Ask the Expert — June/July 2015

You Ask Expert Poultry Questions, We Give Expert Poultry Answers

Ask the Expert — June/July 2015

A Feed And Diet Question

Thanks for a great magazine. Yes, I am new to you folks there! I have found a lot of great info and replies to many questions I have had. In your magazine’s February/March issue, I came across a feed mix suggested by Lisa Steele on page 43. I am very interested in trying it out on my chickens.

I have been raising chickens and goats outside of Philly for five years. My three questions are as follows:

1) My chickens get in and around my goats and eat their goat feed and sweet feed, any problems with this? They are all great layers and are quick and active all the time!

2) I feed extra corn (cracked) during winter season, as I understand it helps to produce body heat in the chickens (and other animals) during the winter.

3) Feeding layer pellets or crumbles, all the time, doesn’t burn out the chicken for laying eggs does it? Reason why I ask this is because I feed the pellets every now and then (egg laying), not every day.

I hope you can help out with a reply or two. Many thanks!

— William Smith


Hi William,

We’re glad that you are enjoying the magazine. You bring up some interesting questions.

First, there shouldn’t be a problem with the chickens eating the goat feed. It’s probably not completely balanced for chickens, since goats are ruminants, so their dietary needs are a bit different, but it shouldn’t be harmful for the chickens. Ruminants depend on microbial digestion of a lot of plant fibers, and they then use the byproducts of those microbes for some of their nutrients (including some amino acids and vitamins). Because of this, they can do well on what would be a low-quality diet for non-ruminants (such as chickens, pigs, humans, etc.). As long as the chickens have other feeds as well, it shouldn’t be a problem. If the chickens are physically in the goat feeders, there could be an increased risk of bacterial transfer from their droppings (which will likely also be in the goat feeder). Some bacteria, especially Salmonella, can spread between chickens and goats, so that could be a concern.

Cracked corn does provide a lot of calories of energy, so it can help the birds stay warm. Corn tends to be low in protein (about 8-9%) so feeding a lot of it can dilute out the protein (and other vitamins and minerals) in a balanced ration. In some cases, excess energy and low protein can increase the chances of pecking and cannibalism. If they aren’t using the calories for heat, they will store them as fat, too, so that can be a problem. As long as the birds are doing well, it’s generally not bad to add corn in cold weather. Again, we’d suggest that they have a balanced ration available to them.

Finally, we don’t believe there is any evidence that feeding layer pellets or crumbles will “burn out” the hens. These diets are formulated to meet all known dietary requirements for chickens, and are a good diet for hens. There is a thought that hens that don’t lay very well will continue to lay longer in life. I’ve never seen data to prove this. Since layer pellets or crumbles usually contain 3-4% calcium, they could be a problem for a non-laying hen (or rooster), since they contain more calcium than is needed. This amount is necessary for a hen that is producing eggshells, but is excessive for a chicken that is not laying eggs. In that case, this diet could be a problem, though it’s unlikely that you’ll see a lot of problems.

Good luck with the flock!


Are Pellets Worth It?

I usually feed my hens a mixture of cracked corn or scratch grains with laying pellets. I would like to know if I am wasting money buying the pellets. Does it help them lay more? Are they going to lay better with it? Is it even safe and healthy to feed them this manufactured feed?

— Mike Sims


Hi Mike,

We like to compare chicken nutrition to human nutrition, and we think that will help show the value of a commercial ration. Feeding the chickens corn, or scratch grains, is similar to a human who only eats bread (made mostly of flour, which is finely ground grain). There is nothing wrong with bread, but it’s not a complete diet, and eventually, you’ll likely notice some deficiencies. The pellets should contain all the different nutrients that we know are important for good health for a chicken (vitamins, minerals, adequate protein, etc.), so you could compare this to a human eating a variety of foods.

As a specific example, corn usually contains between 8-10% protein, which is pretty low for a hen. It is recommended that they should have 14-16% protein, so corn won’t really provide enough.

Depending on your goal for the chickens, we don’t think pellets are a waste of money. We guess if you only want them as pets, then pellets will cost more than grains. Assuming the hens are otherwise healthy, and fairly young, they should lay more eggs when fed pellets.

As part of the pelleting process, the feed is heated so any bacteria are usually destroyed. Pelleted feeds should be safe and healthy. There is always a chance of a problem, but there are molds, mycotoxins, etc. that can be on grains, too.

We’re assuming that this is their only feed source. If the chickens are free-ranging, and if they have a variety of insects, worms, and plants available, then the hens “might” be able to have a balanced diet and get all the nutrients they need. I’m not sure where you are located. Here in Wisconsin, bugs and worms are in pretty short supply this time of year!

So, unless the hens are able to range and subsidize their feed with other nutrients, we think they will be healthier with a complete diet. They should lay more eggs, too, though there are other factors that could influence this (including age, genetics and day length).

Good luck with the flock!


Thin Shells Problem

I feed my hens 16% laying crumbles at the rate of 100 pounds crumbles to 50 pounds cracked corn. My concern is my eggs have thin shells. I have tried to give them oyster shells for voluntary consumption but they were not consuming them. I now mix it in with their feed but the shells are still thin. Is there anything I can do?

— Mary Jenkins


Hi Mary,

Rhonda Crank had a wonderful post about the basics of feeding your chickens on our website, in which she advocates  feeding chickens back their own eggshells. This is something that we do with our chickens and we would highly recommend it for your flock. It’s an easy and inexpensive solution to thin eggshells.

Just collect your shells as you use them. Wash them in some water and then either microwave or bake them until they turn brittle. Then crack them into small pieces and feed them to your flock. In a few weeks, you’ll notice a significant improvement in egg quality.

By the way, my chickens love this treat and won’t even touch oyster shells!

We hope this is helpful and wish you luck with your flock.


Duck Question

I have read the article on the Muscovy duck in recent edition of Backyard Poultry, and found it very interesting and resourceful. I live in South Florida and for the first time a duck has decided to make us foster parents. It’s a great experience to see a new egg every day. I’m trying to research a bit more but can’t find the answer to my question. Sorry if I sound a bit stupid, but interested in the why.

Two weeks ago, she laid one egg. I found this odd. This past week, I found egg number two. Today Sunday, on my way back from church, I saw egg number three. Why does the duck lay one egg at a time and does not sit on the nest to keep them warm or whatever?

Just curious. Thanks for any information to educate me better.

— Cathy Sagastume, Florida

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Hi Cathy,

How wonderful to foster a duck!

Ducks do not start sitting full time on their clutch until they feel they’ve got enough eggs. That’s usually around a dozen. Once they’ve got enough eggs, then they will start sitting full time. This insures that all the eggs get started with development at the same time and the ducklings will all hatch at about the same time.

Good luck with your Moscovy


Pecking Problem

We have one rooster and 16 pullets, all of which are 4 months old. Two weeks ago, our rooster became injured and the pullets began pecking at the bloody area. We separated him and let him heal. No blood was showing. We put him back in the coop with the pullets. After about four hours, we noticed he was bleeding again and several pullets were pecking at him. How do we make sure he is healed?

How do we re-introduce him to the hens and keep him safe? We enjoy hearing him crow and want to keep him but we don’t want to have to segregate him.

— Rich and Rena Ahrens



Reintroducing a chicken can be difficult. And chickens can be very nasty to one that is injured or shows signs of weakness, as you’ve seen. Usually, introducing a rooster into a group of hens goes fairly well. We suspect the age may be an issue. Several methods are suggested when introducing chickens together, and it may help to try one or several of them.

Often, if you put the chicken in at night when they are roosting, they will usually get along the next day. It’s always best to do this when you can monitor the situation the next day, of course, since it isn’t always successful.

Putting the chickens side-by-side for a while with just a fence separating them often helps. If you have a cage you can put the rooster in, and put the cage in the pen with the pullets, this might work.

Reorganizing the area might help, as it can break down established territories.

This is often difficult to do but it might be something to try. Also adding barriers such as haybales. can break up the area. It may also provide some hiding places. Providing hay, vegetables or something similar to pick at may also occupy the pullets so they are less interested in pecking at the rooster.

Finally, we’re not sure where on the rooster the injury is. If it is on bare skin, you might try to coat the area with something to stop the pecking. Many people will spray the area with Blukote, although it’s not really made for chickens. It is not to be used for food producing animals, so you may not want to use it around your pullets. You might just try some petroleum jelly to coat the area. This may slow the pullets from pecking at it as much.

We would also expect that a little more time (a couple more weeks at most), the rooster may develop a bit more maturity and be more accepted by the flock.

Good luck with them!


Worm Infestation

I am wondering if you could help me! We had worms in our chickens last year. I have heard that you can’t use the same pasture area the next year, as the worms are still in the ground and will infest the new batch of chickens. Is that true? Also, is there a way to prevent this from happening?

— Michele


Hi Michele,

We ran your question by our blogger, Jeremy Chartier, and his reply is below.

“This is true, but you should rotate pasture regardless if it᾿s an option. Sunlight does a great job of killing organisms, so leaving the area to sunbathe for the year and be devoid of hosts will definitely help. Worms can survive years outside of a host, but leaving a field to rest for a year should greatly reduce the parasite load. Typically, it᾿s wise to de-worm two to three times a year as a matter of maintenance, but most poultry keepers worm in the spring and in the fall. If it᾿s a small area in question, spraying something can help, too.”

Good luck with your flock!


Cold, Then No Eggs

This one has really buffaloed. Last spring we replaced our old hens with new ones. About August, they started laying and like we do every year, we increased their light as winter set in. They have heat lamps, water, and food. However, about Thanksgiving, we had a bitter cold snap and they quit laying, and despite some nice temperatures, they have yet to lay one egg as of today. They are reds that are not even a year old. Just recently we put a trail cam in the house for a week and saw nothing weird. I am at a loss. We have always had eggs all winter. Help!

— LeRoy Uglow


Hi LeRoy,

We’re sorry to hear your chickens aren’t laying well this winter. We ran your situation by our blogger, Jeremy Chartier. He suggests that a cold snap may be the cause of your problem. A cold snap likely froze the water and probably resulted in water deprivation, which is a sure-fire way to stop a laying flock in their tracks.

Jeremy does suggest that worming the flock may also be a wise choice, but be sure to clean the litter after doing so if you’re using piprazine/wazine. Remember there is a withholding time on these treatments, so don’t consume eggs or meat for two weeks or more after treatments.


Grit Needed?

I have six new chicks about one week old. I am feeding Nutrena Chick feed. Do they need grit? When can I start to give them garden greens or other treats?

— Bruce Danielson


Hi Bruce,

A high-quality chick feed should form the basis of your chicks’ diet. It is specially formulated so that it’s easily digestible without the aid of grit. At this point, you can supplement with some chopped greens. They should be small pieces that the chicks can easily eat. But once your chicks start eating anything other than their chick feed, they should be given chick grit so they can digest their treats.

Good luck with your chicks!


Preparing For Pullets

I am going to get 40 to 50 pullets in the next week and wondered what I can do to relieve their stress upon arrival. Do I need to be concerned about possible coccidiosis? And if so what can I give them to prevent and or cure it?

I will be feeding a 24% game bird starter feed for the first week or so before switching to my 16% layer ration to give them a better start. Is that necessary? I prefer to not feed medicated feed if at all possible as I sell my eggs as free-range, non medicated eggs.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your consideration.

— Ron Hellesvig


Hi Ron,

Wow! It looks like you’re going to be busy very soon. I ran your question by our bloggers and got a few replies that I wanted to pass along.

Lisa Steele wrote: “Chicks need chick starter for the first eight weeks or so then grower until they start laying. Feeding layer feed that young can cause kidney damage because of the excess calcium in it. Medicated feed isn’t necessary but to help prevent Coccidiosis, I would suggest adding ACV to their water and garlic powder to their feed to build strong immune systems. I also put small clumps of dirt and grass in the brooder to help give them small doses of the outside environment, which also builds up their immune system.”

Jeremy Chartier wrote: “Unfortunately, the feed plan outlined will stunt the growth of the birds. Use a 2-22% start and grow feed until first lay (18 to 22 weeks of age). Most companies now group starter and grower together to cut down on product count, so you probably won’t find separate starter and grower feeds, so buy the combo start and grow. Once they begin to lay, then dial them back to your 15-17% layer feed of choice. This information is confirmed by most feed companies, including Purina and Blue Seal. Pullets that are pulled off grower too soon will miss vital nutrition and fail to grow to size. At best they will be delayed, at worst they will be stunted. If you don’t want to use medicated feed with amprolium, then practice good biosecurity, that’s what I do. Apple Cider Vinegar added to the water hypothetically helps, but no one has done an actual scientific study.”

We hope this is helpful. Good luck with your new flock!


Small Egg?

I have two leghorns that are fully grown. One lays large eggs consistently. The other is questionable. I don’t know which hen lays what eggs, as both look alike. Yesterday, I found this bird-sized egg in the box. It is compared to a normal egg in this photo. What happened?

— Allie Pisacrita


Hi Allie,

First, it’s unusual if you’re getting a lot of small, yolkless eggs. It’s not unusual to get one or two occasionally. These often occur when a hen is just starting to lay or is about to stop laying. We’re not sure why, but it’s not unusual to see this. We’ve heard these called such things as rooster eggs, witch eggs, wind eggs, etc.!

So, the hen that is starting to molt could have laid these, or another hen that is about to start molting could have. They can also occur if some foreign object gets into the oviduct. Occasionally, you’ll see an egg formed around a small piece of tissue that sloughs off the oviduct or ovary.

As you are seeing, hens can molt at various times of the year. If the hens go without water for a while, this can cause them to molt. Certainly, it can be difficult to keep unfrozen water for them this time of year, so that could be a possibility. Otherwise, it may just be that she “didn’t read the book!” She’ll likely be just fine if she has a good shelter to get in out of the cold.

Good luck with your flock!


Sick Layer

Please help! My one-year-old layer is wheezing and sneezing as of this morning. The other six birds are fine, so I isolated Sophie. She is in the garage sick bay pen with heat lamp at one end. She is alert and eating her mash. I put vinegar and electrolytes in her water, but I haven’t seen her drink any. The wheezing sound is with every breath and is loud. She constantly sneezes, which sounds more like a hiccup. What would you suggest?

— Marcia Kosnik


Hi Marcia,

Chickens often show symptoms of illness very late, so sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to help by the time you actually notice something is wrong. If Sophie is still showing symptoms, I would recommend trying to find a vet that can help. Also, we recommend using VetRx. A drop in the nostrils or under the wing can clear up problems quickly and naturally. You can find it online or at a local tractor supply store. Here’s to Sophie’s good health!


A Dominant Hen

I have a Dominique rooster and hen that I have a question about. The hen torments the rooster, plucking his feathers. She eats them. I want to know if that is normal or is she in need of some kind of vitamin that she is not getting? I get your magazines in the mail and really enjoy reading them.

— Anna Wise


Hi Anna,

It sounds like you have a very docile rooster and it also sounds like your hen is not playing nicely. We don’t think it’s a nutritional issue, but if protein is lacking, you can try feeding her some scraps of meat, mealworms and scrambled eggs. They are good chicken treats anyway, so your whole flock will probably welcome them.

It’s most likely that your hen is bored. You can hang a cabbage or a bird toy in the coop to distract her. Good luck with your flock!


New Chicken Owner Questions

Next month I will be adding four new birds to my established mixed flock that is over a year old. The new birds are four weeks old. What kind of problems should I look for? Also, I have one hen that appears to want to set. I don’t let her. I noticed she has no feathers on her underside. Also, she pecks at herself a lot. I am fairly new at this, but really enjoy my birds.

Thanks for your help. I really enjoy your magazine.

— Jerry G. Bair


Hi Jerry,

We ran your question by our experts and their answers are below. We think you’ll find them helpful for your mixed flock and your broody hen.

“Your hen is very broody. I would like to know what breed she is and maybe how her general health is, but a hen that is “building” her nest will pluck her feathers to line the nest. Breaking a broody hen can be a challenge. You have several options: 1) You can continually watch her (time consuming) and keep putting her off the nest; 2) You can be sure she hasn’t any eggs under her and let her sit on an empty nest for three weeks then remove her. She should adjust in a day or two. If she is broody enough to set, she won’t be layin  anyway; or 3) Put her in a pen with no soft place to “nest,” no straw or litter of any kind. If you have a rooster to put in with her, he will keep her hassled so her mindset will be on other things. Even if you break her up, she will not lay for another 2-4 weeks. Good luck.” — Rhonda Crank

“Chicks shouldn’t be added to a flock of adult birds until they are 10 to 12 weeks old. At 4 weeks, they probably still need heat and should be indoors. At about 8 weeks, weather dependent, they can be outside in an adjacent pen to let everyone get used to each other for a few more weeks before you let them mingle. The hen with the plucked breast is broody. She’s ’feathering her nest’.” — Lisa Steele

“Introduce the new birds at night, that way they all wake up together. That always works for me. There will be some disruption to the pecking order, so expect squabbling. Watch the new birds, they may get beat up being so small. That broody hen might adopt them actually, and the feather picking on her chest is normal for a broody hen.” — Jeremy Chartier

Good luck with your flock!


A Chick Mystery

Something just happened that unsettled me a bit. I ordered 20 new layer pullet chicks, four each of single comb Rhode Island Reds, red and black Sex Links, Black Australorps and Barred Rocks. They are 5 days old, had a good trip and arrived looking good. They got off to a strong start.

While using a warm, damp paper towel to clear up a pasty butt, all of a sudden out of her mouth came a clear gel with some foam in it. It looked like an aloe gel. She went limp and was completely still inside of 20 seconds. I had my eye on another one who needed this procedure, but decided to back off and wait. I’m stumped. I’ve done this 100 times and never a problem. What do you think?

— Chris Fitch


Hi Chris,

We’re not sure we have a great explanation for this either. The gel may just have been water and saliva from the crop. Depending on the substrate they are on, the chick might have eaten some litter and/or feed and had some of that mixed with water and saliva. We think it’s possible that some bile might have been passed up the digestive tract, too, which would give a greenish color. If the vent was completely pasted shut, we suppose there may have been buildup of wastes in the digestive tract, and something may have ruptured when you picked it up. To die that quickly, a blood vessel must have ruptured or it had a heart attack or something like that.

Or, it could be that the chick had something else wrong, and it was just a coincidence that it died when you picked it up.

As you mentioned, pasted vents can usually be gently cleaned with a wet cloth or paper towel, so we don’t think that was a problem, especially since you’re used to doing it.

Hopefully, this was just a rare occurrence, and the other chicks are fine.

Good luck with them!


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.

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