs? Obviously, we will no longer be purchasing our eggs from them. We are very concerned and would appreciate your input.

James Durller


Hi James,

Assuming these were intact shell eggs, it is quite odd that this could happen once, and extremely surprising that it could happen more than once.

The most plausible explanation is that a nail might be eaten by the hen, and then penetrate through the digestive tract (possibly through the gizzard, due to muscular contractions) and into the abdomen. Sharp objects can penetrate the gizzard. Once it reaches the abdominal cavity, it could get picked up by the infundibulum (funnel) of the oviduct, and get incorporated into the egg.

For this to happen more than once seems exceedingly unlikely, but may be possible.

One would think a nail would show up during candling, too, though a small nail might be missed.

Just to cover all bases, did you add anything else to the scrambled eggs? Might the nails have been in cheese, or some other ingredient? Could it have come from a cooking utensil?


Thanks for your input on our nails egg situation. None of the utensils used could have had a nail as they are all one piece … same with the pan and I think I would have heard a metal piece clink if it was in the milk. I am sure that this was a real fluke. I wish I had taken a photo. It does intrigue.

James Durller


Swelling Under the Eye

My fiancé and I are first-time chicken owners with a flock of six 14-week-old chickens which includes one rooster. Two weeks ago, our Buff Orpington hen Laura had a swollen under eye area for a week before it subsided. Now our rooster Kenny is swollen on the flesh around his eye and cheek. It doesn’t affect them in any way except for looking awful. Any idea what this could be?

Denise Yost, Connecticut


Hi Denise,

Swelling in this area is often because of a sinus infection. That can be caused by a number of things. Several bacterial diseases, such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum, fowl cholera, and coryza, commonly cause this. It would be surprising that any of these would clear up that quickly, however.

Some viruses could cause this, too. In the case of viral or bacterial disease, you’d see some other symptoms, such as sneezing, drainage from the nares, etc. If you don’t, and he gets over it as quickly as the hen did, then there’s not a need to worry too much. You should continue to monitor the rest of the flock, and if things get worse, you may have to try to find an avian veterinarian.

It’s possible that some injury in the beak area might cause swelling like this. If they were eating something sharp, and a sliver got lodged inside the mouth, it could cause swelling. There are examples of hens that have had this happen. Though the infection wasn’t in the sinus area directly, it’s a possibility.


Thank you so much for the information! The rooster’s swelling just subsided, after about a week or two. Hoping it doesn’t happen again! Thank you!

— Denise


Can’t Tell Who’s Laying

Hello, I am new to keeping chickens and have relied on your site for a lot of help. I currently have two chooks: a Golden Buff hen, and a Buckeye hen. For the first week they both laid about an egg a day. But now only one is laying. We originally thought the Buckeye was laying light brown smaller eggs and the Golden Buff was laying dark brown larger eggs. I am wondering if maybe I switched that around somehow. Asking because the Buckeye is always the hen we find in the nesting box. Trying to sleuth this out and I want to be sure I’m investigating the right hen. Thanks very much!

— Heather Pollock, Akron


Hi Heather,

With chickens that lay basically the same egg color, it can be hard to tell who’s laying what. The links below are from Meyer Hatchery and show some differences between the egg colors. (Also, please find an article from our site about each chicken breed.) Keep in mind that each chicken is an individual so not all eggs will look exactly like the hatchery photos, but this will give you the general idea. You may want to spend a day or two stalking your coop, making sure to remove all eggs from the nest boxes until each of your girls hops in for her turn. Then you’ll be able to see what egg has been laid and know who laid it.

Good luck with your investigations!


Golden Buff


If you have health-related poultry questions, use the chat feature, email, or send them to us at Backyard Poultry, Attn: Ask the Expert, P.O. Box 566, Medford, WI 54451. All submissions will be considered for print publication. Please include your name and hometown with your questions, which should be as detailed as possible. Pictures help us answer questions, so please include those too!

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