Ask the Expert — October/November 2018

Ask the Expert — October/November 2018

Not Laying Eggs

My wife and I are new to backyard chickens and I was wondering if you have some advice for one of our hens. We adopted two hens from a nearby family and both hens were laying eggs until the day of the move two months ago. The hen that’s not laying is a Russian Orloff. She follows the other hen around the backyard, eats normally and seems to behave like the Plymouth Rock hen that is producing one egg a day. We are feeding them both the same food as the previous family and they roam around the backyard all day, going into the coup at night. We mentioned this to the previous family and they said they would come over and “fix” her. They have not been responsive to us in a few weeks and internet searching has not produced anything helpful. We would appreciate any advice.

— Tim Quaranta

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Hi Tim,

Since both hens are new to your flock, it’s not surprising that one or both are not laying. Change can be hard on chickens just like it can be on humans. Some take it well, as it seems the Barred Rock has done. Others, like your Russian Orloff, take it a little harder and undergo stress. When chickens undergo stress, they can stop laying. In addition to the move, it’s been a hot summer and that can cause stress and lack of egg laying.

It’s best to give both hens some time to adjust. Give them lots of good food and water and let them settle into their new surroundings. You’ll probably find that both will resume egg laying shortly.

Good luck with your new hens!

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Odd Chicken Egg

Yes, it’s an egg! A normal egg is on the right. I believe it’s the same hen that lays a very small egg with no yolk. This egg had no yolk either. The hen, a one-year-old Leghorn, just started laying the small eggs this spring. It was a long, snowy winter, but all my hens laid very well. I’m guessing she has something wrong inside.

Odd Chicken Egg

I have 17 hens, one rooster, and 12 chicks. My chickens have acres of grass and trees for free roaming. They get layer food plus treats. I’ve never seen an egg like this in the six years I’ve been raising chickens.

I enjoy Backyard Poultry, especially the Poultry Talk section. I have learned something from each issue.

— Elaine Witt, Montana

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Hi Elaine,

What an interesting egg! It’s always amazing to see the strange eggs people find.

The hen may have something wrong inside, but it’s hard to guess what it might be. Chickens lay thousands of eggs over a lifetime. Every once in a while, one doesn’t look exactly as it should, and that’s ok. Odd eggs are definitely conversation pieces, but not something to worry about if they happen occasionally.

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Khaki Campbell Tail Feathers

Bubbles is a 15-year-old Khaki Campbell hen. This year her tail feathers curled up like a drake. I’ve heard this can happen when there are no drakes present, but I have four other drakes in my flock. She stopped laying about three years ago. Is this normal old age in a duck? My second question is Goldy, an 11-year-old Goldstar hen, has started laying eggs like she was three years old again. The last two years she averaged about a dozen eggs a year. This year she has already laid 74 eggs. Is this healthy for her and is it normal? She is outlaying my three-year-olds right now. The only thing different is the girls found my compost pile and have feasted on worms.

— Ken Zimmerman, Swainton, New Jersey

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Hi Ken,

The presence or absence of other drakes is not a factor with your Khaki Campbell hen. This phenomenon is not terribly rare in older females of other bird species, however, so it’s not surprising it would happen in ducks. As you may know, most female birds have one functioning ovary (the left one). Early in development, the right ovary stops developing. Some tissue is still present, however. If something happens to the left ovary (such as the development of a tumor), the tissue of the right ovary often develops into an ovotestis. This tissue secretes hormones that cause the “hen” to develop male characteristics. So, it’s likely that something has happened to your duck’s left ovary, causing her to develop curled tail feathers.

There’s really no explanation why an 11-year-old hen would have such improved egg production. It’s not unhealthy for her. It’s probably normal, but there’s not a lot of records kept for 11-year-old hens and their egg production! Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing with them because it’s certainly working!

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Small Chick

I bought a few Rhode Island Red chicks in the middle of April. Out of all the chicks, which were all the same size, I have one chick that the size and feathers have not changed from the time I brought it home. It is still looking like a baby chick but is eating, drinking, and jumping up on the perches etc. It’s acting very healthy except for those two factors. The other chicks that came in the flock are easily four times the size. I personally picked out these chicks and brought them home all at the same size. Does anyone know why this chick is not growing?

— Deborah Ambeault

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Hi Deborah,

It’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong but it’s likely the chick either has some internal infection, or it has a metabolic problem that doesn’t allow it to properly utilize nutrients. In either case, it’s just a matter of time until the problem “catches up” and the chick will get worse.

As long as it eats and drinks, and doesn’t seem to be suffering, it’s probably not bad to monitor it and keep doing what you’ve been doing. Things might change and it might start growing. The odds aren’t great, but you never know. If it does get to the point where it seems to be suffering, you may have to consider euthanasia.

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Feeding Calcium to Non-Layers

Since feeding calcium enriched feed to non-laying chicks and pullets can damage kidneys, does the same thinking apply to hens when they cease laying? If they should not be fed an egg laying feed, what kind of feed would be best for them in their “senior” years? My first batch of five hens lived four years and I now wonder if I shortened their lives and caused kidney problems by continuing to feed an egg-laying ration since I have read that chickens can live seven years. My second flock is now one year old and I want to give them the best chance to live out a long life.

— Ronna Brown, Indianapolis, IN

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Hi Ronna,

Feeding a “maintenance” diet is probably optimal for “senior” hens. Whether or not it makes a large difference is debatable. There is a fairly wide range of ages for chickens. Usually, an average age for chickens is somewhere around five years, though others have suggested longer. Just like with humans, some live to be 100, but the average in the United States is closer to 75. So, don’t worry too much if your hens lived to four. That being said, if you want to feed them differently, you could use a chick grower diet, and then provide oyster shell as an optional calcium source for them. They can then eat more calcium if they need it.

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Weird Beak

I purchased 10-day-old chicks about five weeks ago: four Ameraucanas, four Buff Orpingtons, and two Rhode Island Reds. All are doing well except for one of the Ameraucanas, which has a badly deformed mouth. I first noticed the deformation at about two weeks of age, and it appears to have gotten much worse. The chick eats and drinks but is still smaller than the other chicks. I suspect that it will not survive to adulthood. Have you ever seen anything like this before and what might cause this deformation?

— Donald L. Snyder, Fork, MD

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Hi Donald,

Unfortunately, this type of beak is seen occasionally. As you have guessed, the chick will probably not do well, but some people have nursed them along for quite a while.

This can be a genetic defect. It is probably more often caused by an incubation problem. It might also be due to some injury to the beak while it was a chick. It also might be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency, though that is probably less likely.

Determining why one chick might have it and the others don’t is difficult, especially if it is due to a deficiency or an incubator problem. There is natural variation in biology, so some respond differently. Or, there might have been an overly warm area in the incubator or something like that.

At any rate, it probably won’t get better. Some people have tried trimming the beak as it grows, so it doesn’t get more offset. Keeping feed and water deeper in the pans can also help, so the chick can sort of scoop it rather than pecking.

At some point, the chick won’t be able to eat and drink enough to keep up. The others may start to bully this chick, too.

As long as it seems to be healthy and not suffering, you can wait and see. If it gets to the point where it seems to be suffering, you may want to consider euthanizing it.

Good luck with the flock!

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Coop Ideas

My husband is looking for plans/information for chicken coops. Can you recommend or forward material that might be useful? He is interested in possibly building a new coop for 40 or so chickens. Should it have a concrete floor, wood floor, dirt floor? What is best? He is searching for ideas.

Thank you!

— Lynne Hallier

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Hi Lynne,

There are many, many plans and types of chicken coops available, so it’s difficult to suggest just one. A lot depends on your location, the type of coop you desire, and your budget. Regarding flooring, concrete (with bedding on top) is probably best if you can afford it. It will protect against rodents and other things digging in. It will last for a long time and will be pretty easy to clean. Wood would be the second choice. It’s cheaper, still fairly easy to clean, and will help prevent animals getting in (though rodents can still chew through).

Unless you are planning a mobile coop, it’s best not to have a dirt floor. It can get muddy, will increase the chances of having worm concerns, and is fairly open to rodent/predators digging in. If your budget doesn’t allow a floor, however, you can make it work with dirt. It just opens up a few more potential problems.

Again, there are lots of possible plans. Check your local library, and/or your local extension office for books. They may have things that are more suited to your local area. There are many ideas online, too. Backyard Poultry magazine has had quite a few articles over the years, too!

In many cases, the chickens probably don’t care what the coop looks like! You (and your neighbors) likely will. Probably the biggest suggestion is to make it predator-proof. A second suggestion is to make it easy to clean, and easy to manage.

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Switching Starter to Layer Feed

My girls love their crumble growth feed. They are nearing laying age. How can I introduce new feed into the program? They now refuse the layer pellet, push it aside.

— Walter Sterling

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Hi Walter,

When you switch from starter crumbles to layer feed, you have the choice between pellets and crumbles. Many people report their flocks don’t like pellets. So you can feed them layer crumbles and your birds will be happy and healthy.

If you’ve got starter crumbles left at the time of the switch, that’s actually a good thing. It’s hard on chickens to suddenly switch from one food to another. So, gradually mix some of the layer feed with the starter crumbles, increasing this quantity over a week or so. This will use up the last of your starter crumbles and will gently introduce your flock to the new feed.

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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