Causes of Chickens Laying Soft Eggs – What Can You Do?


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If you’ve encountered a soft-shelled egg or even an egg without a shell, you’re fully aware of just how odd it looks and feels. Although a wiggly egg seems abnormal, it’s actually not all that out of the ordinary.

Why do chickens lay eggs with soft shells – and what can you do to prevent this? Here are the most common reasons chickens lay soft eggs:

  • Not enough calcium in their diet
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Unhealthy level of stress
  • Illness
  • Bullying
  • Age of laying hens
  • Lack of sunlight
  • Mood

There are many strategies that chicken owners can implement in order to remedy the problem of chickens laying eggs with soft shells. If you want to know why this happens and what can be done to prevent it, you’ve come to the right place.

What Does it Mean When a Chicken Lays a Soft-Shell Egg?

Hens lay soft-shelled eggs for any one or more of the reasons listed above. Shell texture and thickness is an indicator of a hen’s physical and mental health. These are factors that chicken farmers must constantly be aware of.

If you’re paying close attention to your eggs before you crack them open into a pan, you’ve noticed that some shells are extra-thick, while others crack with the gentlest tap. Shell hardness isn’t consistent among all chickens. There are several reasons why chickens lay soft eggs, but thankfully, there’s a way to fix each of them.

Not Enough Calcium in Your Chicken’s Diet

Eggshells are made of mostly calcium. So, a diet lacking in calcium can be the most common culprit of extremely thin eggs shells or soft-shelled eggs. If a chicken is laying eggs without a shell at all, chances are she is severely lacking in calcium in her diet. This is the most likely reason for soft shells.

How to Add More Calcium

The easiest and most common fix for a diet lacking in calcium is to add oyster shells. This comes in the form of “grit,” which is what farmers feed to their chickens. Grit can be purchased at feed stores, but commercial versions often have additives in them.

Many farmers make their own grit, using oyster shells. You can watch this video on “How to Make Your Own Chicken Grit” to see how it’s done.

If the chickens aren’t eating the grit, try making the pieces just a little smaller. Generally speaking, chickens eat things that require minimal effort. The easier it is for them to peck at and get it in their tummies, the more likely they are to eat it.

Smaller pieces can also help with digestion. Chickens do have to put in a good amount of effort to use that beak as their main eating utensil, and they don’t have very big teeth. Making it easy for the chickens to eat calcium-rich things will allow more opportunities for them actually benefit from the improved diet.

Your Chicken Has an Unbalanced Diet

The correct diet for your chickens is dependent on the chickens’ stage of growth and whether they are laying. For our purpose, we’re talking about laying hens. Just like pregnant women, laying hens need a specially formulated diet to help them stay healthy while their bodies are working extra hard. In the case of chickens, they’re laying eggs very frequently so need extra nourishment.

Diet is clearly important to the output of eggs in chickens. Overall, the more food a chicken eats, the higher the volume of eggs they’ll produce. If you’re adding calcium to a chicken’s diet and still getting soft-shelled eggs, an unbalanced diet could be to blame.

Laying hens need a balanced diet of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Although chickens aren’t necessarily picky eaters, they will eat what is most easily accessible. They don’t really appreciate having to work for their food. This is why it’s important to make sure chickens are provided with a variety of healthy foods that are readily available.

Nutritional Adjustments

Thanks to chickens being good eaters, an unbalanced diet isn’t that hard to remedy. An easy fix is to buy commercially prepared food, which will take the science and guesswork out of having to balance your chickens’ diet.

However, there are chicken owners out there that prefer to monitor the feed themselves. This is especially important if you’re making sure that your eggs are organic because anything the chickens eat must also be organic.

This video “What to Feed Chickens for Strong Eggs & Good Poultry Health” can help identify any issues that might be causing chickens’ diets to be unbalanced. It also provides adjustments you can make for your chickens to get those shells back to normal.

There is a fair amount of trial and error that can go into determining the proper diet for your chicken, so adding new foods while maintaining balance is key. If you remove something that isn’t working, make sure to find a substitute of equal nutritional value.

Your Chicken Has an Unhealthy Level of Stress

You read that right; chickens do get stressed. In fact, chickens are actually very susceptible to stress. There are a few different things that can cause stress to hens.

  • Not enough area to roam
  • Aggressive roosters mating too often
  • Warm temperatures
  • Predatory animals on the prowl
  • Traumatic events

If your chickens need more room to roam –

Make sure your chicken coop has enough room for your feathered friends to be free and have fun, but also space for them to be alone and away from the group. If your chickens are free-range, you will still need to provide safe spaces for them to feel  protected.

This video will show you How to Build a Chicken Coop for Laying Hens. Following these steps or using this video as a guide can help ensure your chicken coop is conducive for those hens to lay eggs. Starting with the right environment is one of the best building blocks for healthy eggs.

If you have over aggressive roosters –

You may need to remove aggressive roosters from the coop. When roosters get in the habit of mating too often, it will inevitably cause stress to the laying hens, especially if they’re younger.

Having an area where you can seclude the offending rooster is sometimes the only way to keep the laying hens safe, which will, in turn, reduce their stress.

If the chickens are exposed to extreme heat –

High temperatures will directly impact the chicken’s own body temperature, causing the eggshells not to form correctly. Chickens already have a higher body temp (about 106 degrees on average), so high air temperatures makes it harder for them to regulate their body heat.

Providing areas where your chickens can stay cool in the summer months is really important. Shade and even fans will do the trick. Some farmers that really love their laying hens go as far as to install air conditioning!

If there are dangerous animals lurking around –

You’ll need to protect your chickens for predators – but this is easier said than done, especially if your chickens are free to roam outside of fencing. Your first step is to identify any possibly threatening animals that could be living in the area near the chicken’s habitat. Some common predators include:

  • Raccoons
  • Foxes
  • Coyotes
  • Opossums
  • Bears
  • Owls
  • Hawks
  • Cats
  • and don’t forget the family dog!

There are many other animals that would like to get into the chicken coop, but these are a few of the usual suspects. It’s important to get to know the land that you live in to identify any other predators that could be living close by.

Building your enclosure off the ground with a ramp is one way that you can try to keep predators out. You can learn how to “Predator Proof Your Chicken Coop” right here in this video.

Keeping your chicken safe from predators will no doubt lessen their stress. Nobody likes to be scared, especially not chickens!

If your flock has experienced trauma –

Trauma can be caused by a fellow chicken being attacked by a predator, when the whole group may be affected. Chickens also can slip into a deep depression after encountering a death in their flock or an injury to a friend. This will add to the stress of the laying hens, and naturally, reduce the thickness of the eggshells.

If a chicken is injured, it’s important to remove him or her from the group, so it doesn’t upset the others. But once it’s healed enough, they can rejoin their friends. Chickens love to be around each other.

To help your chickens recover when something unfortunate happens, provide them with activities. Chickens love to play. They’re quite the little party animals and are always looking for a good time.

A Poultry Illnesses May be Affecting Your Chickens

It sure does seem like chickens and people have a lot in common, doesn’t it? Chickens also get sick just like we do. If chickens are displaying any of the following signs or symptoms, they might be sick:

  • Lack of energy or lethargy
  • Feathers that appear ruffled or disheveled
  • Closed eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Discharges
  • Discoloration of the head and wattle
  • Sagging or drooping wings
  • Loss of feathers (outside of molting season)
  • Laying down often
  • Swelling
  • Feathers that can easily pull out

When chickens are ill, their bodies aren’t able to lay healthy eggs. There are many ailments that can affect a chicken’s health; some are more common than others. Below are a few of the ones that chicken keepers should be on the lookout for to keep their flocks healthy and to ensure they’re laying healthy eggs.

Egg Drop Syndrome (EDS)

This is a viral infection in hens that lay eggs. Chickens can get this through contaminated surfaces but can also be born with EDS if their egg is infected. Chickens with EDS will experience a decrease in egg production, and their eggs will have soft shells or no shells.

Fowl pox

Chickens will develop white spots and sores all over their bodies and inside their trachea. This is treatable but also highly contagious, so chickens need to be isolated until they’re healthy.

Botulism

If chickens are eating old, contaminated meat, they can develop this very serious illness and will usually die within hours. However, it can be treated with medicine from a vet or even home remedies, if caught early enough. Tremors are the first major sign and will eventually lead to paralysis.

Air Sac Disease

This can be prevented with a vaccine, which many chicken farmers do. Symptoms present themselves similar to that of a human cold. Chickens with air sac disease develop a wheezing cough and sneeze. This is also very easy to treat once diagnosed.

Bumblefoot

A simple cut can literally kill when it comes to chickens. Chickens often cut their feet, but this very serious infection can spread if not surgically removed immediately. If a chicken is cut, it must be disinfected, and if there’s any swelling, surgery must be done promptly. A vet or experienced chicken keeper can surgically remove bumblefoot.

Newcastle Disease

This will present itself as similar to human respiratory infection. Although chickens don’t get runny noses, they do experience discharge from their beaks. This is spread through contaminated surfaces. When a chicken is infected, its neck will become twisted, and its wings will often be paralyzed, but they do eventually recover.

Thrush

This fungal disease is easily treatable and preventable. It’s spread through chickens consuming moldy food or drinking contaminated water. Keeping the coop free of these hazards will lessen the risk of any chickens getting thrush. However, if anyone in the flock does, it can be treated with an anti-fungal medication.

Bronchitis

Snoring chickens is a sign of this wide-spreading sickness. It’s treatable but can cause very sick chickens in the meantime. Sneezing and coughing are accompanied by drainage from a chicken’s nose and eyes. Chickens will recover from bronchitis, but there is also a vaccine to prevent it.

The illnesses above can and will impact a chicken’s health, causing the shells of the eggs they lay to be affected. This is usually in the form of soft-shell eggs.

If you or your vet suspect any of your laying hens have the following more serious illnesses, they are unable to be cured and will stop laying eggs, and any eggs they lay in the meantime should not be consumed.

  • Infectious coryza
  • Fowl cholera
  • Marek’s Disease
  • Pullorum
  • Avian Influenza (a.k.a. “Bird flu”)

Something is Bullying Your Chicken

If you’re noticing some chickens with patches of feathers missing or injuries, there may be chicken bullying going on. If you can narrow down which chickens are the guilty ones, you can send them to “timeout.” Removing the guilty parties will protect the other chickens, but also help the bullies learn that their behavior earns them time away.

Boredom Leads to Bullying

Bullying can be prevented by making sure you’re providing activities for your chickens. Give them some extra veggies to peck on (zucchini and cucumbers are a favorite for poultry) or even a sunflower. Chickens also love bird toys, so hanging parrot toys in the coop will provide extra entertainment.

Keeping the chickens engaged and entertained will leave less time for boredom. When aggressive chickens are bored, they’ll look for their own fun, and that’s when the bullying usually takes place.

Your Chicken Is Too Young or Too Old

This is another common issue. Unfortunately, there’s isn’t exactly a quick fix for a chicken’s age. Chickens can lay soft shell or eggs without a shell when they’re both very young, and very old.

When a hen is early in her laying years, she is also known as a “pullet,” especially when she’s less than a year old. These hens are new to the world of laying eggs, and they’re inexperienced. A young hen’s body just doesn’t exactly know how to lay eggs right away, so there will be a few underdeveloped shells in the beginning. It’s like a learning curve for chickens.

On the other side, hens that have been laying eggs for two or three years are reaching the end of their careers. Their bodies have laid all the eggs they can, so it’s not uncommon for their bodies to lay soft-shelled eggs as they slow down.

Lack of Sunlight in the Coop

Sunlight stimulates egg production in laying hens. When the hens are exposed to more daylight, they will lay more eggs. If hens aren’t receiving enough light throughout their cycle, it can decrease their egg production and cause them to lay eggs that have soft or missing shells.

Well-Lit Coops and Alternative Lighting

If possible, allow your laying hens as much sunlight as they please. Making sure their coop gets ample sunshine is very important to egg production and chicken happiness. Your chickens’ mood, as we already know, can also impact the quality of eggs being laid.

It’s also possible to install artificial lighting in a chicken’s habitat. Some chicken owners like to do this in the winter when the daylight hours are short, to keep the chickens on a regular laying schedule.

However, depending on the number of chickens, it may not be necessary or cost-effective. If there are just a few chickens in the flock, it will make more sense to allow them to receive sunlight in the most natural way possible, by going outside or being by a window.

Your Laying Hen Might Be in a Bad Mood

We’ve made a clear case for how much a chicken’s mental health can affect egg quality and output. Keeping your flock happy is one of the best ways to ensure that the hens are going to lay eggs with regular shells.

There’s no doubt about it, healthy and happy chickens lay the best quality eggs.

Chickens are genuinely happy little feathered creatures. They have personalities and even communicate with one another. It’s possible for one grumpy chicken to upset the whole coop.

Making sure the flock stays happy is a great way to ensure the hens are happy. You know how that whole “if mama ain’t happy” saying goes? It works for hens too.

Keeping the Flock Happy

As discussed earlier, chickens love to have fun. Keeping them entertained with a variety of activities is one way to keep them happy.

In addition to the toys and games mentioned previously, here are a few other ideas you can do to maintain a good mood in the coop.

Logs and Stumps

Old tree trunks can be cut down into a climbing gym for chickens. Make sure they’re large enough for a chicken to stand on, but low enough to the ground that they can reach them easily, since chickens don’t like to put a lot of effort into anything.

Wind Block

Chickens don’t especially like drafty areas, but they do need to get outside and enjoy the natural sunlight. If their main outdoor area is in a particularly windy location, consider putting up something that can block some of the wind.

Outdoor Roosts

Chickens love their roosts, which can make them more likely to stay inside. If you put some roosting areas outside, they’ll gravitate towards these and spend more time in the sun.

Chicken “Sandbox”

Minus the sand, of course, because, well. chickens will just eat the sand. Create a chicken play area out of organic material and allow them to scratch around through it.  BONUS: this will make great mulch for your garden later!

More Ideas for Happy Chickens

Maintaining a happy flock in the winter can be extra hard, with the lack of sunlight and the colder air. This video can show you exactly “How to Keep Your Chickens Happy in the Winter,” although the tips are very helpful year-round as well.

Chickens also love treats. When doling out special snacks for chickens, make sure to have enough for everyone, because chickens will fight for food. Here are a few favorites for your feathered friends.

  • Bananas
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Pumpkin

If you’ve got fruit or veggies that are on the verge of being too ripe for humans to eat, the chickens will probably love it. They eat bugs, so they’re not exactly picky. It’s also important to note that even though chickens love fruit, too much will upset their stomachs.

What Does a Soft Shell Egg Look Like?

“Egg experiment” by Pictures by Ann is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

People that raise chickens know just how common this can be, but for those of us that aren’t chicken farmers, the sight of a soft-shelled egg can be a little scary. These eggs are often called “rubber eggs” because they look and feel, well, rubbery.

Not exactly what you want to feel when you go to get an egg out of the fridge for breakfast, am I right? Softshell eggs don’t look terribly different than regular shelled eggs. They’re usually still a white-ish color or even brown.

Soft-shell eggs really take on an almost water balloon-like appearance. The shell, of course, feels soft, but it does still somewhat protect the yolk and white inside. In addition to the little bit of protection, it also serves as a means of keeping all the insides, inside. But instead of a solid, hard shell, there’s just a soft casing.

In some instances, the shell is even nonexistent. When this happens, it’s just the membrane that surrounds the white and the yolk. If you’re buying your eggs from the supermarket, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find a soft shell or no shell egg in your dozen.

However, if you frequently purchase your eggs from a farmer’s market, or have your own chicken coop, then you’ll for sure come across a soft-shelled egg at some point. And the more often you see these, the less scary and gross they become.

For many people that keep chickens, for eggs or even just as pets, soft-shelled eggs are just part of regular chicken life.

Does Laying a Soft-Shell Egg Pose Any Risk to the Hen?

When a hen lays a single soft-shell egg, it’s unlikely that it will have any long-term effects. If the eggs are continuously coming out with a soft shell or no shell, but they’re still intact, then it more than likely won’t hurt the chicken. If this is an ongoing issue, there could be future health issues that arise.

If the soft shells become broken during the laying process, it can lead to an impacted oviduct or an internal infection. These instances are rare, but they can be painful, so it’s something to be aware of.

If a hen has developed any of these conditions, she will be in noticeable pain. Medical treatment can fix the issue, but the chicken will need to go to the vet right away.

Can You Eat a Soft-Shell Egg?

Although these eggs don’t look like the eggs we typically see, they’re still safe to eat. As mentioned earlier, younger hens and older hens might lay eggs with softer shells regularly as their bodies develop and age.

While most soft-shell eggs are 100% safe to eat, they lack the hard outer calcium that usually protects the white and the yolk, so they don’t keep for very long. These eggs are best eaten shortly after they’ve been laid.

Lastly, if you believe an egg with a soft shell possibly came from a chicken that could be sick, don’t eat it. It’s more than likely contaminated, and the risk is just not worth it.

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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