Ask the Expert – June/July 2018

Ask the Expert – June/July 2018

Inferior Golden Buffs

My Golden Buff that was almost three years old, died three days ago. Before she died, she showed the signs of being inactive, stood alone, and didn’t chase for a treat for about two weeks. Because of the severe winter, I didn’t let them out of their coop. When the weather got a little warmer, I let them all free range. I noticed her comb was a purplish color. I took her in for isolation fearing that she could have been nabbed by a wild animal. She also had watery whitish color poop. She drank very little and refused to eat anything. The day before she died, I decided to give her water with a syringe and I gave her some food, but she slowly gave up. She didn’t lose weight. Last fall I lost the other Golden Buff. She convulsed before she died.

I noticed these two Golden Buffs had some interesting features different from the rest of my Golden Buffs. Both were very light when they were two days old. I thought the hatchery sent me the wrong breed and sex. I knew this breed is hybrid and was sex-linked. I was told there was no way I got roosters because they can be identified from day one, unlike some other breeds. Both, when they matured, laid normally. Is there anything I can do and should notice in the future? I have three more of this breed. They are truly cinnamon color and they are fine. Could they have had some inferior DNA that the lighter Golden Buffs inherited from two parents?

— Napi


Hi Napi,

There is a fair amount of variation in coloration among many of the sex-linked hens, so it’s not surprising that you noticed some differences in the chicks. While a sex-linked gene (on the Z chromosome, which is sort of the poultry version of an X-chromosome) is responsible for the reddish coloration, there are many other genes that may vary among different hens. Whether or not this color was associated with any genes that could have affected the overall health of the bird is hard to tell. There really isn’t any research that has been done looking at things like this. Judging from the watery whitish droppings, she may have had some damage to the kidneys, but that’s just a guess. It’s not terribly unusual for some hens to die by two to three years of age. As with humans, there is a wide range in longevity.

Enjoy the rest of your flock!


Adding Guinea Fowl

I have a question about guinea fowl. I was wondering if we could get one keet and either raise it alone, or with a few chicks, and then just integrate it with our existing chickens in their 25 by 15-foot run? Also how loud would it be? We have pretty close neighbors. They tolerate our eight chickens and three ducks.

— Calvin


Hi Calvin,

You might be able to raise a guinea keet along with a few chicks, but it probably won’t do very well alone. Keets need a higher level of protein than do chicks, so you’ll probably need to feed a gamebird ration. It shouldn’t hurt the chicks — it’ll just cost a bit more. You’ll also have to have a good waterer that doesn’t spill easily. Guinea keets are very prone to chilling if they get wet.

Some people have had problems with male guineas harassing male chickens, so you might run into a problem once they mature.

Noise may be a concern. Guineas are pretty loud and will make quite a lot of noise when something changes. This could be some animal walking near them, people approaching, a bird flying over, etc. They are definitely a level above chickens and ducks in noise production! There are audio and/or video files of guineas on the internet — you might listen to a few of these before you make your decision.

Good luck!


Hens Stop Eating and Die

Since the beginning of January, I have had two hens stop eating and end up dying within the week. It seems I lose one every month. Even with my intervention of separating them from the main flock and trying to feed and water them, they still die. They seem to be my older hens. Their combs are pink, they are very lightweight, and start out by being quite lethargic.

I have one hen I caught yesterday and have been trying to get her to eat. No luck. This will be the third hen taken with this in three months.

Do you think it is old age or could it be a disease going through the flock?

I live in western New York and we had extremely cold temperatures throughout January and February, then warming trends in the 50s even up into the 60s. I don’t know if the weather had anything to do with it. I have never had this issue before.

Thank you for any insight into this problem.

— Deb Waddell


Hi Deb,

It’s very difficult to guess what might be happening. It’s unclear how old the hens are, so it’s not clear if it’s an age issue or not. Most diseases would spread to the rest of the chickens and you’d see some other signs. One disease that can cause old chickens to lose weight like this is tuberculosis. It often affects older hens, and the outward sign is weight loss. Internally, they often have nodules located on any or all of their internal organs. There is some risk of humans contracting this, so if you decided to cut into a chicken to look for internal lesions, it’s best to wear gloves and a mask.

Another option would be to submit one or more hens to your state veterinary diagnostic lab. They could do a necropsy on it and hopefully, determine what is wrong.  Then, you could better decide how to proceed with the rest of the flock.

Sorry, there’s not a better answer for you.


Hens Walk With Difficulty, Then Die

Last week I had to put down three of my hens. They were between a year and two years of age. Now I have two more that I am having to put down. Three of the five began walking with difficulty with their tails down. They continued to eat and drink for several days but the roosters took advantage of them.

I have a hospital cage that I use for chickens that need extra care away from the rest of the flock. Currently, I have 57 chickens, including seven roosters (four are slated for the table in the next week). The ages of my girls are from almost a year to about seven or eight years. (When a hen has survived all the predators and has been a good girl, I just let her retire.)

The other two, I have found just laying on one side, unable to move. I do not want to lose anymore if I can help it.

We went through Hurricane Harvey last year. Our chicken house is about four feet up off the ground. We had two feet of water inside and they were unable to get out for four days. We only lost one young hen. They spent the hurricane and aftermath on the roost. Even when we opened the doors they were reluctant to leave. We had to evacuate and it was four days before we returned. It took me two days to get their house cleaned out. Is there a possibility that a health problem occurred that is just now manifesting? They did not lay well for about two months (from the stress). But they have made up for it all winter. I have never had eggs like this during the winter, even through two snowfalls and a week of below-freezing weather, which we rarely get in the Texas Gulf Coast area. Also, weather-wise, we have had an extraordinarily wet winter. I do not know if any of this is contributing to the current health problems of my girls.  Can you help me?


— Roberta Drennan


Hi Roberta,

It’s good to hear that your hens survived the hurricane as well as they did! Chickens can certainly be resilient.

It’s difficult to know what might be wrong with the hens. It’s unclear that there are specific problems that would be linked to the flooding, but it could be possible. Do they have plenty of calcium in their diet? Having their tails down can have different reasons, are they just down because they are depressed, or could this be related to an egg problem? If they are calcium deficient, they might not be able to expel an egg. Another possibility would be that they have been laying internally, and the mass of egg yolks is weighing them down.  In this case, they often stand like a penguin, (or a bowling pin).

Other than that, it’s hard to know. You could submit one or more to your state veterinary diagnostic lab for necropsy. You’d have to sacrifice those chickens, but hopefully, they’d diagnose the problem and know what to do for the rest of the flock.

Good luck with them!


Weird Feathers

I recently noticed that our Welsummer has some fine, thready feathers along her haunches/fluff area, like human hair. Is this normal? What’s the cause? I’ve never seen it before! It’s on both sides and most definitely attached to her body. She’s about a year old.

— Tamara Rothenberg, Los Angeles


Hi Tamara,

Thank you for the pictures! That is very interesting and unusual! There is a reference to some work done at the University of Wisconsin by a poultry geneticist, Dr. McGibbon. He reported a genetic condition called “long filoplumes,” causing “filoplumes in the fluff area of the body that were one to 10 cm longer than the adjacent feathers.” He reported that this was an autosomal (not sex-linked) dominant trait. It was also reported at the University of Connecticut at about the same time. That was back in the 1970s, and Dr. McGibbon has been deceased for a long time. This sounds very similar to what is in your pictures.

Thanks for sharing!


Not Able to Regrow Feathers

The picture is from Lily-Rose, an Isa Brown hen. She’s 37 months old and she seems like she’s having some kind of issue with molting. She lost her feathers before the winter of her first year, but they never grew up again. Since then she sleeps inside our home so she doesn’t get cold. We already supplemented her diet with extra protein, but her feathers simply don’t grow. Some of them start to grow in the back of her neck, but they just fall out before completely growing.
She also has some laying problems, but I guess it’s because she’s an old Isa Brown hen. In the extremely rare occasions that she lays, her eggs are weird and the shell is always thin, although she eats balanced layer feed and oyster shell.
Do you have an idea what is the matter?
Thank you,

— Renata Carvalho, Brazil



Hi Renata,

Thanks for the pictures. The picture of the egg appears to be an extra shell membrane over a previously formed egg. The egg was most likely nearly complete in the shell gland, and then reversed direction and was pushed back up into the isthmus of the oviduct. The membranes are formed in the isthmus, so when this egg arrived there, a new membrane formed over it. It must have passed back through the shell gland fairly quickly, or another shell would have been added.

Of course, the bigger question is why this might have happened, and that can’t be explained so easily. There are muscular contractions that force the egg through the oviduct, and these contractions must have reversed direction for some reason. There could have been some temporary blockage, or possibly a physical trauma to the hen. It’s really difficult to know what might have happened.

As long as this is doesn’t continue to happen, don’t worry too much. If it continues, you might want to think about having the hen checked by a veterinarian.

The feathering on your hen is a little more difficult. Some would say it is not terribly unusual if a hen is in good egg production for that long. Hens that are laying well put their nutrients into eggs, and don’t usually grow new feathers. Seen from the other direction, hens that are molting and growing new feathers usually don’t lay. It does seem like a long time for this hen to stay in production, however, so there may be more to it.

She appears to be healthy in other aspects — nice, red comb and wattles, bright eyes, etc. Since you mentioned that her egg production is inconsistent, this might point to some chronic health problem that is causing the poor feathering, although you would expect she would show other signs of poor health. In hens of that age, some other problems occur somewhat frequently. Lymphoid leukosis is a viral disease that often affects hens that are a couple of years old and can cause internal tumors. Other cancers, especially of the ovary, occur somewhat commonly, too. Infections of the oviduct (salpingitis) can also occur. The incorrectly formed eggs might fit with one of these problems, too. It’s difficult to know if she might have something like this, simply by looking at a picture of her.

One option you could try would be to force her into molting. To do this, you’d need to have a light-tight room and keep her in total darkness for about 16 hours per day. Short day-lengths (eight hours per day) will usually cause hens to go out of production and molt. About two weeks of these short days should do it. Then you can increase the day lengths back to longer days. By the end of the two weeks, she should stop laying and be losing feathers. Within about a month, she should grow a new set of feathers. Certainly, this won’t be something everyone wants to try, but it would be an option.

There are a few other possibilities to check. External parasites could cause poor feathering. Look for mites or lice crawling on her skin, especially under the wings or around the vent area. Other hens might be pecking at the feathers, though you would have noticed that. She could be pecking at her own feathers, but then the feathers on the back of the head should not be affected.

Sorry, there isn’t a clear answer to this!


If you have health-related poultry questions, use the chat feature, email, or send them to us at Backyard Poultry, Attn: Ask the Expert, P.O. Box 566, Medford, WI 54451. All submissions will be considered for print publication. Please include your name and hometown with your questions, which should be as detailed as possible. Pictures help us answer questions, so please include those too!

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