A customer of ours came up with some interesting issues with her chickens that we have asked our internal chicken expert, JoAnn to help out. She knows her chickens. She has been raising them for over 24 years and is a 4-H leader for 15 years as well as a poultry superintendent at the Canyon County fair for over 15 years as well.
Q: Thank you so much for helping me get answers to my chicken questions. I have 5 hens. My black sexlink has had a bare/red underbelly all winter. She is the only one with that problem and I think she looks fine otherwise, see pics. My buff orpington’s feet are turning pink, my golden sexlinks are also but not so pronounced, and I think they also look fine otherwise. See pics. They are freerange and I give them layer feed and some scratch each day. Egg production has not been good even with supplimental light throughout the winter. There have eggs with very soft or without a shell and they have oyster shell. I would prefer organic remedies if I need to treat. I need to know if I have something major going on before I get new chicks. The girls will be 2 in June.
A: My first suggestion would be to check for lice or mites.
Lice would be visible on the hen. Easiest place to check would be the vent area. Poultry dust, Seven Dust, or Sulfur dust can help eliminate the infestation. A bowl of Diatomaceous Earth for the hens to dust in will help keep them at bay after they have been eradicated.
Mites attack at night in the hen house and can cause irritation/redness of the skin. Treating the bird alone will not get rid of the problem. You would need to thoroughly clean & “de-bug” the coup a couple times a year, being sure to saturate the corners and any place the mites can hide.
Both parasites suck blood, and can cause hens to get anemic and affect egg production. I have known chickens to die from bad infestations of either or both parasites, if left untreated. Always have a bowl of oyster shell & grit available (separate from their feed) so the girls can eat it whenever they deem necessary. Feeding a complete food ration with at least 16% protein is necessary for good egg production. You will find the higher the protein, the better the egg production. Hens naturally lay heavier in the spring & early summer than any other time of the year, especially if allowed to free range. Bugs and grass have a lot of protein!!!
If roosts are too high off the ground, heavy hens can get what is called “bumble foot” from jumping down on hard surfaces. It causes the pads on the bottom of their feed to get swollen and sore. Lower the roosting areas so they don’t have to jump down as far. You can also wash their feet and apply some baby oil/Vaseline, etc. to help condition the feet and legs. Keep in mind chickens naturally want to roost as high as they can, so even if you lower the roost, they will try to find another high place to sit. You will need to check out the roosting area to make sure all the high places are blocked.
The girls need a couple months to change their clothes and rest up for another season. Most hens will loose their feather in the late fall (molt). It takes at least a month for the new feathers to grow back. During that time, they usually do not lay eggs. All the protein they eat during that time is put to growing the new feathers.