I had a problem with one of my laying hens the other day. Denise noticed that she was sitting and looked lethargic, with her eyes slowly opening and closing. Normally, the hens are very active, scratching and pecking anything that moves. When I came over to look at her, she looked like she was trying to lay. Her tail feathers were going up and down like she was trying to get it out, then she would sit frequently on the ground like she would if she were trying to lay an egg. She was walking kind of gingerly, like she was in pain, and waddling a little bit like a penguin. She was also not interested in eating or drinking. That is always a very bad sign.
She was exhibiting all the classic signs of an egg bound chicken. An egg bound chicken will die in 48 hours if she can’t pass the egg. This can happen so fast, so you must be observant if you are going to help her.
Red Star Chickens
My first thought was, what caused this? Some common causes are:
– A calcium deficiency
– Parasites (Usually a problem if you do not have enough space for the chickens to forage)
– Large or poorly shaped egg
– Egg retention (this can happen if a hen is handled roughly, if it is scared, or if there is not enough nesting space.)
– Certain breeds are more susceptible than others
I don’t know, but I suspect this breed, “Red Star”, is susceptible to egg binding, because they are so productive, and they lay enormous eggs. I can’t shut the large egg cartons we use, because the eggs don’t fit.
Denise says "The chickens are hiding a turkey out there.
My next logical thought was, what should I do about it, if anything? If you do nothing, she may pass the egg on her own, but then again she may not. After losing her sister to egg binding a few months ago, I was not about to do nothing this time. I got a bucket of warm water and filled it up. I then took the bucket to her, and picked her up and placed her in the bucket so her vent was well into the water. Her neck and head were out of course. She was really good about it. She didn’t fight or peck me. I did have to gently hold her in the water. I kept her in there for about five minutes.
At this point, I let her out of the bucket, and I went back to work, I was weeding at the time. Then I heard her squawk and I looked over, and the other hens were trying to peck her vent. I ran over, protected her, and checked her out. She was bleeding from her vent, and the hens were going crazy trying to peck at her. I picked her up and moved her to another paddock, so she could try to pass the egg in peace. Shortly after I moved her, she relaxed and passed the egg. The egg shell was soft, and she proceeded to immediately eat it. Yeah, it was gross, but that’s what they do with the bad eggs. Denise cleaned up her feathers, and we gave her some feed and water. I waited until dark to put her back with the others, because I knew they wouldn’t peck her once they were going to sleep. Also, I figured her feathers would fully dry overnight covering any blood that might be around her vent.
She's feeling better now.
If the warm water trick doesn’t work, you can gently apply some KY jelly around the vent. I would definitely use a latex glove for that. If that still doesn’t work, you are not in a good position, because the remaining options may kill the chicken through infection. I personally would not go any further at this point, but you can try to pull the egg out or even break it, and pull it out. If you break it, do not leave any pieces of egg or shell inside her vent, as it will cause infection. I would personally be too afraid of killing her with infection to try to pull the egg out by hand or break it.
I am happy to say that after finally passing the egg, she is doing much better! Crisis averted.
~ Phil Williams
Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com. His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.