If you’re raised backyard chickens for a decent amount of time, there is a good chance you will have found a soft-shelled egg in a nesting box at least once.
It can be quite a shock the first time you find a soft-shelled egg, and it’s normal to panic that something serious might be wrong with your hen.
But do try not to panic, there are a few reasons why hens lay soft-shelled eggs, and most of them can be easily resolved once you identify exactly why your hen is laying soft eggs.
In this article, I’m looking at 5 of the most common reasons why chickens lay soft eggs, what you can do to resolve the issue, whether or not you can eat soft eggs, and more!
5 Reasons Why Hens Lay Soft Shelled Eggs
1. It's Due to a Calcium Deficiency
Eggshells are made primarily from calcium. So, it will come as no surprise that if a chicken isn't getting enough calcium in their diet they won't be able to create a strong shell.
It’s said that laying hens need around 4 grams of calcium per day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really not if you use a good layer feed that’s specially formulated for laying hens.
You do need to be sure your hens are getting enough calcium in their diets though. It’s not just eggshells that suffer if there is a calcium deficiency, their general health will deteriorate pretty quickly.
2. It's Due to a General Dietary Imbalance
It's not only calcium for the shell that's important, chickens need the right balance of nutrition to maintain optimal health and lay healthy eggs.
Double check with a local hatchery or farm that you're feeding chickens the appropriate feed. It can get confusing with so many different feeds on the market, if in doubt go with whatever local hatchery recommends.
3. Approaching End of Lay
Hens will sometimes lay some odd shaped eggs at both the beginning and the end of their laying career.
Young hens are more likely to lay smaller eggs, as well as double and triple yolkers. While older hens approaching their end of lay will sometimes lay soft or even shell-less eggs.
It depends a lot on the breed as to what age you can expect them to taper off laying eggs. If they're in their twilight years, however, this could just be a sign that their laying days are numbered.
Related - Why do hens lay double yolk eggs?
4. Inter-Flock Stress
Being part of a flock isn't easy at times for hens. There's a whole hierarchy that forms known as the ‘pecking order’, and sometimes hens peck at each other and will even form a group and bully one another.
This kind of stress takes a toll on a hen’s health and can cause them to lay soft eggs. You can look for other signs of bullying such as damage to their comb or missing feathers to try and figure out if this is the cause.
5. Other Environmental-Related Stress
Just as internal flock stresses cause health issues, so can any other environmental factors that are less than ideal for hens.
This could be things like cramped living conditions, roosters harassing them, the fear of predators, being too hot or too cold a lot of the time, being infested with lice and other parasites, and so on.
Sometimes hens living in perfect conditions become unsettled. If you’re scratching your head as to what could be wrong with a hen, you can try separating them from the flock for a few days and seeing if that helps.
Some Related Questions:
How Do I Stop My Chickens From Laying Soft Shelled Eggs?
As with any problem, you first need to identify the cause - which you should be able to do from the points above - then you can come up with a solution.
The good news is, in most instances, it's really not that hard to resolve soft-shelled eggs being laid.
Unless there is a serious underlying health issue or your hen is near the end of her laying days, you will be able to resolve it I'm sure.
What Does It Mean When a Chicken Lays a Soft Egg?
If a chicken lays a soft egg, it definitely means that something is not right and you need to look into it.
It's almost always going to be one of the five reasons I covered above. So,if you find a soft or shell-less egg in a nesting box, don't ignore it.
How Do You Increase Calcium in Chickens?
Once you know that your chickens need more calcium in their diet, it's pretty easy to give them a little boost.
Some of the ways you can increase their calcium intake include feeding them:
- A soluble calcium-based grit they can use to supplement their diet
- Chicken feed that is been specifically formulated to contain more calcium
- You can dry out and crush up eggshells, then provide them to your hens as grit
- There are various calcium-rich feed supplements on the market
Can You Eat a Soft Shell Egg?
If the membrane is fully intact - which is the slightly elastic, clear film lining that protects the egg and is on the inside of the shell - then it should be perfectly fine to egg a soft-shelled egg.
I know plenty of people who will eat them if the membrane is intact, as essentially the egg inside is the same as any other egg, it just doesn’t have a fully formed shell.
Hopefully, this article achieved a few things for you;
- You're not going to panic or totally freak out if you find a soft egg
- You now know five of the most common causes behind hens laying soft eggs, and
- You you know what steps to take to resolve this issue if possible
Soft eggs are just one of the many surprising and unusual things that you're going to find inside your chicken coop over the years I’m sure!
Image credits - Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash