Ask the Expert — October/November 2015

Ask the Expert — October/November 2015

Bumblefoot Infections

The foot of one of our Leghorns seems to be swollen and when it walks it limps on that foot to the next. I was wondering what it is and if there is something that I can do to help prevent its spreading (if it spreads through contact), and heal it.

Jay Anderson, Iowa


Hi Jay,

Your chicken has a case of bumblefoot. This is a fairly common chicken issue, but it does need to be treated. This is a bacterial infection (often from Staph. aureus). It usually causes a solid core (often called “cheese-like material”). The biggest problem is that this core needs to be removed for the foot to heal up. You’ll probably need to cut it open (on the bottom of the foot) enough to get this core out. Once that is done, you’ll need to clean it up. You can use some hydrogen peroxide for this.

Once this is done, it’s best to try and keep her in a fairly clean environment for a few days. If you can put her in an area with some clean shavings, this will work well. Chickens usually heal very well, so it should get better quickly. Some people try to wrap the foot, but it doesn’t usually work very well. Don’t continue to use the hydrogen peroxide since it can damage the new tissue as it’s healing.

Bumblefoot often occurs after some other trauma. Large birds jumping down from a high perch might cause some damage, or they may get a small cut or splinter of wood in the foot. Staphylococcus bacteria are nearly everywhere, but don’t usually cause a problem until it can gain entry through a cut or injury like this.

I would start treating your chicken as soon as possible so it doesn’t get any worse.


Laying Problem

I have a hen who is laying eggs with just a membrane and no hard shell. I have given her oyster shell and more protein. She is one that gets excited easily. Everyone is mowing every three to four days, but the others are not bothered. They both lay hard shell eggs. She is also molting.

Please help me if you have any suggestions, I will try anything.

Hoping something simple will take care of the problem.

— Deb


Hi Deb,

Good news! Eggs without a membrane, or with soft shells, can often be cured. Panting because of warm weather and a lack of calcium are common causes.

But in your case, we think this is caused because your hen is rushed in laying. When hens are rushed because of a predator or some type of stress, such as loud noises, this can happen. We would suggest trying to remove your hen’s stress as much as possible, or isolate the hen during mowing times. Then we think you’ll see this problem resolve quickly. Good luck with your flock!


Duck Feeders?

We have just gotten Pekin ducks. I have been looking for a duck feeder, but no one seems to have them. What do you suggest? I have been using a pan or just on the ground, but now I have attracted a lot of wild birds and the feed is costing a lot more.

— Vidia


Hi Vidia,

We ran your question by our writer Lisa Steele, as she has ducks and often shares tips through her Facebook page, Duck Eggs Daily. Here’s what we came up with.

Traditional gravity chicken feeders don’t work well for ducks because they can empty them very quickly onto the ground and also since they get their feed wet, they tend to clog up.

We just use secondhand stoneware casserole dishes or the large rubber tubs that the feed stores sell. Not much else is going to be better. As far as wild birds, we would suggest feeding your ducks overnight. Especially in the summer when it’s hot, they’ll eat far less in the heat of the day and prefer to eat when it’s cooler. Of course that means leaving them water inside their house as well — and that can make a mess. Also the feed in the duck house will attract mice, but our ducks will catch and eat mice.

Another option is to just put out the feed for a bit in the morning and then again just before dusk. The ducks will get used to eating their fill at those two times, and then foraging or rummaging for bugs and worms the rest of the day, or you can give them cut grass, weeds and garden trimmings during the day that won’t attract wild birds or mice.

Have fun with your ducks!


Coccidiosis Or Not?

If young chickens have coccidiosis, is it always accompanied by diarrhea? I have chickens that seem to have slow growth, are really droopy, and seem to match all the symptoms of coccidiosis that I’ve read about, but I don’t see any wet poop in the pen. I treated them for three days with Corid solution, but if it’s actually a parasite problem, I don’t think that helps.

Also, I had never had any chicken “plagues” before I bought a batch of chicks that were “vaccinated” for coccidiosis. I heard that the “vaccine” actually makes them a carrier of the disease.

Did I bring this disease here and forever have to have every chick immunized?

— Martin


Hi Martin,

First, about your chickens and their health. It’s possible to have some level of coccidiosis without diarrhea, but it would be unusual to see the other symptoms without diarrhea. You could have a low level of infection, but we think you’d see some diarrhea if they have much of an infection.

The other symptoms you mentioned (slow growth, droopiness) are pretty general and could be caused by many things. Especially if the Corid didn’t seem to help, we’d suspect something else. It could be parasites. It could be some bacterial or viral disease, too. It’s hard to know without some further information or testing.

To address the other part of your question will take some explanation. Generally, most chickens will be exposed to low levels of the organism (technically, a protozoa is a single-celled organism) that causes coccidiosis, and will develop immunity to it over time. If they get too high numbers of the protozoa too quickly, or if the strain they get is particularly pathogenic, their intestines will be damaged. This damage causes a lot of fluid production, so they get diarrhea. There can also be bleeding in the intestine, so there will be blood in the droppings, as well.

If the chickens are exposed to it slowly, they can develop immunity without a lot of intestinal damage. When chicks were raised by a broody hen, they would peck at her droppings and get exposed that way. They were also exposed to other diseases, however, so this wasn’t the most biosecure method.

Now, “vaccines” have been developed, which are really low doses of fairly mild strains of the protozoa. The idea is to mimic that exposure from the hen, but with a controlled dose and strain. So your comment about them being carriers is somewhat true. However, the organism is very common, so I would guess you already had it in your environment.

A couple of other notes on this topic — the protozoa multiply very quickly in wet and muddy conditions. Often, outbreaks will occur after prolonged rainy times, since the birds are exposed to a lot of mud and moisture. Keeping their litter dry is very helpful in preventing problems. Also, this is spread from one bird to another in the droppings. Keeping them in cages, thereby limiting contact with droppings, is another way to prevent it.

I don’t have a great answer about your chickens. Hopefully, I’ve at least explained coccidiosis a bit more.

Good luck with them!



I have happy, well-laying hens and have added nine more last spring. A friend gave me a one-year-old rooster this spring. My question today is, do chickens sneeze?

Thank you!

— Linda


Hi Linda,

We are so glad you’re enjoying your flock. Your question is a good one. Yes, chickens do sneeze just like we do when they’ve got dust or some other irritant in their nostrils. We thought you may want to have a few signs to watch for to make sure this isn’t a more serious problem, so we turned to our expert, Alexandra Douglas. She says the only time to worry is if the sneezing turns into wheezing, watery eyes and lethargy. That indicates a more serious condition and should be checked by a veterinarian.

Have fun with your flock.


Odd Egg Questions

I have 10 red sex-links and 20 Bantams. My Bantams’ eggs seem normal. But my red sex-links are now starting to lay weird eggs. I have a feeling it’s the same chicken every time.

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I have sent pictures of three eggs. They have a weird ring around two of them, and last night, I went to lock them up and found another egg and it was very, very soft. I use Nutrena Nature Wise feed. I’ve been getting up early to try to find the chicken that is laying the misshaped egg but have yet to stumble across her in the nesting box. I love my chickens. They’re all so friendly. I really would like to help her if she’s sick. In the photo from left to right is the order I collected them. The other egg is there for comparison to what my chickens are laying normally.

— Brandi McIlveen


Hi Brandi,

We don’t think your chicken is sick, but it’s always a good idea to check your chickens for any signs of illness. Odd eggs are a fact of life with chicken keeping. If you think about the quantity of eggs chickens lay over a lifetime, there are bound to be some oddballs.

With that said, we think your soft egg issue is probably related to the heat. When it is hot, chickens pant, which ultimately reduces the amount of calcium going into egg production. So it’s not uncommon to get soft or shell-less eggs during the warmer months.

Good luck with your flock!


Feather Questions

What is the sequence for young chickens to feather? Do they get more new feathers at about four months of age and shed older feathers?

— Cleo


Hi Cleo,

As early as six days old, you’ll start to see some small feathers on your chick’s wings and tail replacing the downy fluff. By week five, your chicks will have lots of new feathers and look more like adult chickens. Then between seven and 12 weeks old, your chicks will lose their first feathers and get their second feathers. Chickens molt yearly in the fall so they are prepared for the winter. This process starts at the head and works back to the tail. Young chickens will usually experience their first molt around 16 to 18 months of age.

We hope this is helpful!


Mighty Mites

I have cleaned the coop trailer inside and out. I had moved the trailer to the side of the house so I could make a cover and give them more moving room. I had to turn the trailer over yesterday to fix the ladder, and while lying on the ground under it, I noticed the mites on my hands and legs. Hence, I found them. I have cleaned the trailer, powdered the chickens but what do I do about the ground?

Every time I walk there the mites are on my legs and socks. I even noticed them on my bed so I was up all night washing sheets. I must have had four showers yesterday. I have often seen the birds taking dust baths in the yard and just suspected this to be normal behavior. Now I added sand, ash and Diatomaceous Earth to a bath close to the coop.

What else should I do? Move the trailer? Can I return it to the side of the house at all? I am suspecting I need to keep my chickens in the trailer and nowhere else but I am desperate, wondering if I should just ditch this whole idea of chickens anyway. Will the mites ever leave the side yard?

— Kim Martins


Hi Kim,

Wow! It sounds like you’ve got a bad infestation. We have to say we were split on the best course of action; chemical or natural. There were strong feelings on both sides. So I’m going to list both options below and let you decide how you’d like to proceed.

Chemical: Invermectin poured on will kill the mites and lice. Another recommendation is Sevin dust. And another is Permethrin. If you use the Ivermectin, pour-on, wear gloves and dab the back of the neck with two drops from an eyedropper. For the Sevin dust, wear gloves to avoid irritation but dust the birds once a week until no mites are visible.

Permethrin is labeled for use in poultry, and can be found as a co-component of products such as Adam’s mite and lice spray. You can purchase the 10 percent concentrate from Tractor Supply Company and mix to the appropriate dilution rate per the label. Our blogger Jeremy Chartier recommends adding a surfactant to achieve better mixing and penetration of oils. He says a drop of dish detergent usually does the job, and it should be added when diluting the 10 percent solution. Only use one of these products.

Natural: Neem oil and diatomaceous earth plus fresh garlic offered free choice.

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


A Beak Problem

I have a barely one-year-old Ameraucana rooster who free ranges in the backyard and out of the yard once a day under supervision. Yesterday evening,  after I was gone all day, I noticed his top beak seems to be separating where it joins his head and he is having difficulty eating. It looks like a cat’s claw does when they sometimes shed them. I cannot see if there is new beak underneath, and he’s not very cooperative. What do I need to do? I have three hens as well; they are all together.

— Cherry Shiflet


Hi Cherry,

My guess would be that he caught the beak on something and nearly tore it off. I’m not aware of any disease in chickens that causes something like that. If he can still eat and drink, it will likely heal. That may be difficult from your description. I would make sure his feed is fairly deep in a pan so he can eat easily.

Chickens generally heal fairly quickly, so if you can nurse him along for a week or so, things may go well.

Good luck!


Eye Issues

I have two two baby chicks that are around eight weeks old.

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There is something strange on their face and neck. Can you tell me what it is and if there is anything I can do for them? I am not sure if they can see or not. These baby chicks were hatched and are being raised by their mom.

— Jerry and Belinda Holton


Hi Jerry and Belinda,

The consensus is that your chicks have a very bad case of fowl pox. If you can keep the chicks eating and drinking, they should get over it. That may be difficult, seeing the severity. I have heard of putting some aspirin in the water to alleviate pain. It is hoped they will drink and eat more that way.

The pox virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, so anything that can be done to limit mosquito exposure would be helpful in stopping its spread. It is not transmissible to humans. Also, if she has other chickens, it is possible to vaccinate them and the vaccine may work fast enough to prevent them from getting pox.

Also, our blogger Alexandra Douglas advises to keep your chicks inside and apply warm compresses three times a  day to alleviate the swelling. Basically make sure mosquitos are not getting to the birds.

We wish you and your chicks the best of luck and hope they return to health soon!


A Wet Coop

We have had serious rain in my area and the chicken coop is very wet. What can I use to help dry the ground? Mulch? Straw? Wood chips or wood over the ground? We just started raising chickens and I am enjoying having them. The city allows us to have eight hens and no roosters.

— Gloria Largel, Florida


Hi Gloria,

Ugh! A wet chicken coop is the worst. Not only is it gross, but it’s bad for the birds. We’re not sure what part of your coop is wet. But if the inside is wet, I would clean out the soiled litter and let everything dry out as best as possible. Hopefully it’s dry before evening, then you can add new bedding and you’re back in business! If it’s the run, then we’ve been known to muck out a lot of the wet litter and try to let things dry out. Then we replace it with fresh litter.

One caution. You are in an area with lots of mosquitoes and recently we’ve seen some pretty severe cases of fowl pox. It’s transmitted by mosquitoes and can’t be transferred to humans. But it can be very serious for your chickens. So we think you’re right to try to remove as much water as possible. That just becomes a breeding ground for pests.

Good luck with your flock!


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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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