Breaking Broodiness in Chickens

This picture is what happens when I forget to take a picture of our broody hens.

This picture is what happens when I forget to take a picture of our broody hens.

This past week three of our four hens decided to all get broody at once. And since we have only one nesting box they all crammed into the box as tight as passengers in economy class in what passes for air travel these days. Since it’s August and hot and humid, I began to worry that they would overheat.

Then I remembered a trick passed along by a UC David avian veterinarian at a conference I recently attended. He suggested giving broody hens a cold (out of the tap) bath. I gave this a try, giving each broody hen a 30 second dip in a shallow tub of water (just enough to get their derrieres wet). It worked immediately and they spent the rest of the day scratching, eating, drinking and running around.

But by the next day they were back in the nesting box. I spoke to Dr. Google who informed me that it sometimes takes more than one bath for this trick to work. After another 30 second dip in a cold bath they have not returned to the nesting box.

If you live in a cold climate I’d suggest drying them off after the bath.

Have you tried the cold bath technique? Did it work for you?

Your Thoughts on Treadle Feeders?


One problem with having chickens is the inevitable rat/mouse buffet that happens around the feeders. In addition to busting your feed budget, rodents spread diseases such as virulent forms of salmonella.

One of the suggestions at the poultry seminar I attended last week was using treadle feeders. Think of it as a Skinner box for chickens. Chickens walk up to the feeder, step on a treadle, and feed is dispensed. It beats having to wake up at five in the morning to put out food in a conventional feeder.

You have to teach your chickens how to use a treadle feeder. One of the veterinarians suggested putting something shiny on the feeder. Your flock will step up to peck at it and discover that the feeder opens.

There are two problems I can think of with a treadle feeder. One was mentioned by a fellow classmate. Squirrels figured out how to open her feeder. Damn squirrels again! But I don’t think I’ll have that problem, because I’ve never seen a squirrel in my coop.

An alternative that I thought of is a feeder on a timer which opens up when the sun rises and closes up at dusk. The only ones I can find like this are the kind hunters use and they just drop the feed on the ground, which is not ideal for chickens. This could be an Arduino project, but I don’t have the programming chops.

My other problem is simply choosing a treadle feeder. A cursory glance at the Interwebs revealed so many options that I’m confused. This is where you come in. Do you have a treadle feeder? How has it worked for you? What is your favorite model? Or do you think they are a bad idea?

051 Toilets and Poultry


On episode 51 we listen to a comment about toilets from Eric Rochow of Garden Fork TV. Eric mentions a podcast episode of Tiny House Chat where they talk about composting toilets. Then we discuss poultry biosecurity lessons that “West Coast” Erik learned at a recent conference. So, yes, toilets and poultry! Take that Elon Musk!

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

A tip for bored chickens . . .


Yet more ideas from the poultry seminar I attended last week. Behavioral specialist Richard Blatchford of UC Cooperative Extension had a great idea for entertaining hens like ours that are confined to a run: give them a bale of straw and don’t even undo the strings. I used to cut the strings and toss them the bale in sections. Keeping it intact keeps them occupied for a much longer time. They’ve been obsessed with the bale for days now and are slowly breaking it down and spreading the straw.

Practical Backyard Chicken Biosecurity

Photo: Amanda Goodpaster.

Photo: Amanda Goodpaster.

Above you’ll see me and fellow chicken enthusiast Roberta Kato modeling something like what you’d need to wear to go into those commercial chicken farm sheds: Tyvek suit, plastic booties and hair net (you’d also need a mask). We put this on for the necropsy session at the two day poultry seminar we both attended. Dr. Rodrigo Gallardo, a poultry veterinarian at UC Davis and one of the seminar’s presenters, noted that in his daily rounds, in addition to this type of suit, he has to take up to seven showers a day.

Obviously, these measures aren’t practical or necessary to keep healthy chickens in our backyards. While not exactly casual about our own coop’s biosecurity, I did come away from the seminar with some ideas on how I can improve my flock’s biosecurity and prevent problems before they happen.

Dedicated clothing
Right now I’ve got a pair of flip flops I use to go into the coop to let the chickens into the run in the morning and shut them up at night. This is a bit dumb. A pair of rubber boots or, at least, closed-toed rubber garden shoes would be a better option. Many poultry diseases are spread on the ground. I’d be smart to not use these dedicated coop shoes for anything else. For instance, walking under the wild bird feeder in the front yard. And I’d be smart to dedicate a shirt and pair of pants for times I’ve got to handle one of our birds.

Controling flies and rodents
I’ll let you in on a secret: Los Angeles is a city of rats and mice, and I’m not talking about the entertainment business. Rodents have been disease vectors in a number of incidents involving large scale producers. I know I’ve got a rodent problem in our backyard that I’ve avoided dealing with. I’m looking into treadle feeders for the chickens (which will be the subject of another blog post). I do keep the feed in a rodent proof garbage can. As for the flies, when I got back from the conference I cleaned out the coop and put down some more bedding.

Keeping things clean
Accumulated poop and feather dander greatly increase the chances of disease. I keep the coop clean, but I’ve decided to increase the times I change out the litter.

Trips to the feed store
The place I get my feed from is, to put it charitably, dirty. They also sell chickens, and pet birds that don’t look healthy. Unfortunately, it’s the only place that carries the feed I like (Modesto Milling). From what I learned at the conference, you need to be careful about trips to the feed store. I should change clothes, put them in the wash and take a shower before getting anywhere near my hens after a trip to buy supplies. The same precautions should be taken after visiting a farm, a friend’s coop or a poultry show. Better safe than sorry.

Preventing contact with wild birds
Due to the flighty temperament of my hens and my desire to protect our garden from marauding chickens, I keep our hens in an enclosed run during the day. I rarely see any wild birds in the run, but there are some improvements I could make to keep wild birds out entirely. Obviously, if you free range your hens you can’t keep them away from wild birds, but it was suggested at the conference not to keep chickens near ponds or even small water features since wild ducks are carriers of avian influenza. I’ve never seen a duck land in our yard, but if you have a pool or water feature this could be something to think about.

Some other suggestions from Dr. Gallardo:

  • Buy from hatcheries that are National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified. NPIP hatcheries immunize for Mareks disease.
  • Separate sick birds immediately. Quarantine new birds for 30 days.
  • Prevent mosquitoes by draining standing water. Mosquitoes can spread fowl pox and other diseases.
  • Periodically scrub and sanitize the coop and equipment. You should dry clean, i.e. brush off organic matter before sanitizing. Bleach is inactivated by organic material.
  • Consider painting interior coop surfaces to make them easier to clean.
  • Don’t share garden tools or poultry equipment with other poultry keepers.

Gallardo suggested being practical not perfect. The goal is to reduce risk while accepting you’re never going to eliminate diseases. He also noted that educational activities such as 4-H are worth the risk. Kelly and I get requests to bring our chickens to public events. We’ve decided that we don’t want to stress our flock and potentially get them sick for the sake of a book signing. Decisions about risk management are never clear cut or easy.

Have you had poultry disease problems? How did you change your biosecurity?