Ask the Expert October/November 2021

Ask the Expert October/November 2021

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Mycoplasma 

I got two Silkie roosters about six weeks ago. One of them had bubbles in his eye when I got him (no other serious symptoms, so I’m assuming just MG?). I treated both eyes in roo #1 (two years old) with Terramycin and gave Nutri-Drench in the water for the recommended time. Roo #1 still has bubbles in one eye but no other obvious symptoms. 

Roo #2 (seven months old) was not showing symptoms until two days ago. Again, roo #2 only has bubbles in the eyes but no other symptoms. They were raised together at the breeder’s, so I’ve kept them together. They will be still be quarantined from the rest of my flock (in a stall in a barn) until symptoms are gone for 30 days. Both roos are crowing, eating, and drinking normally. 

Here are my questions: 

  1. I know Mycoplasma is “slow-spreading,” but is there any standard about how long it takes to run it? 
  2. Should I repeat any treatments until the symptoms are gone? 
  3. I know they are carriers for life, but will they still be contagious if they don’t have symptoms? 
  4. If my other flock has never shown any symptoms of respiratory disease, should I just plan on housing my roos completely separate since the roos will be carriers for life? 

Thanks in advance for your help! 

Courtney 

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Hi Courtney, 

If I understand what you’re saying, you have NOT had your birds tested, and eye discharge is the only symptom, correct? Mycoplasma gallisepticum is, above all else, a respiratory infection, so respiratory problems generally present more often than ocular discharge. Also, those eye bubbles can result from several other diseases, including highly survivable infectious bronchitis. I recommend getting your roosters tested via serology to determine if they do, indeed, have Mycoplasma. This can help you determine your plan from here. 

How fast does Mycoplasma spread? That depends on how it spreads. When transmitted horizontally (via aerosols or contaminated food/water), it has an incubation period of six to 10 days. Vertically (in-ovo), it takes however long that species needs to hatch from an egg. Also, infected chickens usually only spread the disease when it flares up due to stress. 

Should you repeat the treatments? Neither the Terramycin in the eyes nor the Nutri-Drench will harm them. You can also provide Nutri-Drench for the rest of your flock to boost health as a preventative. The Terramycin is bound to get expensive, though. It’s a wonderful medication but it can be costly, so you might consider switching to a less-expensive ophthalmic product. 

The Merck Veterinary Manual says chickens are contagious when they show symptoms. It doesn’t specifically say that your roosters cannot spread the disease if they don’t show symptoms, but it also says the disease can spread via fomites (sticking to your shoes as you move from coop to coop), and the bacterium can live on/in fomites for days to weeks, depending on how clean and dry the surface is. However, the disease may appear latent and you may think it’s safe to add the roosters to your flock or relax your biosecurity protocols. Then stress (weather extremes, other illnesses, predator attacks, or just an autumn molt) can make the disease flare up again. 

Overall, my best advice is to obtain a serology test to determine whether Mycoplasma is, indeed, the problematic disease. 

Marissa Ames 

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Timid Chick 

I have 10 three-month-old chicks. I’ve had them in a smaller chicken coop until recently when it seemed like it was not enough space for them. So, I moved them into my big chicken coop. All the chicks roost together besides one that, ever since I’ve moved them, has slept out in the run behind the water container. She doesn’t appear to be unhealthy or being pecked by her sister hens. I don’t know if it’s a breed thing because all the others chicks are either Whiting True Blue or whiting true greens but the chick in question is a Sultan hen.  

I’m still very new to chickens so any help is appreciated. 

Thanks, 
Cory 

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Hi Cory, 

It is most likely the breed, and she could be getting picked on when you aren’t looking; just not enough to leave a mark. Since chickens are such social creatures, I recommend getting her a friend of a similar, smaller and docile breed. Another Sultan, or Silkies and Mille Fleur D’uccle.While Faverolles are technically standard-size, they are exceptionally sweet and docile. This time of year, a Silkie is probably the easiest to find since they seem to always be in demand. 

Good luck! 

Marissa Ames 

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Healing Chicken Skin 

Good afternoon, Marissa 

I always look forward to Backyard Poultry and wish one arrived every month! 

Perhaps you can suggest a treatment for this hen’s problem. I think she is a French Black Copper Marans. She was given to me about five months ago because the rooster in her pen/yard was plucking out her feathers that grew on her back in front of her tail. The feathers started to regenerate although never completely. Now, however, that area is becoming barer and redder and sore-looking. There are two other hens that share her very large yard and I have monitored the three and never witnessed any feather plucking. At 5:0O pm the girls go into their loft and are shut in for the night. Could she be getting abused there? Aside from that, she lays an egg nearly every day, eats well, and the camaraderie is peaceful in their yard during the day. Is there a medicine I can apply topically? 

Thank you for your help.   

Judie Chapman 

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Hi Judie, 

She could be getting picked on in the coop, especially since it would still be light at 5:00 pm and she wouldn’t be able to run away. New feathers are so tempting for chickens, because they are so rich in blood. If your other two hens are bored while they’re shut in for the night, pin feathers would naturally be the first thing they pick at.  

As far as helping her grow back feathers, I would suggest adding a few boredom-busting features to the coop, such as toys for the hens to peck at. Or you could lock them up later, when it’s dark. 

I also recommend getting a fecal test done on your hen. Though it’s rare and isn’t often listed as a symptom, brittle feathers and feather loss have been recorded as symptoms of Heterakis gallinarum (cecal worm) infections. If the test comes back clear, you will at least know that the parasite isn’t the reason for her skin and feather issues. 

Regarding products, there are many to choose from. To discourage hens from pecking, I like Pick-No-More by Rooster Booster. It tastes nasty and chickens don’t like the goop on their beaks. The aloe vera and calendula are good for skin healing. Other healing products include Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial Poultry Care. Though it doesn’t contain bad-tasting ingredients to discourage pecking, it’s amazing for wound care and skin healing. I’m a huge fan of Vetericyn for livestock injuries. Manna Pro also sells a product called Theracyn for poultry wound/skincare.  

Have you considered a chicken saddle for your hen before putting her up at night? I don’t recommend any kind of chicken “clothing” as a full-time thing, since they don’t allow the skin to breathe and feathers to regulate temperature, but putting one on her at night and taking it off in the morning could keep her safe during those hours when the other two hens have nothing better to do than pick on their friend. 

Marissa Ames 

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Good morning, Marissa, 

Many thanks for your quick response and healing suggestions. I will start by putting them up later in the day and then try other treatments when I get to town to buy what I need. By the way, they don’t live in a coop but have free range in a large garden/yard. Thanks again.   

Judie 

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Young Chickens Behavior 

Hi experts, 

Thank you so much for being there for us backyard chicken people.  

I’ve noticed when I get two new chickens and they bond, often they will run up to each other and jump up and down? It’s adorable, and I was wondering what this behavior means. I’ve seen it often with new girls when they are a bit older than pullets. 

Thanks. 

Geri Spieler 

 
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Hi Geri, 

As adorable as that behavior is, they are actually challenging each other, sizing each other up to decide who is boss. You may see hackles rising, as well. Often, this posturing is enough for one to decide that she doesn’t want to mess with the other, and she backs down. If she doesn’t, or if the other chicken is a bully, they will start to fight. Of all the animals I’ve owned, including poultry, goats, and rabbits, I find they all do it in some form or another. Meet, decide who is boss, then decide if they want to be friends. It’s kind of like humans, shaking hands and judging each other by the firmness of the grip and the tone of voice. 

Marissa Ames
 

 
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Hi Marissa, 

Thanks so much. This makes sense. And, they are adorable and I can see who is boss. They seem to do this every day, so I guess they need to repeat the behavior and see if anything has changed.  

Thanks again. 

Geri 

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Hurricane-Proofing a Coop 

Hello!  

My household is looking at building a bigger run for our six chickens. However, we’re concerned about it being an insurance liability if it got loose as we have hurricanes here. Does anyone have advice on strategies to secure your run/coop in high wind and rain events? Thank you! 

Caitlin 

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Hi Caitlin, 

Though I don’t live in a hurricane area, my area does get winds up to 100mph (usually no more than 40mph in my area, though). Here are some tips that I use to wind-proof our coops and shelters: 

Either weigh down, or anchor, the coop. If you can build a “permanent structure” in your area, I recommend cementing posts into the ground before building onto the frame. Often, this requires a building permit. If you must keep the coop a “temporary structure,” meaning it’s portable and raised off the ground, you can pound T-posts into strategic points and use them to anchor the coop. Keep any floors low, so as little wind as possible can get under those surfaces and lift them up. Heavy building materials can also help; for instance, when I built my hoop house, I secured cattle panels to the frame to give it about 300 extra pounds. Also, avoid any eaves that the wind can catch; they’re attractive for a “house” look, but anything that sticks out can be a grabbing point for a strong gust. I like rounded tops in high-wind areas, because the air skips over the top rather than slamming against a side.  

For rain-proofing, consider a metal roof so shingles don’t rip off. Design shutters that can close during a storm, so sideways rain doesn’t soak your chickens but they can still breathe. Building a French drain, into the run, can manage pooling water. 

 Those strategies work in my area. I would be happy to reach out to our Backyard Poultry community for suggestions. 

 I hope this helps! 

 Marissa Ames 

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Cross-Breeding 

I am growing local chicks, and have been wondering if I could cross-breed them to hybrid. Is that possible? If yes, how can that be done? 

Ronald 

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Hi Ronald, 

 You sure can! With hybrids, they’re not infertile by any means, unless they’re a hybrid of two species (like a numigall, which is a chicken/guinea fowl cross). All chicken-to-chicken hybrids can breed and reproduce as long as their body type allows that. For instance, I would not recommend crossing anything with a Cornish Cross, as their large breast tissue may not allow the mating and a Cornish Cross pullet may not even live long enough to lay eggs. By breeding your local chicks to a hybrid, you are essentially creating the time-honored “farmstead chicken,” which will take advantage of the hybrid vigor phenomenon creating a stronger bird. But with so many genetic variables to consider, the color/patterning and comb structure is difficult to predict until the birds are fully feathered. But that’s the fun of farmstead chickens! 

Marissa Ames 

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Leaving Eggs to Hatch 

If I am gathering eggs daily, then decide to let the hen hatch some, would I have to stop gathering any and then when enough eggs accumulate in the nest, the hen should stop laying and start setting? How many eggs should be there before this happens? How will I know if she has been setting on them or if I need to start throwing them out? I’ve never had a rooster before when I had chickens. Just had them for eggs, but now I want chicks. Please teach me about this. 

Norrie 

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Hi Norrie, 

First, you want to make sure you have a broody hen. If you don’t, then you can leave all the eggs in the world and they will just rot. A broody hen stays on the nest except for once or twice a day to eat and defecate. When you extend your hand to her, she puffs up and makes a dinosaur sound. Some broodies peck, and some even draw blood, but others just let you reach under them. A broody hen doesn’t lay eggs. She may naturally hide hers, then start setting as soon as she feels she has enough, and won’t lay more until those babies are old enough to fend for themselves. But it’s difficult to force this instinct as a chicken keeper, so it’s safest to just wait until one of your hens is broody. 

Some chicken breeds are broodier than others. For instance, if you keep Leghorns, you may be waiting a while. As in, a few years. If you keep Silkies, they may go broody several times a year. Leaving eggs in a nest can encourage broodiness, but only with the breeds that are prone to going broody. 

Be sure she’s been dedicated to sitting on a nest for at least a week before you give her eggs, to be sure she will tend to them. In that week, gather eggs from other hens. Store them pointy-end-down in a cool location, about 50-60 degrees F (not in a fridge). They won’t start developing until she sits on them, and she will only wait around 24 hours after the first ones hatch before she leads them off the nest and teaches them to eat. Because of this, give her all the eggs at once, or she may abandon partially developed eggs that are still a few days from their hatch time. 

Once she’s successfully sitting on eggs, some chicken owners leave the hen where she is while others provide a safe and isolated place where other hens won’t invade the nest and break eggs. This nursery area can also be where she can raise her chicks while they’re tiny, so the chicks don’t eat the high-calcium layer ration. 

Though broodiness happens most often in the spring and early summer, it can happen at any time during the year. I’ve removed many broody hens from nests during the hottest summer days, when I didn’t want chicks and the coop was too hot for the hen’s health. But if she goes broody in the fall or winter and you have the setup to raise chicks in colder weather, then she will be more than happy to have a family. 

Good luck! 

Marissa Ames 

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Ascites 

Just wondering if I can have some help with differentiation (in the early stages) between an egg-bound hen and water belly (which I had not heard of in chickens before last evening). As a retired registered nurse, I have taken care of plenty of humans with liver problems, but never thought of this in a chicken. 

I had a Bantam hen, not sure of the age, as I have about 50 hens of various breeds and ages. I figure she was at least five years old. Several days ago, she was walking like a penguin, so I thought she was egg-bound. Another hen was attacking her so she was moved into the horse barn, where I started Epsom salt baths, abdominal massages, and gave her crushed TUMS. I noted she was eating very poorly but would drink water and eat watermelon. I was struck at the feathers missing from her abdomen which was softly distended. I was not able to find an egg inside her when I checked. This went on for a couple of days until I noted that she was becoming a little short of breath. She was taken to an exotic pet vet who quickly diagnosed water belly. At this point, I was faced with the decision to try and save her or that difficult decision that all pet owners face, to humanely euthanize (which was done).  

So, what can I do to be more proactive in the future if I ever have to face this again? What do I look for?  Could I have prevented this from happening? I hate the thought that she suffered for a few days. I just wish animals could tell us where they hurt and what is wrong! 

Denise Dragovich, Washington 

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Hi Denise, 

I’m sorry for the loss of your hen. Humane euthanasia is often the best route in this case, because at that point there’s most likely nothing you could have done. 

Three things cause water belly: One is ingestion of something foreign or toxic. The second is peritonitis, where a chicken lays an egg internally instead of passing it through the oviduct, which results in inflammation and potentially a secondary infection. (When a chicken walks like a penguin, it’s usually peritonitis.) The third is organ failure, resulting in edema. 

Of all these, the only one you could prevent is ingestion of something foreign or toxic. Sometimes the chicken can recover from peritonitis with veterinary measures such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and surgery; at this point, it’s up to you to decide whether the cost is an option. With organ failure, we can’t do much but keep them comfortable and help them along their way. 

Often the hardest experiences, when keeping animals, is wondering what we might have done differently, then learning there wasn’t much we could have done. It sounds like you responded to the condition in the best way for your hen. 

Marissa Ames 

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Raising Ducks 

Three questions: 

  1. I live in Texas, where summertime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees F. How well do ducks tolerate heat? 
  2. You talk mostly about ducks as egg layers. What about raising ducks for meat? 
  3. You say ducks and chickens get along fine. But do you have drakes? I’ve seen mixed opinions on whether drakes will attack chicks.  

Thanks again for your thoughts and education. 

Steve Andrews 

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Hi Steve, 

I’m happy to help answer these questions. 

  1. I kept ducks in Reno, Nevada, where we exceeded 100 degrees F every year, usually with a high of 104-108 degrees F. The ducks were fine. They need shade and fresh water, as much as chickens do. Though ducks can live just fine without a pond, they especially appreciate one during hot weather and mine often stayed on my tiny pond all day during the summer months. 
  2. Most ducks are dual-purpose and great for eggs and meat. Favorites tend to be the Pekin and Aylesbury, for size, or the Muscovy because they’re very prolific and great moms, producing and raising sometimes four or more clutches each year. Other owners, who prefer eggs over meat, keep Khaki Campbells or Welsh Harlequins because they are quiet breeds with a high rate of lay, even if the carcass doesn’t dress out as heavily for meat. 
  3. I wouldn’t recommend keeping drakes with hens. While roosters do not have a penis, and transfer sperm via a “cloacal kiss,” drakes have a corkscrew-like penis which can injure or kill a chicken. And the hen will let the drake mount her, because of instinct, in the same way that a hen will crouch beneath your hand when she’s at point-of-lay. 

I hope this helps! 

Marissa Ames 

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Feather Loss 

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why my hens have a bald patch in the middle of their backs. They free-range during the day, stay in the coop at night and I don’t see any feather picking. I do have two roosters with 15 hens but they cause feather loss on the backs of their wings from claws, and that’s in a different area. I don’t think the bald patch is due to molting either because the chickens would molt everywhere not just in the middle of their backs. Have you got any idea what is going on? 

I’d appreciate your feedback! 

Thanks, 

Heather Bosch 

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Hi Heather, 

Feather loss on the backs generally happens because of roosters, as the claws grab there, as well, to hold on during mating. Chicken saddles address this problem. Hens can also lose feathers on the head, just behind the comb, where the rooster grabs with his beak. 

Other notable reasons for feather loss include stress (including hot weather, even if your birds are otherwise well-cared-for), molting, illness such as vent gleet that causes overall bad heath, and either internal or external parasites. Lice and mites affect the feather shaft; in addition, they irritate the skin so the chicken may respond by plucking their own feathers. Worms such as Heterakis gallinarum (a cecal worm) can also cause feather loss. 

Regarding whether the issue is due to molt: many chickens molt differently. They can undergo a hard molt, where it seems they drop all their feathers and grow them back all at once. Or they can undergo a soft molt, where they lose and regrow feathers in certain areas but not all at once. A good way to determine if it is molt is whether the chickens immediately grow pinfeathers back where the old feathers fell out.  

To diagnose specific internal parasite species, you would need to have a fecal test run by a veterinarian, who can also prescribe dewormers specific to the type of parasite detected. While chicken saddles can help rooster-stressed hens, be aware that any kind of chicken clothing can harbor lice and mites — which, again, can cause feather loss. 

I hope this helps, and that you can figure out the culprit cause.  

Marissa Ames 

Originally published in the October/November 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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