Ask the Expert — June/July 2016
You Ask Expert Poultry Questions, We Give Expert Poultry Answers
I’m so glad I read your article on “Spontaneous Sex Reversal” (December 2014-January 2015, Backyard Poultry). Otherwise, I never would have known what was going on with BeyoncО, my favorite Jersey Giant Hen, then 2-and-a-half years old.
After reading the article, we both thought, “That must be freaky,” never expecting to ever see such a thing. About six months after re-homing our rooster (he was too small for our Giant girls to breed effectively, and a Giant rooster was way too big for our smaller girls), Beyonce started mounting other hens and making ungodly sounding attempts at crowing. As winter set, the very embarrassing behavior slowed down. She even sat occasionally in the nesting boxes, for nothing of course, but at least she remembered. So I thought she had changed back.
Fast forward to spring 2016. Just the other morning, I heard that ungodly attempt at crowing again. And she’s also back to mountain again. She must be so confused inside. I know the other girls are confused, period!
I’m wondering, will she ever change back? I only have one full Jersey, a daughter of hers, and two full Jersey nieces. If I got another rooster, would that help? Or would he try to drive her off or kill her? This may sound too farfetched, but my other rooster did just that. I caught him literally trying to tear her apart. I don’t want that again. Or should I rehome her?
— Doreen Juliano
It sounds like you’ve experienced exactly what we wrote about in that issue. When a hen’s left ovary fails and sufficient testosterone levels are reached in her body, the hen’s dormant right-side gonad becomes activated. When the dormant, right-side gonad is switched on, it develops into a sex organ called an ovotestis, which has both testicular and ovarian aspects. Scientists have found that an ovotestis can produce sperm. A sexually reversed hen with a “turned-on” ovotestis will actually try to mate with the other hens in the flock. There is conflicting information as to whether a hen that has undergone a spontaneous sex reversal and developed an ovotestis can sire offspring, but hey, anything’s possible in nature, right?
Roosters can also go through gender reversals as well, so it’s possible that your hen-turned-rooster could turn back into a hen again. But again, it’s pretty rare and takes some biological changes to happen. Keep us informed. We’re interested in hearing more about Beyonce.
Thanks for writing, and best of luck with your flock.
Worming and Mating Questions
I would like to worm my chickens. Do I need to throw away the eggs the next day? Also, how do chickens mate?
— Linda Champlin
We have to be honest. We never worm our chickens. We know a lot of people say you have to worm chickens yearly, but we use a natural approach to keeping worms at bay. We share this belief with our Healthy Feeds writer, Lisa Steele, and honestly find our chickens to be happy and healthy. Plus we don’t ever have to worry about not using their eggs because of chemical wormers.
Below are a few quotes from Lisa that you may find helpful:
“I have never wormed my chickens with any kind of commercial wormer. Many experts recommend ‘proactive’ worming with a wormer twice a year, but I don’t believe in administering any medications unless absolutely necessary. Instead I rely on holistic preventatives. I have never had any trouble with worms in my flock, and have had our vet take fecal samples and no sign of worms have ever been found.
“I use pumpkin and squash seeds (fall), nasturtium (spring/summer), watermelon and cucumbers (summer) and garlic and diatomaceous earth (year round) to combat worms because all are perfectly healthy and natural, with no withdrawal period during which you can’t eat the eggs.
“Diatomaceous works as a de-wormer by preventing larvae from maturing into adults. If your chickens have worms, it can take up to two months to get rid of them and to break the worm lifecycle. Regularly add DE to your chicken’s diet to prevent internal worms. The ratio is 2 percent of the feed you give them.”
As for chickens mating, the process is very interesting. Roosters do not have external sex organs. So a rooster will first try to entice a hen by puffing his decorative feathers and “dancing” in front of her. If the hen is receptive then she will squat.
The rooster climbs on the hen’s back while holding onto her neck or head with his beak and balancing his feet on her back. The rooster sweeps his tail to move her tail feathers to the side. And the actual act of mating is just the touching of cloaca to cloaca. At this time, the female inverts her cloaca to receive his sperm.
Dogs and Poo
Do you have any suggestions on how to keep my nine-month-old Golden Retriever from eating the chicken poo? I love to have my girls roam, but now they have to stay in their fenced area. The poo has given her nasty worms.
In all honesty, our dogs do the same thing. Apparently chicken poop is a delicacy to a dog. Yuck! We have to say though, our dogs have never tested positive for worms and we have them tested regularly. The only sure way we know to prevent your dog from eating chicken poop is to keep her out of the chicken yard. But you may want to talk to your vet. He/she may have a worm preventative that can keep your dog healthy.
My black and chocolate Orpingtons are 10 months old and have not produced any eggs. They appear to be on good health. Any ideas?
— Jack Cunningham
A lack of eggs is definitely frustrating. There can be many causes for this, ranging from environmental to feed to predators to noises to lighting to disease, not to mention broodiness and molting. We would start by looking through all the basics and seeing what you find might have changed recently in one of those categories, resetting it, and seeing if your hens don’t start to lay again.
Note: Jack wrote us back to update us with good news: “I figured it out. They needed more sunlight so I folded back the tarp, which was over the run since they were living in sort of a cave with all the shade. I am now getting eggs every day. I thought I was protecting them from direct sun and rain. Why it took me so long to figure it out, I’ll never know. I hope this helps others with this problem. Thanks for getting back to me.”
Are They True Button Quail?
I enjoyed seeing the article on Button quail (Backyard Poultry, April/May 2016), which I raised in the bottom of Australian Grass Parakeets cages while living in Arizona.
I’ve one correction/exception/question though. Button quail are not true quail. They are Turnicidae, and related to the rail rather than Phasianidae, and related to the quail. Chinese Painted quail, on the other hand, are then referred to differently. The photos you published of both Button and Chinese Painted are identical. Any clarification?
Always enjoy receiving your magazine.
— Sue Torre
We consulted our Button quail experts, and this is what they had to say: “In a nutshell, Button quail in the U.S. are Chinese Painted quail. The true Button quail are not quail at all; nor are they available; nor are they kept in aviculture in the U.S. Aviculturists in the United States have always referred to the Chinese Painted quail as the ‘Button quail.” In other countries such as Australia, this same bird is called the ‘King quail.’
“Button quail in the U.S. are true quail but they are not true Button quail.
“The true Button quail, as he indicates, are in the family Turnicidae and they are not even quail, but they are also not kept and bred in captivity other than by a very few zoos.
“Those birds in the picture are indeed known in the U.S. as ‘Button quail’ and are proudly kept by thousands of people. Do not confuse U.S. ‘Button quail’ with true Button quail, as they are totally different birds. Unfortunately, the name Button quail is here to stay in the United States, regardless of how you might view it. It is our common names for the Chinese Painted quail, like it or not.”
Is My Rooster Ready?
How old does a rooster have to be to fertilize eggs? My daughter has a rooster now, and I’m thinking it might be wise to put two or three of her fertilized eggs under my always broody Transylvanian Naked Neck.
The rooster is quite large now and crowing all and every day. Her hens are the same age as the rooster, but their eggs are still very small even though the hens are not small like bantams.
This might make my little grey Naked Neck happy. Please advise.
— Sylvia White
Roosters become sexually mature around five to six months or so of age. You can definitely put fertile eggs under a broody hen. We would mark the shell with the date the eggs were laid. That way you know when to expect chicks and which eggs should not be under her.
It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch, but don’t get discouraged if the eggs don’t hatch on the 21st day. That’s just a generality and not a hard and fast rule. Do remember that you don’t know the sex of chicks from hatching eggs and there’s a more than 50% chance they will be roosters.
We hope this is helpful!
Several of my Bantams have leg mites, which cause them to hobble around as if they are in pain. It has been so wet this year that they could not properly dust. They are confined in a yard about 50 feet by 50 feet, but roost in a 8-foot by 8-foot house. How can I treat the chickens, the coop, and the yard?
— Bobbie Holliday
Scaly leg mites are a small insect that lives underneath the scales on a chicken’s legs and feet. They can lead to severe, even lifelong problems if not treated. Once one chicken in a flock has scaly leg mites, then the coop needs to be thoroughly cleaned and all the chickens watched for any signs of mites.
There are many methods for treating scaly leg mites. The most common is to soak the chicken’s legs and feet in warm water, and then gently dry the legs while removing any dead scales. Generously slather Vaseline on the feet and legs. You can also douse the chicken’s legs with white vinegar, garlic juice or Neem oil. Then scrub the legs with a toothbrush and slather with Vaseline, coconut oil or Green Goo. Whatever method you use, please know that it can take a few tries to get these mites under control.
Good luck with your flock.
Stopping Egg Eaters
Is there a way to cure the egg eaters from eating eggs? I used to let my egg-eater group free roam until our neighbor dog got a hold of one of the hens. He didn’t cause any harm other then bruising the hen and plucking a lot of feathers from her. When they where allowed to free roam, I noticed they would stop eating their eggs, but when locked up, they eat the eggs. Do you have any suggestions for getting my egg eaters to stop eating eggs while penned up? I don’t trust having them free roam anymore.
— Marsha Martin
Egg eating is a nasty habit. It sounds like your girls are doing it because they’re bored. That’s why they stop when they’re allowed to get out and free range.
If you’re able to give them a fenced free-range situation, that would be the best solution. Maybe a compromise could be giving them a bigger secure coop and run area. At a minimum, we would suggest giving them lots of boredom busters like hanging a cabbage for them to peck, adding a flock block and even giving them a bale of straw to pick and distribute around the coop. We would also collect the eggs early and often so nothing’s left to eat.
The problem with egg eating is that the others will catch on and start the habit too. At that point, it’s almost impossible to stop and you’re left with few options other than culling.
We hope this is helpful!
Medicated Feed or No?
We have a flock of 45 hens. Due to numerous predators in our area they cannot free range. They have ample space, but after last year’s record rainfall in spring and summer, we had an outbreak of coccidiosis. We actually lost three girls. We understand once chickens contract cocci, they more or less develop an immunity to it.
We have six chicks arriving later this spring, which will be added to the main flock after brooding. Here is our question: Do we feed the chicks medicated feed until integration? (They will not be vaccinated for it as the hatchery does not offer it.) It was suggested to us by a breeder to not feed medicated, but instead add small amounts of soil from the adults’ run to the chicks’ brooder starting the day they arrive. That way they develop a slow and natural immunity. What is the best direction to go? We don’t want to lose our new little additions.
— Dawn and Steve Klotz
Hi Dawn and Steve,
We are sorry to hear about your coccidiosis problems last year and we are glad you were able to get things under control and minimize losses.
Your question about your chicks is a good one and brings up an area of some disagreement in the chicken-keeping community. Chicks are most susceptible to coccidiosis because their immune systems are not fully developed. Adult chickens usually develop immunities to coccidiosis, but there are several strains and adults can get sick too. (As you’ve found out.) It can be caused by wet, damp bedding and also passed on by wild birds.
Medicated chick feeds usually contain Amprolium, which is a coccidiostat that reduces the growth of the coccidia oocysts. This lets the chicks get past a vulnerable time and keeps the coccidia oocysts from overwhelming them as they grow into adults and develop their immunities.
Some folks are strongly against giving any type of medicine to their chicks. They prefer a natural approach and many say to use the technique you’ve suggested by adding soil from the run to the brooder. Many say that if you keep the brooder clean, there’s no need to worry. Others say no need to use preventative measures, but treat for the problem if it arises.
In our personal chicken-keeping, we fall somewhere in the middle. We try to keep medications at a minimum but recognize the need to keep our flock healthy. We love the idea of adding soil for the chicks to pick around in and dust bathe. We are a strong proponent of a clean brooder, but we usually do buy a medicated and a non-medicated chick feed and mix them together. After that all runs out, then we switch to non-medicated feed. Our chickens free range, and we haven’t had any problems with coccidiosis so far. (Knock on wood!)
But your situation is different. You know coccidiosis has been a problem in your existing flock. We would not add soil from that run until our chicks were much older. And, if it were us, we would feed our chicks medicated feed exclusively. Our vote is not to borrow trouble that you already know you have.
We hope this helps and gives you some food for thought.
How Much Apple Cider Vinegar?
I have 14 Bantam chickens. How much Bragg’s vinegar should I put in a gallon of water? I heard it was good for them. I love your magazine.
— Sharon and Don Ramberg
Hi Sharon and Don,
Apple cider vinegar should be given at one tablespoon per gallon of water about once a week. It’s great for killing the slime that can build up in chicken waterers. This is important because that slime is like a petri dish for germs.
Since you mentioned Bragg’s, then you’re likely using the apple cider vinegar with the “mother” in the bottle. Using this type of apple cider vinegar can increase a chicken’s immune system and helps with digestive health. So, all around, apple cider vinegar is great to use in your coop!
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.