Have you ever had those mornings when you couldn’t get comfortable because, well, you had to go but you couldn’t go? You know what I mean. Now, can you imagine how a hen feels as a result of chicken egg binding? I joke around, but egg binding can be serious. In fact, it can be life-threatening and should be considered to be an emergency situation for the chicken.
What Is Egg Binding?
Egg binding (dystocia) in chickens is a critical condition where a hen is unable to pass an egg that has formed in her oviduct. In other words, the egg gets stuck in the chicken. It’s enough to make a chicken sweat (if they could).
There can be eggs in the abdominal cavity (retropulsion), an egg or eggs in the oviduct, shell membranes, shells, and yolk/albumin concretions in the oviduct.
Whew! Talk about a bad day! This potentially life-threatening situation is caused by a few different factors.
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Abnormal egg shape
- Nesting box issues
Let’s take a look at each of these so that potential problems with egg binding can be lessened or even avoided.
The main nutrient that is deficient in a chicken that is having problems with shell hardness and density is calcium. Calcium is critical in egg formation and when insufficient in chickens’ diet can lead to soft shells binding in a chicken’s oviduct.
Most quality grower-layer chicken feeds contain enough calcium to cover this potential deficiency. If your flock is free-ranging for most of their food, you might want to consider adding calcium to the feed they do eat.
In addition to calcium, it is important for your chickens to get enough protein in their diets because they can’t produce the amino acids methionine and lysine. Again, a good grower-layer feed will cover this.
In addition to the soft-shelled issue is the weak shell issue. Weak shells can break inside a chicken when being laid, and they can break while in a nesting box. I have also had them break in my hands when picking them up.
Keep in mind that calcium, like in the form of oyster shells should not be given to hens when they are not laying because too much calcium can be harmful to your non-laying birds. Would you like to try some oyster shells for your chickens? You can get them here.
If you have ever raised meat birds like Cornish Rocks, then you know how an obese chicken behaves. They will stand up just long enough to walk from point A to point B which is about a maximum of a few feet before they plop down again to rest up for their next journey.
The problem with obese chickens, as it relates to egg binding, is that the fat in a chicken tends to gather around internal organs making it difficult for a chicken to pass an egg.
Obese chickens are more common in cage-kept or coop-kept scenarios and not so much in free-range flocks.
Treating obesity in chickens is pretty simple. Cut back on their feed, treats, scratch, table scraps, etc. They can also be let out for exercise. Do this a couple of hours before dusk as they will naturally return to the coop to roost.
Abnormal Egg Shape
Young chicken hens (pullets) can have immature shell glands that can lead to odd shell shapes. These oddities can lead to egg binding if the egg doesn’t pass correctly through the oviduct. Time and maturity will cure this problem most of the time.
Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with these odd eggs nutritionally speaking, so go ahead and eat them.
Nesting Box Issues
If a nesting box is uncomfortable, small, or placed in a high-traffic area, hens may become stressed or feel unsafe. Chronic stress can lead to abnormal egg formation and irregular contractions of the muscles needed to pass an egg.
A dirty nesting box can make a chicken sick due to infection in the reproductive tract. This, in turn, can lead to egg binding.
If there aren’t enough nesting boxes and chickens have to hold their eggs until a box opens up, problems in the oviduct can occur.
Symptoms and Treatment of Egg Binding
Some symptoms include lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss, visible straining, panting, and a puffy appearance. Sometimes a hen may appear to have a limp that is caused by a lodged egg pressing on a pelvic nerve.
It is possible and should be possible to feel the egg in the chicken’s abdomen. There are times, however, when the egg isn’t palpable.
If you feel the egg in the abdomen of your chicken, you can try putting your chicken in a warm, humid environment like a box with a gentle heater like a Sweeter Heater and some warm water. You can also try lubricating the cloaca and placing warm wet towels over the hen’s back.
If all that you do fails to solve the problem, it’s likely that your chicken won’t survive. You can take your chicken to a veterinarian to see if they can do something for you, but solving egg-binding issues is not something that is easily done.
Another consideration is that once a chicken becomes egg-bound once, it is more likely to happen again. Is it better to euthanize a chicken than to wait 48 hours and see? Phew! …tough call that only you can make.
Early identification and intervention, involving hydration, heat therapy, and in severe cases, veterinary assistance, is the best you can do. If you’re not certain that egg-binding is the problem, your vet can take an x-ray to be sure.
Prevention of Egg Binding
Okay, so we’ve discussed what it is and what to do when we think it’s egg-binding. Given all the bad news about the prognosis after the diagnosis, the best practice to ward off having to deal with the problem is to avoid it altogether
Preventing egg-binding is a waltz in the park… you know, 1,2,3 1,2,3.
- Keep their environment clean. Muck out the coop when it needs it, especially changing the bedding in the nesting boxes regularly in order to avoid infections in your birds’ reproductive tracts.
- Don’t allow stress to freak your hens out. Keep your dog(s) in check. Make sure there is always food and water available. Keep your girls safe from predators.
- Make sure your chickens’ diet contains calcium and enough protein. Remember that too much protein is not good either.
Keeping your chickens stress-free, well-fed, and clean should help you to avoid egg-binding problems in your flock.
Let’s Sum it Up
In conclusion, egg binding is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition for chickens. It occurs when a hen is unable to pass an egg that has formed in her oviduct, leading to discomfort and health complications.
Nutritional deficiencies, obesity, abnormal egg shape, and nesting box issues are common causes of egg binding. To prevent this condition, it is crucial to provide a balanced diet with sufficient calcium and protein, maintain a clean and stress-free environment, and ensure comfortable nesting boxes.
Early identification and intervention are essential in treating egg binding, but sometimes veterinary assistance may be required. By taking preventive measures, such as proper nutrition and environmental care, poultry keepers can minimize the risk of egg binding in their flock.
Thanks for reading!
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