Whether you’re a commercial poultry raiser or someone who raises chickens in their backyard, there’s a big chance that you have already collected some eggs that are covered with a thin membrane instead of a hard shell. For sure you’ve asked yourself why your chickens are laying soft eggs. Read on to know the reasons why this happens.
The hen’s age, health, and nutrition
Before we begin with the reasons, let us show you how to identify soft eggs through this video.
Before checking for other symptoms, it would be best to know the age of your chickens. Pullets who are laying eggs for the first time usually lay soft eggs. Sometimes, they’ll also produce eggs with very thin shells or eggs that only have a thin membrane to cover them.
The reason for the soft eggs from your younger flock could be that their bodies are still adjusting to the laying process. It could also be that these pullets do not have enough calcium in their bodies needed to produce eggs with a hard shell.
On the other hand, old chickens, especially hybrids involved in high production, are also known to lay soft eggs. This means that their biological process is slowing down and they would start laying thinner eggs for every production cycle. It will reach a point where they cannot lay eggs anymore.
Another factor that causes soft-shelled eggs is the state of the hen’s health. They may be suffering from infectious bronchitis, a disease that affects the respiratory, reproductive, and urinary systems.
There are several various hormones and vital cells that work together to support bone growth and optimal nutrient absorption. If one of these elements gets affected due to a disease, it will affect the flock’s bone structure. Skeletal issues such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia result in soft and fragile bones. It will then lead to low-quality shells and decreased production.
This leads us to the hen’s nutrition. Most of the time, a hen gets sick due to malabsorption, imbalance, or deficiency of vital nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus.
Hens need enough calcium to properly form a shell around every egg they lay. They also need this nutrient to trigger contractions that allow them to easily lay their eggs. If their body doesn’t absorb the calcium from their diet or their food doesn’t contain the right amount, it will cause non-existent or rubbery shells.
An excess of nutrients can also cause soft eggs. Too much protein from food such as mealworm or barley causes an imbalance that affects the production of good eggs.
The hen’s environment can also affect egg production. The temperature, cleanliness, and safety of their coop contribute to their laying behavior and the quality of their eggs.
High Ambient Temperature
During the summer months, hens lay more poor-quality eggs than at any time of the year. When they are exposed to warm temperatures, the hens pant to cool themselves. This coping mechanism lowers the carbon dioxide level in their blood and leads to a condition called respiratory alkalosis. This imbalance in the acid-base composition of their blood results in soft eggs.
Chickens also eat and drink less during hot weather so their nutritional intake will be compromised.
When your flock’s coop is crowded and has poor lighting and ventilation, the quality of their eggs suffers as well.
A chicken house with poor ventilation results in high ammonia concentration. This causes respiratory ammonia poisoning, which can cause the hen’s body to lose carbon dioxide. When this happens, they cannot properly absorb calcium or form the calcium carbonate needed to make hard-shelled eggs.
Dirty and moist chicken houses with feces not cleaned on time also cause ammonia poisoning. Unsanitary practices together with a lack of disinfection protocols all contribute to the production of low-quality eggs.
Here’s a video showing how to set-up your backyard chicken coop properly.
When food and water are not given on time, the chickens will not be able to get the required nutrients to make them produce good-quality eggs. Also, when their food supply is stored for long periods, the vitamin potency decreases. So, you may unknowingly be feeding the right amount but with lesser nutritional value.
Improper storage of feeds also leads to molds and mildew. When chickens ingest these feeds, their kidney and liver will be attacked by aflatoxins. These toxins destroy the chickens’ ability to metabolize vitamin D which results in poor appetite and weight loss. The flock’s immune system goes down and they are more prone to producing eggs with soft shells.
Some poultry raisers use poultry medicines such as sulfonamide to cure bacterial and protozoal infections. Residues of these drugs can compromise the health of the chickens which in turn, affects the quality of their eggs.
Stress not only adversely affects humans, but it also affects chickens as well. The following are the various types of stress that hens experience which results in soft-shelled eggs.
Chickens have difficulty thriving in hot weather. They need to maintain their normal body temperature of about 106 degrees, otherwise, they will feel stressed and will produce soft eggs. They don’t have an effective cooling mechanism so they will exert much effort when temperatures rise.
Check out this video that shows tips on how to reduce heat stress through nutrition.
As the name implies, chickens go through a lot of stress by being chased or tormented by their coop mates, other animals, or even by humans. Chickens are sensitive creatures so any threat to their peaceful lives will cause them stress.
For example, when a dog harasses a chicken or a child runs after a hen, they get very scared and could prematurely lay their eggs even if the shell has not yet formed properly.
A rowdy chicken house or a backyard with other aggressive animals will result in poor egg production or soft-shelled eggs.
The chicken’s living situation greatly affects their capability to produce good quality eggs. A crowded chicken house with no place to roam will cause stress to your hens. The ideal space would be 10 square meters. A coop that’s smaller than that will also cause stress.
Also, too many chickens sharing food may lead to poor nutrition. Even if your feeds are jam-packed with vitamins and minerals but there’s not much to go around, then your hen will likely produce thin-shelled or soft-shelled eggs.
Traumatic events such as witnessing a flockmate being killed by another animal can also add to the hen’s stress.
Sometimes, roosters can become randier than usual and tend to over-mate with the hens. This behavior exhausts and stresses hens. When hens are tired, they tend to produce rubber eggs.
These stressors show that even chickens need peace and quiet. Just like for humans, stress can cause a wide array of physical and emotional challenges. As you can see, chickens are not spared from the negative effects of stress.
How to prevent soft eggs?
Proper diet, housing, and stress management are some of the ways to prevent your hens from producing soft-shelled eggs. The following are specific steps that you can take so you can start collecting more high-quality eggs.
- Add probiotics to their food to improve eggshell quality.
- Fresh produce that prevents calcium absorption such as citrus fruits, chards, beet greens, and spinach should be given sparingly. If after lessening their intake of soft-shelled eggs are still a problem, avoid giving them completely.
- Provide crushed oyster shells and eggshells for added calcium intake. It would be best to separate these shells from their feeds so that your flock can eat them freely. Their bodies will know how much or how little to consume.
- Make sure to provide clean water. Chickens need as much water as the food that they are consuming. It is recommended not to overlook this simple yet crucial part of the flock’s nutrition
Proper Coop Management
- The chicken house should have proper ventilation and lighting. The flock should have enough space to walk around or roam freely.
- Make it a habit to remove feces from the site often to prevent ammonia poisoning. Clean and sanitize the area regularly to avoid stress and disease.
- Make sure the feeds and medications are stored in a cool, dry place. Dispose of moldy or spoiled food at once.
- Create a feeding schedule for your chickens so you won’t miss out on giving them food.
- Immediately seek a veterinarian’s advice in case you notice something is wrong with your hen’s health. Sometimes, poor egg production is caused by an underlying disease. The goal is to catch it at an earlier stage so that the bacteria or virus won’t spread to the other chickens.
- If you have children in the house, remind them not to chase the chickens (or any animal for that matter).
- If roosters are causing stress to your hens, separate them for a while. You don’t need roosters to produce eggs, anyway.
- During the summer months, make sure that you are giving your flock an ample supply of water.
An eggshell serves as a protection from dirt and bacteria. If the shell is soft and thin, then it’s not safe for human consumption.
Soft-shelled eggs become more of a problem when you’re raising hens for commercial purposes. No one wants to buy eggs of poor quality. This is why you need to go to the root of the problem and immediately address the question “why your chickens are laying soft eggs”.