Thin and soft-shelled eggs - calcium deficiency, absorption, egg drop syndrome?

Sashaaa

Hatching
Nov 6, 2021
7
2
4
Sydney, Australia
Hi there,

I’m based in Sydney (Australia) and I have two Lohmann brown chickens which are only about 1 ½ years old. They’ve both been perfectly healthy and laying consistently until now. One of them has been laying thin-shelled and soft-shelled eggs on and off for the past 7 weeks. Occasionally her eggs are broken. Sometimes they are soft like a water balloon with no shell at all. Sometimes they are pale and thin-shelled, and crack when tapped. Sometimes they look normal but sound like porcelain when tapped. Sometimes she lays them in the nest. Sometimes I find them under the roost, as if they dropped out of her while she was sleeping. Occasionally, I have found broken eggs in the run. I’ve been finding membrane and soft bits of shell in her poop under the roost. Sometimes her poop is watery. Sometimes she’ll skip a day in between. For a little while she was laying big lumpy eggs with a funny ring around one end, as if it was getting stuck somewhere inside. Lately they have been soft shelled with a powdery/pasty incomplete shell, often with the membrane attached (see photo).

My other hen has never laid a soft-shelled egg and her eggs are consistently perfect. They both free range every day and have access to balanced pellet feed (Barastoc Champion Layer premium pellets which are 16.5% protein and 4% calcium) and shell grit as well. I occasionally give them scratch mix, sunflower seeds, corn kernels, lettuce, cabbage, vegetable scraps, boiled/scrambled eggs, spaghetti, rice, and bread – but only as a treat.

She seems energetic and happy otherwise. Running around, scratching, dust bathing, preening, jumping up for treats. Her wattle/comb look red. Her eyes are clear, bright, and glassy. No other signs of illness. She doesn’t have any respiratory problems or nasal discharge, so I think I can rule out Newcastle disease and infectious bronchitis. They are both only 1 ½ years old, so it’s not age related. I have read this can be quite a common problem in good layers and high production hybrid breeds though. She used to lay enormous eggs – never double yolkers, but they were bigger than my other hen’s eggs. Especially if she had missed laying the day before.

At first, I thought it may have been stress-related (a storm or possums fighting in the trees above the coop at night may have disturbed her), and I hoped it would pass with time. But we’re heading into the seventh week now. It started at the end of September, so I thought the onset of warmer weather may have had something to do with it. But they didn’t have any issues throughout last Spring/Summer and the other one is laying perfectly well. The longer daylight hours also means there’s no shortage of Vitamin D.

It could be calcium deficiency or poor nutrition. But this seems unlikely because they both free range every day and have access to the same balanced pellet feed and shell grit for extra calcium. She is a fussy eater though and is more reluctant to eat her pellets than my other hen. I’ve tried wetting the pellets to make them seem more appetizing. And when I give them treats (like corn kernels) now, I mix them into finely ground shell grit to force feed her calcium. I’ve also occasionally given her yogurt for extra calcium and cooked eggs for extra protein, also with shell grit mixed through. I’ve read dairy isn’t good for chickens though and I don’t want her getting too used to eating egg.

She feels a little underweight – her keel bone feels more pronounced than it does on my other hen. They both get on perfectly well together – never fight or peck at each other. She is very active and energetic and prefers to explore and scratch around while the other is perfectly content sunbathing, dustbathing, or preening herself. She’s also hyper alert and vigilant, but we have a predator-free yard. No roosters, dogs, cats, or foxes. Occasionally bush turkeys and other birds, but the chickens don’t seem to mind them hanging around and charge them away when they get too close. We have a big, steep backyard which they are running up and down all day. I worry if she isn’t eating enough, she could be malnourished from all the energy spent free ranging. But I don’t see how I can force feed her… Unless I lock her up in the run, cut back completely on treats, and stop her from free ranging for a while. I’m sure she will complain incessantly though. She also has a funny gap in her feathers on her neck, so I thought she may be molting… But it’s been there for the past 7 weeks and she doesn’t seem to be losing feathers anywhere else. I’m not sure what caused it. I’m new to chicken keeping and haven’t seen my girls molt before, so not sure what to expect.

The eggs look perfectly normal and healthy inside with yolk and albumen, but it worries me that it’s been going on for so long. I have read regular soft-shelled eggs can lead to increased risk of egg-binding and peritonitis, and if the underlying cause is prolonged calcium deficiency this could lead to other health problems like weakened bones. Not being able to diagnose the problem is so frustrating and distressing. At this point I think calcium deficiency or malnutrition could be the problem, but I have tried to supplement her diet with extra calcium without any significant change in egg quality. Could it be egg drop syndrome? I have read this virus could last between 4 and 10 weeks. Could it be a problem with calcium absorption? What could be causing this? I only feed them lettuce/cabbage – no spinach, beet greens, chards, or citrus. They may be eating things they shouldn’t in the backyard, but I haven’t seen them so can’t be sure. We don’t have any lawn and they’re always looking for greens, and we do have some ferns in the garden. Or could it be something internal, like inflammation of the oviduct? She used to lay huge eggs every second day and I worry she might have ruptured/strained something.

If anyone has any advice or experienced similar problems, I would love to hear your thoughts! I worry for my poor girl… If anything happens to her, her sister will be absolutely devastated ☹ I just don’t know what to do… I’m wondering if I should take her to the vet.
 

Attachments

  • -9003747301360943640.jpg
    -9003747301360943640.jpg
    171.6 KB · Views: 6
Last edited:

Perris

Still learning
Jan 28, 2018
4,761
21,918
827
Gower, Wales
I'm sure others will chip in here, with lots of varied advice, but I would just point out that she's a high production breed, and she has reached the age where commercial producers would cull her, precisely because they stop being profitable about this age. High egg production has a cost in bodily exhaustion, and things start to go wrong. If she were mine, I'd just give her lots of tlc and a rest from laying.
 

Sashaaa

Hatching
Nov 6, 2021
7
2
4
Sydney, Australia
I'm sure others will chip in here, with lots of varied advice, but I would just point out that she's a high production breed, and she has reached the age where commercial producers would cull her, precisely because they stop being profitable about this age. High egg production has a cost in bodily exhaustion, and things start to go wrong. If she were mine, I'd just give her lots of tlc and a rest from laying.
Thanks for the advice! Yeah I had read that soft shelled eggs can be a problem with highly productive breeds. I wouldn't have thought it would happen so soon though :( I've read it's not uncommon for backyard chickens to live 8-10 years. I don't mind so much about the drop in egg production - I mainly worry that it could impact her bone health or lead to other complications like egg binding or peritonitis, which could prematurely shorten her lifespan. Is there a way you can help them go off the lay?
 

Perris

Still learning
Jan 28, 2018
4,761
21,918
827
Gower, Wales
apparently keeping them in darkness for a couple of days will stop them laying, but I haven't tried it myself so can't vouch for it.
The backyard chickens that live long lives are usually heritage breeds, the sort that farmers kept before modern industrial farming methods and breeds were developed. They lay fewer eggs of course.
 

Sashaaa

Hatching
Nov 6, 2021
7
2
4
Sydney, Australia
Is she eating the shell grit?
Might offer her a special solo breakfast with some kind of calcium supplement.
She eats a bit sometimes - hard to say how much. She doesn't seem to like the shell grit or the pellets. Have tried boosting her diet with yogurt (not every day) and mixing treats in shell grit as a way of force feeding extra calcium. Might have to try a liquid/tablet calcium booster.
 

Lucy_Dobinson

Chirping
Apr 6, 2020
65
84
91
Hi! I have two 18 month old girls with these signs too. I’m in NZ :) Are your girls still laying soft eggs? I feel like I’ve tried everything to boost their vitamins and calcium! Thought they might have egg drop syndrome.
 

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom