There's too much information on the internet that is misleading and can be detrimental to the health of your chickens. The Chicken Whisperer along with leading chicken experts want to provide you with science-based, fact-based, and study-based information to help you weed through the chicken poop statements found on chicken forums and chicken blogs.
"Adding red pepper flakes to your chickens’ feed will
increase egg production." - Statement found on popular Facebook
chicken forum on April 21, 2016.
Unfortunately, the statement that "red pepper flakes will
increase your hens egg production" is largely urban legend.
Scientifically, I am unable to see what nutritional and physiological mechanism
would be used to rationalize that hypothesis.
Interestingly, I found a peer reviewed paper written in 2012
titled "Effect of Red Pepper (Capsicum frutescens) Powder or
Red Pepper Pigment on the Performance and Egg Yolk Color of Laying Hens"
by Huaqiaqng Li et al.
The results showed no difference in egg
laying performance, feed consumption or feed conversion ratio due to the
inclusion of red pepper flakes in the diet versus a control group. This result was similar to other
previous studies by Gurbuz et. al (2003) and Samli et al (2005).
Interestingly, in this experiment red pepper powder did have a
significant effect on egg weight compared to a control group. The authors
did not hypothesize on why this is so. Until repeated in other
experiments this result while interesting is far from fact.
While red pepper flakes do not change the performance they can
affect the color of the yolk because of the cartenoids (i.e. pigments) in the
flakes. Specifically, feeding red pepper flakes to your hens at a concentration
between 0.5 - 2% will produce a red-orange colored yolk (Note: birds do not
sense “hot” or “spicy.” This is why you can add cayenne pepper to your
bird seed to discourage squirrels etc. from eating the bird seeds).
Answer provided by Maurice Pitesky DVM, MPVM, DACVPM
Veterinarian/Assistant Specialist in Cooperative Extension
Poultry Health and Food Safety Epidemiology
School of Veterinary Medicine
University of California
Once again, our team of experts have deemed there is no scientific
proof or research that proves adding red pepper flakes to chickens’ feed
increases egg production. ~ Andy Schneider (The Chicken Whisperer)
"Mites live happily on the vents and the warm undersides of
chickens. They don’t ordinarily stake
out a dark crack and wait patiently to pounce at night."
"If there are mites or lice in a chicken coop, they are living on
the chickens." - Both statements found on a popular chicken related
blog on April 24, 2016.
The two statements above indicate the flock owner’s outright
misunderstanding of the basic information that is out there about mites. There are three types of mites that are
detrimental to backyard chicken flocks.
The one that we can take out of the equation is the scaley leg mite as
it is microscopic and is not the mite that is being addressed in the statements
above. That leaves the Red Mite (a.k.a.
Chicken Mite) and the Northern Fowl Mite.
The Northern Fowl Mite lives directly on the chicken and the entire life
cycle is spent on the chicken. That
means they do not seek out cracks in the coop environment in which to
live. They prefer to live and breed on the
birds themselves. Yes, they are seen
most often in the vent area or even in thickly feathered areas in the upper
thigh and breast once the vent feathers are thinned beyond repair.
As for the Red Mite, they also feed on the chicken but can
be found in the environment of the coop. The mites retreat from the birds after
a blood meal; they usually feed on the birds at night, so look carefully when
cleaning in the environment. Look under
caked litter or in the bedding. Most
often they seek out cracks in the wood which is why I recommend sealing wood surfaces
to reduce harborage for the Red Mite when it is not on the bird feeding. To find these mites, you can go out into the
coop in the evening after the chickens have gone to roost and look at the bird
with a flashlight. Not only will they
feed at the juncture of the scales and feathers on the legs, but elsewhere on
the birds. These mites look like the
Northern Fowl mite except after a blood meal when they turn red.
During your weekly cleanout you should move and clean
equipment in the coop to disrupt hiding spaces.
If you have drapes covering nest boxes, set them up in a way so that
they are easy to remove and wash on a monthly basis. During your annual spring cleaning every inch
of the coop will need to be scrubbed with soap and water. Murphy’s oil soap or Safer Soap are both
insecticidal and work well for the cleaning step that precedes the disinfection
Before making broad statements about mites, make sure that
you identify which type of mite to which you are making reference to ensure
that your statements are accurate.
Response provided by Dr. Brigid McCrea, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist
Delaware State University
* Once again, information found on a popular chicken blog
has been deemed chicken poop. Just because a chicken blog is popular does not
mean the information on the blog is accurate. How many people have read this
blog, and are now spreading this misinformation on other chicken blogs and forums?
Gee, if I had a nickle... ~Andy Schneider (The Chicken Whisperer)
"Giving probiotics to baby chicks reduces the risk of
Salmonella in eggs and other diseases later in life." - Statement
found on a popular chicken related blog on March 22, 2016.
Not all of what is suggested in this statement is entirely
wrong. The blog page where this
statement was pulled from does a good job of referring the reader to sound
research on feeding probiotics to chickens.
However, where the blogger falls down is that they refer the reader to
research on broiler chickens and not laying hens. The statement above was specifically targeted
to laying hens because it mentions eggs.
Yes, giving broiler chicks probiotics does help them, but a laying hen
is a completely different management system and therefore their level of
exposure, over a much longer lifetime, creates a completely different situation. You cannot compare apples to oranges and
needless to say, by throwing in backyard management systems you have tossed in
a pineapple for comparison.
I will agree that giving chicks probiotics does help them to some
degree in their gut microbiome. You may
also see improvements in their feed conversion and growth rates. However, broiler chickens are raised to about
6-8 weeks whereas a laying hen may stay on this earth for years. During that time, any protection that could
be imparted by giving that laying hen chick probiotics is gone before it even
reaches the age of laying its first egg.
The only other thought process here is that you may wish to
repeatedly dose the chicken with probiotics.
The beneficial effect of repeated exposure of probiotics for the
long-term has yet to be proven. Laying
hens, with their longer lifespan, can be repeatedly exposed to Salmonella
(there are several hundred strains to choose from) and each time they will need
to eliminate it from their bodies.
Keeping your chickens as a backyard flock exposes them to stressors that
are not the same as commercial birds. Therefore,
the performance of any probiotic used in commercial conditions will not apply
to backyard birds unless specific research is done with the said probiotic on
multiple backyard flocks to determine an average response. So that should explain why I mention
comparing apples to oranges, and even pineapples, above.
It takes a large dose of Salmonella to infect an adult bird. And most often if a chick is infected, the
likelihood that the chick is going to clear its system of Salmonella in a
matter of a few weeks is far greater. This
means that, although it can happen, it is less likely that a chicken is going
to shed Salmonella for many, many weeks or even a few months. So by giving the chick probiotics, you are
likely imparting protection for only a few weeks, at a time when the gut
microbiome is just developing. Yes, at
that time, when their immune system is not as strong as an adult bird, you want
to impart as much protection as possible and probiotics are a good idea. But to claim that by giving a chick
probiotics you are going to impart protection for the lifetime of the hen is
wrong. Since a healthy bird with a good
functioning immune system can potentially remove Salmonella by itself then
probiotics may not be needed. If you are
dosing a bird with probiotics as it is trying to eliminate any Salmonella from
its body using its normal immune functions, then the real question becomes the
following: Are the probiotics doing the
heavy lifting or is it the immune system doing its job?
Probiotics are likely displacing organisms within the gut that are
moderately affecting things like feed conversion or nutrient availability. It is the hope of probiotics to displace
pathogens, which can, like other bacteria or microbiota, access the gut of the
bird through different pathways. Your
goal as a chicken owner is to reduce the exposure of your birds to these
different pathways. Knowing that as your
bird ages, they are being repeatedly exposed to different organisms, means that
you will need to use good biosecurity and stay on top of your good management
practices. Probiotics are nice to have
on hand, but are by no means a requirement to successful chicken keeping.
Unfortunately, the quote above also states that the risk of
salmonella in eggs will be reduced. No
reputable research to that effect (within the egg) has been shown. Sometimes research finds slight reductions in
bacteria levels by feeding probiotics, and they may be statistically
significant, however, the actual numbers are only slight and not at all
meaningful for you, the backyard chicken owner.
Significance and meaningful can be two very different things. You may see a reduction, but if the levels are
not enough to have any real, true meaning in real-world circumstances, then one
must understand that probiotics are not a replacement for using sound
management practices within your flock. I
emphasize that bacteria on the inside of the egg in the discussion can be
detrimental especially in sauces or dishes that are not cooked. You can reduce bacterial levels on the
outside of the shell which is good, but washing eggs before eating them can
also do good in reducing bacterial levels.
Lastly, the quote also states that by giving probiotics, a reduced
risk will be imparted against “…and other diseases later in life.” This statement is too broad. There is no indication of what diseases are
being referred to and so that makes this part of the statement a red herring. The
real topic being discussed is the Salmonella level in eggs being affected by
probiotics given to the birds in the chick life stage. As was stated previously, when birds are
exposed to the right dose, or other stressors, probiotics given as a chick will
not impart protection at later life stages.
Beware of broad claims when you are shopping the internet for
information. Most times, if it sounds
too good to be true, then it often is.
Thankfully, in this case, we have teased apart the truth from the myth
in the aforementioned statement so that you can better approach this topic with
science in mind.
Response provided by Dr. Brigid McCrea, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist
Delaware State University
* This is another fine example of how bad information can quickly spread across social media. Example: How many people read this blog? How many times are readers now going to post on other chicken related blogs and forums, "Giving probiotics to baby chicks reduces the risks of Salmonella in eggs," spreading the bad information even further? Reading a study is one thing, having the knowledge to understand what the study means is another. ~ Andy Schneider (The Chicken Whisperer)
"Backyard birds are more immune to the Bird Flu than
factory birds. Really not a worry if your birds free range most of the time."
- Statement found on Chicken Whisperer Facebook page in response to information
posted about the dangers of backyard bird feeders on March 26 2016.
There are no breeds or strains of domestic poultry that are
resistant or immune to highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). That
being said there are breeds (most famously the Egyptian Fayoumi) that are known
to have greater disease resistance than other breeds. For example, the
Fayoumi breed has greater resistance to coccidiosis but conversely they appear
more susceptible to infectious bursal disease. Fayoumi also have lower
hatchability rates. The point being that there is no perfect breed or
strain of chicken. Researchers may identify local breeds of chickens or
cross-breed different breeds of chickens that have unique traits including
disease resistance, but to believe that backyard and free-range birds offer a
"genetic panacea" that would allow us to ignore biosecurity as the
primary method of reducing mortality related to HPAI is unfortunately not
Answer provided by Maurice Pitesky DVM, MPVM, DACVPM Veterinarian/Assistant Specialist in Cooperative Extension Poultry Health and Food Safety Epidemiology School of Veterinary Medicine University of California
Earth is an all-natural dewormer for chickens." - Statement found on
popular Facebook Chicken group page posted on February 3, 2016.
the benefits of DE for ectoparasite control are well known and studied there is
less research on the benefits of including DE as a part of a balanced ration
for internal parasite control. There is one paper published in 2011 in
the journal Poultry Science that showed that a diet supplemented with 2% DE was
effective in reducing some internal parasites in some breeds of chickens.
Interestingly, there was also a corresponding increase in weight and egg production
and quality. While this study did show some benefits for dietary DE it is
important to focus on good biosecurity and husbandry practices which are the
most effective control methods for internal and external parasites.
quality grit and there is no need to worm your chickens." -
Statement made by a fan on the Chicken Whisperer Facebook page posted on January
Grit is not a poultry de-wormer. Grit consists of small stones that are
consumed by chickens to help with the grinding up of whole grains in the
gizzard. The gizzard is a very strong
muscle with a tough inner lining. The
grit simply adds surface area to the grinding that takes place in the gizzard to
make this process more efficient. With
most poultry feeds today, there are no whole grains and so grit is not
necessary. If you do not feed whole
grains, then not purchasing grit is a cost savings to the chicken owner. Chickens, if allowed to range in the yard or
the driveway, often pick up small stones and consume them. You will also see smaller bird species doing
the same thing (i.e. sparrows). Grit
eventually wears down to the point that it is small enough to leave the
gizzard. It then passes out in the
feces. Grit is not the same as oyster
shell. Oyster shell imparts additional
calcium to the bird’s diet and can strengthen eggshells during times of stress
when birds may be laying weaker eggshells.
At some point, someone suggested that grit scrapes
the worms or damages the worms to the point of causing them to be released from
the body. There is no evidence that grit
is effective in this way for poultry.
Some backyard chicken owners thought that grit was similar to food grade
diatomaceous earth (DE), which is only slightly effective against worms. Since both DE and grit are both come from the
ground, at some point some people equated the two as having similar uses. It should also be noted that on the internet,
pumpkin seed research on small ruminants, is being purported as a good, natural
de-wormer for chickens. There has been
no research done on the effectiveness of pumpkin seeds as a de-wormer in chickens.
There is only one over-the-counter chicken
de-wormer on the market and the active ingredient is piperazine. The brand names vary, but the active
ingredient is the same. It is added to
the water, not the feed. There are no
approved over-the-counter poultry de-wormers approved for the feed in the
U.S. Piperazine will not kill
worms. It simply makes them sleepy and
hopefully they will let go of the lining of the intestines. If, and when, they let go, they are pushed
out of the body through normal peristaltic action. That is why it is suggested
that birds receive a good dose of the medication followed a few hours later by
a thorough cleaning of the coop bedding because the feces are likely
worm-laden. The birds receive a good dose by taking their normal water away for
a few hours (depending of course on the time of year in case temperatures are excessively
high) and then put the medicated water into the coop. Keep the medicated water in the coop for a
few hours and then take it out. Wash the
waterer out with soap and water and then refill the waterer with fresh, clean,
cool water. Worms can still move in the
feces and it is important that the feces are cleaned up as the chickens are
likely to be attracted to the movement in the droppings. Re-infection via the fecal-oral route is a
common tactic used by internal parasites to ensure that they survive and pass
along their genes to the next generation.
That does not mean that there are no other products
out there. Some are herbal with no scientific
proof of the product’s effectiveness in different types of poultry under
different housing conditions. Be wary of
claims that point toward non-poultry research or claims that they are
traditionally accepted as de-wormers. If
the research has not been done with regard to 1) effectiveness against
different types of poultry internal parasites, and 2) withdrawal periods for
meat and eggs, then you are making a very large assumption that the product
will work in your situation.
There are products out there that are acceptable to
give to poultry with a veterinarian’s prescription and oversight. Prevention is the key as most backyard flock
owners do not want to give their chickens too many drugs. Many small flock owners get a small flock
because they believe that commercial production practices already use too many
chemicals. Commercial producers cannot afford to give their chickens
medications unnecessarily and so use biosecurity to their advantage as a
preventative measure. They also do not
expose their birds to sources of internal parasites. Some small flock owners expose their birds to
wild birds and insects which can either be intermediate hosts of internal
parasites or cause infection directly.
Therefore many small flock owners just want to be able to give drugs to
their flock monthly to prevent worms. This
may lead to a build-up of resistant worms, potentially reducing the
effectiveness of the only over-the-counter product currently available in the
U.S. To avoid giving your small flock
drugs unnecessarily, it is recommended that a sample of fresh feces be taken to
your veterinarian to have fecal flotation test be done. This test determines if worm eggs are in the
feces and a microscope is needed for this examination. Only if your chickens have evidence of worms
should you consider treating them with piperazine. The sheep and goat producers worldwide are
currently experiencing difficulties with a lack of available drugs and internal
parasites that are resistant to the drugs that remain available. No one wants a similar situation to occur for
small flock owners.
provided by Dr. Brigid McCrea, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist