Chicken peeps - need your advice

Long story short, we inherited a bunch of laying hens. They were in varying degrees of health - we’ve lost a couple but they were older and no longer laying. We lost one younger one to what I have to assume was a cardiac event.

They were laying well in the summer and fall. There’s been a drop this winter which I expect to a certain degree but in the past month or so we’re getting may 2-3 eggs a week (from a dozen hens, only one of which is old and no longer lays but is super sweet and friendly so we keep her around).

We’ve had issues with the black Australorps - the newest additions to the group - losing feathers, lots of bald spots, really raw and red bottoms and breasts, just looking awful. They came from a farm up the road that has a large egg operation so I figured they were just getting beat up in the large flock/didn’t have particularly clean living conditions, but the feather loss and raw spots has just gotten worse or remained the same. They look underweight to me - they are small birds but when I’ve picked them up to examine them they feel pretty slight.

Within the last two weeks, we had one Rhode Island Red that was isolating and looking depressed. I didn’t find evidence of coccidiosis in the manure (no bloody diarrhea, haven’t formally tested) but started treating the whole flock for it anyway. I was getting medicated water into her 3x a day with a syringe to make sure she got it because I wasn’t convinced she was eating or drinking much. It’s been about ten days, she’s no longer isolating and I’ve witnessed her eating and drinking on her own but she still seems a bit depressed. No one else in the flock is showing any similar signs, but none of them are really laying.

I’m a bit baffled by how fragile chickens are health-wise! So far we’ve stripped the coop, scrubbed the nesting boxes, feed pans and water containers and put in fresh bedding. Everyone is still getting treated for coccidiosis. The whole flock is seeming a little quiet - roosting a lot during the day, very few eggs, etc. It’s still quite cold here and I wonder if they’re all just tired of the below-average temps. The Australorps with the bald spots are isolated in the quarantine stall until I can figure out what to do with them.

I’m finding a LOT of mixed messages about deworming chickens on the internet (everything from “you never have to deworm chickens!” to “you can deworm but only with this product and you have to chuck the eggs forever”, but that was going to be my first go-to. I’ve inspected the whole flock including the Australorps, no one has any mites or lice that I can see. There poo all looks pretty normal although I’ve witnessed two instances of green, watery “diarrhea”. They are otherwise eating, drinking and very active but not laying.

We’ve also had issues with someone - not sure which one - laying eggs with either no shells or crappy shells this summer. They all have free access to oyster shell, so Ca shouldn’t be an issue but it appears it still it. Diet is free access cracked corn and a 15% protein layer crumble. In the summer they have a large run to forage in, in the winter I usually dump a bucket of 2nd cut hay chaff in there for them to scrounge around in every couple days or so.

Basically lots of weird health issues that I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on. Chicken peeps, what do I do?

I know you’ve checked, but I’d be awfully suspicious of mites or lice. Either can really sap a hen, and they can actually die of blood loss. Treat with elector psp, or pyrethrin.

Another problem is what you’re feeding–corn is junk food. 15% layer feed is low, too. Try ditching the corn at the very least. I’d consider a few bags of chick feed, then a higher quality layer feed (or keep the chick feed going, it’s all I feed. Skimping on protein doesn’t help them lay.)

Sure, they can have worms. With how poorly they’re doing, I’d expect you be seeing them in the droppings. Round worms are a few inches long, whiteish and about as big around as angel hair pasta. Safeguard is actually approved for use in poultry and a good option if you do need to worm.

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Simkie - were you thinking mites/lice for the ones losing feathers (that was my thought) or the one lethargic looking hen? I would think mites/lice would be one of those things that once in the flock spreads like wildfire.

Not seeing worms in the droppings, I would expect to see them too. I’ll look into Safeguard - although I keep finding info that the withdrawal period for fenbendazole in layers isn’t known and thus it isn’t recommended since the whole point of having layers is for the eggs…

Are you sure that they are not just molting?

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The black Australorps? If so, they’ve been molting since they arrived last summer, so no, don’t think they are molting.

There is no withdraw for fenbendazole. Look up Safeguard Aquasol. Are you actively looking at droppings every day? When I had a worm problem, it was very clear on the poop board under the roosts in the morning. I saw no symptoms in the flock at that time, although expect I would have eventually if I hadn’t treated at that time.

External parasites are interesting. They can be present in low quantity in your flock, and you won’t see much. But will explode on birds that are stressed or otherwise a little off. Kind of like how, in a herd of horses, one might have a whopping worm load, but the others are fine. It’s easy enough to treat them, though, and a good box to check. Even a minor issue–one you can’t see much of–can impact laying.

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That makes total sense. I looked up the Safeguard Aquasol, the products targeted at poultry are exorbitant cost-wise (looks like they come in either liter or gallon sizes) but I found the same suspension in a 125ml bottle targeted for goats for a much more reasonable price.

I’ll just run the gamut of treatments over the next month - certainly can’t hurt and given what we know about the chickens’ care prior to us “inheriting” them it was pretty hands off so I doubt any of this will hurt them.

I looked again at the feed - the layer crumble is a 16.5% protein by Poulin. They have another layer feed which is 18% protein and a chick starter with is 20%. I’ll probably buy a bag of the chick starter and feed until gone and then drop to the higher protein layer crumble.

They also have a scratch feed which is a combo of cracked corn and oats. I’m wondering if something like this is a worthwhile addition to their diet. We typically phase out the cracked corn once spring hits since we only fed it for additional energy to keep warm in our nasty NE winters.

Scratch and cracked corn should absolutely not be fed as a major portion of the diet at all. A small amount was a treat, or to get the flock in? Not a problem. Any more than that? You’re shortchanging protein and nutrition, in a really serious way.

Yes, the aquasol is costly, because it’s sold in large quantity. Yes, you can use the goat suspension. I find it settles out–which is the attraction of the aquasol–so I pulled water overnight, and made a fresh batch of treated water in the morning. Follow the treatment directions on aquasol.

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Do you have any roosters? If so, a combination of molting and the roosters will keep hens looking patchy. Molting can take a while in chickens with it taking about 4 months for regrowth. Overcrowding and chickens just being the vicious little velociraptors they are can also keep the lower-ranked hens “henpecked” and looking pretty beat up.

Putting up a light to extend the daylight hours will keep hens laying through winter. I don’t agree with having it on all night, but a few hours later than the shorter winter daylight hours will often work fine for keeping them laying.

I’d dust for exterior parasites as well.

You can buy bags of meal worms for the chickens to snack on and they love them. If you aren’t squeamish, you can buy crickets and release them in the pen. The chickens go nuts chasing them.

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Thanks for the info, Simkie, I admittedly knew nothing about chickens prior to basically being given these hens. We kept the management the same once they became ours because it appeared to be working. Not so much anymore.

We do have a rooster - the original one passed away (he was quite old) earlier this winter. We just got a new one a few weeks ago, he’s young but was schooled well by a couple of older roosters he grew up with so he’s pretty mild-mannered. We had a few slightly-bloodied combs the first week or so but everything has been pretty quiet since.

The hens do have lights on them in the winter, we shut off around 9PM and turn back on when we go to do chores in the AM.

I looked at a few of the Poulin options and first ingredient for all was corn meal, so you’re feeding a mostly corn based diet. It would be worth it to switch to a different brand and, no matter that “vegetarian fed” is promoted on labels, chickens are designed to get some of their protein in the form of meat. You can add a little canned tuna, cat food, ground beef or cooked egg every day but avoid salty, greasy foods like bacon or anything overly processed. Just about anything you eat, chickens will eat so most scraps and leftovers can be added to their diet. Dried mealworms and black fly larvae are great as a treat and live crickets are super entertaining!

Speaking of eggs… are you sure they aren’t eating them?

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They normally aren’t so health-challenged at all, something’s definitely not right. Can you separate them more-- maybe divide the coop into 3rds, so you have healthy birds in section 1, section 2 empty, and isolate the most beat up/ lethargic ones together in Section 3. See if you can get the Section 1 birds to perk up once they’re not in sustained contact with the sick ones? I’d consider euthanizing the Section 3 birds.

I would not bring any new chickens into this flock / this coop until you get it sorted out.

I second the recommendation to add more protein & fat. Just about all of our kitchen waste goes out to the chicken coop (excluding known toxic stuff, of course) . It’s an easy way to supplement their feed, and good for the environment, to boot.

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Is your coop large enough? I always feed a 18% protein layer feed year round ( free choice) as well as house table scraps and garden produce in the growing months.

I have 2 lights on a timer year round so they have 16 hours of light.They also need a place to take dust baths and I leave a place inside to accommodate that in the Winter/ wet months.

The bald patches could mean they are picking on one another. I replace all my chickens every 2 years because after that they really don’t lay very well. There may be the exception but it keeps my flock healthy as I don’t spread any issues from my old hens to the new young ones.

Again, the Australorps came with the bald patches last summer. They have not gotten better - I can only identify one hen that I think is the low man because I’ve seen her get picked on, and she is the worst looking of the bunch so some of hers is probably picking from other hens but all four of them haven’t grown much for feathers since. They are already separated from the group, as is the one lethargic hen. Everyone else seems healthy, alert and happy, just aren’t really laying.

The coop is the size of your average horse stall, I’d say 12 x 12 if I had to guess. It’s pretty big. Plenty of room for a dozen birds. There’s about 10 nesting boxes as well as plenty of roosting space.

I have read about people feeding kitchen scraps to chickens but ours have never really seemed all that interested. I’ve brought veggie scraps, etc out and dumped them in the run in the summer and they don’t really get touched. I’ll try it again - otherwise it gets chucked in the donkey manure pile.

Hard to say re: eating the eggs. It is entirely possible, I haven’t found any real evidence of it but also never really considered as the reason for lack of eggs. I’ll keep a closer eye out.

Can I ask what folks are feeding for complete layer feeds? For some reason I’m having a hard time finding the ingredients list for some of the most common brands available in the Northeast.

Most chicken feed isn’t a fixed formula, so you’ll need to pull bag tags to check ingredients. I feed Nutrena Naturewise chick feed and have been happy with it. Kalmbach makes a neat formula with insect protein.

Straight corn is 6% protein. If they’ve been eating half corn and half layer feed, that’s like … 11%. That’s just not enough. Until you figure out what brand you want to feed going forward, pulling the corn is something you can do right now to really improve their diet and hopefully start to turn things around.

Well, I fed ridiculously expensive stuff that got shipped to my door but only had a few suburban hens. This may be out of your price range but I’ll post anyway so you can see ingredients. Same company makes pellets and crumbles in several different combinations but I chose whole grains and fermented to cut costs.

I forgot to ask if your chickens have access to grit.

As I understand it, the egg withdrawal is in regards to concerns for allergens in the dewormer that can pass into the egg and potentially cause an allergic reaction in a human. fwiw, I dewormed with safeguard last fall and kept eating the eggs and lived to tell this tale :slight_smile: If you can, do a poop check under the roosts first thing in the morning - even more helpful if you know where everyone was on the roosting bar! When you are done treating with corid, I’d start adding extra vits, something like nutridrench or rooster booster 3 in 1, since corid can inhibit vitamin absorption. Feed-wise, I’ve been super happy with Purina Layena crumbles. Mine have free access to that during the day, and 1x a day they’ll get the veggie scraps from the kitchen and a handful of grubblies. It’s recommended for 1 sq foot in the coop and 4 sq ft in the run per bird - if there’s a dozen birds in a 12x12 stall with no additional space, it’s possible they’re bored/stressed and plucking feathers. Higher levels of protein in their diet can help with regrowing feathers, so if you do any treats outside of their feed, I’d stick with things like grubblies or black sunflower seeds.

Are you sure about those numbers?? :open_mouth: Usually 4 sq ft per bird in the coop and 10 sq ft per bird in the run is recommended for full size poultry.

A dozen birds in a 12 x 12 stall have 12 sq ft each, which should be fine. They might still be bored, or picking at each other for other reasons, but crowding shouldn’t be an issue.

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oh lord, thank you, you are right! It’s been a day where the brain doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to…