Ask the Expert — e-edition Early Spring 2017

Ask the Expert — e-edition Early Spring 2017


I have mixed flock of 14 nearly-two-year-old Rhode Island Reds, Red and Black Sex Links who seem mostly healthy, but are no longer laying. I also have nine Barred Rocks and nine Brown Leghorns that are six months old. A few Leghorns and Barred Rocks started laying in December. I then got six big Black Australorps in December from someone who said they were just starting to lay. I got two eggs from them right away, kept them in confinement for six days to see if there was any illness to be concerned about. Finally, I combined the two groups together mid-December.

On December 31, one of the Brown Leghorns showed fowl pox on her beak and her eyes were shut. She was lethargic. I brought her to the house and watered her daily, plus gave her a liquid vitamin squirt three times. The pox is still there. She has been just sitting, eyes shut for 19 days now.

A few days later, a different Brown Leghorn exhibited signs of gapeworm with gurgling breathing. I confined her in the basement too. Then treated the whole flock with Wazine turkey, chicken and swine wormer in a single fount so that is all they had to drink for 26 hours. About January 10th, the gapeworm symptoms disappeared from the one that had it, and none since, so far as I could tell. But in the last week, two more Brown Leghorns and one of my older Rhode Island Reds got lethargic, standing around with eyes closed, so they came into the basement. All I have done with them is squirt water into their beaks once a day, about a tablespoonful. This morning, another Leghorn is lethargic with eyes closed, so she is in the basement too. They are all alive, but we are killing them all today.

I brought in a healthy, young cochin rooster to see if a male would stimulate egg production which had fallen to two to four per day. He is doing his job, but now, NONE of them are laying.

My coop is not heated, it has a painted wood floor, various litter — straw, hay or wood chips, and I muck out the coop every three weeks or so. We had very cold weather (minus 12 many days) in December. I had a heat lamp go on at 6 a.m. and go off at 1 p.m., mostly to dry some litter in one spot, but they didn’t congregate there. They have two watering founts that I keep filled, on heated bases, plenty of pelleted crumbles, and I bring treats of cabbage, apples, lettuces, cooked soybeans or lentils or rice, plus bread croutons, and melon rinds. I come out to check on them at least two and sometimes four times a day. So there are 38 chickens in a painted wood floor coop (12×20′) that we built last summer. It has south-facing clear poly windows at roof and lower at my eye level, plus four sliding windows for ventilation, although, air can circulate through the walls where the poly windows meet insulated walls. The ceiling is partially insulated with pink styrofoam.

I never had sick chickens before and am crying inside because some are sick. Last winter, the 14 older ones never quit laying at all. They did finally go into molt starting in September and only recently have gotten back all their feathers.

In the last week, when it was nice, I let them out into the yard that was mostly snow covered, except where I shoved the coop litter out and spread it around when I cleaned. An opossum got in there. We threw him out, but a few hours later, he came back. He didn’t do anything except munch at their feeder like he does during the day at the bird feeders I have in the yard near the house, which is approximately 120 feet away from the coop. I seldom let my girls outside this winter because of the snow, frigid temps, and strong winds.

Presently, I have a Barred Rock and one of my older Black Sex Links and one of the newer Black Australorps doing the barking thing, but the rest seem lively and walk around, scratching and pecking. I throw a handful or two of scratch grains into the litter daily, plus once or twice a week, a handful of kernel corn, and some unsalted peanuts in the shell. We’ve also been growing barley fodder in seed trays and they get a mat of fresh greens about twice a week.

None of my chickens have been vaccinated. So why do you think they not laying any eggs! When all I had was my 14 older mixed flock, I would get four dozen a week. With 38 of them in January, I have gotten 32 eggs the first week, 11 the second, and zero this last week.

Could it be stress or trauma from the introduction of the six big Black Australorps? Or the introduction of the rooster? Or the opossum this week— but by then, I already had some sick. Will they ever lay again?

Please let me know if there is something different I should be doing.

And thank you for your informative columns in BYP. I love your magazine!

— Jan Feeler, Wisconsin


Hi Jan,

Thank you for the detailed information. It gives a good idea about the chickens, their care, etc. It sounds like you take good care of them!

The first thing to ask is about the pox and gapeworm symptoms. While these can cause the symptoms you mentioned, some other diseases could potentially look similar. Chronic respiratory disease (CRD) would be one that would spread easily to your chickens if the new ones carried it. CRD (caused by Mycoplasma gallisepticum) is fairly common and birds can carry it while being apparently healthy. Fowl cholera can also be carried this way. When new chickens are exposed, they (the newly exposed chickens) can get sick from the carrier. These are both bacterial diseases, but it can be very difficult to completely eliminate them, even with antibiotics.

Infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) would be another one that might cause similar symptoms. This is caused by a virus that causes damage to the respiratory tract.

It’s also possible that they did have pox and then were more susceptible to some other respiratory problems. Unless you actually saw worms in the trachea, we can’t assume they had gapeworms. These aren’t very common, and Wazine doesn’t treat them, so they probably wouldn’t have gone away.

At any rate, they definitely have something. It’s likely that the new chickens brought it in, given the timing.

The opossum was probably not involved. It was probably looking for eggs to eat. If it has access to the coop, it will certainly eat eggs. It’s possible that they are laying and you just are not getting the eggs, though it doesn’t sound like this is probably the problem.

You may want to consider changing the lighting for them. You said you had a heat lamp on them in December. Coming on at 6 a.m. and then off by 1 p.m., they would have had ambient light until about 4 p.m. or so, which would have given them about 10 hours of light. Since they had already gone into a molt, that was likely not enough to stimulate the second-year hens and bring them back into production. They usually need around 14 hours of light to stimulate egg production. That might explain why the second-year hens are not laying. It isn’t unusual for them to stop producing as the days get shorter in the fall, and not start again until the days lengthen in the spring. If that is the issue, they should start laying again before too long, since the natural day length is increasing.

The first-year pullets would likely have started to lay anyway, as you noted and probably would have done fine, except then they got sick.

So, will they lay again? Without knowing for sure what caused them to get sick, it’s a little difficult to give a solid answer. If they had pox, or ILT, they should get over those. If they have gapeworm, this may be an ongoing problem. You’d need to find a veterinarian to give you something off-label for that. There are some treatments that will probably work, but they aren’t labeled for use in laying chickens.

If they have chronic respiratory disease, they will likely lay again, but they may get sick again if something stresses them.

They should start laying again in the next month or so, as the days start to get longer. If you notice that they get sick again, you may want to find an avian veterinarian or contact your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They should be able to do some testing to determine what is causing the problem.

For next year, if you want the chickens to continue laying, it would be good to keep the lights at about 14 to 15 hours per day. It doesn’t take a bright light, but the length of time of light is important.

Good luck with them!


A Bleeding Comb

The other day I went to feed my chickens and I noticed one of my two-year-old Black Australorp had its head down in the yard. She was bleeding from her comb but just a small drop. She must have gotten it stuck or the other hens pecked her too hard, which has never happened before. Her comb and waddle were very pale. I took her into the basement to keep her separated from the other chickens and elements. It’s currently winter but it’s been a warm winter.

We stopped the bleeding using Vaseline. She started to look better, slightly, then two days later she died.

Just wondering if there was anything I could have done different. She did not show any signs of frostbite or external parasites. All my other chickens are perfectly fine. I’m not sure how long she was hurt but it could not have been more than a day.


— David Dansereau, Rhode Island


Hi David,

As long as it’s been above 30 degrees F, frostbite shouldn’t have been a concern. Usually, it needs to get considerably below freezing before frostbite occurs. My guess is that the hen had some other health problem, and then once she got weak, the other chickens may have pecked at her comb. This is a fairly common behavior of chickens. Once one shows weakness, the others will attack it.

It’s difficult to know what might have been wrong with her. If you notice more hens showing symptoms or dying, you could try to find an avian veterinarian, or check with your state veterinary diagnostic lab. Hopefully, it was just something with that hen, and the rest are fine.

Good luck with the flock!


Cloacal Necrosis

I have a persistent problem with my six-year-old Faverolle rooster. Periodically he develops necrosis and inflammation around his cloaca. This last time I found Heterakis in the stool and treated him with panacur. At that time he was off his feed and producing a horrendous smelling stool so I also started him on injectable Baytril, topical Mupirocin and an herbal topical called Derma Gel by Veterinus. The Derma Gel works great on necrotic wounds, I am a vet and have used it for many years. I just checked him again and I see the necrosis starting again around the margins of the cloaca. Reinfection is a possibility but he has been back in the coop for only two weeks. Any thoughts?  Thank you.

— Dr. Rick Yacowitz


Hi Rick,

You’ve probably checked for external parasites, but mites could be a factor.

Perhaps more likely, the hens are pecking at his vent. Especially if it’s red or tender, they may peck at it. If that’s the case, there are some anti-peck salves that could be tried, or there are many things that people try to limit pecking. Pecking can be a behavior that is difficult to stop once it has started, however.

The necrosis is not a common occurrence for any specific disease. A bit of searching did turn up a mention of giardiasis in other bird species that could cause cloacal inflammation. It would be something to consider. An anti-protozoal agent might be something to try.

There were also reports of orchitis or epididymo-orchitis in roosters. This is a long-shot at best. The reports likened it to salpingitis in hens, so this might cause cloacal necrosis if it was bad enough.

Maybe one of these things will fit. Sorry there’s not a better answer!


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