I get asked this question more often than I would like, “What can I do to help my egg bound hen?” It’s becoming more common since GMO feed is the industry standard. This is not a post about GMO crops, however, poor feed is one of the leading causes of egg binding.
An egg bound hen was virtually unheard of in the backyard flock until the late 1990’s when feeds made from GMO grain became commonplace. My Granny didn’t feed much grain and when she did, it was corn. I was an adult the first time she had to deal with an egg bound hen. Her hen actually died. She had never experienced or even heard of such a thing and didn’t know what the problem was.
Let’s discuss the symptoms, prevention, and treatments to help your egg bound hen.
Word of Warning About Handling An Egg Bound Hen:
Always, Always handle your hens gently. It takes 24 hours for a hen to develop and lay one egg. You never know which stage of egg development she’s in. If a hen is close to laying and she is handled roughly or falls from your arms, the egg can crack inside her. This could cause her serious harm.
- Sitting on the ground or floor of the coop for extended periods of time
- Fluffed feathers as if she is hot or covering chicks
- If you are observant of your flock, you may notice a straining look to her face and body
- The tail and her bottom will appear to be moving up and down like she’s trying to poop
- Multiple trips to the coop and nest in an attempt to lay, resulting in general distress
- A low balking which you will recognize as her distress sound
- Lethargy or general droopiness (in advanced bound stage)
- Lack of pooping (late stage)
- Paleness to cone and wattle (late stage)
There are just some things we have to expect as farmsteaders. The complexity of the egg laying process lends itself to the fact things just go wrong sometimes. Misshapen eggs and other abnormalities are just part of caring for chickens.
Hopefully, you will never have to deal with an egg bound hen. It is not as common as some of the other issues in owning a backyard flock. Knowing how to spot it and what to do, make you a prepared flock keeper.
What causes egg binding in a hen?
There are several things that can lead to egg binding in a hen.
- Beginning to lay at an early age
- Poor feed quality
- Poor diet
- A calcium deficiency (calcium is necessary for proper muscle contraction as well as egg development)
- Genetic flaw
- Parasites in the oviduct or intestines (worms)
- Egg is too large for the hen to pass
- Dehydration – usually secondary to some underlying illness or not being provided with access to water.
- Obese chickens – poor feed quality can cause a chicken to over eat as they try to get the nutrition they need. Chickens don’t normally have a “food issue” like humans can. Most backyard flocks will not experience this.
Preventing an Egg Bound Hen
A flock that is fed a good quality layer will probably not experience being egg bound. Many people who are able to free range their flock don’t offer supplemental feed at all. When we do offer feed, it is a quality non-GMO feed.
Offering chickens free choice access to calcium is a must. We prefer to use their own eggshells. You can also purchase oyster shells at your local farm supply.
If you give your flock treats, ensure it’s only a small amount of their diet. Less than <10%.
Allow your flock as much room as you can to roam around for exercise, if not for free ranging.
It’s also recommended to not use supplemental light in the coop at night. I’m told this is to prevent over-stimulation in the hens.
Feeding your flock too much protein will result in abnormally large eggs. Check your feed, treats, and anything you are supplementing them with. They need a lot of protein, this is true. Their daily intake value of protein shouldn’t be over 20% of their diet.
To Call a Vet or Not
An egg bound hen will die. Usually, it will take 48 hours for this to happen. These home remedies for helping your egg bound hen are shared with the intent to offer you solutions. I’m not a vet and I’m not offering you veterinarian advice.
We don’t seek veterinarian assistance except on rare occasions. When do you ask? When the money allows us. Let’ face it economics plays a large role in what we do or don’t do on the homestead. When the situation is outside our scope of experience or that of our friends. When the time, energy, and money invested in the animal justifies the expense of a vet.
We practice selective breeding with everything from our garden to our large livestock. This means an animal who is unhealthy is sold or culled. As sustenance farmers, our decisions are based on a way of life, not always what we would like to do or not.
Try not to stress your hen. If she isn’t used to being handled this may not be avoidable. Handle her as little as possible if this is the case and move slowly around her. Remember to handle her gently.
Option 1: If your hen has the symptoms of being egg bound, but hasn’t reached the end stage symptoms, start by placing her in solitary. Offer her apple cider vinegar water (1 – 2 Tablespoons raw, organic apple cider vinegar in 1 gallon of clean water). This will help with electrolyte balance and rehydration. Both of which may be what she needs to lubricate the oviduct and vent to lay the egg.
Option 2: Lubricate the vent of the hen. Use an eye dropper and place a dropper full of warm (not hot) olive oil into the vent. Also, give a dropper full of castor oil by mouth.
Options 3: Submerge her bottom in a tub of warm Epsom salt water while gently, gently massaging the oviduct and vent. About 20 minutes is a good length of time to do this. This will help her muscles relax, if she’s used to being handled. Be sure to keep her in a warm environment when doing this especially in winter. Repeat the soak in the tub every hour or so until she lays her egg.
Option 4: Warm moist heat is thought to be the method of helping your egg bound hen which has the least risk. If your hen isn’t used to being handled, you can still accomplish this. Place your hen in a cage or crate which has a wire or slotted floor. Elevate the cage and place a pan of steaming water under it.
You may have to reheat the water as it cools until she lays the egg. You can also use a towel or blanket over the cage to hold the moisture in, like a tent when you use a steam treatment on yourself.
Option 5: Some people say using a heat lamp hung where it is concentrated on the cage or crate will provide the heat necessary for her to relax and lay the egg. You don’t want the temperature to get over 102F. You can use a thermometer to monitor the temp. This doesn’t provide for moisture though. Be sure to have ACV water available for the hen at all times.
Within 2-4 hours of treatment, the hen should lay the egg. She will immediately perk up and be ready to come out of the cage. You may want to monitor her egg laying for a few days to be sure she doesn’t have a genetic issue that would require culling. You can identify her egg by placing a few drops of food coloring around her vent. It should last for 2-3 days and each egg she lays will have a smear of the color on it.
If she appears to be acting normal after 4 hours have passed and she hasn’t laid an egg, it may be you have misdiagnosed her. I would remove her.
If she doesn’t appear improved, continue the course of treatment or try another one. If she hasn’t laid the egg after trying all these, there is something else going on. It’s time for the last resort method.
The first thing I would think is the problem is her oviduct or pelvis is too small for the egg. In this case, it’s pretty certain your hen has a genetic issue. This means she will not be able to lay eggs without the high risk and probability of it killing her. These issues are not preventable or curable.
Occasionally, every hen will have some abnormalities, but being egg bound is a serious issue. If it happens more than once in the same hen, especially within a few months, I would cull the hen for her sake.
Breaking the egg and seeing if she can pass it should be a last resort. If you are in the position when you’ve tried all the other suggestions and they have failed, try this. At this point, the hen will die if she doesn’t lay the egg.
This procedure can likely cause an infection and death. There is also the risk of the sharp eggshell pieces cutting her internally. Just more reasons it should be a last resort.
To “break” an egg you have two options.
1 – If you can see the egg, not feel it, see it with your eyes, use a syringe large enough to hold the yolk and white of the egg. Puncture the egg and draw its contents into the syringe.
Once you have most, if not all of it in the syringe, gently collapse the shell in a crushing motion. Be careful to crumble the egg so the internal membrane keeps the shell pieces connected.
Gently pull the eggshell from the vent. If it’s resistant, squirt some olive oil into the vent to lubricate the shell. She should pass the shell or you should be able to pull it now.
2 – If you don’t have a syringe or the time to get one, gently…gently squeeze the egg to break it.
Try to remove it from the hen or lubricate it with olive oil to help her pass it. Again, this should be your last resort.
While this is nerve racking for you, I’m anxious just writing it, your hen will be nervous and anxious too. Let her relax for a while before you return her to the flock. You may want to keep her confined for a couple of days until she lays again. This will allow you to determine if this is to be an ongoing problem for her and to monitor her for any damage after this last resort.
I do hope you never have to deal with this issue. If you do, I hope this article will stick in mind and you’ll have the confidence you need to help your egg bound hen. I’m here to help in any way I can.
Have you had an egg bound hen? How did you help her? Share your experience with us in the comments.