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

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Egg-Bound Chicken

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

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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.

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.

Ron Kean

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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

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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.

Ron Kean

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Hen Laying or Not?

When do chickens stop laying? And how do you tell from the birds that are laying and the ones that are not?

Cleveland Narcisse

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Hi Cleveland,

Hens stop laying for different reasons throughout their lifetimes. Molt and lack of daylight in late fall/winter are two top reasons. Broody hens will also not lay eggs while sitting on a clutch and raising their baby chicks.

Older hens don’t traditionally just stop laying. It’s more of a gradual process where production slows over the years. In a backyard flock, this isn’t normally a problem as older hens are valued for their flock leadership, insect/pest control and poop for garden fertilizer.

If you do need to identify layers vs. non-layers physically, the following is from Lana Beckard, a Nutrena Poultry Expert:

“The best physical way to locate a non-layer is to enter the coop at night with a battery lantern, flashlight, or headlamp so you can use both hands. Hens are easiest to handle when they are sleepy. Gently pick up each bird. Position her between your elbow and ribs with her head facing backward. It may take gentle pressure from the arm to keep her wings from flapping, and by holding her feet between your fingers she’s not mobile and will likely sit quietly. Gently place the palm of the other hand on her pelvis. Bones that are easy to feel span the cloaca, where both droppings and eggs emerge. If a hen is not laying, the bones will be close together. If she’s laying, they will be three or four fingers apart, providing plenty of room for the egg to pass out of her body. A laying hen’s vent or cloaca is usually moist and pale in color. A non-layer’s may appear yellowish.”

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Brahma Not Laying

I have a Brahma hen that doesn’t always lay an egg. She has two roommates that are Red Sex Links. They lay every day. I feed them, have clean water for them, and take greens to them. So my question is, am I missing something?

Bea Gren

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Hi Bea,

You’re not missing anything. Sex Link chickens are hybrids that are bred for heavy egg production. Your Brahma is a good egg layer that can lay three to four eggs per week. She will not reach the same level of production as the Sex Links but enjoy her, Brahmas are wonderful birds.
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Hen Replacement

I enjoy your magazine very much. I read it from front to back. Very interesting articles of poultry lovers around the world. Now I have a question and would appreciate your thoughts.

I have had brown hen layers for nine years. I turn them around every three years. The last group of hens was mostly White Plymouth Rocks laying brown eggs. Should I replace them every two years as I have read to do in poultry magazines? Now I understand I should be replaced every year.

Every so often a hen dies and I’m not sure why. My hens have access to outside and inside. They are treated to grass, straw, and other vegetation plus their feed. They have water at all times. I enjoy taking care of my hens and watching them scratch around.

Norman H. Schunz, Iowa

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Hi Norman,

It is true that hens are more productive in their early years, but they can lay well past that. Production declines but doesn’t stop completely, and for many backyard chicken keepers, they don’t mind. If you have an egg business, you may want to have the more rapid turnover to meet customer needs. But, there are many benefits to keeping older hens. In fact, we’ve got some great articles on that subject that you may enjoy.

It sounds like you take great care of your hens. It’s natural to have a few pass away from time to time. But if you have consistent losses, you may want to check further into it.

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Chickens Not Laying

I love your magazine. The ideas are great! Your magazine is awesome!

I’m wondering why my chickens aren’t laying. They are eight weeks old. I have 12 and they are Rhode Island Reds. They are very sweet. I give them grit, eggshells, scratch, and lots more.

I’m wondering why my chicks are very scared of the kittens.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Summer Hickson

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Hi Summer,

Your chickens sound like they are getting the best of care. There’s nothing wrong with them. They are just too young to lay eggs yet. Most chickens will start laying eggs at five to six months of age. So, you’ve got a few more months to go. Remember, however, that’s just an average age, so some may lay sooner and others may lay later.

Until your chickens are old enough to lay eggs, it’s important to keep them on a starter/grower feed that doesn’t have calcium. Feeding calcium to chickens that are not laying age, can be harmful to their health. You can also hold off on the eggshells until they are laying.

Your chickens are very sensible to be scared of kittens. Your kittens have claws and sharp teeth and they can do a lot of harm to a baby chicken. Once your chickens are full grown, then they can defend themselves. But at this point, both the kittens and the chicks are too young to be together without supervision.

Good luck with your flock!

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Can’t Tell Who’s Laying

Hello,

I am new to keeping chickens and have relied on your site for a lot of help. I currently have two chooks: a Golden Buff hen, and a Buckeye hen. For the first week they both laid about an egg a day. But now only one is laying. We originally thought the Buckeye was laying light brown smaller eggs and the Golden Buff was laying dark brown larger eggs. I am wondering if maybe I switched that around somehow. Asking because the Buckeye is always the hen we find in the nesting box. Trying to sleuth this out and I want to be sure I’m investigating the right hen. Thanks very much!

Heather Pollock, Akron

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Hi Heather,

With chickens that lay basically the same egg color, it can be hard to tell who’s laying what. The links below are from Meyer Hatchery and show some differences between the egg colors. (Also, please find an article from our site about each chicken breed.) Keep in mind that each chicken is an individual so not all eggs will look exactly like the hatchery photos, but this will give you the general idea. You may want to spend a day or two stalking your coop, making sure to remove all eggs from the nest boxes until each of your girls hops in for her turn. Then you’ll be able to see what egg has been laid and know who laid it.

Good luck with your investigations!

Buckeye

https://www.meyerhatchery.com/productinfo.a5w?prodID=BKES

Golden Buff

https://www.meyerhatchery.com/productinfo.a5w?prodID=GBUS

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Not Laying Eggs

My wife and I are new to backyard chickens and I was wondering if you have some advice for one of our hens. We adopted two hens from a nearby family and both hens were laying eggs until the day of the move two months ago. The hen that’s not laying is a Russian Orloff. She follows the other hen around the backyard, eats normally and seems to behave like the Plymouth Rock hen that is producing one egg a day. We are feeding them both the same food as the previous family and they roam around the backyard all day, going into the coup at night. We mentioned this to the previous family and they said they would come over and “fix” her. They have not been responsive to us in a few weeks and internet searching has not produced anything helpful. We would appreciate any advice.

Tim Quaranta

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Hi Tim,

Since both hens are new to your flock, it’s not surprising that one or both are not laying. Change can be hard on chickens just like it can be on humans. Some take it well, as it seems the Barred Rock has done. Others, like your Russian Orloff, take it a little harder and undergo stress. When chickens undergo stress, they can stop laying. In addition to the move, it’s been a hot summer and that can cause stress and lack of egg laying.

It’s best to give both hens some time to adjust. Give them lots of good food and water and let them settle into their new surroundings. You’ll probably find that both will resume egg laying shortly.

Good luck with your new hens!

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Why Aren’t They Laying?

My name is Gabe Clark. I have been raising chickens for the past couple of months. I have five chickens total. There are three hens and two roosters. I have one hen and one rooster in a separate pen with a nesting box inside. And the other roaster and hens are in a coop with a small run outside. It is plenty big enough for them.

They are now 18 weeks old, and I haven’t even seen the slightest sign of eggs. They are starting to lay down in the nesting boxes, but haven’t even tried to lay yet. I feed them layer crumble and change their water every three days. This is because they have a big container and it stays clean for a few days before I dump out the rest and refill it. I have hay in the coop for them to “bed” in. Why aren’t there any eggs yet? Am I doing something wrong? And by the way, my chickens have been looking scared recently and I can’t pet them because the rooster thinks he is the alpha and will fly and claw at my legs. He got me good the other day, so I stopped trying to go in. I’m just worried is all. Thanks for your time!

Gabe Clark

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Hi Gabe,

No need to worry. Your hens will lay eggs and their timeline is completely normal. Eighteen weeks is the minimum age for egg laying. In reality, it usually takes most hens a little longer to lay eggs.

Our bigger concern is that you don’t have a good ratio of hens to roosters. For each rooster you have in a flock, you should have 10 to 12 hens. For two roosters, your total number of hens should be 20 to 24. This helps to prevent over-mating and damage to your hens.

We hope this is helpful.

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Rate of Hens Laying Eggs

I bought a hen two days ago. She laid an egg on the same day she arrived. But she didn’t lay an egg on the next day. But she laid one today. So I want to ask if this egg is because of my rooster. So my main question is, does a hen needs to be mated every day to lay an egg every day? And what is the ideal age of a hen to lay eggs?

Taha Hashmi

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Hi Taha,

Hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs. Their rate of laying depends on their breed and environmental factors such as the amount of daylight. Most hens will not lay every day, and they start laying eggs around 18 weeks.

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Wet Vent Issue?

I am new to poultry. I have only had chickens for one year. I have 15 hens and really enjoy them. The problem is, I have one hen that has a wet vent. She seems to keep trying to go to have a bowel movement. Her butt area is extended and she seems to have lost weight. All the other hens are doing fine.

I have given the birds three doses of probiotics over the last six days. Do you have any idea what is wrong and how it can be treated and what can be the problem?

Chuck Lederer

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Hi Chuck,

From your description, it will be hard to know not exactly why that is happening with your hen. But if you notice the hen straining, spending lots of time on the nest, 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 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.

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A Nest Box For All?

Through the last couple of years, we have started to raise Rhode Island Red chickens in Northwest Ohio. My husband started with two hens and built a coop with two nest boxes, we now have four hens that we raised from chicks. These hens are starting to lay eggs, but not in the box. We found the egg in the pen by their food.

I keep telling my husband they need a clean box with lots of nesting material for each hen. He says two hens can share the same box by sitting on top or next to each other, since they do that at night when they go in the coop. I told him that’s why they laid the egg outside in the pen because they need a comfortable nesting area.

Can you please give us advice about hen laying? Thanks.

Sophia Reineck

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Hi Sophia,
Your question made us laugh be-cause there are rules for chickens-to-nest-box ratios, but chickens don’t necessarily make those rules. And, that’s the fun part about having a backyard flock!

The ratio we use is three to four birds per nest box. We’ve found, however, that no matter how many nest boxes you provide, all the chickens will have the same favorite and they’ll all want to use it at the same time. So, you’ll see them hopping around on the floor in front of the nest box until the current occupant leaves. You’ll even see them double or triple up in the box because they just can’t wait for a turn. It’s something they don’t talk about in books, but most chicken keepers will see this happen in their coops.

It sounds like you’ve got a good ratio of chickens to nest boxes. The most important thing is to keep the nest boxes clean, and from there, the chickens will sort things out on their own. We would, however, discourage them from using the nest boxes at night since the nightly pooping can accumulate and create quite a mess.

Other than that, it sounds like you’re giving your chickens a good place to call home!

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Egg Strike?

We have been raising chickens for years and this is the first time I have gone without eggs for months! We have about 50 chickens of different breeds and sizes. We have had a mild winter so far. We stay on top of worming and mite problems, but don’t overdo it. We have then on Ware Mills Laying Pellets with no corn. But we are dumbfounded as to why this year we have gone through the last three to four months without eggs. They are in pens, and nothing can get in to the eggs to eat them. We are running out of ideas. Help is appreciated!

J. Shaw

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It sounds like you have a full hen strike on your hands! It takes a little detective work, but often you can identify the reason for the strike. It can be related to stress and many other things. It’s important to remember that even when you identify and solve the problem, it can take your hens months to get on track again. So, you may be buying eggs for a while. Here’s an attempt to explain this phenomenon, and we hope it helps.

A few things can keep hens from laying, or trigger them to stop. Loud sudden sounds, predators or nutrition are great places to start. Some people see their hens stop laying when a construction zone moves in front of their home, or if landscaping work or other projects are occurring where power tools are in use for days at a time. Predators can also induce that level of fear.

Nutrition is the other key. If you tried a different feed or new feed, it can cause your flock to go into a tizzy and stop laying. Don’t go cold turkey, and blend any new feed with old feed gradually over the course of several days.

If those aren’t the obvious solutions, think about environmental issues like light, air quality or disease. If those aren’t it either, then it could also be related to a change in the pecking order if new birds are introduced. Giving them more space can often do the trick to get them back to being comfortable.

Molting can also be a trigger.

So, as you can see, it takes a lot of things to go right for chickens to lay eggs. You should be proud that this is the first time you’ve had such an issue. We hope this helps you investigate your flock, and gets them back to laying.

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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