Ask the Expert: February/March 2024

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Marissa Ames and Carla Tilghman


Is this scaly leg mites? Two of my hens look like this. They walk around fine, but their legs look wrong. What do I do?

Scaly leg mites. Photo by Lisa Magnus.

Thanks for sharing the photo. Yes, this is scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes
). They’re microscopic insects that burrow and live under the scales on your chickens’ legs.

The scales get raised as the mites eat tissue and leave poop, resulting in a scabby look. Untreated, scaly leg mites can result in deformities,
lameness, and loss of toes. There are several treatment options:

  1. Soak the feet in warm water. Dry and exfoliate dead scales. Dip the feet in mineral or linseed oil, which suffocates the mites. Wipe off oil and cover legs in petroleum jelly.
  2. Cover the affected areas with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of sulfur power in ¼ cup of petroleum jelly. Apply daily for at least two weeks. In moderate to severe cases, 1%
  3. Ivermectin is recommended. Apply topically or orally (depending on what you have access to) once every two weeks.

    To prevent future episodes, do a deep cleaning of the coop and run (change out bedding, clean up poop, and disinfect roosts). Keep rodents out of the coop. Prevent or limit contact with wild birds. If you use tree branches for roosts, carefully clean them off before adding them to the coop.
    Good luck.



Why is my chicken crying?

Hens “cry” for many reasons. If it sounds like a human infant, it’s a respiratory infection that could be as innocuous as infectious bronchitis and as deadly as Mycoplasma. Check for other symptoms, such as runny noses, bubbling eyes, and fluffed feathers.

Maybe it’s just the “egg song,” the sound a hen makes when she proudly laid an egg. Perhaps she’s calling an alarm because of perceived threats? If she’s hurt, she most likely wouldn’t be making much noise since she’s a prey animal. If she’s at the top of the pecking order, she’s probably just vocalizing her position.


Hello. I’m new to chickens and have been learning a lot (but have so far to go). One of our chickens recently started laying their first eggs. I’m not sure which one, because we have six that are supposed to be laying blue/green
eggs. Their egg had these squiggly deposits on one end. I’m not sure if it could be worms that were encased in the shell or if it’s possibly a calcification issue, as it does have a “layered” effect in areas. The rest of the shell looks normal with nothing to note other than one small calcium bump — at least I think that’s what they’re called.
Thank you so much!
Kim Woollard

Thanks for your question, and especially for sending in photos.
First of all … Not worms! Eggshell anomalies happen for several reasons.

New layers tend to show more shell variation as they get the factory line up and running. The nubbly bit that you see is just calcium deposits that didn’t form smoothly in the oviduct. Sometimes it looks like your photos, sometimes you’ll notice clumps of extra shell. It looks like a bad plastering job.

You’re absolutely correct that trauma can affect egg production, and how the egg looks. I’ve attached an article that talks about different eggshell
deformities and what they mean.
You’re a good chicken mom!


This article raised several questions for me.

  1. Are there regional regulations regarding what one must do before selling your eggs; e.g. cleaning them, how they must be stored before selling, etc.?
  2. Do I need an insurance policy to cover any liabilities I might have, say if someone claims my eggs made them sick?
  3. If you make claims, such as “free range,“ “non-GMO,“ “organic,“ etc., are there specific legal definitions for those terms that one must meet to be able to claim one or more of those descriptors?
    Ken Pflueger

These are excellent questions!

Because the answers will vary a lot by city, or by farmers market rules, there’s no single answer. Because selling eggs doesn’t require any kind of cooking prep, the regulations are generally much more relaxed than they are for food (which requires a commercial kitchen.) If you’re selling eggs on your property, check with your homeowner’s insurance to see what your liability insurance covers. If you’re selling through a farmers market, check with that organization to see what they require in terms of insurance,
presentation, etc.

Organic and non-GMO eggs — eggs in the shell are, by definition, organic. And as there aren’t any GMO chickens, all chickens are, by definition, non GMO. So, you don’t have to worry about those labels.

These kinds of labels also apply to products sold through commercial operations. If you’re selling as a DBA or small LLC, they often don’t apply.
Thanks for asking!


My little flock, four chickens and one rooster, is molting.

It gets cold here in Vermont. Should we get a heater for the hen house? Also, should we give them different feed?
Toria Reed

Generally speaking, you don’t need to supply a supplemental heat source for chickens if you have the following things in place:
• A top-ventilated (through the roof or windows under the eaves) coop, but otherwise has non-drafty walls.
• Extra protein to help the birds regulate their body heat. A few meal worms or a slightly higher protein feed (up to 22%) will do the trick.
• Clean water.
• Provide clean, deep bedding for them. This not only cuts down on the ammonia from their poop, but also lets them nestle down, if needed.
• Check for parasites, but only treat if you find some.

A chicken’s body temperature is normally between 105 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. With good feeding, your birds will keep themselves warm quite well without a heater.

If your temperatures drop below zero, check their combs and feet for any freezing damage. When the temps get below 0 degrees F, then you might think about an additional heat source. We recommend using radiant heat from heat plates rather than heat lamps.

Blastodisc on an egg yolk. Photo by Debbie Fykes.


I haven’t seen this in my eggs before. What is it?

Hi Debbie,
Thanks so much for your question and the photos.

You’re seeing the blastodisc (the circular part) and a bit of chalaza (the
thick, white spiral). The blastodisc (or germinal cell) is called a blastoderm when the egg is fertilized and starts to look like there’s a bull’s eye in the center. In this case, the egg isn’t fertilized.

It’s perfectly okay to eat, provided that the egg is still good. The yolks in fresh eggs are round and plump. The egg is older if the yolk is flat or breaks open immediately.

Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2024 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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