Ask the Expert — February/March 2019
Hey there! Absolutely love your website. What a great resource trying to figure out how to get some ducks on her property. My main goals are pets/eggs/action for my two-year-old. We are on five acres in Florida and I already have a set up from the previous owners who raised hogs. So I just need to convert the pen. We have a pond.
Anyway, after reading some articles you provided, I really love the Saxony ducks. However, I can’t seem to validate they are a good choice for South Florida. Would love your insights on the best hot weather breeds, and if Saxony would indeed work, or rather that they are a cold climate bird? Thanks SO much!
— Deidra Johnson
Most of the different breeds of ducks (with the exception of Muscovies) are derived from Mallards. They can handle a variety of climates pretty well. As with other animals, I would suggest providing shade, plenty of clean, cool water, and ventilation if possible.
They should do well!
If I’ve bred a Delaware and a Golden Sex Link, will I be able to tell the sex when they hatch?
— Samuel Burton
“In this particular case, you would not be able to get true results. The Delaware’s white color is known in poultry genetics as silver. It is not a true silver as we think of the color, but is a dominant white color carried on the Z (male) chromosome. In chickens, mama has one Z chromosome and daddy has two Z chromosomes (ZZ). Golden Sex Links are the result of crossing a silver female with a golden or red-colored male. The resulting females are the little red hens we know as Golden or Red Sex Links. They have the golden or red color of their fathers. The males from this cross all turn out to have the silver color pattern of their fathers. If you were to cross a pure-bred Delaware male with a Golden Sex Link female, all of the chicks would, in theory, be silver like their father. If you crossed a Golden Sex Link male with a Delaware female, the Sex Link male is actually white or silver and the hen is also the same color, so that would not give the desired results either. However, crosses like this are still fun, especially to experiment and see what you actually get. Because so many different genes are involved in color patterns in fowl, you can actually get more variations in tones and patterns than you might think. It is also fun to compare growth rates, body conformation, and other variables. Both birds are wonderful producers for home flocks and the offspring should be calm, useful, dual-purpose fowl that you can be proud to have in your flock.”
Hen Laying or Not?
When do chickens stop laying? And how do you tell from the birds that are laying and the ones that are not?
— Cleveland Narcisse
Hens stop laying for different reasons throughout their lifetimes. Molt and lack of daylight in late fall/winter are two top reasons. Broody hens will also not lay eggs while sitting on a clutch and raising their baby chicks.
Older hens don’t traditionally just stop laying. It’s more of a gradual process where production slows over the years. In a backyard flock, this isn’t normally a problem as older hens are valued for their flock leadership, insect/pest control and poop for garden fertilizer.
If you do need to identify layers vs. non-layers physically, the following is from Lana Beckard, a Nutrena Poultry Expert.
“The best physical way to locate a non-layer is to enter the coop at night with a battery lantern, flashlight, or headlamp so you can use both hands. Hens are easiest to handle when they are sleepy. Gently pick up each bird. Position her between your elbow and ribs with her head facing backward. It may take gentle pressure from the arm to keep her wings from flapping, and by holding her feet between your fingers she’s not mobile and will likely sit quietly. Gently place the palm of the other hand on her pelvis. Bones that are easy to feel span the cloaca, where both droppings and eggs emerge. If a hen is not laying, the bones will be close together. If she’s laying, they will be three or four fingers apart, providing plenty of room for the egg to pass out of her body. A laying hen’s vent or cloaca is usually moist and pale in color. A non-layer’s may appear yellowish.”
Keeping One Drake and One Hen
I have a female Pekin and male Cayuga. They are 23 weeks and she just laid her first egg today. My concern is I do not want to purchase another female, but will she be over-mated? What can I do? What ducks mate for life and what does that mean?
Young drakes can have a strong drive to reproduce and can become aggressive. There is no guarantee your hen will be overly mated, but there’s no guarantee she won’t. The recommended ratio for a flock that stays together all the time is one drake for every four to six hens. If you are limited to the number of birds you can keep, it’s a good idea to add at least one hen.
Keeping Drake with Chickens
I have a lone drake and two hens, can I put them together?
— Teresa Almond
Drakes, especially young drakes, have a strong drive to reproduce. They are also not selective about mating with their own species. The answer to your question is yes, they can live together. But you’ll need to keep an eye out for your hens. Are they being overly mated? Are they becoming stressed? If those problems arise, it’s best to find some female ducks so your drake can have a flock of his own.
Raising Dutch Chickens
Are Dutch chickens hard to raise from babies?
It’s hard to know what you mean by Dutch chickens. There are Dutch chicken breeds, including a bantam, that originated from that locality. Perhaps the best way to answer your question is to say that all chickens need the basics when being hand-raised — warmth, food, water, and cleanliness.
Best Bedding for Chickens
I want to know how to keep broiler chickens from bedding to growth. What type of bedding doesn’t bring sneezing, coughing, and diarrhea?
— Clement Ngulube
Bedding doesn’t normally cause the symptoms you’ve described. But please enjoy the link below that describes good bedding options.
The symptoms you’ve described are symptoms of illness. While the bedding itself may not cause these problems, dirty bedding can lead to sick chickens. It’s important to keep your chickens in clean litter at all times. If your litter is clean, then you may want to check with a veterinarian to see what is causing problems for your chickens.
Hope this helps!
Hen Found Dead
I found a Bantam in large shed dead on the shelf with its head, neck, and crop missing. Thirteen birds in total use the shed and all the others are okay. What killed my chicken?
It sounds like your Bantam is the victim of a raccoon. The head and crop missing are sure signs that a raccoon found its way into the shed.
It’s good to hear your other birds are fine. But, once a raccoon finds its way into your coop, it will keep coming back for an easy meal. Make sure to thoroughly inspect your coop for small openings and secure it so your raccoon’s future dinner efforts will be thwarted.
Can you make hens broody or is it something only nature can do?
— Donald Landry
A broody hen is influenced by her genetics and time of year, so it’s virtually impossible to make a hen go broody. With that said, when one hen in a flock goes broody, it can sometimes entice other hens to go broody. So you may see more than one hen in a flock broody at the same time.
If you’d like a broody hen in your flock, the best course of action is to get a breed that tends to go broody. Silkies are renowned for being great broodies. Other breeds that tend to go broody include Cochin, Orpington, Sussex, and Brahma.
I have one hen that they pecked almost to death but I saved her… they pecked her entire back out so probably damaged her spine…. her back is 99% to 100% healed but she still waddles like a duck so they continue to peck her… How can I help this?
Chickens are remarkable creatures and they can come back from more than we think.
Chickens will peck for different reasons. It’s hard to know what your individual situation is, but maybe these examples will help.
When chickens are confined in too little space, they will peck. Also, if confined, they can become bored or too hot and peck.
Chickens are also quick to spot weakness and can bully and peck that weaker chicken even to the point of death. With that said, there are some breeds that are more dominant than others and that can cause the same problems.
You can change up your coop and make the chickens re-establish their pecking order or you can separate your pecked hen into her own flock with some gentle hens. That would mean you have two separate coops and setups, but it would allow her to thrive away from the bullies.
Male/Female Guinea Fowl
What is the best and easiest way to determine a male/female Guinea Fowl?
The following advice is from one of our writers, Mel Dickinson. Hope it helps!
“It’s difficult to tell them apart. The only tried and true way we have found is to listen to their call. The females make a “good luck, good luck” sound and the males make this horrible “chachachacha” sound. Sometimes our males are slightly larger in size, have a little larger wattles and helmet, but we always rely on their calls to tell them apart.”
I was wondering if anyone could help me with a problem I have. My 1-year-old rooster has developed little black sores on his feet, they seemed to not bother him a first but now he is starting to limp a little bit. I’m not sure if this is curable but I’d like to try to help him as best I can, thank you for your time.
— Aislinn Korb
It looks like your rooster has bumblefoot. This is really an infection of the footpad. It could have started with a wood sliver, or a small cut, or something similar. Bacteria then multiply in this sore, and it gets infected. It should be treatable. Usually, the most difficult part of treatment is that there can be a core, or “plug” inside the sore, and this needs to be removed. In your rooster’s case, it doesn’t look too swollen, so there might not be much of a core. BYP may have an article on treating this, I think. I would probably suggest soaking the sore foot if you can, so you can remove the scabby material. After this, apply some iodine (Betadine is a brand name that is usually available in a human pharmacy) to the sore area. Try to keep him in a dry, clean environment for a while until it heals. If it continues to be a problem, the sore may have to be lanced to remove that core I mentioned. Providing clean, dry bedding is important to prevent this in the future. Try to eliminate any wood that has slivers, or treat the wood (paint, etc.) to try to cover them up. There are reports that heavy roosters can cause damage flying down from their roosts if the roosts are too high, so you might consider lowering the roost. It doesn’t look too bad, so hopefully, it will heal fairly well.
Rooster Missing an Eye
I just went to the coop and noticed my bantam rooster is missing an eye. It doesn’t look swollen. He just has it shut. I opened the eye and it is missing. He isn’t eating or drinking and is laying in my nesting box. Any suggestions on wound care?
It’s sad to hear about your rooster’s eye, but the good news is that he most likely can make a full recovery. Chickens can be quite resilient. They actually have blood that runs warmer than ours and this helps ward off infection. This means that many times you don’t need antibiotics on a wound.
After a traumatic injury, you may not see a chicken eating and drinking much. Normally they find a quiet place to rest and start to recuperate. The nest box sounds like a good place for him to rest, but you may want to separate your rooster from the rest of the flock so he doesn’t get pecked by the others. Chickens can be curious about wounds and can injure already hurt birds.
Give him a separate, clean space with his own food and water. Vetericyn does make an eye wash and an antimicrobial gel for eyes that can be used on any animal. You may want to gently use this wash and gel to keep his eye clean and free of pollutants while it’s healing.
If you’re uncomfortable with the wound, it won’t stop bleeding or you see signs of infection, it’s a good idea to take your rooster to a veterinarian for further diagnostics.
It’s also a good idea to look around your coop for anything that may be sharp or sticking out that could have injured your rooster.
After the eye is healed, you can let your rooster go back to the flock. He should adjust well to life with one eye.
Good luck with him!
Brahma Not Laying
I have a Brahma hen that doesn’t always lay an egg. She has two roommates that are Red Sex Links. They lay every day. I feed them, have clean water for them, and take greens to them. So my question is, am I missing something?
— Bea Gren
You’re not missing anything. Sex Link chickens are hybrids that are bred for heavy egg production. Your Brahma is a good egg layer that can lay three to four eggs per week. She will not reach the same level of production as the Sex Links but enjoy her, Brahmas are wonderful birds.
I have chickens that are scratching and their feathers are out. What herbs can they eat to help this problem go away?
Some scratching of their bodies as chickens go about their day is normal. Something can get on their skin, something can be lodged in a feather, a feather can be out of place — these are normal scenarios where you might witness your chickens scratching and grooming themselves.
Feather loss can also be caused by molting. Molting is a normal process that happens in the fall yearly after a chicken is a year old. During molting, chickens lose their old feathers and replace them with new. This process can take several months. Some chickens molt hard losing a lot of feathers. Others molt soft and the feather loss is barely noticeable.
There can be other reasons for feather loss. Pecking by other chickens, mites, lice, mating damage, and self-pecking are common problems for backyard chicken keepers.
There are different solutions to each of these problems, so it’s best to do a little detective work so you can address the correct problem effectively.
I enjoy your magazine very much. I read it from front to back. Very interesting articles of poultry lovers around the world. Now I have a question and would appreciate your thoughts.
I have had brown hen layers for nine years. I turn them around every three years. The last group of hens was mostly White Plymouth Rocks laying brown eggs. Should I replace them every two years as I have read to do in poultry magazines? Now I understand I should be replaced every year.
Every so often a hen dies and I’m not sure why. My hens have access to outside and inside. They are treated to grass, straw, and other vegetation plus their feed. They have water at all times. I enjoy taking care of my hens and watching them scratch around.
— Norman H. Schunz, Iowa
It is true that hens are more productive in their early years, but they can lay well past that. Production declines but doesn’t stop completely, and for many backyard chicken keepers, they don’t mind. If you have an egg business, you may want to have the more rapid turnover to meet customer needs. But, there are many benefits to keeping older hens. In fact, we’ve got some great articles on that subject that you may enjoy.
It sounds like you take great care of your hens. It’s natural to have a few pass away from time to time. But if you have consistent losses, you may want to check further into it.
Ask our poultry experts about your flock’s health, feed, production, housing and more!
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.