KCulbert, so sorry to hear of your continuing problems with Ella and Fatty. It's so frustrating. I understand about the cost issue. We have one who had a crop full of gunk that I had to have a vet clean out. She almost starved to death, but is now regaining her strength. She is having diarrhea, though, despite worming with two wormers. My husband's mother died early this month, and he flew back to Taiwan twice within a month. I don't regret the expense at all, but we had to tap our emergency savings. All of our annual/semi-annual bills (life insurance, car/home insurance, etc} are due this month, too. And the dog got cut on the fence and needed to see the vet and get stitches and medications. Aargh! The thought of taking this chicken back to the vet is stressful.
I was still getting softshell and deformed eggs, and many fewer eggs than usual the last few weeks. Eight or nine/day out of 20 hens, with only a few starting to molt. I started putting the calcium gluconate in their drinking water (about 2.5 ml/gallon - a complete guess}. They have been laying more eggs, and the shells are much stronger. I have no proof it's because of the calcium gluconate. I'm going to keep using it weekly and see if the improvement continues.
If anyone has two flocks with problems, it would be helpful to all of us do a slightly more scientific test and give one flock the calcium gluconate but not the other.
Chickenwolf, I give mine layer feed and they have access to oyster shell and eggshells. They consume both rapidly. Since chickens seem able to choose what they need, it seems they simply aren't getting enough calcium. The vet who saw my two with egg peritonitis asked about feed and calcium supplements and said I was doing everything right. Since they were both golden comets, he thought it may be a breed issue, as they have laid an egg a day for 2 1/2 years without a molt.