Egg Binding – symptoms, prevention and treatment

Chickens are one of the only pets who can also make you breakfast – about once a day they provide you with a nutritious egg that can help feed yourself and your family. But Hen sitting in nest boxwhen a normally healthy hen starts to have problems laying, it can be distressing on many levels. There is an important distinction between an absence of eggs and a sick hen. Eggs may not be found for many reasons, including:

It’s the health issues that we are concerned with for this article. One of the most troubling laying issues is a hen that is egg bound.

A hen that is egg bound has an egg that has become stuck in the oviduct and cannot pass out of the body. Egg binding is a potentially fatal condition, and hens who do not pass the egg within about 24 hours will usually perish. Eggs can become stuck for a variety of reasons, including

  • lack of calcium in the diet (helps with muscle quality)
  • poor body condition (overweight)
  • issues with the egg itself (excessively large)
  • Underdeveloped reproductive tract

If your hen is egg bound, she will most likely exhibit symptoms to tell you there is an issue. These symptoms can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Straining
  • Uncharacteristic sitting/squatting
  • Tail pumping up and down
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in normal behavior

If you suspect a hen is egg bound, the best course of action is to contact your avian veterinarian.

In absence of a veterinarian’s help, you can try to assist the hen yourself. It is important if you are attempting treatment yourself that you are careful to not break the egg inside the hen, as this almost always leads to infection and further issues.  Separate her from the rest of the flock. Gently palpate the vent area to see if you can feel the offending egg. Use moist heat to try to help relax the vent and allow the egg to pass. Sitting the hen in a warm bath that covers the vent area is a good way to do this. Applying a lubricant to the vent area may also help the hen pass the egg. Keep the hen in a separate, dark area.

To try and prevent episodes of egg binding in the future:

  • Use a commercial layer feed as the main part of the diet, supplementing treats at no more than 10 – 15% of the total ration
  • Offer a free choice calcium supplement (like oyster shell) at all times
  • Do not put pullets under lights to encourage early onset of the lay cycle 

Medicated Chick Starter Facts

A dry and clean brooder is a must for chicks.

A dry and clean brooder is a must for chicks.

You’ve decided on a breed, you decided how many to get, you may have even decided on some names – now there is one more decision to make: should you feed medicated or non-medicated chick starter? This is a personal choice, and to help you make an informed decision, we’ve summarized what medicated starter does and does not do.

Medicated chick starters utilize coccidiostats, which help limit the incidence of coccidiosis in young birds. Coccidiosis is an intestinal parasite that is widely spread and found just about everywhere. It multiplies rapidly in the gut and then appears in the feces. As chicks scratch and peck they ingest the coccidiosis from the feces and become infected. Symptoms of infected chicks are a red or orange tint to the feces, a drop in feed consumption and lethargy. This disease can quickly infect your whole group of birds and is often fatal if untreated; Coccidiosis is one of the leading causes of death in baby chicks. One way to help protect your birds against this disease is to feed a medicated chick starter.

It is important to note a few things that medicated chick starter is NOT:

  • Medicated chick starter is not necessary if your chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis. However, the coccidiosis vaccination is relatively new and fairly rare so chances are your chicks will not have been vaccinated.
  • Medicated starter is not a cure after you have an outbreak of coccidiosis. There is only enough medication in the feed to act as a preventative – and once your chicks become sick with coccidiosis their feed intakes usually drop dramatically, so feeding them medication will not help.
  • Medicated chick starter is not targeted to prevent anything other than coccidiosis. It is not a dewormer, respiratory medication, etc.

There are certain instances where it is usually a good idea to feed a medicated starter:

  • Brooding large batches of chicks – 50+ at one time
  • Brooding large batches consecutively
  • If you live in a hot, humid environment
  • If you have a history of coccidiosis in your facilityNotes on Amprolium:
    Amprolium is the coccidiostat that is used in Nutrena’s NatureWise® and Country Feeds® medicated chick starter. Here are some specifics about this medication:

    1. Amprolium is a drug that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
    2. Amprolium IS NOT an antibiotic
    3. Amprolium has no withdrawal period, either in birds raised for meat or those used for egg production.
    4. Amprolium works by limiting uptake of thiamine (vitamin B1) by the coccidia parasite, which needs the thiamine to actively multiply.
    5. Amprolium allows some of the coccidia to remain in the system, stimulating creation of antibodies to develop against the disease.

Whether  you decide to feed a medicated or non medicated chick starter, there are other things you can do to help decrease your chances of coccidiosis in your flock:

  • Chicks kept on wire have less access to feces to peck at and this reduces their chances of becoming infected
  • Clean regularly, change litter frequently and keep  the brooding area dry
  • Don’t crowd your birds – overcrowding quickly leads to unsanitary conditions

Why Keep Ducks?

Ducks add variety to your flock!

The backyard chicken keeping movement has been growing steadily over the past few years, invading residential neighborhoods, but what you may not realize is that backyard ducks are quietly growing in popularity as well. ‘Quietly’ is the key word – and may be a compelling reason why you might want to consider adding some ducks to your flock.

 Unlike a crowing rooster which can be annoying to neighbors, male ducks, known as drakes, make hardly any sound at all. The females do quack when frightened or excited, but don’t sing an ‘egg song’ like hens do.  Ducks adhere to a far less strict pecking order than chickens and noisy squabbles are rare.  On the whole, ducks are much quieter than chickens. 

Another benefit: ducks tend to be healthier than chickens, and are not not especially susceptible to Marek’s or coccidiosis, two common pathogens that target chickens. Ducks are also more cold-hardy due to an extra layer of fat and waterproof feathers, as well as more able to handle heat by splashing around in a pool or tub of water on hot days.

Ducks are excellent layers and will generally lay year round even without supplemental light in the winter.  Their eggs are higher in fat and protein but as a result are superior for baking, making baked goods richer and rise higher. Duck eggs also last longer than chicken eggs due to their thicker shells and membranes and are less apt to break, which can be a plus if you have small children help you collect eggs.  Ducks are less apt to go broody than chickens, which is nice if you are raising poultry purely to eat their eggs and aren’t interested in hatching any.

Ducks aren’t nearly as hard on lawns as are chickens. They don’t scratch up grass by the roots or nibble it down to the dirt. While they will trample your lawn a bit and dig quarter-sized holes looking for grubs, worms and bug larvae, you won’t be left with a dirt wasteland like you would raising chickens. Consider the holes beneficial lawn aeration.

Whether you raise chickens already and are thinking of expanding your flock or are new to backyard poultry keeping, why not consider ducks? 

This article shared with us by Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily. Lisa gives advice on raising backyard chickens and ducks on Facebook.com/FreshEggsDaily and Facebook.com/DucksToo as well as her blog Fresh-eggs-daily.com.

 

Molting: the naked truth

There comes a time in every chicken’s life (usually around 14 – 18 months old) where they start to lose all their feathers, look gangly and downright ugly. But don’t be alarmed! This is a natural process that occurs annually. This process is called molt.

example of a chicken going through a hard molt

This would be considered a hard molt.

What is molt? Molt is the natural shedding of feathers and regrowth of new ones. This usually happens in the fall as day length shortens. It is the chickens way to refresh old feathers and grow new ones for the coming winter. Molt happens in an expected order, starting at the head, down the back, breast and ending on the wings and tails.

There are two types of molt that chickens can go through, hard and soft. A hard molt means all feathers are lost at nearly the same time. A soft molt, however, means feathers are lost over a longer period of time. Chickens use molt to build up their nutrient reserves and typically slow or even stop laying eggs during this time. Though they are not laying eggs, it is important that your chicken continues to need a high quality diet since feathers consist of approximately 85% protein!

How to help your chickens get through molt
40 lb. Feather Fixer Bag ImageThe best thing for your chickens in molt is to offer a feed that is high in quality and protein such as NatureWise Feather Fixer™. Feather Fixer™ is a complete feed, so you don’t have to worry about finding other protein supplements to feed along with layer feed during molt. It is simple and easy. In addition, Feather Fixer™ is optimized in other ways; it has organic trace minerals, which are more bio-available to the chicken than regular forms. Especially important are zinc and manganese which are needed for feather growth.  This is a newer feed, so ask your favorite retailer about their plans to stock it today!

Another way to help your chickens through molt is to reduce stress as much as possible. Try to avoid handling your chickens, and bringing new birds into the flock, if possible. Molt is a normal process, so your chickens shouldn’t act differently, even though they make look very different. In total, molt will take between 4-16 weeks, depending if it is a hard or soft molt. You do not need to add any medications or other vitamins if you are already feeding a high quality and high protein feed. So don’t panic the next time your chickens start to lose their feathers and stop laying eggs! Instead, use these tips to help ease the process.

Mite Prevention For Your Flock

This is a typical photo of what a mite infestation would look like.It is a simple fact that may make your skin crawl: all poultry are susceptible to mites. In fact, mites are one of the most common problems when raising poultry.
Your flock could become infected with mites by new birds being introduced to the flock, by wild birds, or by taking them to poultry shows or auctions that have mites in the coops. These external parasites live on the host chicken, feed on its blood and quickly multiply. Within a short amount of time, mites can cause a large amount of damage.
Chicken owners initially notice mites by seeing a distressed look in their flock and noticing decreased egg production. Though mites do not infest humans, mites can crawl onto humans and bite, resulting in small red lesions and intense itching.
For chickens, mites can cause a plethora of problems. Chickens with bad infestations don’t lay as well and have reduced fertility. A chicken’s vent, particularly, gets affected. The vent’s moist skin and rich blood supply make it a favorite feeding ground for hungry mites. Signs to indicate mites include: scabs near the vent, lethargy, mite eggs on feathers and feather shafts, soiled feathers, and small, dark spots from mite droppings.
Mite prevention is essential to poultry health, and it is essential to check your birds often for signs of mites. Once there is a mite infestation, owners usually need to treat with chemical pesticides for the best results. However, mites can develop resistance to chemical treatments requiring the use of different or stronger pesticides. Continual monitoring of your flock is imperative to keeping mites under control.

Should I Feed a Medicated Chick Starter?

Wondering when to feed a medicated chick starter versus a non-medicated chick starter? There is really no right or wrong answer, it is simply a matter of preference.

Coccidiosis is very common and is generally caused by wet dirty coops. However, wild birds can also spread it, so even birds in clean environments can be susceptible. Symptoms include loss of appetite, unthrifty appearance, and the chick isolating themselves from the flock. Symptoms can progress to blood in the stool and eventually death.

For more information, watch this short video from “Mr. Cluck”:

Still have questions?  Leave them here in the comments field, and we’ll help you out!

Pasting in Chicks – Causes, Prevention & Treatment

Baby chicks go through a lot before you get them home. They are hatched, shipped, and stocked at your favorite feed or pet store where they encounter all the hustle and bustle of a retail environment. Then you select them, transport them yet again and bring them to another new environment. For a baby animal that is only a few days old, that can mean a lot of stress, and stress can greatly impact the health of young chicks.

One of the most notable problems in chicks that are stressed is pasting. This problem (also called “pasty butt” or “poopy butt”) is what happens when feces that are not the right consistency get stuck to the bird and can “paste” the vent (area where feces are excreted) closed.  Left untreated, this problem, which on the surface just seems a little gross, can actually be fatal.  Pasting can be caused by a few key triggers.

At the hatchery, chicks are not fed or watered since they are equipped to live on the yolk reserves inside their bodies for the two to three days it takes to ship them to their final destination.  When they arrive they are thirsty and hungry and impulse for us is to place feeders and waterers immediately. However, one important step in preventing pasting is making sure that the baby birds in the brooder are all drinking before they are given food. When placing chicks in the brooder, have your waterer set up but do not place the feed right away. As each bird goes into the brooder, dip the beak into the waterer so they can get a small drink and also learn where their water source is.  Watch your birds carefully at first, when you feel that all birds have found the water and had a good drink you can add the feed, but not before. This will prevent the birds from filling up on feed and not going to water like they should. Without water in their system, they cannot correctly digest their food, which leads to pasting.

Incorrect brooder temprature is also another scenario that can lead to pasting. If birds are

Baby chicks are under a lot of stress during the first weeks of life.

too warm they will dehydrate quickly, and chilled birds are highly stressed – both these conditions can result in pasting. Keeping waterers clean and water fresh is also essential – this will increase water consumption which is the best defense against pasting.

Identifying this problem is relatively easy for all the reasons you’d expect: chicks will have a build up of feces around the vent area, alerting you that they have a problem. Treating pasting can be unpleasant, but it is not difficult or costly. All you need is some warm water and latex gloves as well as lots of patience. Take the affected bird and gently try and swab the feces from the vent area. Using a wet paper towel works well; for extreme cases you may need to hold the vent area under lukewarm (not hot) running water. Sitting the chick in a mug or bowl of lukewarm water is also another option to loosen the feces before wiping them away. The main goal is to clear the vent area so the bird can resume defecating normally. After you have cleaned the bird up, applying some sort of lubricant, like vaseline, to the affected area can help prevent further problems. Closely monitor all your chicks for the first several weeks of life so you can catch signs of pasting and treat it quickly!

 

Disease Prevention in Poultry

Nutritious feed, access to fresh, clean water, and adequate housing are important to the health of your flock. Good management and sanitation practices are essential as well. Proper ventilation in the brooder and coop will reduce moisture and disease organisms. Caked or wet litter should be removed as soon as it forms to keep the house clean and dry.

For most backyard poultry enthusiasts, diseases are rare as long as the flock doesn’t come into contact with other flocks. The most common disease for young, unmedicated flocks is coccidiosis, which is characterized by diarrhea, unthriftiness and some mortality. A medicated chick feed can help prevent coccidiosis.

A rigid sanitation program can help prevent parasites. If internal parasites become a problem, products to treat them are available from your feed dealer.

Check your flock daily to spot diseases or parasites so you can start treatment right away. For more information about identifying, preventing and treating poultry diseases and parasites, contact your local veterinarian. Your local feed dealer can help you choose the right feed to support the nutritional needs of your flock.