Now, I realize that hens who start laying are not always consistent, especially in the winter months, but a week? This situation was enough to drive a new chickener like me loco ! I was nearly starting to panic, but thankfully there is this think-tank called the Interweb; a wondrous resource where one can glean valuable information quickly. And then of course, as with most aliments, I realized that there are causes, symptoms that accompany them, and cures or the best cure being prevention.
So instead of panicking, I needed to find out if my little Buttercup was indeed suffering from a stuck egg, how it happened if it all, and how to cure or even prevent it in the future. Also, I decided to consider that she might just be taking her sweet time in laying another egg, or if she might be an egg laying "dud." As it turned out, this morning I discovered that my Buttercup wasn't egg bound, she gifted me a perfect egg this morning, and with it, a great deal of relief! But this is what I learned as a result of researching this condition, which I supposed she had.
Symptoms To Look For
- Loss of appetite
- Not drinking water
- Abdominal straining, or pumping
- Frequency of sitting on the nest w/out laying an egg
- Passing excessively wet droppings, or no droppings (eggs and poop share the same opening)
- Abnormal behavior such as listlessness in a calm bird, or calmness in a skittish bird
- Abnormal movements such as: shaking or dragging wings, walking like a duck, or penguin
- Abnormal appearance such as: drooping, depressed, or pale combs and/or wattles; closed, or watery eyes
- A swollen, red vent (maybe with the egg in view), a prolapse, or egg white leaking from the vent
After the sits bath, if no egg is produced, then you can also try to move things along by de-stressing your bird with some R&R, by sequestering the egg bound bird in a warm, quiet spot, and feed the chicken some olive oil laced feed, if she will take it, and let nature take its course. Or gently give her some water with Epsom salt, or olive oil through a dropper if she won't drink water on her own.
If the spa, and R&R treatments don't work, then move on to the ehem... gynecological/proctological treatment. The important thing to remember is to be GENTILE and take it slowly and carefully while trying to manipulate the egg toward and out of the vent. When using a lubricant, it is recommended to only use petroleum based lubricants such as Vaseline, or KY Jelly since, they won't go rancid like vegetable, or animal based lubricants such as olive and corn oil, or butter.
Breaking, or collapsing, the egg is the absolute last resort, and should be done knowing that death could still result. If done carefully, collapsing the egg, like deflating a balloon, will allow the egg to pass easily. If you have a good vet that handles chickens, then you may want to just take the hen there, but be prepared to shell out a lot of oyster shells for their assistance, which depending on the situation, could still result in a dead chicken. Seriously, my husband would take the hen to a Vietnamese neighbor, before he would take it to the vet. He would make a very good farmer. I would only recommend breaking, or imploding an egg if you can see it, or feel it near the vent, which is a definite confirmation of the problem.
If the first two treatments don't produce results (a laid egg), then you may have misdiagnosed the problem, so more trouble shooting is in order.
Cause and Prevention
Your bird may not be getting enough calcium, which not only helps form the shell of the egg, but also aides in muscular contractions that are used in laying the egg. So if you notice that your hen is pumping out eggs with rubbery, or very thin shells, then it is a sign that she needs to be given some extra calcium. This can be done by providing her with dark leafy greens like romaine lettuce, a free choice calcium bar of oyster shells, and/or well rinsed and dried egg shells, just don't mix it with the feed. There are also liquid forms of calcium that can be placed in the hen's water, just follow the directions carefully. Most layer feeds have more than enough calcium, but for what ever reason, that hen needs a little more. So take the hint, and avoid the possibility of the hen suffering by becoming egg bound.
Vitamin D aides in the absorption and assimilation of calcium, and it is acquired mostly by sunlight, but also in the chicken's feed. There are of course several types of Vitamin D, but to keep things easier, just make sure your girls are getting a good amount of sunshine every day, and a well balance layer feed.
Many vitamins such as A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, so a certain amount of fat is required for optimum hen health. Many commercial feeds do contain a percentage of fat, as well as allowing a bird to free range to dig up and nibble on their own, they will ensure they get enough fat to allow for proper egg production and to keep warm in colder months.
Not enough protein can make a chicken too weak, or to not develop enough muscle to lay an egg, but this is very rare. The bird would almost have to be starved on purpose for that to happen. By providing adequate feed that is formulated for laying hens, then this is not a problem.
Too much of a good thing
Just as not having enough calcium is bad, having too much is also bad. It can damage the chickens kidneys and effect their eggs by making them bumpy and dimply, and makes them harder to pass, than smooth shelled eggs.
Too much Vitamin D can cause problems as well, something called hypercalcemia, which is when too much calcium is in the blood. This is why many organic chickeners frown upon the practice of placing artificial light in chicken coops. We would do well to honor God by yielding to the production/rest cycles that he created. When we mess with these cycles artificially, then only bad things can, and often do, happen.
Too much fat in a chickens diet can be a bad thing, as with most creatures, and can make egg laying difficult, if not stop the process entirely. Corn based treats should be avoided during summer months, when less fat is required to help the bird stay warm.
Too much protein can cause problems with the size of eggs being produced in relation to the size of its pelvis, and even lead to them becoming too fat. Many chickeners have reported elevated aggression in birds that have had too much protein, and I would imagine this is rather stressful, not a good thing for a chicken's laying schedule.