Gail Damerow Visits The HenCam (and a giveaway!)

If you’ve ever searched for good, solid information about raising chickens, you’ve found it in Gail Damerow’s books. Actually, much of the advice out there on the internet originally came from Gail’s writings (often passed around so many times that she is no longer credited.) When I started out with chickens more than fifteen years ago, (before Google!) the go-to source for advice were Gail’s Chicken Health Handbook and her Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and her books continue to be the first place that I look for answers to my chicken-keeping questions.

Over the years, I’ve learned from Gail’s sage advice, and adapted it to a climate, set-up and perspective that is different than hers. Gail has a sustainable hobby farm in Tennessee, with many productive animals; I have a small flock of hens, some laying, some retired, tucked into a suburban neighborhood in New England. Despite the differences, Gail and I have plenty of commonalities. So, when the folks at Storey Publishing asked me if I’d host a Q & A with Gail on my blog to promote her most recent book, The Chicken Encyclopedia, I jumped at the chance. And what do you think was the one thing I wanted to ask her about? Something pretty, like a fancy chicken breed? Or maybe what she thinks about using broody hens for incubation? No. Of course nothing that charming. I’ve been thinking about gapeworms. These are parasites that live in the chicken’s throat and actually makes the bird gasp for air. It’s an icky, disgusting topic – perfect for the interview!

Luckily, I’ve never seen gapeworm myself. But, every so often someone asks me about a hen who has her neck stretched out and sort-of coughing. Could it be gapeworm? Surely, Gail must have seen them firsthand. Here is my email conversation with Gail:

Terry: Have you had any cases of gapeworm on your farm?

Gail: Not on this farm, where we’ve lived for 30 years. Gapeworm is not all that common. But I recall seeing it some 40+ years ago, when I first started out with chickens.

Terry: Is it true that a chicken with gapeworms looks similar to one that has a respiratory disease?

Gail: Yes.

Terry: How is it the same?

Gail: The chicken gasps, sneezes, coughs, and develops general symptoms of disease (loss of energy, loss of appetite, etc.)

Terry: How is it different?

Gail: The chicken makes grunting sounds, stretches its neck and appears to be yawning, shakes its head in trying to dislodge worms from its windpipe, and sometimes coughs up a worm.

Terry: Can you actually look down the throat and see the worms, or is a firm diagnosis only done with a necropsy? Fecal test?

Gail: Looking in the throat you might see lumps, which may or may not be gapeworm. If the infestation is really severe, and you can crank the chicken’s mouth open and peer down with a flashlight, you might spot attached worms. Finding a gapeworm (which can be up to 2 cm long) that’s been coughed up would offer a definitive diagnosis. A fecal test would reveal gapeworm eggs in the droppings.

Terry: Do you recommend a wormer?

Gail: The most common parasitic worm in chickens is roundworm, for which the most common wormer (and the only one approved for use with poultry) is Piperazine, which does not affect gapeworm. For that you need something stronger and off-label, such as ivermectin.

Terry: Thanks for shedding some light on this rather icky, wiggly, subject!

This exchange is a good reminder that you should seek advice from chicken keepers with years of experience. Use caution and commonsense when looking for answers on-line. If you do an internet search for chicken respiratory issues, gapeworm will pop up, as if this is a prevalent cause of breathing issues. I’ve seen countless on-line discussions which toss up gapeworms as a probable cause for coughing in a flock. It’s like when you have a sore throat, troll online for ideas for relief, and an hour later you’re sure that your windpipe will have to be removed due to a rare, tropical disease! If Gail hasn’t seen a case of gapeworms in 40 years, then it’s unlikely that you will. Which is a good thing. Gapeworms sure sound nasty.

(If you do have first-hand experience with gapeworms, I’l like to hear about it!)

GIVEAWAY! I have one copy of The Chicken Encyclopedia to give away. All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment on this blog telling me what you would have asked Gail. (But, since I can’t do another interview with her, I’ll answer them the best that I can.) The contest ends March 17 at 10 pm EDT. Storey will be mailing the book directly to the winner, and has limited this giveaway to addresses in the US. (I appreciate my international readers, and I promise that I’ll have another giveaway soon that will include you!)

update: this contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone for entering!

More than a dozen blogs were on this tour. You can see the other stops here:

2-Mar    For the Love of Chickens

3-Mar    Vintage Garden Gal

4-Mar    The Garden Roof Coop

5-Mar    Common Weeder  

6-Mar    Chickens in the Road

7-Mar    Garden Rant  

8-Mar    Fresh Eggs Daily

9-Mar    My Pet Chicken Blog

10-Mar    Coop Thoughts  

11-Mar    BoHo Farm and Home

12-Mar    Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs

13-Mar    A Charlotte Garden

14-Mar    Farm Fresh Fun  

15-Mar    The HenCam  

16-Mar    Life on a Southern Farm

17-Mar    A Dozen Girls, the Chicken Chick

18-Mar    North Coast Gardening


  1. it’s so hard to only pick ONE question…especially since i’ve read SO many of gail’s books on all kinds of different animals (most recently dairy goats). i think i would have asked her if she’s ever tried to train her chickens to do anything. i’ve recently been reading a lot of training books by karen pryor and others and so i’m super curious about people training animals other than dogs: what they trained them to do, why they trained them to do it, how they did it. technically i guess we all train our chickens, or they train us, to get back in the coop by rattling a scoop of scratch and calling chick-chick-chick :)

    • Did you know that I clicker-trained all of the hens seen in “Tillie Lays an Egg?” All of the photos in my book were staged. The hens were trained to follow a target stick and stand still when it stopped. Karen Pryor is a good friend – I learned from the best!

  2. Really enjoyed the interview! I want to know about keeping runs clean. What’s the best material to put in them? Right now I use straw and rake it up regularly and replace with clean but still feel it’s not clean enough, especially during rainy fall and spring. Any ideas would be great!

    • I’ve used straw and found it to to be not at all absorbent and the manure gets all smashed in it. Chaff (chopped straw) is better, but still not great. Around here, the best bedding is pine shavings. They smell fresh, are absorbent, and not too expensive.

  3. I would ask her a lot of questions! We’ve had our chicks for two weeks now. Maybe the most fun question, what has she done for treats or entertainment for chicks still in the brooder. Thanks, I’d love a copy of the book!

    • I’m a huge advocate of getting a clod of dirt and greens (dandelions are perfect) into the brooder by the second week. The chicks will learn to peck the ground and not each other, they’ll get small doses of grit, they’ll be exposed to a small amount of good and bad germs and get natural immunity. AND they’ll have a lot of fun. So cute to see the little ones scratch.

      • I stuck a dandelion plant with a lot of dirt into the cut out bottom of a milk carton and stuck it in the box. So far they’ve left it alone, but it’s only been an hour.

  4. I would like to ask her about hatching eggs. I have never done it and would like to. I don’t have an incubator yet (but will someday) I would like to ask her basically how to start. I homeschool three kids. I think it would be really exciting for them to hatch the eggs. We got all ours as day olds!

    • The incubators come with excellent instructions. All you have to do is to follow them. I’ve used a fancy incubator, and a simple one and had success with both. Do, though, be prepared that half of your hatch will be roosters. Have a plan in place to deal with the boys. Enjoy!

  5. I would have asked:My mother in law and I are in pursuit of self sufficiency. I want a dual purpose heritage breed flock. In your opinion, what breeds would be the best for this purpose? Any tips for raising birds for meat?

    • There are many breeds that lay well the first year, and you can harvest for meat the second. Some breeds are better at foraging than others. Some grow faster. It’s really a matter of what your particular set-up is like. All of the hatcheries have online catalogs with much good information for comparison.

  6. I would ask Gail her opinion upon the issue of preserving heritage breeds vs. keeping fancies (the Polish, the White-faced Black Spanish for example). As many of the newer people interested in keeping chickens are backyard sort of people, is it best for Chickens, as a whole, to focus on Heritage breeds?

    • That’s a wonderful, thoughtful question. We could have a whole discussion about it! (I’m scribbling a note now to myself to tackle this one in the future.) I know that Gail has Barred Rocks for production and Silkies for pets.

  7. Why, why, why is my new girl not laying? She’s about 9 months old now and not a single egg. Could she just be waiting for Spring? My older girls haven’t waited. And no, the new girl isn’t crowing!

    • She could be waiting, or she might never lay, or she could be hiding her egg. Maybe she’s saving them for the Easter Bunny. I bet you’ll see eggs from her soon.

  8. Hello! This is what I would love to ask: My chickens seem to always get mites. I rid them of the mites with diatomaceous earth, putting it all over my chickens and in their bedding inside their house, but in a few weeks those pesky mites are always back. Could it be because my chickens love to dig around in the pinestraw in the wooded area behind my house? Help!

    • Mites or lice? Many people confuse the two. Mites live in the woodwork of the chicken house and come out at night. Lice look like tiny pale squiggly things and live on the hens. In any event, the pinestraw is and unlikely culprit. Food-grade DE is good, but the hens need a dust bathing area with dry, loose dirt or sand – I use a kitty litter box, that’s what you see on the cams.

      • Thanks, Terry. I feel sure it is mites. They are grey and very small. They almost look like a seed tick. Yes, there is lots of pinestraw in our woods. UGH! The chickens LOVE IT, though! There must be LOTS of tasty treats in that straw! I know this is a crazy question, but where do you get your dirt w/o bugs in it? Do you buy it somewhere? My chickens do dust bathe in the dirt in their pen and also the dirt in the pinestraw in the yard (probably not good). I will get them a litter box and maybe I should just purchase some sand. Thanks, again!

        • I mix the sand with a cup of food-grade DE. Fireplace ashes (if you use wood and not trash) are also something that hens love to roll in.

          • Okay, thanks! I will definitely give the sand and food grade DE a try. I really appreciate your help!!! :) I am so tired of mites!!!

            • For a serious infestation of mites I wouldn’t hesitate to use a miticide. I’d also clear out all bedding and dispose of it – don’t compost near your coop. Mites hide in the cracks of wood in the barn at night, so sometimes painting helps.

  9. I don’t know much about chickens, so I would have lots of questions. I have recently encountered a strange little chick that I would particularly like to know more about. She’s less than half the size of all the rest of my chicks and doesn’t seem to be growing. Other than her size, she’s very healthy and active. I would have asked whether her problem might be serious and what I could do to help her.

    • Perhaps she is a bantam? They are oh so tiny as chicks. If she’s healthy and active, I wouldn’t worry. Some hens are small – there’s lots of variety even within a breed.

  10. Other than the messy vaseline and used motor oil or vegetable oil remedies what’s the best method of getting rid of scaley leg mites. It’s my biggest and honestly only thorn in my side (knock on wood).

    I’ve been treating with vaseline for the past three weekends and have seen results already but after treating 23 hens I’m not sure who has more vaseline on them me or the hens. :-(

    • Ken, this is an issue you’ve struggled with for ages, isn’t it? I checked her new book, and she doesn’t suggest the motor oil, but she does say to scrub with soapy water and use vaseline. I think you’re doing every thing you can.

      • Yes!!!!! I know the culprits are those ugly English Starlings. Lulu does her best to keep them away.

  11. Hello! Our children and I incubate eggs from our chickens and would love Gail’s opinion on the “old wives tale” about round eggs containing hens while pointed eggs contain roosters. We’d love any tips on improving our hen to rooster hatch rate (if it’s possible!). Thanks!

  12. I had heard that worms and slugs can be carriers of gapeworm – here in Southern Ohio, would that be an issue? Honestly, there’s no way I can keep my girls from eating worms – they are quite the delicacy and they search for them constantly when free-ranging.

    • Many insects are the intermediary hosts of internal parasites in animals. This is why farmers who have enough land will rest acreage for a year between farm species or rotate species through the acreage. For those of us with permanent pens, the best we can do is to keep the yards very clean, compost the litter away from the barn, and keep things dry as possible – the bugs tend to multiply in shady damp areas. Be happy your hens are eating bugs while free-ranging – it’s quite healthy for them and reduces your feed bill!

  13. I’ve been following you for some time now because I’m very interested in getting chickens (when we get a home of our own) and I am learning all I can before I do get chickens.

    Hearing about gapeworm almost scares me off. It does reassure me that it’s rare. I only have one book and It’s a flashy book — not at all the kind I need. I need a book with substance and this may do the trick. Thanks for the heads up on this book. I added it to my wish list.

    This will make a grand total of 2 books on chickens that I want. LOL. Thanks again. :-)

  14. That book looks amazing! My question for Gail would be…..WHEN do you decide to give a bird antibiotics, when do you decide to leave it alone, and when do you realize there is nothing you can do. Kinda a three fold question! Good Luck to ME!!!!!

    • Donna, that’s a question that even the most experienced chicken keeper struggles with. Unfortunately, the answer only comes after many situations where you do what you can and still lose birds. After all these years I have a good sense of when it’s good for the hen to try everything. But, even then I second-guess my decisions!

  15. I would ask further clarification about diagnosing gapeworm. I see my hens occasionally doing that stretched neck yawn thing, but it’s often when I given them a little scratch. They gobble it fast and to me it looks like just dryness caused by eating the dry grains so fast. They often go for water once the scratch is depleted. They do sneeze occasionally too.

    • Scott, your hens are just being greedy eaters :) Hens do get tickles in their throats, and sometimes something coarse gets stuck for awhile and they stretch and cough. If it’s gapeworms, they never get relief and also look less than vibrant.

  16. I’d like to ask her about which plants from the garden are ok for them to eat – sweet potato vines, green bean vines, radish tops, carrot tops, pepper plants, etc.? I’m just getting started with gardening and chickens both and would really like to know. Then I’d like to ask her to tea so I can ask a thousand more questions! Thanks!

    • They can eat everything you mentioned! Even foods on the poison list, like milkweed, isn’t a big deal. They won’t touch it if they have access to laying hen feed and good greens. The one thing never to feed hens is avocado. That is truly poisonous to chickens.

  17. I would have asked…hm, well, I think I would have asked about my current problem du jour, which is a little bantam that won’t lay in the nest box. Her sisters all do (and always have with very little effort) but our banty just can’t seem to get the hang of it.

    • Is it too high? Too low? Too deep? Do the other girls bully her out of it? I bet in her little banty brain there is a very good reason for not laying there.

    • Ask yourself why you want chickens (pets, eggs, meat, or a combination of all) and thoughtfully create a home for your birds that will be healthy for them and maximize what you want. For example, I get a lot of pleasure spending time quietly with hens. So, I want a barn that I can walk in, and a outdoor pen that I can comfortably stand up in.

  18. Great Blog! I would have asked Gail what the ideal diet is for a rooster. Since excess calcium can cause kidney disease, for example, is it dangerous to feed a rosoter beet greens (which are high in calcium), in combination with apple cider vinegar in their drinking water, since ACV aids the absorption of calcium? Or would the benefits of ACV in the water outweigh the negatives, as far as a rooster is concerned? This is a rooster on “All Flock,” not laying mash. Laying mash has too much calcium in it for a rooster; correct?

    • I don’t keep roosters, but know many people that do. They all feed the boys the same as the girls and have no health problems. I don’t know if roosters kept for show or breeding need a special diet – you should seek out a 4-H or poultry show and ask the experts! I did check in Gail’s books and she has nothing in her sections on feeding that mentions feeding roosters differently. As far as ACV (for those who don’t know, that’s apple cider vinegar) I prefer not to feed that day in and day out, but reserve it as an occasional tonic.

  19. I’d like to know whether it is possible to tame roosters that get on mean kicks, and if so, how best to accomplish that feat? Does she know of some helpful techniques?

    • I’m not an expert on roos, but generally they are who they are. Some are much nicer than others. Some roosters can be tamed by lots of holding (sort of embarrasses them into being nice.) Being aggressive will just escalate things.

  20. I would have asked…I am just starting out with 4 chickens and 1 frizzle rooster. I converted a portable horse stall into housing and the outside run is a 10′ x 10′ dog run. This seems to work well but now that spring is here I want to clean their pen. Is there anything that I should use to clean or sanitize the dirt area that they use? I want to keep them healthy but not sure what to do from here. They

    seem happy and are producing well. Thanks and Good luck to all!

    • Keep it raked up and dry and you shouldn’t have to add anything. Once in awhile I add coarse sand to my run and that helps.

  21. My girls love to dig in the dirt & gobble up worms! Should I try to discourage this? I’ve seen them do a neck stretch yawn kinda thing, but not on a regular basis. I’ve felt as if it was more like they had a burp stuck. I would love to win this book because it sounds like it would be very informative.

    • They’re doing just what chickens should be doing! At the end of their feeding session you’ll see that they’re crops are very full. That’s good, too!

  22. Our 4 year old RIR hen has stopped laying and is rather lethargic (but still eating and drinking). We’ve had her quarantined in my daughter’s bedroom for 2 weeks now. She is not egg bound (daughter has checked)…any suggestions as to what this could be?

    We’d love your new encyclopedia – it will help my daughter attain her dream of becoming a farm vet (who specializes in chickens!!!)

    • Honestly, if the hen hasn’t gotten any better in 2 weeks, I’d put her back outside! It’s much healthier for her to be in fresh air and able to exercise (as best she can) and dust bathe. She could have many healthy problems that aren’t visible and aren’t curable. But, she can live with them for awhile. If she’s eating and drinking, and if her poops are normal, don’t fuss.

  23. I think I would ask Gail about preparing your hens (or roosters) for showing at a fair or sanctioned event. Would love a copy of the book for my ever expanding “library”! thank you!

    • That’s something that I don’t do, but I’ve watched, and boy are there tricks, like nail-trimming and plucking errant feathers. Find someone who shows and get a mentor. The people in the “chicken fancy” love sharing their hobby with others.

  24. I would ask her about raising chickens for meat. The best breed (other than Cornish X), and raising them in the same backyard as my layers.

    thanks! Would love to win a copy of that book!

    • Good question! This is one I can’t answer, but more and more people are raising their own meat. I’m a member of The American Pastured Poultry Association because they’re newsletter is so informative. I urge you to join and support them. They’re “real” farmers (unlike me) and many use breeds other than the Cornish.

    • I like the Freedom Rangers, I have 10 coming in a mth or so. They “act” more like chickens, they will not just sit in front of the feeder all day. They will forage. They do take a couple weeks longer to reach a nice weight then the cornish.

  25. I would have asked Gail about what the best thing to use in a chicken pen is. Not in the coop itself, I use pine shavings there. But in the fenced in pen area. It seems that no matter what I use, it gets wet, soggy, muddy, and generally nasty. The chickens don’t mind it, but my shoes are a mess after leaving the pen.

    • Not only is a muddy pen nasty to walk in, but it is a source of illness in flocks. I add bags of builder’s sand to mine. It evens out the potholes that the hens dig, and it effectively dries out the dirt.

  26. I want to ask a question about newly hatched chicks. I’ve had a couple of times when they all seem fine for about two weeks then drop dead with no sign of illness until about two hours before they die. This just happened to me this week, I woke up to six two week old banties dead in one morning that were fine the night before.

    • This could be many things. Have you eliminated management issues? Do they all have access to food and water? Is it warm enough or too warm? Have you thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the brooder in between batches of chicks? If you truly have no clue, I’d have a vet do a necropsy to see what infective agent is in your barn.

  27. Off the subject but I’m cracking up. Just checked the hencam and there was a big chicken…………..fanny…….right in the camera!

  28. A couple of my Welsummers are starting to go broody. I’m thinking about letting them hatch some chicks. Do I need to seperate them from the rest of the flock? If I don’t, will the other hens (or rooster) try to kill the chicks?

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of the book!

  29. I would ask about an annual spring cleaning that we always did when I was growing up where we cleaned the coop well and then sprinkled with lime. Is that really a good tactic or is it doing more harm than good? Sounds like a great book- thanks for the giveaway opp!

    • I used to lime horse stalls every spring, too. Then, one year my mare got lime in her eye. Painful for her and a long recovery! The best thing for spring cleaning is fresh air and sunshine. Surfaces can be cleaned with vinegar if necessary. Sweep down the cobwebs (which harbor germs.) But, no, you don’t have to lime.

  30. I would ask her about a resent passing of our 1 year old silver laced wyandotte. 2 weeks ago I opened my coop for the day and found her laying on the coop floor. She was laying just fine, nothing seemed unheathly or sickly about her. (I actaully was in the chicken run the evening before talking to them before sunset) The 3 other hens are doing fine. I no nothing got in the coop as we are good at closing them in the coop at night. Is there any explaintion, or does this sometimes happen with no real explaination? We raise our chicks for eggs and they have become a part of our family, I know it’s a part of life, but it’s never a nice thing to find when opening the girls up for the day and one doesn’t coming running out.

    • I call that “SCD” – sudden chicken death – and I’ve seen it a few times. Chickens die of heart and liver failure, infections we never know about, and cancer. Without a necropsy, you’ll never know exactly the cause. It’s so sad and unexpected when it happens. I’m sorry for your loss, but I very much doubt that it was contagious. Your other hens should be fine.

  31. Your blog loaded better than some.We have dial up so some are difficult to get to load!I bought a rooster last year and he had worms so after much research I wormed all my chickens with piperazine? because that is what people are wormed with.Some of the other remedies didn’t sound either safe or effective.The vet said he didn’t worm his chickens unless he saw worms.It is definitely a yukky subject that I don’t care to think about unless I see them!Would love to win the encyclopedia.Thank you.Judy

    • I agree with your vet – I only worm if a fecal test shows that there’s an infestation, and in all my years with chickens, I’ve never had to. Some flocks do have real worm problems, and that’s a challenge because the effective wormers aren’t sold for avian use, and so you have difficulty dosing properly. Any wormer, used too frequently, will create parasites resistant to drugs, which makes for an even bigger problem. So, the first step to a healthy flock is management to break the parasitic cycle!

  32. My question is about Araucana/Americaunas. Are they late season layers and/or does it take time for the color to show up on their eggs? I have 2, should be 1-2 years old (if the breeder was honest). All my other hens are laying but there aren’t any blue eggs!

  33. All very good questions…and answers! Unfortunately, I can’t seem to come up with one of my own! We won’t be able to keep our future girls until we move (next year, hopefully) and could use this informative book for pre-flock study. I hope this counts me in.

  34. Well, I don’t know what my questions would be yet since I am a wanna be chicken owner, but I would love to have the book and start learning more in preparation for that long awaited day when I have my very own chickens!

  35. If I had one question I would ask about odd shaped eggs and how to fix them. I have hens that lay on occasion longer then normal eggs and eggs that start regular shaped then get bigger then normal. Thanks for being apart of this giveaway.

    • Eggs change size with the maturity of the bird. Sometimes, if the flock is stressed and laying is interrupted, you’ll get the odd egg, too. But, each hen lays an egg unique to them. I have one that lays a wrinkled egg, each and every day. She’s fine and the eggs are fine.

  36. Last very hot summer my four year old Australorp got a bad case of “fly strike” which I shared the gory details on this blog and got some great advice from Terry G. She survived the ordeal and is healthy. Her poop tends to cake on her fluffy butt as there’s not much clearance to the ground. I’ve already trimmed some of the fluffiness and plan on routine bathing when the weather warms. But I was wondering if there is any safe fly repellent I could use on her just in case we have another hot fly friendly late summer. She and her BFF’s free range daily and I’m fastidious about keeping their home and pen clean but sometimes here in Alabama pests are abundant.

    • I am so impressed that you were able to save that hen. (Fly strike, for those that don’t know, is when your hen gets eaten alive by maggots. Truly horrific.) I don’t see anything in Gail’s books about fly repellents. You’re already doing a good job with manure management. I do have a natural fly repellent for my goats (it’s more for the evening mosquitoes that attack here.) It’s made for horses and is a combination of citrus oils and things that supposedly keep flying pests at bay. Feed stores carry this type of product. At the least it sure smells good! (though it can burn one’s eyes, so be careful where you spritz it.)

  37. My question I would have asked is how to convince my other half that chickens are a good idea :)

      • I’m so sorry. I just re-read the entry and realised that it is a U.S. giveaway only :( Sorry, I just got excited when I say there was a giveaway,lol. Pies are a great bribe lol but I think my GF isn’t really into the idea of a coop in the backyard.

    • Martina, My husband tried for years to talk me into getting chickens. I finally I just said go for it. Boy, do I wish I would have done this years ago when he wanted to. Now I take care of the girls most of the time. I love it! They are so much fun and the eggs are so wonderful and delicious. You will never eat a store bought egg ever again.

      I hope your other half gives in soon. Good Luck.

  38. I would ask whether chickens’ beaks grow back after they are damaged? One of my favorite hens had the tip of her upper beak badly cracked and broken off a few weeks ago. She couldn’t peck bites of apple or kale and seemed to be having trouble picking up grain. I was so worried about her I hand fed her bite sized pieces of food every day until she was able to eat well on her own. Now her beak is smooth again and if I hadn’t seen it broken I wouldn’t know there had been anything wrong. I have no idea how she hurt her beak and I thought being debeaked was permanent.

    • Interesting question. The beaks that are cauterized on the factory-farmed birds don’t grow back, but your bird is an example of a different type of injury that did. I’m pleased to hear about it!

  39. I don’t think I could contain myself to one question! I would probably ask her what her top tips for those new to chickens are. And also, what is the best way to nurse along a struggling chick? I have one who we really thought we’d lose last night but we muddled through it (a bit of hand-fed scrambled egg and some isolation from being sat on by her flockmates).

    • Very often there really is nothing you can do to help a sick chick. Sometimes there’s more wrong with them than you can see. You did exactly the right thing with TLC and extra nutrients. That might be the end of the problems, but don’t be surprised if the weak chick that you save has issues later.

  40. I would ask her whether it is OK to feed chickens kitchen scraps that have mold on them or are just really rotten (i.e. fruits and vegetables left in the back of the fridge too long.)

    • Chickens won’t eat yucky food IF there is plenty of other food and there’s no competition around it. So, you can put moldy food in a compost bin that the chickens can wander over to, but if they are full and content, they won’t get sick. If, however, there’s nothing else of interest around, they can become ill from moldy food. It’s certainly not food to give as a treat. That said, I tossed my hens an apple today that was squishy on one end and fine on the other. They ate the good bits and left the rest.

  41. I would have asked her: One of my hens (I don’t know who) is eating the eggs. I am coming across broken shells, yolk covered intact eggs and pecked holes in eggs. What causes this and how do I stop it? I provide calcium for the girls (oyster shells) so I thought I was on top of the egg laying process…apparently not! Thanks so much for your advice!!!

    • Oh that is a tough problem once it gets ingrained in the flock! First make sure that the hens are laying strong eggs. If the shells are thin, stop feeding corn scratch and excess grains. You can put dummy eggs in the nesting boxes, so their bad habit doesn’t pay every time. You can darken the nesting boxes so that they don’t see the eggs (and they don’t like to eat in the dark.) You can collect the eggs frequently. If it’s just one egg-eating hen, you might have to send her packing. (You can usually tell the miscreant by egg on her face!)

  42. I would have asked more about that whole gapeworm thing – something I’ve never heard of before and hope to not ever need to. thanks for a chance at the contest!

  43. I would ask her ‘what is the best medication/antibiotic for bumble foot? I have had a problem with that in the past with a couple of my girls. What I did was try to remove as much of the infection as possible and then apply neosporin and then wrap up their feet for a while.

    • That’s an issue that I’ve never had here. It sounds like you did exactly what you’re supposed to do. I did once have a hen that got a laying hen pellet embedded in her foot! I had to soak the foot and pull it out. She had a hole clear through and recovered fine!

  44. Thanks for participating in this contest, Terry. I’ve loved our experience with chicks. My husband actually said yesterday, “I really like our girls!” It was cute. Our nemesis is feather picking. We have a shed converted to a chicken coop and a rather large enclosed run for 10 chickens. Enough square footage according to everything I’ve read and two sources for food and water. I bought chicken aprons for the victims. They’ve worked pretty well. Then, added pinless peepers to the agressors. However, we still have a couple being picked on. Any other suggestions are welcomed!

    • I’ve written quite a bit about this on past blog posts. Check the blog archives. A caveat about square footage needs – some breeds need more than others. RIRs, Barred Rocks, Wyandottes, all can get aggressive when contained. I’d do a minimum of 10 square feet of outside space per bird. Also, outside roosts help.

  45. Hi Terry, I love your blog SO much. I keep hearing about how good this book is! I hope I win, but if not, congrats to whoever does. My question would be how to treat wry neck, because my best friend’s hen just went through this, she’s doing way better now.

    My hen Lilly went through something like Gapeworm, she only did the choking thing though. She stopped after a few weeks and is fine now. I still haven’t figured out what happened. Have you read this book?

  46. Terry, my question would be as follows: When is the best time of year to worm my hens and how many times per year? This is the first year that I have wormed them and I did it as they were coming out of their molt. That way I didn’t have to worry about getting rid of the eggs. Thanks.

  47. I’ve read most everything I can get my hands on about raising chickens, and I’ve visited all sorts of setups for backyard chickens. I can’t have chickens this year for a handful of reasons. In the meantime, what would you (Terry or Gail) recommend in the meantime for thinking about or actually getting ready for raising backyard chickens?

    • Think carefully about your land and how you want to interact with your chickens. If you are going to keep a “village hennery” then design the coop and pen so that it fits with your landscape. If you have more space and are being more of a hobby farmer, think out carefully how you will do chores (water? electricity? inclement weather?) and what you will do as your hens age. Build housing that is healthy for your birds and fits your needs. Lots to daydream about :)

  48. Hi Terry! You’ve been busy answering all these questions today! Hope you’re doing well! My inquiry has to do with my girls size…when does a hen go from a big breed to overweight? I give my girls scratch when it’s cold but mostly veges (spinach) and alfalfa in two suet boxes and other kitchen leftovers on occasion. With my Dog I check the ribcage for overweight assessment, for my cats I monitor the hanging belly but how do I know if my chickens (all winter hardy breeds) are too big? That’s my question. Thanks!

    • It can be hard to tell if your hens are too fat. Some breeds are heavier than others. Keep an eye on behavior – are they active and foraging? It sounds like you’re feeding your girls just fine – but go easy on the scratch – a tablespoon per hen per day is plenty!

  49. I’ve had chickens twice, but don’t currently, so I don’t have any pressing questions. My husband and I plan to retire soon and raise chickens (and goats) once we find a piece of land we like. I’d love to have this book as a resource for when we get to have hens again.

    Thanks for all the info you share on your blog, Terry!

  50. If I am going to start a flock of chickens for laying in my backyard, how do I go about choosing the type of chicken? Should I have several kinds housed together as you do? Are there problems with this approach? I used to keep a dozen layers, all one breed.

    • It’s great to get a few varieties, just because they are so pretty and their unique personalities will be more obvious. I’ve written a lot about mixed flock in my blog. Check the archives. As far as choosing a chicken breed – that’s very personal! Go with what sounds right for you. It’s really hard to go wrong.

  51. My question would be:

    What is her experience regarding the lack of animal protein in commercial feeds and problems of picking, egg eating, feather eating, etc.? And what would she recommend for feeding daily animal protein (amounts, type of protein, etc.)?

    We’ve found all these problems to be substantially reduced with feeding daily animal protein. Chickens are omnivores. I’d like to know if she has found corresponding correlations.

    • Certainly in the past, farmers fed “green bone” and feed stores sold meat supplements. That was at a time when the hens were getting the rest of their food through foraging and did not have layer hen pellets. I know plenty of chicken keepers who feed cat food during molt to increase the protein. (I have issues with what cheap pet foods are made from and won’t feed them.) Gail’s books do have charts on protein needs and how to mix your own feeds. My own hens do fine on quality laying pellets, a few shelled sunflower seeds, kitchen scraps, and lots of insects and greens.

      • Terry,

        You peaked my interest, do I dare ask what the cheap cat food is made from?

        • Years ago my job required visits to slaughterhouses. There were barrels of discards, open, outside, waiting for pickup. I asked what it was for. “Pet food” was the answer. Also, check the label. Many, many chemicals in most brands.

  52. I would have asked Gail….about my 5, year old hens, they are laying eggs just fine except for one who is now broody for the second time! What can I do? I put her back in the run with the other hens for two hours a day and when I open the door to the hen house she goes right back to the nest. I raised these chickens reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, thanks for the contest.

    • You’re doing something right if you are still getting plenty of eggs from 5 year old hens. Check my blog archives to read about broody hens and broody coops. BTW, Buffy is once again broody. Sometimes, you just ignore it!

  53. I haven’t had a broody chicken for a long time and I’d like to have a hen rear chicks. Any suggestions? Thanks!

  54. How much “room” would one need for a chicken tractor or free range to be effective in lowering food costs somewhat? I know that it doesn’t eliminate them.

  55. hi- great blog- thanks for participating in the “tour.”

    my ? – 4 weeks ago we had a chicken that started stumbling around like she was intoxicated. We checked your (Gail’s) book Raising Chickens…and also the internet and found some possible causes but none described all the symptoms (diarrhea, eye trouble). With some nursing and isolation she is back to about 70% but still unsteady. No other girls have any symptoms. Any thoughts? Laura

    • I wonder if she didn’t get into something toxic. Read my blog archives to see what happened to Buffy several years ago – who I think overate vetch in the spring and was poisoned. I treated her with epsom salt drenches and TLC and she recovered.

      • Thanks for the quick response. That is the conclusion we reached. The day before it happened we let them in the yard and they were under an old apple tree _mold??? We kept her in the house for a few days and fed yogurt, honey, oats and tlc. Then out to the porch, then deck. Once she felt better, she really wanted to be back with her buddies. We confirmed that she could get up on the roost at night and reach the water, so off she went. Her right eye pupil is a black slit, that barely reacts to light. But she is holding her own and is not getting picked on. She has cleverly adapted to her handicaps. It has been a really interesting experience. And to think we almost did her in when it first happened.

        • The next time (hopefully, though there won’t me a next time) you have those symptoms, dose immediately with an epsom salt drench. Epsom salts are effective detoxifiers.

  56. The one question I would have asked her is what to do with an agressive hen. I have a blind hen (and she is sooooo sweet and our favorite) and this one hen is ruthless to her..pecking her comb until she draws blood, etc. I have thrown more shoes across the yard at her to get her to stop hurting her. It’s sad. Even my daughter, who is attached to all 7 of our girls, is ready to get rid of her.

    • Is the aggressive hen only aggressive to the blind chicken? Chickens are very aware of who is vulnerable. You could remove the bully from the flock, but it might be that another will take her place. You could give the blind hen a safe, separate pen during the day. Sometimes, removing the bully for two days and then returning her changes the pecking order and she never regains dominance. I would do something, as once there’s blood, the pecking usually escalates.

      • I didn’t think of another one taking her place. She seems to be the ONLY one that is causing problems…and yes, only to my blind one. My husband is ready to make a nice chicken gumbo. They free-range during the day in my backyard (fenced). I’m not sure how I would separate the blind one. She loves free ranging as much as the rest, if not I haven’t made accommodations to separate out any chickens. Don’t really have the space to here and we are about to sell so I can’t build anything else. Hmmmm. Food for thought. Thanks!

        • I had one hen that was a terrible bully. I gave her to someone in town with a large flock and a rooster, and she meekly settled in. I wouldn’t say no to the gumbo :)

  57. Why does Anne the Rooster prefer to be “overly friendly” with only one of our girls Ruby but not Sadie and Meg? Ruby is a RIR, at the top of the pecking order and hasn’t laid an egg in a year. While Sadie and Meg, Americanas, are regular layers and get very little of Anne’s amorous attention. All hatched together in March, 2009.

    • Buffy has one! It’s almost gone. Address the bullying issues if you can. Ignore the comb unless you think it’s going to be infected (I’ve never seen that happen.) If there’s bright, red blood, darken the comb with blu-kote to prevent more pecking.

  58. I’ve been raising chickens for about 2 yrs. and have done tons of research on chicken sexing. I’ve found 2 theories I’m testing: 1) the shape of the feathers tips along the neck and back on hens is rounded and on roos V-shaped; and 2) the day-old wing feather test.

    I’ve had some success with the round vs. V-shaped test, as long as I don’t second-guess myself lol. There are 60 eggs due to hatch any time in the incubator and I want to try the day-old test on them, but have also read that it may only work on sex-linked. Any advice?

    • You are way more experienced than me when it comes to chicks! What are you going to do with all of those chicks? The roosters?

      • I sell them at the local chicken auction or to individuals (the ones I can bare to part with anyway). I may have gone a little chicken crazy! My main flock I keep for eggs but mostly just cause I love them!

  59. Hi Terry, read your blog and look at “your girls” every am with coffee.

    We have record snowfall here in Anchorage almost 11 feet for the winter. My “girls” don’t get out much and now I find they have mites.

    Was told I may keep the coop to warm with heat lamp and the humidity might be to to get rid of the mites I am told D-earth is the answer and bleach the coop…can I bleach in the winter when they are only outside for an hour at a time….

    • Those are some rough conditions! I’d worry about bleach when you can’t air the coop out thoroughly. You can get a spray-on miticide to put on your hens’ bottoms. As soon as you can, thoroughly clean out and throw out all bedding. Mites hide in wood cracks and roosts during the day, so if you can paint those to seal them up, it’ll help. Give the hens a dust bath like I have in the kitty litter box – sand and food-grade DE. That’ll help them feel more comfortable.

  60. I just lucked into your blog—very nice! I am 3 days into raising my first brood of chickens and my question would have been: what is the best homemade tractor coop design to keep predators from getting into the run? I’ve read that wire bottoms can be bad for the chickens’ feet, plus I want them to have the ability to scratch around. I work full-time, so they will be in the coop the majority of the day. I plan on letting them free-range for as much time as possible in the evenings, so should I even be concerned about NOT putting wire on the bottom?

    • You’re right to want them in a pen in which they can scratch and not have wire on their feet. My girls are in permanent runs, with fencing buried 6-inches down to deter predators.

  61. I am not in the give away as am in the U.K. and most of my question’s have been answered now, but one thing I wondered. Can chickens eat sunflower seeds that are not hulled? I notice you say you give them hulled but I saw a clip on you tube of a guy holding a sunflower head to his hen’s and they went crazy for it. They appear to be pecking them straight out and devouring them really quickly.

    • Too many sunflowers with shells can become impacted (I just heard about a case) especially if it’s a first in the morning treat on an empty crop. I feed my hens shelled sunflower seeds. In the late summer I give them sunflower heads, which of course have the shells on, but they have to work to eat them and so don’t gorge.

  62. I would be interested in asking about making my own feed mixes for my pretty little lady layers.

    • I like the convenience of commercial feed – but Damerow’s books do have recipes for making your own. Harvey Ussery’s book also delves into that.

  63. I’d ask what was the oldest age she knew of a pullet to start laying. My silkie (26+ weeks old) hasn’t given us anything yet, and she hasn’t crowed either!

    • Oh, silkies! It’s a good question. Anyone out there want to chime in? I’ve waited 24 weeks, and that wasn’t for a silkie. Patience!

  64. I would really like to know the best crops to grow to feed my birds. We have the land and I’d like to make them as self-sufficient as possible.

    Ref: gapeworms

    Holy moley! I hope I never see that problem.

  65. Such good questions! I can’t think of any to add, but I’d love to have this book. Thank you!

  66. Do silkies or bantum have shorter life spans than standard chickens? I lost a beloved bantum last year to the heat. It was 102 degrees in St Louis for two days. I still feel bad even though I took every precaution except bringing her inside the house. If I had only known.

    • Gail does keep silkies for pets, so that would be a good question. In my limited experience with them, I know that they are not as sturdy and need extra care -always keep them dry! In my experience with bantam white leghorns, I’d say they do have shorter life spans – but it varies by breeder. In your case, it doesn’t matter the size of the chicken, heat kills. It can happen very quickly and sometimes the hen affected had other issues you didn’t know about. Don’t feel guilty.

  67. Here’s my question: is there a best location or temperature range where chicken are happier to lay eggs? Meaning, is warm climate locations better than cold, etc. Thank you. ~ Andi

  68. My question is simple yet thoughtful….Why is watching your chickens so relaxing? If I’ve had a bad or busy day, all it takes is a few minutes with my chickens and I’m good. They work wonders for the heart and the brain:) Why do you suppose that is?

  69. I would have asked her for her suggestions of best plans to build a chicken coop. That’s on the list for this summer so chicks next spring!

  70. I don’t know what I could ask. Maybe if she has ever had Turkens or known anyone that had them. But I know you Terry have never had them. Or the showgirl silkies.

  71. I’m really enjoying your website. I find answers to questions and problems I could never think of. My question would be, what is the friendliest breed of chicken for a family pet?

  72. Last fall we doubled the size of our flock (to 33) with someones unwanted chickens. soon after they all got sick with what we believe was Pox. we really babied and gave them TLC… vitamins, vinegar in water, soft mash to eat, warmth etc. i even had one in the house for a couple months, at first hand “feeding” her numerous times a day, starting with milk as that was the only nutrition i could get into her. she is now well on her way to health. they were all very very sick but we only lost one. how common is pox and did is it usual to loose more of the flock?

    • That’s the problem with bringing in mature chickens to an established flock. They often bring diseases. Pox is a virus, luckily rarely lethal. Lots of chickens carry it, but few exhibit the symptoms. Your flock was likely exposed to a heavy load of the virus when you brought so many new, infected birds in. Sounds like you did a good job bringing the flock back to health.

      • i did notice (the only thing i noticed) when i picked them up, they all seemed damp. my chickens never feel damp. my yard got a little mucky a couple weeks ago and since they dont seem to be quite up to par, i covered the yard with straw. i didnt want them walking around in the dampness all day. thanks for the replay. i have been watching your chicken cam, what a cute idea.

  73. What I’ve found lacking in the print and online chicken information during my search for the ideal breed for me is noise level. I’m interested in the noise level and regularity (‘frequency’ but that might be taken out of context here), of both hens and roosters. This would seem of general importance with the booming popularity of hens in urban/suburban yards (since even hens can be quite loud). Occasionally I stumble across an anecdotal or breed-specific assertion but I would love to see it added to a handy reference or table like the Henderson’s Chart. Any suggestions?

    • I’ve had quiet hens and noisy hens of the same breed. It is more an individual trait then a breed trait. Some make a huge amount of noise when they lay, others are silent. As far as roosters go – that’s individual, too. But, roosters do crow all day. It’s not just sunrise.

      • I was afraid you might say this…that it is all individuals. The egg-laying chit-chating and calling I don’t mind but it seems some hens have a tendency to fuss at the other hens anytime they are foraging (or just about all day), even when not foraging really close together. Just cranky girls I guess…?

        Thanks Terry for posting all this information. I hope you are hearing your noisy hens better these days!

  74. Really enjoyed hearing Gail Damerow’s answers. I was both surprised and relieved to learn that gapeworm isn’t very common!

    Join me in celebrating this fantastic book today on my stop on the Storey blog tour where I review the book through a different lens: fertility!

    Cheers, from the Chicken Chick,

    Kathy Mormino

    • Lots of healthy issues aren’t that common. Being egg bound isn’t that common, either, and yet as soon as a hen looks poorly, that’s the first assumption!

  75. Good morning Terry,

    You speak of a fecal test to check for worms. Do you do this or it something I would have to take somewhere else to have it tested?

    If I can do it myself, what do I need to do the fecal testing?

    Thanks for all your help from your blog. I enjoy it very much.


    • My vet does the fecal. Some people train themselves to do it. You just need a microscope and a field guide to internal parasites. Not all vets do fecals on chickens. Ask around. Also, don’t go where they insist on charging you for an office visit (one vet wanted to see the chicken first and charge $65 for that before running a fecal.) All chickens have some level of internal parasites, so something might turn up. It’s a matter of quantity. In all honesty, if your chicken are healthy, active, vibrant and laying, I wouldn’t bother doing a fecal or worming. I do it because I want to know, and it’s information that I can share through this blog.

  76. WOW… I have nothing but questions.

    I am just starting my flock. 8 chicks should be arriving in April. We are all really excited. I’m now starting to get nervous. How often do the hens get sick?

    I realize that most of the questions here are for special and sometimes odd occurrences. But really how much time is spent caring for sick hens?

    I am learning a great deal, just reading all these blog entries and replies have been great. I love your archives as well. Thank you.

    I just want to be prepared.

  77. Wow what would I ask, so many questions!

    My main concern at the moment is scaly leg mite. One of my older hens has hd it before and is now recovering, but i went through so many apparently good treatments but I didnt know which one to use. So I ended up using a mixture of different things.

    Some sounded ok like vaseline, to smother them, where as others were using terps and other horrible sounding liquids.

    So my question would be what is the best treatment and is terps really bad for chickens if just put on their legs.

    Thanks, kelly

  78. I would ask her how long hens live if you keep them beyond their laying years. Also, do you need to get them shots or any vet care? When I retire I’d like to get some hens for eggs but could never kill them for dinner. Thanks.

  79. I also have several of Gail’s books and love them! I think I would have asked her what solutions she has come across for feather-picking in hens, as that has been the thing that I have found most challenging with keeping my small flock.

  80. What dosage of ivermectin do you recommend for adult standard size hens? What else does ivermectin remedy?


  81. Thanks! I’m wondering if she has any suggestions to calm down a flock that has gotten aggressive to each other. They have plenty of space and food and water. Not sure why they have begun bullying and picking severely.

  82. How do I know when it is time to clip my chicks wings? I have one barred rock, one rhode island red and 2 buff orpingtons and we are nubbies to the world of chicken keeping…thanks for the blog

  83. I’m working on a FAQ about feather picking and pecking order. There are many, many variables. Meanwhile, I’ve written a lot about it. Click on the archives button (bottom of this page) and search the archives.