What Does It Mean When A Chicken Lays A Soft Shell Egg?
When Your “Crack” Is a “Splat”
It was a fine warm morning in July when I was ambushed by one of my many brothers. On my way back from gathering eggs, he crouched in wait in the hayloft. As I passed unawares below, he dropped a water balloon on my unsuspecting head, causing me to drop all of the eggs I’d been carrying in my Folgers can. What a mess!
At first, I was irate (and seriously considering using my brother for target practice with my BB gun), until I realized that I hadn’t been hit with a water balloon at all. It was some sort of rubbery egg. My rage faded to fascination. What was wrong with that egg? What does a soft shelled egg mean?
I decided to walk down to my grandparents’ house and ask my grampie, a biologist and self-proclaimed chicken “eggs-pert” what was going on.
Turns out, this phenomenon happens for several different reasons ranging from a calcium deficiency to bird stress. Keep reading to find out what you can do to avoid rubber eggs on your farm!
Nutrition and Stress: Most Common Causes of Soft Egg Shells
The eggs-tra great news is that soft shells are easily cured! The most common reason hens lay soft eggs is because of a simple calcium deficiency. To harden those shells, you need to provide your birds with foods rich in calcium. My favorite choices for this are oyster shells and feed formulated especially for layers. For the permaculture enthusiasts out there, you can also create a “closed loop system” by saving your chickens’ egg shells, grinding them up, and mixing them into your feed.
By incorporating these foods into your chickens’ diet you are making great strides towards eradicating your soft shell problem!
Is It Ok To Feed Table Scraps To Chickens?
Growing up with chickens, we always had a “chicken bucket.” This was an old gallon ice cream tub we kept under the sink where we would throw our kitchen scraps to feed the chickens. It was a stinky affair, but my siblings and I took it out each night with fidelity knowing we were giving our chickens a nutritious and varied diet. Great idea, right? Maybe.
The truth is, by indiscriminately throwing scraps into your chicken bucket you could be creating your own soft shell problem. What is good, nutritious food for humans may be bad for birds.
Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit inhibit the chicken’s body from absorbing calcium, the main nutrient needed to grow hard eggshells. Another perpetrator is spinach. By feeding these foods to your chickens you are increasing their risk of laying soft shelled eggs.
Vitamin D Requirements For Chickens
Vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand. In order to metabolize and use the calcium rich diet you feed your chickens, they need vitamin D. Vitamin D also encourages proper bone development, greater egg production, healthier feather/claw growth, and improved coordination and energy in your chickens. When choosing feed, make sure vitamin D is on the nutrition facts. You can also get a drop supplement to put in your flock’s watering tank.
Let your chickens out into the sunlight. Even if your chickens get vitamin D in their diet, they cannot absorb it unless they are exposed to the sun.
In summary: Vitamin D + sunshine + calcium = hard egg shells
Link Between Stress And Soft Shell Eggs
Remember that creating eggs is a part of the chicken’s reproductive cycle. Like in humans, extreme stress can cause disruption to the reproductive cycle. For chickens this sometimes takes the form of a prematurely laid eggs. Premature, soft eggs did not spend enough time in the oviduct where the shell develops its hard exterior.
So what do hens consider “stressful?” Water/ food deprivation, extreme temperatures, being chased (let’s say by dogs or children,) and constant rooster harassment are all tough on hens’ bodies and minds.
Long story short, love those hens and make sure they feel safe and happy! They should always have food and water. If it’s hot out, fill some plastic water bottles with water, freeze them, and put them in the coop. Click here for other ideas on how to help your girls through extreme heat. Consider getting a fan for the summer, and a heat lamp for the winter. If you see that your old girls are getting constantly harassed by the rooster, you can separate them for a time.
Are Thin, Rubbery Shells a Problem?
Why do you harvest eggs? Chances are, you want to transform them into something delicious like custards, salads, cookies, or quiche. Maybe you want them to grow into chicks, and still some of you want to convert those eggs into cash. Well, when the shell is soft, none of these are an option.
Eggs have shells for two reasons:
- To serve as a protective layer that keeps bacteria out of the white and yolk and prevents rot
- To create a physical barrier that protects chicks from being jostled while the are incubating
When your eggs do not develop a proper shell, they are exposed to all kinds of problems. It is not advisable to eat eggs with soft shells as they could be carrying nasty bacteria that can make you sick.
Chicks most likely will not hatch from soft eggs because the mother will step on the egg during incubation and potentially crush or harm the developing chick. These are just a couple reasons why you want to apply the lessons learned in this post and eliminate your soft shelled egg problem immediately.
If Soft Shells Persist, Call a Vet
So far we’ve learned that if your chickens are producing soft shelled eggs, it’s probably an easy fix. Up the calcium, reduce their exposure to foods that inhibit calcium absorption, make sure they get their vitamin D, and ensure the hens live in a relatively stress-free environment and you will most likely see you soft egg issue disappear.
If it doesn’t, call a vet. There are innumerable other (although much less common) reasons why your hens may be producing these soft shells which may require professional treatment or medication.
Do you have a soft egg story? Share yours below in the comments!