Ask the Expert – Special Issue 2021
Reading Time: 11 minutes
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Sometimes the information hasn’t quite gotten out there or hasn’t been developed enough for those of us who keep backyard chickens as pets. On May 18, 2021, we received nine-day-old heritage breed chicks. All are doing wonderful, thank goodness!
However, one chick, a Frost White Legbar, has stunted growth. Little Cosette does everything her flockmates do except perching five inches above the ground and a half-inch round dowel. She hasn’t been able to get up at four as of yet. But what worries me more is for stunted growth. She seems as if she is still a day-old chick in her appearance. She eats and drinks just like everyone else and even plays the lead in keep away games! Last week, I brought this up to the hatchery and they really had nothing to say about my concerns unless she went “downhill.”
According to information on the internet, stunted growth can be caused by many factors. Being a retired biologist myself, I am very keen on keeping these Marek’s-vaccinated chicks in ultra-clean conditions. I started with organic mash but after a week, seeing that little Cosette wasn’t growing, I thought perhaps I should use medicated feed for a week. I am presently switching back to organic. I also have been giving Sav-A-Chick probiotics in their water a few times a week. That’s about it. I am worried about eventually putting this new flock out with my 8½ -year-old hens because of Cosette’s size. I am also very concerned and worried about her prospects for a normal healthy life.
Can you please give my husband and me advice on what we may expect?
Paree and John Hecht, Connecticut
We are all up to date with the latest books on raising baby chicks and have diligently worked with avian vets in the past concerning our older flock. So, we are fairly more educated with poultry health and management.
These pictures, which were taken yesterday, show her sister Daisy, which is also a Frost White Legbar. So, it’s helpful to see the difference between the same breed.
What a sweet little angel! It does look as if she has frozen in time.
It’s frustrating when research doesn’t turn up a definitive answer but instead a list of, “Well, it could be this but maybe not.” I can think of two things this could be, and only one is treatable: It could be a genetic condition, or it could be malabsorption syndrome. If it’s genetic, there’s nothing you can do but give her the best health and life possible, making accommodations such as purchasing some tiny friends like Seramas or Silkies. Malabsorption syndrome is caused by a virus, and though viruses aren’t curable, you can combat the nutrient malabsorption with some good poultry vitamins. Rooster Booster makes great supplements that were recently recommended by poultryextension.org, a collaboration of university extensions.
Will she live a normal, healthy life? That’s hard to predict, but all the supplements and accommodations you’re making will be a deciding factor. It’s possible that she will remain small, which means she can’t go out with the existing flock and will need her own little coop with her own little friends. With all your knowledge of biology and avian health, I feel she is in the best hands possible if she faces a rough road ahead.
I wish I could offer the exact answer you’re hoping for! Good luck with Cosette and the rest of the flock.
Two Soft Shell Eggs Together
I have been raising chickens for nine years now, and I saw this for the first time. I don’t know who laid this. Rhode Island Red or Partridge Rock? Earlier, some occasionally laid soft shells, and some came out like water balloons but single-laying.
If this is the first time, it’s usually a “this thing happens” type of deal. An oviduct glitch, if you will. But if you get these consistently, then at least one of your hens has a problem.
Many chicken owners will tell you to add calcium. But a calcium-deficient hen will still layer some kind of a shell onto her eggs, even if it’s so soft that your fingers dent it and it stays caved in. A shell-less egg is a different matter.
So many diseases affect the oviduct that it can be confusing whether or not you have a problem. Most of these diseases, such as Mycoplasma and Newcastle disease, have additional symptoms so you know your bird was sick. But with infectious bronchitis and egg drop syndrome, the ONLY symptom may be a change in the number of eggs laid, quality of the shell, or egg shape.
So, if this only happens once in a while, I wouldn’t worry. But if it’s happening consistently with one or more of your chickens, I recommend speaking with a veterinarian. While viruses (egg drop syndrome, infectious bronchitis) have no cure and must run their course, some other diseases (vent gleet, and some bacterial diseases) can be treated with medication.
I hope this helps!
In the 15 years that I’ve raised chickens, I’ve never had nor remember reading about my current problem, and there’s very little information on the internet. BTW, I’m a “plank owner” for your Backyard Poultry magazine and have kept every issue.
The girls are producing eggs with no defined yolk. It is very liquid and spills out of the shell when cracked. When hard-boiled, some yolks never set; others set but the egg is a consistent pale yellow where yolk and white have mixed during cooking. The shells are strong.
Until this year, I ordered chicks only from either Meyer Hatchery or Murray McMurray and never have been disappointed … and everyone says I have the best eggs around. Because of limited availability late last year, I placed a small order with a different hatchery. It wasn’t until those chicks began to lay that I noticed a problem. I wrote to the hatchery, explaining the issue and asking for help. They never gave me the courtesy of a reply.
My girls free-range on untreated pasture from early morning until they put themselves to bed, and their main food source always has been Layena crumble. Ample water is available at all times, and they get occasional scraps from the kitchen.
If I had an extra tractor, I would try separating them out a few at a time to see exactly who’s laying the duds. However, I highly suspect the new hatchery gang and may have to cull all of them if you can’t provide a workable solution. The number of bad eggs is pretty consistent, so I’m ready to rule out a disease that would have spread. Could this be genetics?
I’m at a total loss and, of course, cannot sell my eggs until this disaster is corrected. Help!
CK Griffing, Louisiana
That’s truly baffling. I’ve often had that happen during the hottest days of summer when my children forgot to gather eggs early and they sat in the heat. Before we look at the chickens themselves, can you provide a little more information? Such as:
- How many weeks has this been going on?
- Of those weeks, how many days was the temperature above 95 degrees F?
- Have the chickens shown any symptoms at all, such as lethargy or runny noses?
I would love to help you get to the bottom of this and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.
This has been happening since some time in February, when the newbies began to lay. At first, I thought perhaps they had frozen, as we were having some really cold weather at the time. Our spring was wet and mild, and it’s just been the past couple of weeks that we’ve gotten in the 90s. We had some bad eggs throughout all this time. We get some really hot days here, with heat indexes into the triple digits, but I’ve NEVER had eggs like this. It’s hard to put numbers, but I’d say I will get anywhere from zero to four per dozen. There are 22 of the new hatery girls and about 30 of my older ones.
There have been no symptoms of sickness.
I’ve spoken to several chicken people, and it’s a mystery to them as well.
Since heat hasn’t been a common factor, we can exclude that as a cause, though it will exacerbate an already weak membrane.
Homesteading author J.D. Belanger wrote, “The yolk of a fresh chicken egg is round and firm. As it ages, it absorbs water from the albumen and enlarges. This weakens the vitelline membrane, causing a flattened top and a generally out-of-round shape. The weakened yolks are prone to rupture in the frying pan.”
What would make albumen (egg white) so watery that the vitelline membrane weakens before the egg is actually old or has sat in the heat too long? Viral disease infectious bronchitis causes multiple quality issues in eggs, with watery whites being common. And often, an IB infection can pass through a flock without noticeable symptoms, though you will usually see at least a few birds with a “chicken cold.” Since it’s a virus, IB isn’t curable, but most chickens almost always return to normal within six months.
Other factors can also cause weak vitelline membranes. The heat, as we discussed, is commonly culprit. Janet Garman, a longtime contributor for Backyard Poultry, also lists stress: from molting, illness, heat or cold, or inadequate protein.
These diseases are often viral and must run their course. However, if you are concerned, you can take a chicken to a veterinarian to rule out any bacterial infections that can affect yolk quality.
Regarding what you can do to help your hens: In addition to mitigating any weather-related stressors, you can add protein to the hens’ diet. They will appreciate some mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds midday.
Egg quality can also be a genetic factor, too. To know for sure if the culprit hens came from this hatchery, you would need to separate them for a few weeks then study their eggs compared to those from the rest of your flock. If ONLY the new chickens have the problem, you will know if it’s something within their breeding pool.
I hope this helps unravel the mystery a bit!
Thank you for your efforts, but I’m afraid I don’t know any more now than when we started.
I’ve tried adding the black sunflower seeds; and since I can’t sell my eggs, I’ve been hard-boiling them and giving them back to the girls, shell and all. I have not given mealworms because of prohibitive cost for such a large number of hens. They should be getting plenty extra protein since they’re on pasture all day. I’ve often seen them consuming small amphibians and mice.
I don’t leave the eggs in the nest to sit in the heat or to age.
I’m back to thinking the problem is genetic, and I plan to separate out some of that batch to check eggs. If genetic, the hatchery certainly should be aware by now that they’re cheating their customers. You can be sure I’ll never purchase from them again.
I’m sorry we couldn’t provide more information than you had already researched. It is, indeed, a mystery. I am very curious to know if this is genetic, and if you find an answer, I would love to hear it. There are so many genetic factors that we don’t consider when choosing chicks from certain sources, until something happens with our flocks.
I have five layers about 35 weeks old and seven chick-pullets about 10 weeks old. A couple of weeks ago, I successfully transitioned the young seven to the run the big girls use. I did this for them to get used to each other and they seem to be fine together although they still are in their little flock groupings.
The younger ones have a safe place to go to: a very small coop for two chickens that’s in the run. To my surprise, when dusk came, and the big girls went into the coop, the young ones went into the small coop placed in the run! They are all curled up in it and I can lock it, but it won’t last long as it’s a tiny space and I’d like to get them to go into the big girls’ coop soon so they get used to it as their night place. How do I get them to go into the big coop and not head for the tiny coop at night? What else would you recommend to get the big girls to allow them to use their coop. Thanks a lot.
Congratulations on successfully integrating your flock! It sounds like older and younger girls are already bonding, which is great. How to get them to use the big coop? The best trick I’ve found is to put a light inside the big coop and turn it on when the sun sets. Then close the small coop before the chickens can enter. With the light on, the chickens more naturally gravitate toward it for their rest. You may need to patrol their run for the first few nights to collect confused stragglers, but this shouldn’t last long. After perhaps a week of using the light, remove it and watch to be sure they have considered the big coop to be their home.
It has been really hot here in Minnesota almost 100 degrees F for a week and a half. I have a Rhode Island Red chicken whose comb is drooping over. She’s hanging out by herself and not eating much, and I don’t know what to do to make her come back to be socialized with the other chickens. Can you please help me and tell me what to do?
Heat stress can be hard on chickens. I’m not sure if your Rhode Island Red is trying to recover from the heat or has gone broody. If it’s broodiness, you can choose to break the broodiness or set her in a sheltered, shady location where she won’t overheat as she sits on a nest. It’s easy to tell if a hen is broody: extend your hand toward her face or lift under her. If she puffs up and makes a dinosaur-like noise, it’s just broodiness.
But if she is sick from the heat, she needs palliative care that includes vitamins and electrolytes in her water plus anything else you can do to keep her cool as she recovers. I have put fans in my coop, set on low so they don’t scare the chickens too much, have created artificial shade, and have put ice cubes in their water to keep it cool and inviting. Be sure to buy poultry-specific vitamins and electrolytes, since the human kind might provide too much salt or sugar.
I hope she recovers and is social soon.
We would like to share our experience with fowlpox. It’s been rainy this spring on the northeast slope of Maui, bringing mosquitoes and much moisture to our chickens. Their combs and wattles developed blackspots and affected a few chickens’ eyes, closing them. Fowlpox? We researched the options of dealing with this condition. Vaccinations and vets are ruled out. We tried a product called All Good Goop, basically extra virgin oil, beeswax, calendula, comfrey, plantain, lavender, yarrow, and vitamin E.
We applied the ointment twice to combs and wattles, and within four days the pox fell off leaving combs/wattles bright red again. Birds are active, and egg production did not drop off.
My question is: We dealt with the external appearance, but is there any internal infection we should be concerned about?
Love your magazine!
Colette and Rhonda
Hi Colette and Rhonda,
I’m happy to hear that the ointment worked for you! A lot of Backyard Poultry readers will be happy to hear about this as a natural product to assist recovery. And congratulations on making it through an infection without seeing an egg drop!
Regarding internal infection: it depends on the type of fowl pox that your birds contracted. The diphtheritic form of fowl pox creates lesions on the mucous membranes of the mouth, esophagus, and trachea, which causes problems with eating and breathing. Birds with the diphtheritic form rarely survive without intervention. And you would have known if your birds had this type, as you would have noticed weight loss and dehydration due to growths in the mouth/esophagus or trouble breathing due to growths in the trachea.
However, it sounds like your birds caught — and overcame — the cutaneous form. That’s great news! That means, though any future birds will be in danger of catching fowl pox from the mosquitos, these particular birds will be naturally inoculated against recurring infection. If you intend to purchase or hatch out more chickens, and vaccination is an option for you, then the fowlpox vaccine is available without a veterinarian prescription and is a simple wing stick with instructions available from the manufacturers.
I hope this helps!
P.S. We like the new look. Keeping it fresh!
Originally published in the 2021 special issue of Backyard Poultry — A Natural and Sustainable Flock — and regularly vetted for accuracy.