Ask the Expert — June/July 2017

Ask the Expert — June/July 2017

Missing Feathers

This is a photo of one of my black sex link chickens. She is a one-year-old that is losing her feathers from her head and neck area. This started about a month ago. Now a second chicken of the same breed and age has also started with the same problem. I have 10 backyard chickens. They are different breeds. They are my pets and each has a name. I am hoping that you will give me a medication name and a cure for them. I live in Gerlach, Nevada, a small rural town and live two hours away from the nearest veterinarian that might deal with chickens. Molting season is over.

Thanks for any help you might give me.

— Marian Gooch

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Hi Marian,

This certainly looks like pecking damage from the other chickens. If you have a rooster, it could be that he is causing this while mating. You can check them for external parasites (lice or mites), but that’s probably not the problem.

You could try clipping the tips of the beaks on the rest of the flock. This can be done with a human nail clipper or a dog nail clipper.

There are also several things you can try that may help cut down on pecking. If you’re feeding extra scratch grains, it’s good to stop. Just feed a complete ration, which should be balanced nutritionally. Sometimes, an excess of energy in the diet can cause pecking. Providing them other things to peck at (esp. high fiber feeds) can be good. Bales of alfalfa hay can be very good. Root vegetables, squashes, and other plant materials are also good options, depending on what you have available. This helps reduce the energy level in the diet (by providing higher fiber, and more protein in the case of the alfalfa), and gives the birds an outlet for pecking.

There are reports out of Europe that providing large stones can help. Supposedly, the chickens peck at these and it helps blunt their beaks.

Providing more space and/or more places to hide can sometimes be helpful, too.

Pecking can be difficult to stop once it gets started, however.

Good luck with them!

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Strange Eggs

Just wanted to ask you about the strange eggs I’ve gotten. About three months ago one of my six golden sex links (the girls are just turning two years old) started giving me wrinkled eggs. Then, one day last week, I got a soft egg (different girl I’m sure). I’m not sure if it’s food related or something else. I would like your opinion. I feed a layer pellet by Dumor and I also give the girls a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach and lettuce every morning. What do you think is the cause? My brother Ken would also like to know why some of the eggs have a blood spot in them. Is my rooster, Johnny causing that? I gather eggs every day so they are not older eggs. Love reading Backyard Poultry! Keep up the good work!

— Mary Ann Marconette  Yucca Valley, Calif.

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Hi Mary Ann,

Odd eggs are really one of the neat things about raising backyard chickens. We’re all so used to perfect grocery store eggs, but in reality, eggs aren’t always perfect. A few odd eggs here and there are normal. It’s really the consistent laying of odd eggs over time that should be concerning.

Wrinkled eggs are typically caused when more than one egg is moving through a hen’s reproductive tract and the egg behind bumps the egg in front. This can cause damage in the form of wrinkles. It can also be caused by rough handling of the chicken while the egg is being formed. The hen’s body does try to repair damage, but usually, the egg will be laid looking a little rough.

Soft eggs are common during warmer weather because chickens pant during that time to keep cool. This causes a reduction in calcium going to the egg which means the shell is soft. These eggs can also happen as young hens are adjusting to laying routines or if your hens do not have enough calcium. Make sure to feed a well-balanced layer feed and offer calcium free choice.

Blood spots in eggs are caused when a blood vessel ruptures and a bit of blood is released into the yolk. They are fine to eat, but most will either pick out the spot or choose to pass on it.

Hope this is helpful!

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Flying Predators

Hello,

I have a couple of questions.

The first one is, will ravens and crows eat chickens? We have a couple of ravens living in our neighborhood. I know that ravens and crows will steal and eat eggs if given the chance and that they are scavengers and eat dead animals, but I haven’t been able to find out if they eat actual chickens. I am not as concerned for our bigger chickens as I am for my Silkie bantams because they are so much smaller. I wouldn’t want one to be anybody’s supper!

My second question is, what do I do about hawks? Our chickens have been free ranging in our backyard ever since they were big enough to find their food and water by themselves, and not slip out of the yard. They have plenty of human interaction because my sister and I “baby” them. But, the past month or so, almost every time I let the chickens out, a black hawk and his buzzard buddy show up. Hawks have not been a problem before. The buzzards don’t bother the chickens, but I think these two teamed up with a deal: Buzz[ard]: “Hey Ace, how ‘bout we swing over and grab a chicken? I scout, you catch, and we split the meal?” “Sure, Buzz, but those kids won’t let us near their chickens,” Or something like that. It sure seems that way.

We have a large yard, and we live on the side of a hill, so one side of the yard is higher than the other, so it would be hard to put mesh over it. The fence isn’t incredibly high either. Because shooting BB guns at the birds is illegal here, whenever I let the chickens out, I stand guard over them, with the hose turned on full blast and a squirt-gun something-or-other on the end of it and whenever the hawk gets too close, I squirt it into the air. But that only lasts a little while because whenever I leave the girls, I have to pen them up again; and so they get bored and they eat … and eat, and then they gain weight. So the food bill goes up, and nobody likes fat laying hens. They also have started purposely started eating eggs because they’re so bored. Help!

Your advice will be greatly appreciated!

— Clair Cardwell

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Hi Clair,

Ravens and crows could be a problem for baby chicks as they are snack size and present an opportunity for an easy meal. Since baby chicks are so vulnerable, it’s best to keep them protected at all times.

With that said, ravens and crows do not like hawks and other birds of prey in their territory. They will often run off birds of prey. So they can be a useful tool in protecting your larger birds and also your Silkies.

As you stated, birds of prey are protected by law. It is illegal to harm them.

Birds of prey get a bad reputation and are not usually the biggest predator problem a chicken keeper will face. The onslaught usually comes from ground-dwelling predators.

With that said, there are ways to protect your chickens from birds of prey when they are free ranging. Make sure they have lots of bushes and structures where they can duck under and hide. You can also buy a fake owl or hawk from your local farm store and/or put up a scarecrow. Move them around every few days and the birds of prey will be wary. A good farm dog helps to keep your flock safe. And, a good rooster is invaluable when looking to the sky, spotting danger and sounding the alarm.

This online story is also helpful.

How to Protect Chickens from Hawks

Wishing you a happy and safe flock!

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REPLY:

Thank you very much!

It’s nice to know that the ravens can help. Our chickens have a few bushes, trees, their coop, and our playhouse to hide under and inside of, and they’re pretty smart. The only rooster we have is my Silkie named Buffie, but I’m not sure if he watches the sky like he should. Our Dog, Emmie, is very sweet with the chickens, It’s almost like she’s their nanny. So we can trust her to protect them! – Clair

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Life Span of an ISA Brown Hen

I’d like to know how long an ISA Brown hen lives. I know that it is less than a pure-bred chicken, but why does that happen? I used to have 40 ISA Brown hens but when they reached two years old, they started to die. I’m losing one hen per month. Is there something I can do to prolong their lives? They are free range and we’re in a tropical country (Brazil) so we have long photoperiods throughout the year. I thought about keeping them locked into their coop for some extra periods of the day so they can rest their laying activities for some time. (I read that hybrids live less because they lay so much.) That makes sense? Do you have some other ideas?

— Renata Carvalho, Sete Lagoas, Brazil

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Hi Renata,

That’s an interesting question. There isn’t a lot of research on lifespans of different breeds or lines. There are lots of anecdotal statements on the internet saying that purebreds live longer. There isn’t anything about the chickens being hybrids that would affect their longevity, though their rate of production might. It’s interesting that the opposite claim is made for dogs – purebreds are short-lived and hybrids (i.e., mutts) live longer.

There has been research using laying hens as a model organism for ovarian cancer since ovarian tumors spontaneously develop in quite a few hens as they get older. These researchers suggest that a high ovulation rate increases the incidence of ovarian cancer in hens. So, since commercial hybrids generally lay more eggs, there is a good chance that they will have a higher incidence of ovarian tumors. This may be what you are seeing in your ISA Brown hens. It’s not clear that it would be different from hens from high-producing purebred lines. Indeed, most of the research has been done in White Leghorn hens, though some would argue that the commercial strains aren’t “purebred,” as they are crosses of different strains or lines.

As you mentioned, some of the research has shown that decreasing the number of ovulations can help prevent this, so taking the hens out of production for a while could help. This likely won’t be easy to do unless you have completely blacked-out facilities, where no light can leak in.

You might try to find an avian veterinarian or conduct a necropsy yourself (if you don’t mind doing that!) on one of the dead hens. You may be able to see what is causing their deaths if there are visible signs internally. It is possible that something else is going on with the flock.

Good luck with them!

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Losing Roosters

Hi!

I recently lost two roosters (both three years old) to a mysterious disease. They both had some bizarre wound between the honk and shank. It started with a redness in the area. This redness became kind of swollen and then the hens kept pecking the rooster’s wounds and they bled. They both had difficulties walking from that moment. So, the wounds maybe became infected. They smelled bad and eroded through the interior of the leg. I tried spraying it with rifocin and administered oral terramycin. After a week I didn’t see any improvement, so I just stopped. They both were extremely pale but were eating just fine. I worried that they might be anemic, so I started with a supplement called Hemolitan. After eight days of that, they died, both during the night on the same day. Everything happened the same way for the two roosters and they weren’t allocated in the same coop or even free ranging in the same area. I did some research on the internet and thought that maybe that could be something called septic arthritis. Now, another rooster has the same initial redness in the leg. He lives alone separately of all my flock because he’s blind from both eyes. I don’t want him to die. He’s my favorite one. Can you help me find out what is the problem and how can I treat him?

I attached pictures of wounds in the initial stage and in the final ones (the picture was taken when the rooster was already dead).

— Renata Carvalho, ZSete Lagoas, Brazil

final-wound

initial-redness-1

initial-redness-2

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Hi Renata,

As you mentioned, this could be a sign of sepsis. If that is the case, strong antibiotics might help, but it’s not certain what kind would be best. You’d probably need to consult with a veterinarian for that.

Viral arthritis/tenosynovitis, caused by a reovirus, might be the cause. This can cause rupture of the tendon, which often causes bleeding and swelling. This is just a guess, but if that is the case, there’s not much that can be done. There are a few vaccines for this, but it’s likely too late for their use in your rooster. Here in the United States, those vaccines are mostly used by the commercial industry. For your rooster, you can try to nurse him along and keep him comfortable. If the tendon is ruptured, it most likely will not heal. If it’s not completely ruptured, and you can keep him eating and drinking, he might get over it. Make sure to monitor his quality of life. If he’s suffering, you may have to consider what is in his best interest.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza can cause symptoms like this, but you’d see other symptoms, including death, most likely. You would have seen other signs, and the chickens would have died more quickly.

A colleague also took a look at your pictures. He thought it looked like a sign of an injury and wondered if something was grabbing at their feet, or if they were catching them on something and causing a bruise. Since you said they are in different enclosures, this may not be likely, but it’s worth exploring.

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Evil Rooster

I have written before, and I want to compliment you and your magazine because it is so helpful.

Our problem is Tophat, our rooster. He is very aggressive. When we go to get eggs or feed him, he attacks us. All of the websites and books say we need to get rid of him. But my mom loves him, and he is the prettiest rooster we have ever seen. Do we have to get rid of him? Can we tame him?

— Mia Patel, Texas

PS — Your previous advice worked! We get four eggs a day, and one green one from Gigi.

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Hi Mia,
 
Thank you for your compliments on our magazine and our advice!
 
Concerning Tophat, your aggressive rooster, the decision to keep him or not is really a personal one. Many people successfully learn to work with their aggressive roosters and do indeed keep them. Some choose to keep them because they are beautiful. Others find their aggressive rooster, while aggressive with humans, is a great flock protector. Some are able to tame their rooster’s aggressive behavior. Others choose the stewpot option.
 
We have some great articles online that explore how to tame an aggressive rooster, set up a rooster bachelor pad and how to deal with rooster spurs. They’re certainly worth a read before making your decision.
 
Good luck with Tophat!
 

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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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