The Definitive Guide To Egg Laying Problems

Those of us who keep chickens know that not all eggs are created equal.

The hens’ reproductive system is in constant use, so the occasional oops is to be expected.

You will have likely seen some odd shaped eggs among your flock, or perhaps even red specks on eggs.

We are going to discuss problems associated with laying, causes and solutions.

The reasons for egg laying problems can be numerous so you have to have some detective skills to narrow down the possibilities…

Common Egg Laying Problems

Odd Shaped Egg

Egg Yolk Peritonitis

Egg yolk peritonitis is when egg yolk finds its way into the chicken’s abdominal cavity.

This causes an inflammatory response which is usually mild, but sometimes can turn severe and cause peritonitis and death if not treated.

Since hens are prey animals they are extremely good at hiding illness, it can be tough to figure out if your hen is sick.

Knowing your flock and watching for unusual behavior is the key. Signs of illness include: lack of appetite, weakness, respiratory distress, lethargy, looking tatty and yellow colored poop. The yellow colored poop is a highly suspicious sign of egg yolk peritonitis.

To treat you will need to use antibiotics and possibly a hormone implant. However the disease must be picked up early enough for intervention.

Lash Eggs

Lash eggs are actually the result of salpingitis in the hen.

Salpingitis is the inflammation of the oviduct and is often caused by E. coli or Mycoplasma.

There are few signs of salpingitis, but the most common is the penguin stance. Hens will gradually lay less eggs and will eventually stop laying altogether.

Usually high production birds, obese or elderly hens are effected.

So what does a lash egg consist of?

Basically it is a mass of rubbery debris including solidified pus – it does not smell very good either! If the disease is caught early enough then antibiotics can help. However since this is usually discovered late in the course of infection, the hen may well die within a few months.

Soft Eggshells

A soft (or missing) eggshell occurs when the egg fails to be covered by calcium carbonate.

This is most commonly a dietary imbalance or lack of calcium.

Giving your hens oyster shells will help. It should be offered separately from the feed so only the hens that require it will take it. If you do not have oyster shells you can feed crushed eggshells back to your hens.

Dietary imbalance is often caused by incorrect or insufficient feed. Laying hens should be given a 16% layer feed. Also remember that feeding them scraps can also cause an imbalance. So be careful about what you give them as extras.

If a hen is being bullied by the rest of the flock or becomes stressed, she may lay soft shelled eggs. This can be remedied by removing bully hens from the flock.

Finally if a young pullet is laying soft eggshells this is because the egg machinery is not yet fully operational – give her time and it will likely correct itself.

Egg Eating

Egg Binding

Egg binding means that she has an egg that she is unable to lay for whatever reason.

Like egg yolk peritonitis, this problem can be life threatening for your hen.

Obesity, old age, genetics and premature laying are all causes of egg binding

The usual place the egg gets stuck is between the cloaca (vent) and the uterus (shell gland).

Hens suffering from this will have a penguin stance and will pump her tail up and down to try and move the egg along. Read our guide to egg binding for more information.

Egg Eating

Egg eating is frequently caused by: low calcium levels, insufficient protein, boredom or by accident.

  • Diet Issue: Offer a free choice of oyster shell to them in addition to their feed.
  • Boredom: If they have nothing to occupy them they will get into mischief and start eating eggs. Make sure they have a variety of things to keep them busy (dust bathing, perches, things to peck at).
  • Accidents: Sometimes a hen accidentally breaks an egg and discovers that they taste pretty good. If you find a broken egg clean it up quickly, change the bedding and remove any other eggs that might be around.

Disappearing Eggs

Chicken In Nest

If your eggs are disappearing, then you have a thief!

Rats will roll eggs away, snakes will eat them whole and opossums usually break the shell and eat the contents right there.

If you have lots of eggs that are disappearing, you can add humans to the suspect list.

The only ways to find out what is happening is to install a trail cam or similar device in the coop to see who or what is visiting. Sometimes you are lucky enough to catch the culprit in action and deal with the problem accordingly.

Snakes can be gently removed from the area.

Rats can be a huge problem, if you see them in daylight then you have a large infestation. Using bait stations that cannot be accessed by larger animals is the safest and most effective way to deal with them.

Possums are opportunists and excellent tick control agents so they are useful creatures. They are usually easy to catch using a large fishing net and can be safely removed.

Collecting Eggs

Blood On Eggs

While the sight of blood on the shell can be unsightly, it is usually nothing to worry about.

Young hens will often burst a small blood vessel when they first start to lay and older hens can do the same if the egg is particularly large. The vent is well supplied with blood vessels and the first few times a hen lays an egg, the muscles are not quite stretchy enough to deliver the egg without tearing a small vessel.

It will heal quickly and as the vent gets more used to accommodating the daily egg, the incidences will become less until they disappear altogether.

However if you have a constant drip of blood from the vent area that will not stop, check the vent to make sure no other chickens have been pecking her.

If you are not finding any obvious signs of a problem then contact your veterinarian to get some advice.

Strange Shell Colors

This is another fairly minor problem that can have many causes.

The shell color is controlled by genetics and this can fade for several reasons:

  • Age of the hen.
  • Sunlight.
  • Beginning molting.
  • Temperature variance.
  • Stress.

Also if an egg spends a little too much or too little time in the shell gland the color will vary.

This problem should take care of itself, however if it lasts into the next laying season you should speak with your veterinarian.

Odd Shaped Eggs

Strange Egg

Odd shaped eggs are not all that uncommon really.

The most common odd shape eggs include:

  • Very small eggs (often called fairy/fart/wind/rooster eggs).
  • Flat sided eggs (slab eggs).
  • Double yolks.
  • No yolks.

They are often the product of a young hen just starting to lay and her machinery is not quite running smoothly yet, or it can be an older hen who experienced a stressful event while she was busy making the egg.

Either way they are a short lived phenomenon.

8 Reasons Why Chickens Stop Laying

Sometimes hens will stop laying for no apparent cause: stress, disease, nutritional imbalance and overbreeding are all common culprits. Below we have listed the most common reasons why chickens stop laying eggs.

  1. Molting: There is nothing you can do about molting or old age. Once the molt has finished usual egg laying business will resume.
  2. Stress: Some chickens get more stressed than others. It can be hard to know what is stressing your birds, but try to provide a darkened quiet place for them to lay their eggs. Keep other animals away from the area and check to make sure you do not have any vermin scaring the birds.
  3. Diseases: As mentioned above, salpingitis, egg binding and egg yolk peritonitis will cause your chicken to stop laying eggs. These all require veterinary input to correct.
  4. Nutritional Imbalance: This often happens because of improper feeding. Laying hens require a 16% layer feed and should always be offered oyster shell as a free feeding option.
  5. Overbreeding: When a rooster is mating, his daily demands can cause some hens to stop laying and start hiding. If this is the case then he needs to be locked up for a few days each week so the girls can catch a break.
  6. Environmental Issues: This can be tough to figure out at times. For example if your summer is hotter than normal you may see your egg production drop. Venting the coop of hot air and improving air circulation may help. To manage environmental issues you need to keep a close eye on your chickens and know their normal behavior.
  7. Infestations: Lice and mites can severely affect a hen’s ability to lay. Treat all birds for infestation on a regular schedule to ensure their comfort and laying (do not forget to dust nest boxes and coops also).
  8. No Daylight: Hens require around 14 hours of daylight to produce an egg, so during winter they will naturally stop laying. If you want your hens to lay through winter you will have to add some light in the coop, however many folks do not add lights and allow the hen to rest through the winter.

Egg Laying FAQs

There are red specks in my eggs, are they safe to eat?

These specks are just small pieces of reproductive tissue that have passed down the system. Although unattractive they are safe to eat.

Why are my eggs pale?

If you are coming to the end of the laying season then that can happen, but sometimes a severe infestation of worms can cause it.

I want to hatch my eggs, which eggs should I choose?

You should pick eggs that best typify the perfect egg and avoid any deformed eggs including torpedo eggs or eggs that are completely round.

Summary

The reproductive system of the hen is complex.

Things can (and do) go wrong from time to time, but it is usually a minor mishap and normal service is quickly resumed.

When you think about the productivity we demand from our hens it really is a wonder that things do not go wrong more frequently.

We can do our part to keep them healthy, happy and productive by giving them nutritious food, fresh water and clean living accommodations. By ensuring they are in the best health possible we can avoid many of the problems that can befall these hard working ladies.

Paying attention to your flock and studying their behaviors can give you a hint if one of them is not feeling well and you can monitor the hen for any signs of distress.

Let us know if you have anymore questions about egg laying problems in the comments section below…

Chris Lesley Bio Picture
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She can remember being a young child when her grandad first taught her how to hold and care for chickens. She also holds a certificate in Animal Behavior and Welfare and is interested in backyard chicken health and care.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Chris, I have a Buff Orpington- a sweetheart of a chicken! Only one year old now and nearly died last summer when she became of age to lay. Her abdomen swelled up and she stopped eating. She sat all day alone outside while the others foraged. I gave her epsom baths, put calcium in her water, and put oil up her vent and massaged- but no egg ever came out. Only gooey substances with white color and light yellow. So I assumed she was not making a shell. As time went by she slowly started eating again and came back to her happy self. Now, mid-March, her abdomen is swelling up again. Although she is still eating I can see she is not feeling too well. I am afraid it is happening again. Is there anything I can do for this chicken besides what I did last time? Is it possible she may have an egg with a shell this time? Thanks for any help.

  2. My easter egger has consistently laid three huge double yolk eggs in the past week…..she is a survivor hen and has been given the best life; she is bottom of the pecking order with only one other chicken as her bully. I just want to make sure that her laying large, double hooked eggs isn’t a sign of something seriously wrong. She’s a good sport in all other aspects.

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