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5 common chicken questions

By Small Farm Staff

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My chicken has a poopy bum. Do I need to worry about that? (Is it a sign of disease?)
Dr. Bill Cox, a poultry health veterinarian?for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, tackled this question for us. First, he clarified that the “bum” of a chicken is correctly referred to as the “vent.” As for what causes a poopy vent: “The causes can range from soft droppings due to dietary ingredients to intestinal diseases.?Chronically ill birds will also show a dirty vent because of poor intestinal or kidney function, but such birds would show other signs, including depression or lethargy and evidence of wasting, such as a loss of muscle mass especially in the breast muscle.”
According to Dr. Cox, the most common cause of a dirty vent is the Northern Fowl Mite. “This is a very tiny parasite that inhabits the vent area of the chicken, causing the feathers to be coated with black debris.” Dr. Cox advises owners of such chickens to get up close and personal: “The mites can be seen to be moving around if the vent area is examined very closely: a magnifying glass will make identification easier.”

Do I need a rooster to get my hens to lay?
According to Connie and Kevin Berg of Berg’s Hatchery in Russell, Manitoba, this is the number one myth regarding chickens. “A lot of people ask for one rooster when ordering layers. They believe that you need a rooster for hens to lay, but this is a myth.” In fact, “you need a rooster to fertilize eggs to have baby chicks, but not for laying. A hen will naturally lay an egg when she is mature, with or without a rooster.”

I’ve heard that layer hens’ production peaks. What age is that, generally?
Ontario’s Al Dam, Provincial Poultry Specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, explained: “The modern layer starts laying when she reaches sexual maturity, shortly after 19 weeks.?She can generally keep laying at peak production for up to a year after this.” What does peak production look like??“The modern layer can produce almost an egg a day during the peak of her production cycle. Then she may go into a moult and a period of lower or no production before her reproductive cycle restarts itself and she starts laying again. Her lay cycle will peak in the summer, but as the days get shorter after the summer solstice that is a cue for her to slow down her egg production for the winter.”

What is hen scratch, and is it possible to feed too much of it to your chickens?
“Hen scratch is a blend of whole grains, typically wheat, corn, barley and oats,” explained feed guru Everett Dixon, Mill Nutritionist at Top Shelf Feeds in Duncan, B.C. “The ratio of each grain will vary, depending on the manufacturer. Chickens will survive on a diet of straight hen scratch; however, as it has no added protein, minerals or vitamins, they will not perform to their genetic potential. Also, the more hen scratch a chicken eats in place of a complete feed, the more imbalanced their total ration becomes.”

We throw kitchen and garden scraps to our layer hens. Is there anything we shouldn’t be feeding them?
We stuck with Top Shelf Feeds’ Everett Dixon for this question. He explained: “Chickens are adept at selecting the most palatable and desirable scraps. Often garden scraps are high in moisture and fibre, which can physically limit the amount of feed they will eat.?If you want high egg production or fast growth, limit the amount of scraps, because they dilute the protein, energy, minerals and vitamins that are in the complete feed.” Dixon also warned against feeding chickens large amounts of raw potatoes. “Raw potatoes contain a protease inhibitor that reduces protein digestion. Potato peels, green potatoes and sprouted potatoes contain the glycoside solanin, which in large amounts is toxic to chickens. High levels of legumes should also be avoided, because they contain tannins which will reduce growth rates.”

I heard that “veggie feed” can contain meat by-products. Is that true?
“Strictly speaking, a ‘veggie’ feed should not contain animal proteins or fats,” said Everett Dixon of Top Shelf Feeds.?“However, these feeds may still contain animal by-products if the synthetic vitamin A source has been encapsulated in gelatine, or if the vitamin D3 was derived from wool grease (lanolin) from sheep. Government regulations prevent the use of ‘veggie,’ or statements saying there are no animal by-products, for feeds that contain these ingredients.?The best option in this case is to ask your feed supplier for a list of ingredients, and ask them specifically regarding gelatine or lanolin if these ingredients are a concern.”