Collecting a basket full of eggs from your backyard chickens in the morning can be one of the best and most fulfilling feelings for a chicken owner. Alternatively, collecting eggs for your morning breakfast only to reach into the nest and grab a soft egg is super disappointing. If it’s your first time encountering this you might find yourself asking “Why are my chickens laying soft eggs and what the cluck are they?”.
What Is A Soft Egg?
A soft egg may also be referred to as a “rubber egg” or (incorrectly) a “shell-less egg”. A soft egg will feature an extremely thin eggshell (which will allow it to maintain its egg shape and make it feel rubbery to the touch) whereas a shell-less egg will only have just the yolk, membrane, and albumen (the part that makes up an egg white). Essentially, for a shell-less egg, the thin membrane is the shell.
For the sake of simplicity you can use them interchangeably. Either way both are lacking in a hard and complete shell and both are incredibly fragile and should be handled with care (otherwise it’ll get messy).
The shell of an egg serves two main purposes. The first is to be hard enough to protect the fragile embryo that is (or might be) inside. The second is to serve as a barrier to protect bacteria from getting inside the membrane. If you have ever wondered if it’s ok to eat a soft egg, let’s just say while you can, you shouldn’t. It’s not a smart idea and it isn’t worth the chance of you getting sick, especially if you’re not sure what is causing the soft shell to begin with.
The good news is that whatever is causing the chickens to lay soft eggs can probably be remedied with minimal effort. Regarding soft eggs and shell-less eggs, they can happen for various reasons, which we will cover here.
Different Factors That Cause Soft Eggs And How To Fix It
There are a number of factors that you will need to consider when trying to figure out why your chicken is laying soft eggs. Listed below are a few things to think about when it comes to your chicken laying eggs without their hard shells fully intact. Maybe this will allow you an opportunity to figure out what’s happening and what you can do to fix it.
Usually the main culprit behind soft eggs is a deficiency of calcium in your chicken’s diet. The eggshell is comprised of almost 95% calcium! If you think this might be your culprit and your hen may need an extra dose of calcium, this is very easy to correct. All you will need to do to up her calcium intake is provide a supplement in her chicken food.
There are even feeds available with added calcium and there are supplements you can create your own source of calcium and add it to their feed yourself (like other egg shells or oyster shells). Alternatively it could not be a calcium issue, but maybe it’s an overload of protein instead. If you’ve been allowing your hens to gorge themselves on treats, like mealworms or barley, this may be the reason behind your soft eggs.
Calcium and protein are necessary nutrients all chickens need, especially for the hens. If a chicken doesn’t have enough calcium in their diet they will begin extracting it from their own bones, which will inevitably lead to even worse health issues. You must maintain an overall balanced diet when it comes to keeping your flock happy and giving them the best chance to produce healthy eggs.
How old is your hen? Chances are, if she’s still under a year old or just starting to lay eggs, her body may not have quite figured out the exact formula required to produce the perfect egg yet.
If you believe this may be the cause you can give her a helping hand and provide her with a layered feed that is super rich in calcium. Alternatively, you may want to decide to simply wait it out for a few more batches and see if she comes around. Sometimes it’s best to just let Mother Nature work her magic.
Chickens, or more correctly their bodies, do not handle stress well. Take a moment to think if there have been any recent changes in her lifestyle. Have the other chickens been bullying her? Did a sneaky fox or other predator get into their coop recently? Have the roosters been bugging her nonstop to mate? There are many factors that could cause your chicken to stress out and any one of them could cause her to lay soft eggs.
You may also notice a trend of soft eggs during the summer time when it’s really hot outside. Soft eggs could be the result of dehydration or heat stress. Just making sure to practice good run management for your chickens when it’s really hot and providing them with ample ways to stay cool may help prevent or lessen soft-shelled and shell-less eggs.
Creating an egg takes about 7 to 9 days from start to finish and just the shell itself takes anywhere from 20-24 hours to form. If your hen is stressed, or if this process is rushed at all, it can skip an important step – like say forming the full shell. If you know that your chicken is about to lay an egg you should make sure that she has a safe and clean place to do so without interruption and you can probably scratch this one off the list of suspects.
Disease Or Illness
If you’ve been able to scratch the previous possibilities off, as in your chicken is fed plenty of calcium, is over a year, and doesn’t get picked on by the other chickens, you may need to dig deeper. You will need to find out if maybe she’s suffering from an illness. A chicken’s immune system will take over if any type of disturbance comes about and will use any and all nutrients to fight against the bacteria or virus.
There are a number of diseases that can contribute to soft eggs. Bumblefoot, bronchitis, and thrush are a few of the more common ones to watch out for. If you think this really could be the cause, you should quarantine that hen and set her up away from the others with plenty of food and water, just in case it’s contagious.
Make sure to keep a close eye on her and if you see her exhibit any other symptoms of being ill, like diarrhea, discoloration of the comb or wattle, lethargy, etc. it may be time to send a droppings sample to the local vet and see if they can find anything. If this is the cause of the soft eggs your vet should be able to provide a medication to help your hen get over her sickness and you should be back to normal with hard-shelled eggs in no time.
No Reason At All
Of course, even after a thorough analysis and examination, you may find that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your hen. She may have just had a one off soft egg just because. Sometimes the body just kind of malfunctions with no logical explanation, which is normal in and of itself. You should still keep a close eye on her and make sure she’s getting extra calcium, at least until the issue has resolved itself.
It’s important for the overall health of your flock to try to figure out the cause of a soft shelled egg as soon as you come across one or two, especially if it becomes more frequent. A lot of times the problem can resolve itself, but if it’s happened multiple times and shows no improvement, there may be something there worth a bit more investigation.
If you have any inkling that it’s not a one-and-done kind of situation for your hen and you think she will continue to lay soft eggs without intervention from you, you should figure out the best way to help. The only way you can treat or fix the problem is if you know what it is that’s causing it.
Generally speaking you should always up the calcium in the chicken feed as soon as there is any visible weakness in the shells of the eggs your girls are producing. Having a bit more calcium can only help the situation. You can also take special care to ensure that there’s no excessive pecking going on among the flock and that the coop is clean. If you notice any particular stress or anxiety-inducing events taking place you should try to put a stop to it as soon as possible.
If you’re finding soft eggs on a daily basis, or it’s becoming a reoccurring thing that happens frequently among your hens, your best bet would be to physically take your hen to an avian vet. They will be able to perform any and all necessary tests to find out for sure what may be causing it. They should also be able to give you any information you may need in order to take the correct preventative measures.