Spring is springing in Ontario, where I live! I’m sad that skiing is dying, but I saw the maintenance committee at the local golf course starting work, so there is hope! (Plus, I bought a new (used) set of irons over the winter, so my golf excuses are all set for this season! I am also seeing chickens out and about, and “Eggs for Sale” signs getting dusted off and hung.
Spring is an important time for backyard flocks. Weather is variable, runs are muddy, and chickens are starting to lay…..hard. Wet environments cause more stress on your flocks from things like coccidiosis and worms, who will be sporulating and hatching, respectively. Managing the change of season will help set up your summer to be hassle free and keep your chickens comfortable and healthy.
Spring is the season of bumblefoot, egg binding and impacted crops. Wet feet and dirty perches are the main risk factors for bumblefoot. Think of soaking in a bathtub for hours (or getting a flooded rubber boot first thing in the morning). Your skin gets swollen, and more porous, and eventually sore. Now, if you are a chicken with wet litter or wet runs, you settle in to sleep, with your feet locked around a perch….now small wounds occur and bacteria get in, resulting in very painful infections that often require minor surgery to fix the lameness that occurs. Preventing bumblefoot requires good drainage, and coop cleaning, and spring is the most crucial time for this.
Egg laying chickens need way more calcium than do non-laying birds. Your hens likely took a winter holiday, but are now coming back into lay with a vengeance as the daylength increases. Since Calcium is laid down on the shell overnight, and lay occurs in the morning, we are asking hens to expend a massive amount of physical effort when their blood calcium levels are at their lowest. Calcium is also crucial for muscle contraction. If you are on a marginal (or deficient) amount of calcium in your feed, you may not know it, since the hens were not laying regularly. But in the spring, you may well end up with a hen that forms a shelled egg, but doesn’t have the strength to push it out. If this happens, giving extra sources of calcium in the form of limestone chips, oyster shell or clean eggshells will help. Dissolving a Tums antacid in water and dosing the affected chicken can help as a treatment. If the egg doesn’t pass in the first 24 hours or so, this becomes a bit of an emergency, since the membranes inside the vent can stick to the shell and make it less and less likely that the egg will pass naturally. Using lube to help the egg come out, and eventually it may be necessary to break the shell internally and remove the egg in pieces. Please contact your vet early if you have an egg-bound hen, since the later we see the bird, the harder it is to help her.
The other thing to be watchful in the spring ins air quality in the coop. When the day is warm and wet, and the nights get cold, often the first response is to close up the coop to keep it warm. The problem with this is that wet litter (and wet feet….see above) increases the amount of ammonia produced through bacterial respiration. This can cause irritation to the respiratory tract, the eyes and the bird’s feet. Resist the urge to close up your coop….temperature should never trump air quality. Chickens can handle quite cold temperatures, as long as the humidity doesn’t get high.
Enjoy your spring, and eat lots of omelets….you should have plenty of raw materials!!!
One other thing with free range at this time of year – mine go out and pig out under the bird feeders. A crop full of mouldy, empty black oil seed husks is a likely cause of doughy crop or sour crop. I have to go rake and sweep up those old husks before the girls get there!
Thank you so much for the great information here. I have had to excise a Bumble before and it was not pretty! I recently read that putting a foot adhesive corn patch on the Bumble was effective. I expect it was done early in the stages of this problem. What are your thoughts on using foot corn patches?
Thank you for your posts. I always learn something new I can apply to my backyard flock.
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Great to see you posting again c: I appreciate the information that you share with us c:
Hi Dr. Mike,
I have a small (5) backyard flock of dual purpose layers and we do pretty well with them. My problem is a 3 year old Columbian Rock x that consistently lays soft shelled or shell-less eggs. They are on a layer crumble feed from Grand Valley Fortifiers, and have both oyster shell and clean eggshell freely available. They have about 1/3 acre fenced and treed area to free range daily.
Her eggs are always broken in the nest box because the shells are so thin.
Is there anything I can do to promote a stronger eggshell in this bird?