Ask the Expert: Egg-Bound Chickens and Other Laying Issues

Have Your Chickens Stopped Laying Eggs?

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 I am looking for more information on what to do with an egg-bound chicken. I recently lost a good laying hen to what I am surmising was a retained egg. Any information on this would be helpful. —Backyard Poultry Reader

Ron Kean (Ask the Expert):
Figuring out what to do about an egg bound chicken is a common question. First we have to understand how do chickens lay eggs? Laying an egg is quite an enormous task for a hen. The shell on an average large egg weighs about 6 grams, and is about 94% calcium carbonate. It takes about 20 hours for the hen to make this shell, and in that time she has to get all that calcium from her diet or her bones and transport
it through the blood to the shell gland.

Eggshell formation is not the only use for calcium, however. It is also important in muscle contraction. If the hen is deficient of calcium, she can use up too much of the calcium in forming the eggshell. It becomes difficult, then, to actually expel the egg. This is the most common cause for an egg-bound hen. Obesity is likely an added factor in many cases.

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So, what do you do in this case with an egg-bound chicken? If you notice the hen straining, spending lots of time in the nesting box, and generally acting different, it could be egg binding. You can sometimes feel the egg in the vent area. The first thing to try is to add a lubricant. It seems odd, but just adding a little vegetable oil in the vent area and lightly massaging it in may be enough to help. Another thing that can be done is to warm the area slightly. Warming up the muscles of an egg-bound chicken may relax them slightly and allow normal contractions so she can lay the egg.

Some people suggest using steam for this. It can work, but probably as many hens have been burned by steam as have been helped. Warm water can be used. The hen won’t like it, and you’ll probably get soaked, but it’s considerably safer than steam! This should help most of the time, but if none of these things work, there’s not a lot else you can try. If the egg breaks inside the hen, it’s very likely she’ll get an infection, since it’s very difficult to get her cleaned effectively. Eggshell fragments can also be sharp and can cause some damage to the oviduct. A veterinarian may need to intervene at this point if you want to save the hen.

Originally published in the October/November 2012 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine.

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No Hens Laying & One Egg-Bound Chicken

I have a small flock of cross breed and mixed aged chickens (11 hens, two roosters and two eight-month-old chicks that a hen hatched). Some of them are over four years old. I’ve been raising free-range chickens all summer. I have not gotten any eggs since September. They were going through molting just fine, and we were getting two or three eggs a day. Then nothing. We discovered a skunk in the hen house in early October and chased him away by putting in a solid floor so he could not enter at night. Then a raccoon came right before Halloween. No evidence of predators since — or eggs.

When the egg production went to zero we decided that it would be a good time to worm them so we used Wazine at the prescribed rate but have still never had any eggs.

They eat scratch and 20% lay crumble or pellets. They get leftover scraps. They look wonderful and are in full feather. They act fine.

Will I ever get eggs again? Why have my chickens stopped laying eggs? Should these pullets from last Memorial Day start laying soon? We are vegetarian at our house so if they don’t lay they will still be okay (we won’t eat them and will keep these chickens as pets) but it would be nice to know.

My other problem is: I have a very old hen who is very fat. She is egg bound with three eggs that I can feel. I have tried mineral oil enema and manual manipulation twice but to no avail. She is on the decline. Is there anything else to be done? What can I do if this happens to another hen?—Geanna


Ron Kean (Ask the Expert): 
Day length is very important for egg 
production in hens. Typically, birds will stop laying eggs as the days get shorter in the fall. In the wild, this is good, since you don’t want to be hatching chicks in the winter. We can usually keep the hens laying by providing artificial light so the days don’t get shorter.

Some hens will continue to lay through the fall and winter. Older birds, especially past about three years or so, don’t usually lay as well and will be more likely to stop when the days get short. I imagine that’s what has happened in your situation. Pullets will often start to lay in the fall, just because they have reached maturity, though it may take them a little longer to start than if the days were longer. Without knowing what breeds your two pullets are, it’s difficult to estimate when they will start to lay but most should be laying by the time they are eight months old.

As the days get longer and you start seeing signs of spring, I imagine you’ll start getting eggs again.

Of course, you may want to rule out the possibility that something is eating the eggs. If you see tell-tale signs of shells, or yellowish material in the nests, or on the chickens, that is a different situation completely. We’ve covered those situations in past issues. If you think that is the problem, I can dig out some of that information.

Regarding the egg-bound chicken—it’s not a good prognosis for her. Hens with eggs in their abdomen usually eventually get infection (peritonitis) and die from it. This happens more often in hens as they get older, especially in those that have excess fat. Short of surgically removing the eggs, I’m not sure that much can be done for this egg-bound chicken. You could try to limit the feed to the rest of the chickens to keep the fat levels down, but this isn’t always easy to do. I would suggest you provide a source of calcium carbonate, if you aren’t already. Oyster shell for chickens, or limestone chips, should be provided free-choice to laying hens.

Originally published in the February/March 2008 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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Comments
  • I have one hen whose eggs have always been very soft. they are usually crushed in the nest. she has a very good diet layena, shell supplements. All my other girls are just fine what can I do? should I take her to the bird vet?

    Reply
  • I find soaking the hen in Epsom salts, along with very gentle massage near the vent relaxes the eggbound bird, causing the egg to exit. And further, when the shell breaks inside, doing the same, along with about a week of ingestioning Vetri DMG, allows the egg parts and goo to depart , while also boosting the hen’s immune system.

    Reply
  • Could the of the article about the person who’s hens are not laying and her fat hen be feeding them the incorrect ratio of scratch to chicken feed?

    Reply
  • Three of my Isa Browns have a thick creamy white back side, what is it and how can I help them if at all possible? Thank you

    Reply
  • I had the same non egg laying issue this fall with my hens (43 of them). As soon as they were done molting I put them in complete darkness for three days then put a light on a timer so they are getting about 13 hours of light per day. After about a week of the light treatment the hens went from 3-4 eggs per day to 2-3 dozen per day. The darkness reset the hen’s internal alarm clock and started them laying again. I got more eggs in the three days they were in total darkness than I did in the entire week before putting them in total darkness. I use an led light bulb that is equivalent to a 100 watt bulb but I am told they don’t need that much light. All they really need to do is to be able to see the food & water dishes. So I’m told. I know the 100 watt bulb works well so I will stick with that.

    Reply

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