Imagine you walk out to your chicken coop and find a soft-shelled egg, or even an egg with no shell at all. It would be a pretty disturbing sight, especially if you’ve never seen one before. Besides the fact that these eggs are pretty messy to handle, they could also be an alarm that something is wrong with your chicken’s health.
To understand what happens when eggs deviate from the norm, you must first understand how a normal egg is formed:
- Pullets are hatched with two ovaries. The right ovary remains dormant, while the left ovary produces all the ova. Ova are undeveloped yolks that are eventually laid as eggs. Approximately every 25 hours the left ovary releases one ovum. Once a single ovum or “yolk” is released it travels into the oviduct. An oviduct is long and tube-shaped and is the road by which the ovum travels from the ovary to the opening where the egg comes out. During that traveling process, the ovum is developing into a fully formed egg.
- The oviduct is performing various duties throughout the process. It’s similar to an assembly line with different sections performing different tasks. The first section of the oviduct assembly line is called the magnum. In this section the egg whites are formed to cover the yolk.
- The next stop on the line is the isthmus. This is where the inner and outer membranes of the shell are formed around both the yolk and whites. This part of the process protects the egg yolk and “whites” from bacteria.
- The egg remains in the uterus for up to 26 hours, sometimes less. Just before the egg is laid, a natural antibacterial coating is added to the outer shell. This antibacterial substance is called the “bloom”. If the egg has any porous holes in it at this stage of the game, the bloom protects it from any harmful bacteria.
A soft-shelled egg has a thin layer of shell around the yolk and egg whites. The feel of the egg is often leathery and pliable. You may be able to handle a soft-shelled egg without breaking it, as they can still be very durable.
There is no layer at all deposited over the yolk and egg white. It is laid with just the inner and outer protective membranes over the yolk and the white. This obviously means that something has aborted the next step in the process. A totally shell-less egg is normally not what we think of as egg-shaped, and is very delicate, while a soft-shelled egg has already taken on its characteristic oval shape.
What Causes Soft-shelled and Shell-less Eggs?
- There are three main causes for the production of soft-shelled or shell-less eggs. The first is that there may be a lack of calcium in your hen’s diet. Hens require a lot of calcium to form each egg shell. You can add more calcium to your flock’s diet by adding crushed oyster shells to their feed.
- Any dietary imbalance can cause the production of soft-shelled and shell-less eggs. Making sure that your flock is eating a balanced diet is of utmost importance. Too many treats or kitchen scraps can interrupt a good nutrition plan.
- Stress, bullying, and henpecking are other common cause of oddly shaped, shell-less, or soft-shell eggs. If there is a great deal of bullying directed towards a certain hen, the stress can interfere with the egg formation process or even cause the hen to stop laying eggs altogether. If you have overly aggressive chickens in your flock, consider using a beak bit. These fit onto a bird’s beak to keep them from feather pecking.
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