How to Help a Chicken that is Egg Bound

Backyard chickens can bring a lot of joy (as well as plenty of the freshest eggs you’ll ever get) and the more love and attention you give your hens, the more you’ll get out of raising them. Part of being an attentive and responsible hen keeper is looking after your feathery girls’ health and well being. As such, you need to be aware of the issue of egg binding.

How a Chicken Egg Forms

The oviduct is the tube-like organ in a bird which lies along the spine between the ovary and the tail. In an adult hen, it is around 60-65cm long.

The yolk of the egg forms in a follicle in the ovary. The follicle then ruptures, releasing the yolk into the oviduct.

As the yolk travels through the oviduct, the other components of the egg are formed and added, including the chalazae (speck), albumen (white), shell membrane, and the shell itself. By the time the egg reaches the uterus (near the cloaca/vent at the end of the oviduct), the formation process will be completed and it will be ready to be laid. The entire process takes around 24 hours and within half an hour of an egg being laid, the ovary releases a new yolk for the process to repeat.

What Does Egg Bound Mean?

There are times when things may not go according to plan for a hen in the process of forming and laying an egg. Sometimes, an egg may become stuck inside the hen’s oviduct – and this is called egg binding. This is a serious issue and, if not managed properly, the hen may die.

Causes of Egg Binding:

Various factors may result in a hen becoming egg bound, including:

  • Inadequate calcium in the diet
  • Malnutrition
  • Genetic issues
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • An infection in the oviduct.
  • An unusually large or misshapen egg
  • Double yolk eggs
  • Hen laying before maturity
  • Internal parasite infestation
  • Elderly laying
  • Egg retention due to insufficient or unsuitable nesting areas.
  • Dehydration

Signs and Symptoms of Egg Binding

  • Loss of appetite
  • Hen not drinking
  • Shaking
  • Lethargy or “drooping”
  • Droopy or pale comb and wattle
  • Frequent entry to the nesting box
  • Repeated sitting/squatting
  • Distressed squawking in the nesting box
  • Strange, irregular walking (“waddling”)
  • Straining
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

If your hen displays these signs, gently feel around her abdomen and vent (cloaca). You’ll likely be able to feel an egg if it is stuck inside. Most egg-bound chickens have their egg stuck between the uterus and the vent.

Will an Egg-Bound Hen Die?

An egg-bound chicken will be in considerable pain. She can quickly become very unwell and being egg bound is a life-threatening condition. Without proper management and vet treatment if the egg is not promptly passed, she may die.

When the egg is ready to be laid, the cloaca or vent seals to prevent the egg being covered in poop. An egg bound chicken cannot defecate – and if she is unable to do so within 24-48 hours, she will die. Additionally, egg binding can cause the vent to prolapse (hang outside the body) and she may develop egg yolk peritonitis. This is a fatal infection if not quickly treated.

There are, however, steps you can take to help her which can be very effective.

  • Immediately give your hen a dose of calcium (via vitamins, electrolytes, or in a liquid).
  • Re-hydrate her – if she won’t drink, provide electrolyte solution with a syringe or eyedropper.
  • If she has not laid the egg within 30 minutes, lower her gently into a warm (not hot) bath for 15-20 minutes. This should help her relax and also hydrate her vent so that it opens more easily to pass the egg.
  • Dry her and massage her abdomen gently, carefully encouraging the egg towards her vent. Be very careful to not break the egg inside of her. You may also apply KY jelly, Vaseline, or vegetable oil around her vent to lubricate it.
  • Keep her in a dark, quiet, cosy space with a freshly cleaned nesting box to give her the comfort and privacy she needs to lay her egg.

If your hen does not lay within an hour of these actions, or if she becomes pale or listless, you will need to have her seen by a vet as soon as possible.

They will access the situation and the vet may need to manually remove the egg – this is a delicate undertaking and only to be used as a last resort.

Tips for Prevention

  • Provide layer feed to hens over 15-18 weeks. This is specifically created to meet the nutritional requirements of a laying hen.
  • Boost calcium by adding shell grit to your hens’ diet.
  • Always have plenty of clean, fresh drinking water easily accessible to your chickens.
  • Don’t expose young hens to artificial light before they are ready to lay (age 18-22 weeks depending on the breed).
  • Be mindful to not give your chickens too many treats, particularly in summer when the weather is hot.
  • Provide a safe, dark, comfortable environment for laying, with plenty of easily accessible nesting boxes with fresh bedding.

Being forewarned is forearmed, and getting to know your flock and their normal healthy habits is part of raising backyard chickens. Doing so enables you to predict egg-laying behavior and quickly identify when something has gone awry. With some careful Tender Loving Care, your hen will be back laying properly in no time.