Whether you’re a first-time breeder or a seasoned one, you’re likely to see your chickens laying soft eggs from time to time. While it can be a scary sight, the problem usually isn’t that serious. However, there’s a long list of causes to check for.
Your chickens will likely lay soft eggs if they’re too young or too old. Nutrient deficiency, especially lack of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, is another potential cause. Respiratory diseases like bronchitis and unfavorable living conditions can also be the culprits behind soft eggshells.
Keep reading as we explore the causes of rubber eggs and how to prevent them.
What Affects Chicken Shell Strength?
In most cases, a rubber egg isn’t a sign of a serious underlying issue since it can be as harmless as a broken egg. However, if it doesn’t go away with time, you should dig deeper and take action. Here’s what to look for:
Calcium is the number one mineral that determines the quality of eggshells. Laying hens use the calcium deposits in their bones and what they absorb from their diets in the shell formation process. But their calcium deposits deplete as they grow older and go past their laying age. As a result, the quality of eggshells will deteriorate.
It’s not uncommon to see younger hens lay rubber eggs, even though they have full calcium deposits. If your hen has just reached her laying age, her body will need some time to adapt. So, don’t worry if you see rubber eggs the first few times. The issue will go away by itself.
The next thing you should check is your flock’s living conditions. Although laying hens aren’t high maintenance compared to other farm animals, their egg-laying frequency and quality can suffer when they experience stress.
You may have heard, or experienced first-hand, that a hen stopped laying eggs after she got scared by another farm animal, predator, or human.
Even if it keeps laying eggs, you may see smaller or soft-shelled eggs. That’s because stress can affect the production of materials necessary for shell formation or force the eggs down the oviduct faster than normal.
Heat is another great stressor that’s hard on chickens’ bodies because of their physiological limitations.
Since hens lack an effective cooling mechanism in their bodies, they need to be safe from high temperatures. Otherwise, excess heat can interfere with the shell formation process because it doesn’t allow certain proteins to do their calcification job properly. That’s why you’ll see more soft eggs in the coop when the weather is hot.
If you’re sure your laying hens are all pampered and comfy, dig deeper and look inside for possible culprits.
The egg-laying process is complex and needs various minerals to form eggshells around the membrane.
As mentioned, the most important mineral required for forming eggshells is calcium. Lack of calcium can disrupt the entire egg-production process, leading to premature egg-laying or even stopping the process entirely.
On top of that, vitamin D3, protein and amino acids, vitamin C, phosphorus, trace minerals like zinc, magnesium, and copper, and even electrolytes are essential in keeping eggshells hard and normal.
If you rule out the above factors, there’s a high chance that your laying hens are suffering from an illness that affects shell formation. Illnesses can directly lead to nutrient deficiency or depleted nutrient deposits because the chicken’s body allocates its resources to fight off the disease.
Egg Drop Syndrome is a common cause of soft eggshells. The viral disease can affect several or all your laying hens. However, it has different manifestations and transmission patterns, so you’ll need lab tests for a definitive diagnosis.
What’s more, a variety of illnesses can disrupt the process, so you should be thorough when pinpointing the root cause. Here’s a list of potential illnesses that can lead to soft eggs:
- Avian flu
- Oviduct infection
- Newcastle disease
- Shell gland problems
- Bronchitis, Laryngotracheitis, or other respiratory illnesses
Genetic predispositions are another, yet less common, factor that leads to soft eggs. Research has shown that genetics affect the eggshell quality, with some species having stronger eggshells than others.
Farmers sometimes use selective breeding to give their hens longer laying periods. While the practice makes economic sense, it may affect the eggshell quality because the longer the laying period, the lower the eggshell strength.
So, if you’ve ruled out all the above issues, the problem may have to do with the chicken’s genes, over which you have very little control.
How to Avoid Soft Eggs
If your chickens lay soft eggs, you should take immediate action, especially if it occurs repeatedly or is widespread across your flock. Not only can it affect you financially, but it can also be harmful to your laying hens. For example, if the soft eggs break inside the oviduct, it can lead to infections or even kill the bird.
Increase Dietary Micronutrients
Putting your chickens on a wholesome diet with essential minerals and vitamins prevents rubber eggshells.
Since calcium deficiency is the main cause, ensure your laying hens have enough calcium in their diets. Calcium supplements and oyster shells or crushed eggshells are a great place to start.
Still, calcium is not the only nutrient your birds need. Here are the most important ones:
- Vitamin D3. It’s vital in the absorption of calcium and preventing soft eggshells. So, make sure they have enough of it through their diets or supplements. Also, have your hens stay outside in the sun to get a healthy dose of vitamin D3. If you live in an area with short days, use artificial lights to ensure your flock has the resources to produce the vital egg-forming hormones.
- Probiotics. Gut and intestine health is also a determining factor in eggshell strength. So, make sure to give them enough probiotics. Yogurt is a great addition that can help with their gut health and cool them down to prevent heat stress.
- Layer feed. Ditch the grower feed for a layer diet to give your hens, especially the pullets, the required minerals for laying eggs.
Create a Healthy Egg-laying and Living Environment
If the rubber eggs come from substandard living conditions, a coop renovation is in order.
Your coop design needs to give your girls a stress-free environment with the right temperature. The most important feature is adequate space for each hen to avoid an overcrowded resting area and stress.
While you should consider design factors based on the weather and temperature of the area you live in, there are some general factors that you should take into account:
As mentioned, heat management is critical in preventing soft eggshells. Plus, poor ventilation and piled-up chicken droppings can lead to respiratory issues caused by ammonia. So, give your coop plenty of ventilation by adding windows and doors wherever possible to air out odors and gasses.
Vents and fans are also great ideas for hotter areas. And remember, you can’t have too much ventilation because bad smells and ammonia get worse over time, so you need more ventilation.
Chicken poop indirectly causes thin-shelled eggs since it causes infections. So, you need to build your coop with easy-to-clean materials and designs.
Untreated wood is one of the worst materials for a coop, especially the bottom. It gets soiled the most because of all the chicken poop that builds up. To make matters worse, untreated wood has perforations that absorb humidity and dirt, rendering any cleaning efforts useless.
Instead, a vinyl or painted wood bottom prevents these problems, making the coop easy to clean.
Safety and Protection
To prevent soft eggshells caused by stress, you need to design the coop for maximum protection. It has to be predator-proof to keep away all kinds of predators, even the ones digging out the floor.
Here’s a helpful video that shows how to predator-proof your coop:
Heat is the next item on the list. Give your chickens a cool, shaded area to rest in, and put the waterers outside the coop in a cool place. This way, your girls can cool down while drinking water, and excess moisture won’t build up inside the coop.
Take the Chicken to a Vet
If your hens are laying soft eggs due to an illness, you need to take them to an avian vet. Unless they have other symptoms, these illnesses can be hard to diagnose. So, the vet should perform a comb-to-toe examination to find the underlying cause and take immediate action.
Are Soft Eggs Safe to Eat?
While you might be tempted to consume a translucent egg to avoid waste, we don’t recommend it.
The hard eggshell around the membrane is supposed to keep bacteria and microbes out. Without this protective shell, you’ll never know what has found its way inside.
Eating thin-shelled eggs can lead to infections like salmonella. So, it’s better to err on the side of caution and throw away the faulty eggs or feed them to other farm animals.
If your chickens are laying soft eggs, don’t panic, although they can have many economic and health implications. And since many factors can be at play, a thorough examination is in order. It can be a simple, one-time production glitch or a serious illness affecting your entire flock.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch.