Welcome Jerry, glad you joined us. On some questions it helps us to know roughly where you are located. On this one, whether you are north or south of the equator would help. I’m going to guess north, partly because you spell Jerry with a “J”, the American way. Brits and others tend to use “G”. Just a bit of trivia.
When the days get shorter chickens normally molt. Their feathers get worn out and they need to replace them. When they molt they pretty much stop laying eggs and use the nutrition that was going into the eggs to make feathers. This time of year in the northern hemisphere the molt is why egg production drops or even totally stops. It’s not that unusual for a pullet to skip her molt her first winter but her body is about worn out and she needs to recharge by her second fall/winter.
There is nothing magical about the length of day, the main controlling factor is whether the days are getting longer or shorter. I’ve had plenty of hens laying eggs in December when my days are less than 10 hours long. Some hens, especially production breeds like RIR’s, might start laying as soon as they are over the effects of the molt. Not all of them do that but a lot do, it’s pretty much dependent on the individual hen. Some hens, especially decorative breeds, tend to wait until the days have gotten longer up in spring before they start back. That’s still dependent on the individual hen though. Sometimes they surprise you.
Then you have fast molters and slow molters. Some hens can finish the molt in a bit over one month, some might take five months. Again production breeds tend to be faster than decorative breeds but it varies by the individual hen. How fast the feathers grow back is not the main factor, it’s how fast the feathers fall out. That’s controlled by genetics. Feeding a higher protein feed can help, not so much that the feathers come back faster though it does help a bit, but after the molt the hen has to rebuild her body reserves before she starts to lay again. That’s the big benefit of the higher protein feed.
Some hens look really ragged when they are molting, feathers fall out in clumps. That’s a fast molter. With a really slow molter you can’t tell looking at the chicken that she is molting but you’ll probably see more feathers flying around. If you are north of the equator it’s almost certain that they are molting.
When the molt is over and they start laying again, expect a pretty decent jump in the size of the eggs they lay. After this first adult molt expect them to still lay pretty well, but after their next adult molt production normally drops somewhere around 15% to 20%. Each molt after that it continues to drop.
I’ve only had one egg eater in all the years I’ve kept chickens. An egg eater is one that will open an egg to eat it. It’s not unusual for a chicken to eat an egg that is already open, that’s not an egg eater. Since yours is opening them, she is. When I found out which hen it was I permanently removed her from my flock. You can also build a roll-away nest, so when the hen lays an egg it rolls to a place she can’t get to it. These are the only two ways I know that work for certain. I’ve seen people post other methods, like the ceramic eggs or filling an egg with mustard or something vile so the hen doesn’t like the taste. Some people say these work for them, some say it doesn’t. I suspect there might be some tricks involved, like removing the other eggs as they are laid so the hen has only these to try to eat. I haven’t tried them though so I don’t know how effective these methods really are.
A hen’s internal egg-making factory is pretty complicated. Occasionally you can get a glitch. An occasional but fairly rare soft shelled egg is not a big cause for concern. We all have bad days. Different things can cause it. Stress is one. Too much protein is another. There are other potential causes. If a hen is eating too much protein it can cause her to release a second yolk before she should. If two are released at the same time then you might get a double yolked egg. If there is a bit of time separation in yolk release, the hen may lay two separate eggs in one day but often there is not enough shell material for the second egg. If you are consistently getting double yolked eggs or two eggs in one day you might want to cut back on the protein a bit. Feeding a 16% protein feed is fairly normal, but 18% isn’t bad at all, especially for larger birds like RIR’s. 20% protein is probably OK, especially if they are foraging much or if you are feeding some treats. It’s not an exact science because each hen is different and we all feed them differently. I personally don’t want to go over 20% protein.
If a hen is consistently laying a soft-shelled egg then it is a concern. If it is all or practically all the hens in your flock then you have a flock problem and you need to treat the entire flock. If it is just one hen then you have an individual chicken problem, why would you treat the other birds that are not having a problem? The way you wrote that I assume it is one hen. Has she always laid soft shelled or thin shelled eggs or is this something new?
Sometimes a hen’s body just doesn’t process the calcium they eat properly. There is just something wrong with her, possibly genetic. Her shell gland may not be working right. If you are offering a calcium supplement like oyster shell on the side, maybe her instincts to eat the extra calcium just aren’t there. Check for parasites, mites or lice as well as worms. These can lead to stress and some individuals can handle it better than others.
It is possible, not absolutely certain but possible, that an egg with a very thin shell or shell-less will break in the nest where other hens will eat it. That’s not unusual, as I said earlier those are not egg eaters. But it can occasionally teach a hen to open an egg to eat it. That may be what happened to yours.
People look for simple causes and simple solutions. Sometimes you can find those when you are lucky. Sometimes it can be a lot more complicated and hard to resolve. I wish you luck on this one.