Frequently Asked Questions
1. Egg binding
Egg binding is when an egg gets stuck in the oviduct and will not pass through into the cloaca to be laid. It is more common in young laying hens just starting their initial laying cycle. Heavy fat hens are also more prone to the condition. It can be caused by nutritional issues or disease issues. Medical or surgical intervention is often needed. Other problems can be present in hens thought to have a bound egg. Oviduct impaction, internal lay, yolk peritonitis and ascites secondary to liver disease or cancer can all give a hen the appearance of egg binding.
2. Marek's Disease
Marek's Disease (MD) is caused by a very contagious herpes virus of poultry, Marek's Disease Virus (MDV). It does not affect people or other animals. The MDV is considered to be ubiquitous in areas where poultry are raised. There are different types of this virus, some being very mild and others quite pathogenic that cause a lot of disease. Most often, in small backyard flocks, we are only dealing with the more mild strains. The most common sign of MD is paralysis of one or more limbs. The virus causes certain white blood cells to infiltrate nerves, as well as other organs and tissues, leading to the paralysis and other visual signs. Affected birds are usually over 4 months old and this is often seen about the same time young pullets start laying. There is no known cure. To help protect your birds, you should purchase chicks that have been vaccinated for MD at the hatchery. If you raise your own chicks, you need to vaccinate them on the day they hatch! There are other diseases that can look similar to MD. The inability to walk is also often caused by bacterial infections and some other viruses, as well as trauma.
3. Respiratory Disease
Birds have breathing systems that are uniquely different from other animals. The have lungs like we do but they also have air sacs throughout their bodies. The air they breath in goes through the lungs, into the air sacs, through the lungs again and then back out. Because of this more extensive system, if a bird should acquire an infection of the airways, it can spread quite easily through the rest of the body. Infections in other parts of the body can also more readily affect the lungs and breathing system. There are several things that can affect a birds respiratory system. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, air quality, temperature and physical blockages or trauma. Most people think that if they see their bird gasping, it must have Gapeworms. This could be but there are many other etiologies that could be causing the issue as well!
4. Egg Washing and Refrigeration
Should I wash my hen's eggs? That is a loaded question for certain!! If you are going to try to hatch the eggs, the answer is definitely NO! Of course there are exceptions, as with most things. If you are going to eat the eggs, or sell the eggs to be eaten by others, I also say NO! If the egg is so dirty that you feel the need to wash it, it should not be eaten! You need to focus more on clean nest areas and frequent collection of the eggs. When an egg is laid, it receives a protective protein covering that helps keep moisture in the egg and bacteria out. Egg shells are naturally porous, allowing oxygen exchange and moisture maintenance. If you wash the egg, you will remove this protective "cuticle" and make the egg more prone to becoming contaminated. If the egg is dirty, there are larger numbers of bacteria able to get into the egg as well. More debate comes with refrigeration of eggs. In the US, it is standard practice for commercial companies to wash (clean eggs), apply a thin layer of oil to help replace cuticle, and then refrigerate eggs for the market. They discard eggs that have dirt on them, and they discard cracked eggs. In the EU, eggs are not washed and not refrigerated. Commercial hens are required to be vaccinated against Salmonella. The theory is that if you refrigerate and then bring out of refrigeration, the pressure differential created can draw bacteria into the egg through the pores. If you don't wash, you don't destroy the cuticle. If you don't refrigerate, you don't create the vacuum within the egg (hopefully). They also feel that Salmonella is not a big risk that would require require refrigeration in order to quell its growth. You must have clean eggs to begin with for this to work! I tend to go with a mixed recommendation: Use only clean eggs. Don't wash them. Do refrigerate them to subdue any bacterial growth that may be residing within the eggs. A standard practice does not exist for small flocks with less than 1000 birds. Most backyard growers in my experience, are not aware of the hazards of washing eggs and often utilize very dirty eggs, thinking that washing them well make them okay to eat or sell. If you still decide to wash eggs, make sure your wash water is 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the eggs to avoid creating a vacuum that draws bacteria into the egg.
Should I use medicated feed for my chicks? The most common medication in chick feed is Amprolium, a coccidiosis treatment. If you have a problem with coccidiosis, usually evident by blood in the feces, then go ahead and use medicated feed. Adult chickens very rarely have a problem with coccidiosis. You should NEVER use a medicated feed or other medication in hens laying eggs for human consumption!!! If you have chicks that are being medicated, stop the medication when they are about 16 weeks of age or younger. Otherwise, you will end up with medication residues in the eggs. These residues can be harmful to the human consumer, potentially causing allergic reactions or even death!!