Foraday (background), Lucy (the redhead), and her sidekick, Ethel (blonde) enjoy a sun-dappled dustbath
Lately I seem to have turned into an informal Dear Abby on all things chicken care-related. I thought some of you, dear readers, might be interested in the questions that have come my way in the past several weeks. Here’s a selection of the questions and my answers.
Some of the questions I get are just entertaining, (chickenwatching is so much more interesting than television!), but most arise from pretty common problems and situations. If any of you are keeping chickens or considering starting a flock, this might be useful.
As I continue to get questions like these, I’ll post a “chicken chat” blog from time to time. So fire away! I welcome a challenge . . .
Q: What does one do with a chicken one thinks is too noisy for a city neighborhood?
A: Chickens are just who they are, and they have to express their chickenality! If you have one who is particularly loud, then I guess you just have a loud bird. Has she been loud the whole time you have her? If it’s only been recently that she’s become noisy, then it may be a pecking order thing — she may be trying to assert her dominance over another hen. In which case, when things get worked out, she may quiet down. Maybe give it a week or two?
Q: Have you ever had a wheezy chicken? We have one that is wheezing on every breath, and seems to be having a hard time breathing. She also “sneezes” (if chickens sneeze) once in a while. Do you have any idea what this might be? It just started today.
Q: It started with just one, but seems to have spread through the other 4 — they are making sounds like a cough or sneeze, lethargy, eyes closed often and slightly smaller, poor appetite (they did really like the yogurt this morning). We checked for sour crop and didn’t feel a lump, I checked for mites and didn’t see any at all. Any ideas?
A: These birds probably have a little bit of an upper respiratory infection. Chickens get colds, too! Separate the sick ones from the rest of the flock because it’s pretty contagious and they’ll all get sick (they may already be). It’s usually not fatal, but they don’t feel good. Crush some fresh garlic (note that this might give the eggs a peculiar flavor) and mix it into their scratch or put about a teaspoon of fine garlic powder into a gallon of their drinking water. On the preventive side, if their quarters are damp, see if you can address that. A damp chicken is prone to catching colds. The henhouse should be dry and warm, or at least have one dry place to go to when it rains.
Q: One of my hens spent hours in the nesting box today and I finally got her out of there just a bit ago. She had laid an egg and left lots of feathers in the nest as well! I looked at her tummy area and there were bald spots! I didn’t really inspect it but wondered if you might have a clue to why she might be pulling out these feathers? She is about 8 months old, and she usually does take a long time in the nesting box but recently it was a LONG time — hours! I pulled her out (and removed the egg), and she wandered around the yard for a while and then ended up back in there.
A: Your hen is broody: she is experiencing the irresistible urge to sit on a clutch of eggs and be a mommy. Sometimes they lose their feathers when they’ve been sitting on the nest a lot. We’ve only had a broody hen once, and I’d go back there every morning and take her out of the nest so she’d eat and drink, then eventually go back to her thing. Just make sure you take her eggs out from under her or she’ll try to hatch them — no such luck! It will pass eventually.
Q: One of my chickens has lost all of her feathers under her belly. She is not hanging out in the coop like she is brooding. She is laying wonderful eggs every day. She is eating well. What do you think this could be? My concern is that I don’t see new feathers growing and she is not losing feathers any where else.
A: Usually that bare belly is a sign of a broody hen. Have you checked her for mites? If she’s itching she might be pulling out her own feathers. If your birds have mites, you can usually see them crawling around. Make sure your chickens have a good place to take dust baths — that is one of the ways they control mites for themselves. Here’s a video showing my sun-drunk girls enjoying a dustbath.