Ask the Expert — February/March 2016

You Ask Expert Poultry Questions, We Give Expert Poultry Answers

Ask the Expert — February/March 2016

Mites and Lice

My chickens have lice. How do you get rid of them? I’ve tried wood ash, spraying them with Poultry Protector, cleaning the coop and bathing them.

What do I do?

— Avery


Hi Avery,

Lice can certainly be unpleasant and if left untreated can negatively affect your chicken’s health. So it’s good you’re working to get rid of these pests.

Jeremy Chartier, one of our poultry experts, cautioned that it’s important first to know what has infested your coop. Fowl mites are the little black or red dots you see moving around on the skin of the bird, and the hard clusters of bubbles along the feather shaft are their eggs. These nasty little critters bite and suck blood from the bird, as much as 6% of the bird’s blood supply per day. With a heavy infestation, the chicken can suffer from anemia and a compromised immune system, which leaves the door wide open for other illnesses.

Chicken lice look like moving grains of rice. You can find their eggs clustered at the base of the feathers, especially near the vent. They eat the feathers of the chicken, scabs, dead skin and blood when present, and can make the bird look terrible.

Jeremy writes: “A dilution of permethrin concentrate is what I prefer, mainly because I can make a batch in a three-gallon sprayer and go to town. For smaller flocks, a spray bottle may suffice. Now I use the 10% permethrin solution sold in numerous places, most conveniently at Tractor Supply. The rate I use is 18cc per liter, or .18% permethrin, plus I add a little dish detergent to allow the solution to penetrate oils and surfaces.”

Obviously, if you’re going store-bought, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on dosage and frequency. An alternative to using these products would be DE (diatomaceous earth), which can be used like the dust product, but it works as a desiccant and an abrasive to kill mites as opposed to using an insecticide. It’s also a good time to clean your coop from corner to corner, and think about painting the inside of your coop. A non-toxic paint will keep the mites from boring into your wood surfaces and planting new eggs.

Good luck with your flock!


Humane End for a Sick Hen?

I saw an article at some point in the magazine about how you could euthanize your sick hen if needed. I keep thinking I have a sick hen that will die but she hasn’t — she is very skinny and blind in one eye. But she is happy and eats and enjoys her life. She just doesn’t utilize the food.

I will be leaving for the winter in a few weeks and do not wish to leave her without my being around to care for her. My neighbor takes care of my chickens and geese for me.

If she doesn’t die, what can I do to end her life humanely?

— Sheryl Smith


Hi Sheryl,

We will address the question about methods of euthanasia. Unfortunately, we’re not sure we have a perfect answer. At Ron Kean’s department at Wisconsin University, they use carbon dioxide gas for their chickens. It works fairly well, but we are not sure how easy or affordable it is to get a tank of the gas.

Blunt force trauma (by a blow to the head) has been shown to be effective, but it’s not very pleasant for the worker. It also requires enough force to cause considerable damage to the brain in one blow.

Cervical dislocation is also effective if done properly. Without training, it may not be so effective.

Finally, while it isn’t the cleanest, cutting the neck (or completely cutting off the head) like in processing is generally quick, and can be done effectively without much training. It isn’t the cleanest, but if it’s done in a cone and/or some form of containment, the mess can be contained.

Of course, going to a veterinarian is an option, as well.

While none of these are pleasant, and it can be a difficult decision, sometimes it is the most merciful thing to do.

Good luck with it.


Difference of Opinion

Through the last couple of years, we have started to raise Rhode Island Red chickens in northwest Ohio. My husband started with two hens, and built a coop with two nest boxes. We now have four hens that we raised from chicks since July 2015. These hens are starting to lay eggs, but not in the box.

We found the eggs in the pen by their food. I keep telling my husband they need a clean box with lots of nesting material for each hen. He says two hens can share the same box by sitting on top or next to each other, since they do that at night when they go in the coop. I told him that’s why they laid the egg outside in the pen because they need a comfortable nesting area. Can you please give us advice about hen laying?

— Sophia Reineck


Hi Sophia,

Your question made us laugh because there are rules for a chicken-to-nest box ratio, but chickens don’t necessarily make those rules. And that’s the fun part about having a backyard flock!

The ratio we use is three to four birds per nest box. We’ve found, however, that no matter how many nest boxes you provide, all the chickens will have the same favorite and they’ll all want to use it at the same time. So, you’ll see them hopping around on the floor in front of the nest box until the current occupant leaves. You’ll even see them double or triple up in the box because they just can’t wait for a turn. It’s something they don’t talk about in books, but most chicken keepers will see it happen in their coop.

It sounds like you’ve got a good ratio of chickens to nest boxes. The most important thing is to keep the nest boxes clean, and from there, the chickens will sort things out on their own. We would, however, discourage them from using the nest boxes at night, because the nightly pooping can accumulate and create quite a mess.

Other than that, it sounds like you’re giving your chickens a good place to call home!


Common Question

Why don’t roosters molt?

— Tom Dinwoodie


Hi Tom,

It’s funny, a lot of people ask that same question. I think because we hear so much about hens molting, it seems only hens molt. But, that’s not true. Roosters molt too. Molting has nothing to do with the sex of a chicken. Molting is the process where old, worn out feathers are replaced by new feathers. This is necessary because feathers keep a chicken warm in cold weather. If feathers are old and worn, then a chicken will have trouble staying warm during the winter months.


Feed for Thought

I have six-month-old hens and I’m writing for advice on what to feed them during our Montana winter. Thanks for taking the time.

— Sherman Oakes, Montana


Hi Sherman,

Normal layer feed is well-balanced for year-round nutrition for your flock, but there are some treats you can offer to keep them warm and healthy. For our flocks, we like to mix a little scratch grain in their feed. It’s high in carbohydrates, which generate heat as they’re digested and keeps the chickens warm. We also like to hang a cabbage from the coop ceiling, high enough so the chickens have to work to get it, but not too high so it’s impossible. This alleviates boredom and provides some good nutrition. Also, don’t forget about making sure they have fresh water in freezing temperatures.


A Changing Rooster

I have 11 Buff Orpington chickens, 10 hens and a rooster that I’ve had since December 6, 2014. They all came from the same place and have always been around each other. They free-range during the day and are locked up in the coop at night. Twice in the last month, I’ve seen the rooster attack one of the hens, although I haven’t seen how it starts. The hen is laying on the ground with her neck stretched out and her head on the ground and the rooster pecks her repeatedly in the back of the neck. He pecks her repeatedly, then stops, pecks her repeatedly again and stops, and this last time, when he stopped pecking her, he jumped up in the air, flapped his wings, and when he landed, he started pecking her again. I don’t think this has been going on for a long time, because where he pecks her has just started to get bald. I don’t know if this is relevant, but she has no feathers on her back, which I think is from the rooster rather than from molting, because she’s been that way for quite a while and none of the other hens have looked like that. Can you tell me why he’s doing this, and other than getting rid of one of them, is there anything I can do to stop this? Thank you.

— Donna Putzier, Missouri


Hi Donna,

We’ll eliminate the obvious possibility first. We assume the hen is not just squatting to be mated? Hens will lower their body, extend their head and spread their wings when they are ready to be mated. The rooster will then grab the back of their head with his beak and mount the hen. He will often flap his wings after a successful mating.

Assuming this is not the case, we suspect the hen may be the lowest hen in the flock pecking order. Chickens are pretty mean to each other, and the lowest bird often gets bullied. This can be difficult to change.

You could try getting a saddle for her, which would likely protect her back so new feathers have a chance to grow in. You could try giving the chickens more space (if that’s an option) or more hiding places. You might also try providing some hay bales, or something similar, which will break up the area and also give the chickens something else to peck at. If you’re feeding scratch grains or extra grain, we’d suggest stopping that, at least to see if it makes a difference. Sometimes, extra grain can cause an imbalance between energy and protein, and the chickens are more likely to peck each other.

You could also try clipping their beaks. This can be done by using a nail clipper, and may decrease the damage they do when pecking.

Finally, we wonder if the hen may have a health problem that causes her to stretch out on the ground? If that is the case, the chickens will likely attack her at that time. This is a normal chicken behavior, and if that is the case, removing her may be the best solution.

Hopefully, one of these solutions will help.

Good luck!


Sick Turkeys

I think my newly acquired turkeys may have coccidiosis. They have bloody butts and discharge. Is there a way to treat them or should I harvest them?

— Mary Vavrik


Hi Mary,

We think if they seem fairly healthy otherwise, it might be best to harvest them. Coccidiosis is not a human health concern.

You could also treat them with amprolium in the water. We don’t believe it has a withdrawal period in poultry, though in cattle, there is a 24-hour withdrawal period before slaughter.

If it is some other disease of the intestine (bacterial, for example) then the treatment won’t help.

We think those are your two best options at this point (process now, or try to treat with amprolium).

Good luck with them.


Dogs and Tapeworm

This morning in the chicken yard I found a very unusual chicken poop. It was about 18 inches long, and in a few areas it was like a “bubble” — one area was like a piece of twine but most of it reminded me of intestines with ring-type sections in it. It was covered in running poo and when I rinsed it off it looked whitish.

I know a picture would have been extremely helpful in this case, but when I had my back turned my dog ate it. Yes, dogs are gross!

I’ve had chickens for six years and I have had 45 for a few years now and I have never seen this before, unless it’s the dog who keeps eating them before I spot it.

All chickens seem to be acting okay. Thanks so much for any insight.

— Pattie Murray, Kentucky


Hi Pattie,

From your description, we suspect that it was a tapeworm. Dogs can certainly pick up tapeworms from rabbits, mice and most likely, chickens too. (And thanks for withholding the photo.)

We’d probably suggest deworming both the dog and the chickens. It’s a little difficult to suggest a dewormer for chickens, since there aren’t any that are labeled for use in laying hens. There are several home-remedy type dewormers, but there is little research showing how well they work.

We guess you could also take fecal samples to a veterinarian, to determine for sure who has worms.

If we are wrong about this, then we can try to come up with other possibilities, but a tapeworm is what comes to mind immediately.

Good luck with them!


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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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