Hen laying soft eggs - should we cull?


5 Years
Jun 29, 2014
We have 5 layers of various breeds that are about 2.5 years old. Our best layer, Penny, a red star, has been laying increasingly bad eggs in terms of shell quality for the past 6 months. She continues to lay a large brown egg every day but over the past 3 months the shells are so thin and wrinkled they crack as she lays then. We feed a high quality organic feed (Modesto Milling soy-free layer pellets) and about 3 months ago added oyster shell, prior to that we were crushing egg shells and giving that free choice for the whole lives. All other hens shells are great.

To complicate things about a month ago she injured herself while on pasture and appears to have broken her leg or hip. She is improving and is now able to bear weight but limps.

She is one of our original 4 hens and we are fairly attached. We were planning on allowing this original group to grow old and live long lives since they're our first. Her cracked eggs are soiling the nest box and teaching our new pullets to eat eggs, which would be a death sentence for them all if they were to develop a taste. We are going to process meat birds in 2-4 wks and are wondering if we should cull her too but are torn because we like her.

Any ideas if there is something we should be doing that could help this? The oyster shells didn't seem to make a difference. What would you guys do? If she would stop laying I would love to keep her but I don't know of any way to make that happen.
I'm interested in hearing some replies, because I'm having the same issue with one of my hens who's only a year and a half old. Eggs from other chickens are fine, but hers are paper-thin and break very easily; I can usually save them from being broken if I pay attention and grab it as soon as she leaves the coop. Oyster shell is available; one day I had my husband hold her tight while I forced liquid calcium down her throat, which wasn't much fun for either of us, plus I'm not sure if it helped.
Glad (or sorry?), to hear I'm not alone, I hadn't thought of the liquid calcium, hopefully someone can shed some light on this. Best of luck with your hen!
Production hens often do this, they are bred to produce many many eggs for a short time and then they are removed from farms when they cannot keep up the supply and when their eggs start to deform ( quite common, also seen in older heavy breeds) I doubt there is much you can do in that respect. Like I said they are designed to lay and lay, then fall down dead, its a terrible thing, and a terrible fate, although some do grow to be old (4-5) is usually very old for a production hen most don't make it.

That being said you could try upping the protein and calcium intake that they have, meat and meat scraps is the best way to do this, and some soft goat cheese never hurts.

I would suggest putting deep bedding in the nest box and adding more nest boxes ( if you only have a few) and a curtain /shreaded sack to keep it dark so that it encourages them to lay and leave, rather than lay and eat.
I have a BO who lays a soft shelled egg probably 4 days out of 7. Like you, I love her to pieces, and so far I've been lucky that she usually lays them from the roost and not in the nest. The other girls have not shown an interest in her eggs either, which I'm thankful for.

I feed layers pellets and also provide extra shell grit for my chickens. On top of this I bought a powder which is high in Calcium and Vitamin D, and is mixed into their pellets. They just eat it willingly. I have a liquid calcium on hand at the moment too, designed for cage birds such as parrots which my vet advised would be fine to try also. It is added to drinking water, and whilst I haven't used it yet, it is an option for later on.
I am hoping one or a combination of these things will help rectify our problem BO!

I am a first time chicken owner and got 6 hens and one rooster in my original flock. So far we have added one chick of unknown sex (he/she is only a week old) and I have a batch of 8 eggs under a second broody on Day 10. Like you, I wanted my girls to live long and healthy lives with me, no matter what happens egg-wise. I shudder when I think about culling - but accept that if one was suffering I would do what's best for them. I wish you all the best in your decision.

- Krista
My redstar did the same thing this year. She is about 3 years old and is the "matriarch" of the flock so she gets to retire here until she is ready to cross the rainbow bridge. In June she became egg bound and nearly died. Then she started laying soft shelled eggs, followed by eggs with thin shells that would break. August was a really good month for her and she was back to normal. I will only feed Layena pellets, and I've been giving the redstar a 500 mg tablet of calcium ground up in some scrambled eggs. She get this about once a week. She seems completely healthy now and her egg shells are normal. If you can get enough calcium into your hen I think you can put an end to the soft eggs.

Last week my hen's eggs changed color and got smaller. Now she isn't laying at all. Maybe she is going through a molt. As long as she's happy I'm OK that she's not laying. I think your hen will let you know when it is her time. Try the calcium, and mix it in with her favorite food.
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Thanks guys! No change with the hen, I think well just watch her for a while because she seems otherwise happy. Appreciate the advice!
Like Stiggy said, very common in high production breeds. They are meant to just lay until they fall over, and when they are older they are susceptible to shell problems, as well as higher risk of cancer from what I have read. I didn't know this until after I had my production red. She has laid an egg a day for over a year with only a couple of days off last winter, so I'm sure she will start having problems in this next year. I hope upping her calcium works for you, good luck!
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Well if she is your pet and missing an egg isn't a problem, combined with her being happy then I would just leave her to it. @abserbean I've heard that as well, though I've never really looked into why our production girls died ( I was about 12) and they were old so we assumed it was their time. I've also heard that sometimes hormone injections/hormone implants can help production birds live longer since they don't lay as many/ any eggs but I understand that this is usually used in internal layers to stop them laying.

We don't have production breeds over here so much, or I should say that there isn't much variety, we have the brown/red shaver and the hyline . But they are designed the same way and any that live over 3 are considered lucky and ancient. I would be interested to know how upping the calcium goes for you and for birds. My last hyline, a pet called Stampie lived till she was 5 and laid till she was 4 1/2 though it wasn't regular and some were misshaped but she had a good life and was healthy otherwise, so they can sometimes live a long time, but it is rare.
Hi all,

Just wanted to give you all a quick update.

My girls have been taking the calcium powder I bought for 2 weeks now (it gets mixed into their food) and I have not seen a soft shelled egg in the last 5 days. That might not sound impressive, but I was getting 1 to 2 soft shelled eggs every day before, so it is quite an improvement!

Might be worth scouting around and seeing if you can find something similar? My vet said that despite getting a quality layer feed, some chickens just need additional support as far as calcium goes. Seems to be working, so I intend to keep it up!


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