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Common egg quality problems

Approximately 2% of all chicken eggs has some defect, ranging from minor, barely noticeable faults to downright alarming deformities. So the chances are pretty good that most, if not all flock owners will at some stage find an irregular egg. This article is about the most common egg irregularities and problems and their causes. A few members have asked me if these odd eggs are safe to eat. That depends on the cause of the deformity/irregularity. Most of these eggs, though some may look rather unappetising, are perfectly safe for human consumption. If the cause of the deformity/irregularity is disease or treatment for disease/pest I would play it safe and discard the eggs rather as many drugs given to chickens leaves a residue in their eggs during the withdrawal period (usually 3 weeks).

 

To help us understand these problems and how they occur, let's first look at how an egg is formed:

 

How an Egg is Formed

 

An egg is formed over a period of about 25 hours. The egg yolks are formed in the hen's ovary. Hens, unlike most animals, have only one functional ovary, the left one. At the time of hatch each female chick will have up to 4 000 tiny ova, from some of which yolks may develop when the hen matures. At any given time, an active layer will have a number of yolks in her ovary, in different stages of development. It takes around 10 days for an egg yolk to mature, after which it gets released into the funnel (infundibulum) where, if live sperm are present, it will be fertilized. This process takes about 15 minutes. Next, the yolk moves down into the magnum, where inner and outer shell membranes are added, as well as water and mineral salts.  This process takes about 3 hours. The yolk then moves into the isthmus, where albumen (egg white) is secreted and layered around the yolk. This process takes about an hour. Next the partly formed egg moves into the uterus, or shell gland, where it will receive it's shell. Initially some water is added, thinning the outer layer of albumen. Then the shell material, mostly calcium carbonate, is added, followed by pigments, if a colored egg is produced. For example a brown, blue or green egg. This process takes about 21 hours. Once this process is complete, the egg passes through the vagina and is laid by the hen. This final process takes less than a minute.

 

Common Egg Shell Quality Problems

 

1. White banded egg 

These eggs are the result of two eggs entering and making contact with each other in the shell gland pouch.  When this happens, normal calcification (egg shell formation) is interrupted and the first egg that entered the pouch will get an extra layer of calcium, seen as the white band marking. Causes for this are:

 

- Stress in the flock;

 

- Changes in lighting, for example adding artificial light in the coop to encourage laying over winter;

 

- Diseases such as infectious bronchitis. 

 

 

2. Blood on egg shell

This can be anywhere from a few spots to a smear to an alarming amount of blood. Causes are:

 

- Small blood vessels ruptured in the hen's vagina from excessive straining. This is more common in young pullets coming into lay and overweight hens;

 

- Cannibalism, vent pecking;

 

- Sudden big increase in length of daylight (when supplementing light in winter months);

 

- A mite/lice infestation around the vent.

 

 

3. Body checked egg

These eggs' shells got cracked during the calcification process and had a layer of calcium deposited over the crack before the egg was laid. Some body checks are covered by a thick layer of calcium, forming an noticeable ridge or band around the egg. Body checks will increase if the hens are exited or gets startled late in the afternoon/early evening, when the egg shell formation process begins. Causes of body checks are:

 

- Stress and overcrowding;

 

- The hen's age. There is a higher incidence in body checked eggs from older layers.

 

 

4. Broken and mended egg 

These are similar to body check eggs. The egg shell got cracked during the calcification process and mended just before being laid. Cause:

 

- Stress, frights or disturbance during the calcification process.

 

 

 

>>>>>>> CURRENT VERSION5. Misshaped or odd shaped eggs 

These eggs differ from the normal shape and/or size and can be either too large, too small, round instead of oval or has major changes in the shape. Shapes can range from minor, barely noticeable to grossly mis-shaped. Causes are:

 

- Immature shell gland (young layers);

 

- Defective shell glands;

 

- Disease such as infectious bronchitis;

 

- Stress, frights, or disturbances;

 

- Overcrowding in coop and/or run.

 

 

6. Calcium deposits

These egg shells have white coloured, irregularly shaped spots deposited onto the external surface of the shell. It can range from a few spots to a severe deposit, as shown in pic #6. Causes are:

 

- Defective shell glands;

 

- Disturbances and/or stress during the calcification process;

 

- Poor nutrition, for example excess calcium in the hen's diet.

 

 

7. Lack of pigment or uneven pigmentation on egg shells 

The causes for this can be:

 

- Poor nutrition. A deficiency in any of the main nutrients, protein, minerals etc in the hens' diet can influence shell colour and formation. Zinc, copper and manganese are thought to be especially important in transporting pigment onto the shell. It has been suggested that a magnesium supplement can improve shell colour:

 

- Viral infections. Infectious bronchitis and it's variants, Newcastle disease, egg drop syndrome and avian influenza can cause damage to the oviduct, resulting in loss of shell colour and other problems:

 

- Internal and external parasites. A heavy infestation of roundworms and or capillaria worms as well as red mites, when present as a heavy infestation, can have an adverse effect on egg quality and may cause pale shells; 

 

- Drugs. The coccidiostat drug, Nicarbazin, if present in feed, can interfere with egg shell pigmentation;

 

- The hen's age. And older layer will often produce eggs with paler shells, as well as a hen who had been laying intensively over a long period;

 

- Stress. Physical stresses, environmental stresses or nutritional stresses can all interfere with shell pigmentation;

 

- Exposure to sunlight and high temperatures can produce a fading effect on the shell.

 

 

8. Calcium coated egg

These eggs have an extra, powdery layer of calcium, covering either the entire egg, or just one end of the egg. Causes are:

 

- Defective shell glands;

 

- Disturbance or stress during calcification process;

 

- Poor nutrition, for example excess calcium in the hen's diet.

 

 

9. Speckled eggs 

Spots or speckles can be either brown or white. They are similar to calcium deposits, except the speckles are smaller. Speckles may or may not be pigmented. Causes are: 

 

- Stress or disturbance during calcification process;

 

- Poor nutrition, for example excess calcium in the hen's diet.

 

 

10. Shell-less eggs 

A shell less consists of a yolk, albumen and membrane, but has no shell at all. The egg contents are protected by the outer membrane only. These are often seen in pullets coming into lay. Causes are:

 

- Immature shell gland (young layer);

 

- Nutritional deficiency, usually lack of calcium and vitamins E, B12 and D as well as phosphorous and selenium;

 

- Certain diseases, such as Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis, avian influenza, egg drop syndrome;  

 

- Exposure to very high temperatures and extremely high or low humidity levels;  

 

- An infestation of internal or external parasites, such as worms, mites or lice;

 

- Stress prompting the hen to lay an egg prematurely, before the shell is formed;  

 

- Egg laying while molting;

 

- Exposure to toxins, such as mold, fungi, bacteria. 

 

 

11. Slab sided or flat sided egg

When two eggs enter the shell gland pouch shortly after another, normal calcification is interrupted. The second egg will not be as complete as the first and may be flattened at the side where the eggs made contact, resulting in a flat or slab side. Causes are:

 

- Disease, such as infectious bronchitis;

 

- Stress, frights and disturbances;

 

- Overcrowding in coop/run;

 

- Sudden large increase in daily light hours, for example when supplementing light during winter months.

 

 

12. Wrinkled eggs 

These eggs' shells have thinly creased/wrinkled surfaces. The wrinkles can range in severity from a single small wrinkle to quite a few large wrinkles, as shown in the egg pictured. Causes are:

 

- Stress and disturbance during calcification process;

 

- Disease such as infectious bronchitis;

 

- Defective shell glands.

 

 

13. Corrugated shell 

This happens when the egg membrane is thinner than it should be, often as a result of double ovulation (two yolks) and having to stretch thinner to cover the extra egg contents. This results in insufficient plumping of the egg, leaving a corrugated membrane onto which the shell gets deposited, so the shell takes on a corrugated appearance as well. Causes are:

 

- Extra large egg size, often double or multi yolk eggs;

 

- Newcastle disease;

 

- Excessive use of antibiotics;

 

- Copper deficiency in the hen's diet;

 

- Excess calcium consumption;

 

- A defective shell gland;

 

- It is often seen with hens recovering from infectious bronchitis;

 

- It can be hereditary. 

 

 

14. Fart egg aka fairy egg, witch egg, rooster egg or oops eggs 

These tiny eggs may or may not have a yolk. Yolk-less fart eggs are often called rooster eggs. These little eggs are often much darker than normal, as they spend more time in the shell gland pouch and gets an extra layer or two of pigment. These yolk-less eggs sometimes form when:

 

- The hen's oviduct releases a small piece of reproductive tissue or another small foreign mass enters the hen's oviduct, triggering the regular formation of an egg. The foreign object will be treated like a normal yolk and enveloped in albumen, membranes and a shell;

 

- Occasionally a hen will also lay a fart egg when something disturbs her reproductive cycle;

 

- Young pullets may lay a fart egg or two when coming into lay and is still getting their reproductive systems in gear. 

 

 

15. Soft shell eggs 

These eggs are laid with an incomplete shell, sometimes just a thin layer of calcium. Causes are similar to shell less eggs:

 

- Immature shell gland;

 

- Nutritional deficiencies, usually lack of calcium, vitamins E, B12 and D as well as phosphorous and selenium;

 

- Disease such as infectious bronchitis, avian influenza, egg drop syndrome; an internal or external parasite infestation;

 

- Exposure to very high temperatures and/or very high or low humidity levels;

 

- Egg laid prematurely due to stress or a disturbance during the calcification process;

 

- Egg laying while molting.

 

 

16. Mottled egg shells

In mottled egg shells parts of the egg shell are translucent, taking on a mottled or glassy appearance.

These shells can also be thin and fragile. Causes are:

 
- High humidity in the coop (make sure the coop is well ventilated;
 
- Certain diseases, (such as infectious bursal disease) and mycotoxins;
 
- Manganese deficiency in the hen's diet;
 
- Over-crowding in the coop.

 

Common Yolk Quality Problems 

 

1. Blood spots 

Can range in severity from a small spot of blood on the yolk to about a spoonful of blood mixed with the egg contents. Egg yolks form and mature in the hen's ovary and sometimes when the mature yolk is released it may rupture a small blood vessel, the blood released will end up being encased in the shell, along with the rest of the egg contents. Causes of this can be:

 

- Incorrect levels of vitamins A and K in the hen's diet;

 

- Administration of the drug sulphaquinoxaline;

 

- Large amounts of lucerne meal in the layers' diet;

 

- Feeding stale, wet or mouldy feed;

 

- Continuous lighting in the coop;

 

- Frights, stress and disturbances.

 

 

2. Pale yolks 

Can be caused by:

 

- Lack of yellow to red pigments in the hens' diet. Hens who have access to the outdoors, green food such as lucerne and grass and hens who are fed maize will have deeper coloured yolks. Certain feeds contain additives, such as marigold extract to help deepen the yolk colour.

 

 

3. Mottled yolks 

Can be caused by:

 

- Worming drugs and compounds piperazine, dibutyltin dilaurate and citrate;

 

- The anticoccidial drug Nicarbazin;

 

- Certain antioxidants such as gallic acid and tannic acid;

 

- Feeding hens raw soybean meal;

 

- Calcium deficiency in the hens' diet;

 

- Thin egg shells;

 

- Can be hereditary.

 

 

4. Discoloured (blue-green) yolks 

Can be caused by:

 

- Feed or snacks containing cottonseed oil; 

 

- Ingestion of the weed Shepard's Purse.

 

 

5. Double or multiple yolk eggs 

These are more common with your pullets just coming into lay. This happens when more than one yolk matures and gets released at the same time. As many as 9 yolks have been found in a single egg. 

 

 

6. Rubbery, cheesy or pasty yolks 

Are caused by:

 

- Ingestion of crude cottonseed oil;

 

- Severe chilling or freezing of intact egg;

 

- Ingestion of velvet weed and other related species.

 

 

7. White or platinum yolks 

Can be caused by:

 

- An infestation of cappilaria worms and certain diseases.

 

 

 

Common Albumen Quality problems

 

1. Meat spots 

These are usually little bits of the lining of the oviduct which got shed during the egg formation process, but some may be partially broken down blood spots. They often take on the apearance of dirt or soil and vary in colour from pale yellow to dark brown or red, as shown in the images. Sizes vary from tiny specks to a few millimetres in diameter. There is a higher incidence of meat spots in eggs from older layers.

 

  

 

 

2. Thin, watery albumen 

This can be caused by:

 

- Disease such as Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis, laryngothacheitis or egg drop syndrome;

 

- High egg storage temperature;

 

- High level of ammonia from droppings in coop (inadequate ventilation/coop hygiene);

 

- Loss of CO2 from egg during storage;

 

- High vanadium levels in feed;

 

- It can occasionally be a reaction to certain vaccinations.

 

- There is a higher incidence in eggs from older layers.

 

 

3. Off colour albumen

For example pink or green. Cause:

 

- Spoilage due to Pseudomonas bacteria produces a greenish, fluorescent, water soluble pigment in the albumen.

 

- A green tint to to albumen can also be caused by the presence of high levels of riboflavin (vit B2), which has a yellow green colour.

 

For more information on eggs, egg laying and egg layers visit the chicken behaviors and egglaying forum section.

 

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A huge "Thank you!" to the members who's pics were used in this article. They are:

 

1. Banded egg- pic by brierose3

2. Blood on shell - pic by lablover

3. Body checked egg - pic by SpotJL

4. Broken and mended - pic by Naked Farm

5. Misshaped eggs - pic by CaCO3

6. Calcium deposits - pic by HipEMama

7. Pigmentation egg - pic by Wynette

8. Calcium coated - pic by animal-lover99

9. Speckled egg - pic by Wynette

10. Shell less egg - pic by LaLa Chickie

11. Slab sided egg - pic by Mac14

12. Wrinkled egg - pic by FlagChick

13. Corrugated egg - pic by mike555444

14. Fart egg - pic by sumi

15. Soft shell egg - pic by Liz9910

 

1. Blood spot - pic by Melabella

2. Egg yolk - pic by macylee36

5. Double yolk - pic by bellah1

7. Platinum yolk - pic by Sumi

1. Meat spots - pic by ChickPrincess

1. Second and third pic by Sumi

Comments (37)

Nice Work.... great information :)
great article sumi! excellent information.
Official reference Work.
You are very welcome. Glad you liked it...La La and Cha Cha are laying perfect eggs now...
Really cool! It's great to know why that happens.
Top-notch article, Sumi! I learned a lot!
this is perfect-it answered some questions I had--awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Answered my questions too! Really helpful, thanks sumi!
 Thanks everyone! I'm hoping to find more pics to add to this article in future, especially for "yolk problems". So if anyone has a pic I can use, or finds a yolk/shell problem that I've addressed, but haven't posted a pic of yet, please PM me. 
great information thanks a lot !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
keep up the good work 
Today one of my hens laid a weird egg.  It was large, soft, orange and rubbery and when I broke it was all yolk and no white.  The closest match on this article is the shell-less egg.  I'm thinking it may have been caused by the recent change in layer feed.  
It sounds like the hen passed the egg before the yolk and membrane got to the isthmus, where the albumen gets deposited.   (See the second paragraph, on how an egg is formed). She may have got a fright or got disturbed at this stage, causing her to "abort" the egg. 
Thanks for this article. Lots of information I've been wondering about and it's now in my "Chickens" folder!
Why does a hen lay an egg in the middle of the night while on the roost? Sometimes they've been regular, hard-shelled eggs but more often it's a soft-shelled.  Are the soft-shelled eggs OK to eat?
I was surprised to read that speckled eggs were an issue. Good article!
Great resource. Thank you for fantastic information and the photos to go with it.
Awesome article. Thank you to all the contributors!
My hens have had some of the issues here with the reasons (according to the articles) being a medical problem i.e. infectious bronchitis, or mites.  I haven't noticed any thing wrong with them, not sick at all.  I shouldn't worry, right?
Love this article.  Answers a lot of questions for me!
Thank-You for the info!!! We are new chicken owners we have one silkie, a sizzle and one frizzle. all three of our girls lay eggs. This has been VERY helpful .
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