True or false? A poultry expert quashes common egg and chicken myths

Our expert finds the world of poultry is filled with myths, legends and garlic cure-alls.

Words: Sue Clarke

The most common questions I get asked are always egg-related. Why have my hens stopped laying? When will they start laying? Why do they eat their own eggs?

One of the reasons I love to tackle any question is that the answer often takes a bit of a detective work. There are always more questions to ask about a particular situation before I can give you an answer.

Mostly it’s a process of elimination. You’re always looking for the most common and obvious cause. One of my favourite sayings is “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras!” and it holds true for chickens too.

The next most common question is “what’s wrong with my chicken?” I get very frustrated at what I see online from other poultry keepers in answer to this. It would appear that whatever is wrong, the answer is apple cider vinegar and garlic.

Apple cider vinegar and garlic are not a cure for anything (and there’s science to prove it). They can be helpful in maintaining health in a healthy bird. Apple cider vinegar can assist with some gut issues.

A specific garlic spray recipe can help with mite control. Neither can cure a disease or fix a parasite burden.

In 60+ years of caring for poultry, I’ve heard so many myths and legends. Some have good foundations. Most are totally groundless.

My biggest grrrrr moment is when people say ‘supermarket chickens’ are fattened by hormones in feed. This is false.

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That’s because there is no need for them. The fast growth of these birds has been achieved by selection of superior breeding stock for rapid growth and feed efficiency. You could buy a commercial meat chick yourself, keep it warm, feed it a quality, high protein feed and watch it grow far quicker than any farmyard cross raised in the same conditions.

Today’s barn-raised meat chickens are at roasting weight at just 5-6 weeks of age. Ones raised free-range take a little longer, but not much longer, perhaps another 3-4 weeks.

There are other myths that I am always happy to dispel.

Layer hens are kept in artificial light 24-7 so they lay two eggs a day

False. It takes 20-26 hours for a hen’s body to form and lay an egg. No commercial farmer creates a day length of more than 17 hours. On average it’s 16 hours of light out of 24. Ovulation of the next day’s egg is triggered by the lights going out.

Free-range birds are healthier than birds kept indoors

False. Poultry kept outside are exposed to far more diseases, many carried by rodents and wild birds from one flock to another, or on the wind or on the shoes of visitors. The soil can be contaminated with parasites. Puddles and water sources can harbour dangerous bacterias.

They can be exposed to toxins from poisonous plants. There’s the risk of crop binding from eating long strands of fibrous grass. Many are stressed or caught by predators such as hawks, stoats, rats, hedgehogs, and roaming dogs and cats.

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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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