Egg binding is a serious problem and can lead to the death of the hen.
Many times though, with proper intervention and care, hens can go on to live a good, long life giving you lots of nutritious eggs!
An egg bound chicken has very unique symptoms which can easily be spotted if you know what to look for.
Today we are going in depth with this emergency and will give you some tips and treatments to help your hen with this crisis.
What Is Egg Binding/Egg Bound?
Egg bound sounds benign doesn’t it? It is actually a real emergency for your hen and without intervention from you she may develop complications and could ultimately die.
‘Egg bound’ means she has an egg stuck somewhere in her oviduct. The usual place is between the uterus and the cloaca. Sometimes you can even see it from the cloaca/vent.
When the egg is ready to pass, the cloaca seals shut the intestinal opening so that eggs don’t get covered in poop. If the hen cannot poop within twenty four to forty eight hours, she will likely die.
Other effects seen from egg binding are vent prolapse – where the vent hangs out of the rear end and, in severe untreated cases, egg yolk peritonitis which can quickly kill a hen from infection.
What Causes Egg Binding in Chickens?
There are a variety of things which cause egg binding. Some are manageable, others not so much.
- Passing large or odd shaped eggs. The oviduct can only stretch so far and a large or misshapen egg can get stuck.
- Malfunction in the reproductive system. Some hens are prone to problems and will lay odd or parchment eggs on a fairly regular basis – genetic issues.
- Double yolk eggs. These are larger than the usual egg and can cause problems.
- Malnutrition – poor diet low in necessary vitamins, minerals and protein.
- Sedentary life or obesity – muscles become weak from lack of activity or being overweight.
- Premature laying – hens that are forced to lay before they are fully developed often develop binding.
- Elderly chickens – weak muscles and inactivity.
- Egg retention – if insufficient nest boxes are available a hen will sometimes ‘hold’ her egg.
- Underlying reproductive tract infection.
- Severe infestation of internal parasites.
As you can already see, some of these are readily preventable by good nutrition and attention to the health and welfare of your hens.
Egg Bound Symptoms
How do you know when a hen is egg bound? Truly, sometimes you don’t. As we know, hens are secretive about any illness or problems. If she is able to pass the egg herself you may not even realize she had a problem.
Common symptoms to look for include:
- Decreased appetite and drinking.
- Lethargic, sitting around, fluffed up.
- ‘looks sick’, depressed.
- Shaky wings.
- Walks like a penguin – she will periodically stop walking and try to squat.
- Abdominal straining – the cloaca (vent) can be seen straining to expel something.
- Tail pumping – her tail will pump up and down in an effort to expel the egg.
The first three groups of symptoms can probably be applied to any chicken that is sick with anything. They will usually sit off by themselves in a quiet spot. The feathers will be fluffed out and she may have her eyes closed like she’s taking a nap. These signs always bear watching.
Most definitely the tell-tale signs are the penguin walk and the tail pumping. Once you have seen these you will know there is a problem brewing.
However, please be aware that these indicators can also be seen in a constipated chicken!
Treatment: What Do You Do For an Egg Bound Chicken?
Firstly, is she egg bound?
Using a latex glove and some KY, very gently insert your finger into the vent. Push your finger straight back about two inches or so – you should be able to feel the egg. If you cannot feel an egg – she’s not egg bound.
Prepare a warm water bath with Epsom salts (1 cup ES/1 gallon of water). It needs to be deep enough for your hen to sit to a depth of about three to four inches.
Before you put her in the bath, give her some calcium.
Human Tums or a regular calcium pill will work great. Make sure you powder it or break it into very small pieces so the hen can swallow it. Calcium helps to improve the strength of the contractions and helps to expel the egg.
Gently put your hen into the water. She may struggle for a bit, but they usually settle down after a couple of minutes – I think it feels good for them!
She will need to sit in the bath for about fifteen to twenty minutes. When you take her out, towel her off so she gets dry – a hairdryer will do the trick nicely if she tolerates the noise.
Before doing anything else, place your hen in a quiet, dark, and warm space. The goal is to allow her to lay her egg without any extensive intervention from you or a veterinarian.
Apply some KY, Vaseline or even a little veggie oil to the vent. Some folks will try massaging the abdomen to help with egg expulsion, others say not to. I do massage for about ten minutes or so – the key is to be very gentle.
Massage from front to back to try and stimulate the oviduct to contract. Remember she has an egg stuck and it’s possible to break it with rough handling – not something you really want to do.
After her ‘salon treatment’, put her in a darkened crate with some water and food to drink. If her vent area is swollen, apply some Preparation H, it will help to reduce the swelling.
You may need to repeat this treatment three or four times over the next several hours to try to move the egg along.
If, despite your best efforts she does not pass the egg, your treatment options are getting narrower.
The services of a veterinary should be sought if you can afford it, if not – the alternative is to remove the egg yourself. This is not without hazard to your hen. This course of action should be taken as a ‘last resort’. We do not advise you to do this unless you have no other choices.
If you can see the egg at the vent, gently make a hole in it large enough to be able to suck the contents out with a syringe (please, no needle!). Once you have the contents out, gently pull on the shell in an attempt to bring it out intact, but if it breaks apart make sure you have all the pieces.
If you cannot see the egg but can feel it, try to lubricate the vent and cloaca well and try manual manipulation. Sometimes the egg will move, sometimes it breaks.
If it breaks you will have to manually remove all the shell. Any shell pieces left inside will cut and abraid the interior of the oviduct leaving the hen wide open to infection.
If you have successfully removed the egg, put her in a crate for a few hours until you know she is eating and drinking just fine. Also check her vent area for prolapse or excessive redness – if it looks red and sore, keep her separate from the flock for a bit longer.
If the egg broke inside her you will possibly need to give her some antibiotics to prevent infection – this requires a veterinarian.
Until recently, here in the US, many animal antibiotics were available over the counter. This practice has finally been stopped, due in part to the rise of antibiotic resistant bugs. The antibiotic needs to be specific for the cause, so please don’t ‘self-medicate’ the hen without your vets’ say-so.
A warm water bath relaxes your hen and her muscles. This can lead to the “loosening” of the oviduct and allow for the egg to travel easier.
Epsom salt is thought to also loosen the muscles surrounding the bound egg, which can aid in the hen’s natural ability to expel the egg.
Calcium helps with contractions, and pairing calcium with the warm salt bath creates the ideal environment for your hen to pass her egg on her own.
How to Prevent Egg Binding
As we saw in the causes list above, several of the reasons for egg binding are treatable. We are going to briefly look at the ones that are preventable.
Your hen will naturally determine when she will start to lay. Do not put extra lights on for young pullets hoping to get them to lay earlier.
Commercial poultry feed is very specifically mixed. Unless you have the knowledge to make your own feed inclusive of all nutrients, then buy ready-made. Always ensure there is a separate calcium feeder so the hens can regulate how much calcium they take in.
Do not add calcium to feed, it needs to be separate since too much calcium for a non-layer can cause problems.
In times of stress, heat waves, long winters I give them soluble vitamins/electrolytes once a week in their water.
Ensure your ladies have enough nest boxes. One box for every three to four hens should be sufficient. If you have a dominant hen guarding the boxes, build or buy a couple of extra nest boxes and set them up in a dark, quiet spot and make sure the younger hens know about them.
If your hens are obese, they need to be encouraged to get a little exercise. A rousing game of cabbage tetherball, chasing frozen (or fresh) blueberries thrown into the yard will get them moving! Try to give healthful tidbits, avoid the treats and human leftovers.
Not much can be done about old age and generally older hens lay infrequently, if at all, but monitor their health carefully.
Severe infestation with worms can cause many problems. If you suspect worm overload, take a sample to the vets’ office – it should be fairly inexpensive to test.
Treat for worms as needed and treat the whole flock. Hosing off the chicken yard and cleaning out the coop is a good idea also since they do peck at poop.
Egg binding is actually not a common occurrence, although more cases are being seen, perhaps due in part, to backyard hens living longer than their industrial sisters…
On a personal note, I do not add light to encourage them to lay believing that the hen will do so when she is good and ready. Winter is a time for rest and regeneration, so if they lay – great, if not – oh, well.
This is purely a personal choice if you choose to add light during the winter, be aware of the possibility of problems such as egg binding occurring.
Here’s hoping you never have to deal with this problem, but if it arises now you know how to deal with it… Happy Chickeneering!
Let us know in the comments below how you manage egg binding…