While it’s not uncommon for chickens to lay soft-shelled eggs occasionally, it is a sign that you may want to pay attention to. If your chicken consistently lays soft-shelled eggs, it’s a sign that something may be wrong and requires further investigation.
There are many reasons why a chicken might lay a soft-shelled egg. One of the most common causes includes Vitamin D deficiency and old age. Vitamin D Deficiency causes soft weaker shells, and older chickens have reproductive tracts that are past their prime, making it harder for them to create strong shells.
Many chicken keepers conclude that calcium deficiency is the main cause, but you may be surprised to know that it is not always the case, especially if the hens are on a layer palette diet. Other frequent causes include excess phosphorus and high temperatures.
Read to see why this common problem can be challenging to fix for many beginners and experts alike.
How To Identify A Soft Shelled Eggs
It is important not to mistake a soft-shelled egg for a shell-less egg. These two egg abnormalities are among the most common but have different causes and different treatments.
A soft-shelled egg has a thin shell that easily caves in when you touch the egg or try to package it. The thin layer is made of calcium that was deposited on the membrane but was not enough to make a hard shell, resulting in a paper-like shell that breaks or crumbles in when you touch it.
This is different from a shell-less egg. A shell-less egg does not have a shell, as the name suggests, but rather has a white/yellow shell membrane exterior that is rubber-like.
A normal egg has a hard shell deposited onto it in the shell gland of the chicken’s reproductive tract. If the shell gland is affected or immature, it fails to add the shell onto the egg, leaving you with just the interiors: the shell membrane, the yolk, and albumin.
If the shell gland is older or affected, then the shell is deposited onto the egg but not sufficiently enough to form the normal hard shell you see in regular eggs.
With that said, shell-less eggs are often seen in immature chickens that do have a fully-grown shell gland. On the other hand, soft-shelled eggs are often seen in older chickens with weaker shell glands that are past their prime to create stronger shells.
Calcium deficiency is one cause that these two conditions have in common. Since hens need calcium to create strong shells, any of these abnormalities can be caused by calcium deficiency; however, since most feeds are rich in calcium, we are left to ask, what are the common causes?
Why Did My Chicken Lay A Soft Egg?
The problems that cause a chicken to lay soft eggs start at the shell gland in the reproductive tract; this is where the shell is formed inside a hen during the laying season.
Problems that can affect the efficacy of the shell gland include:
- Calcium deficiency and other nutrient imbalances like too much phosphorus.
- Rapid egg production due to stress or excitement of the chicken.
- Infections due to bacterial, respiratory, or viral diseases.
All of these problems are a result of a set of causes that can be interior or exterior. There are also other causes that can add to the issues in the shell gland. Some of the causes include:
1. Old Age
Older chickens stop laying eggs eventually after several soft eggs are laid.
As chickens age, their egg-laying ability can decline, and they may produce eggs with weaker shells or no shells at all. Some signs of old age in chickens include a decrease in overall activity and energy levels, a decrease in appetite, and changes in feather condition.
Older hens may also be more prone to certain health issues, such as egg binding or reproductive tract infections, which can result in the production of soft-shelled or thin-shelled eggs.
Additionally, older hens may have a reduced ability to absorb calcium from their diet, which can also contribute to the production of weak-shelled or shell-less eggs.
It’s important to provide older hens with a nutritious diet and regular veterinary care to help support their health and well-being.
If your older hen is consistently laying soft-shelled eggs, then she may be past her prime. Otherwise, it is important to seek veterinary care to determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.
2. Stress & Excitement
Stress from disturbances, bullying, and a bad environment can lead to premature egg production, which can be characterized by soft shells.
Chickens being attacked or chased by other animals, including other house pets like cats and dogs, can affect the reproductive system. The reproductive tract will work normally and thrive in an environment where the chicken feels safe.
Eggs can be dropped out of the tract before they have finished developing, and this is usually the case in high-stress environments where the chicken cannot prioritize laying. Essentially, stress causes quick progression of reproduction, making it less efficient.
Stress is a huge contributor to issues in chickens and can lead to a range of health problems in chickens, including reproductive issues, nutrient deficiencies, and infections.
It’s important to ensure that chickens are not subjected to stress, are not bullied, and have enough space to move around to prevent premature egg production.
If you suspect that your chicken is experiencing premature egg production, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian or poultry specialist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
3. Vitamin D3 Deficiency
3,500 IU/kg of Vitamin D3 in broiler breeder feeds is the recommended minimum dosage for egg production and high, strong shell quality.
Vitamin D3 is an essential nutrient in creating a strong shell, and a deficiency can also lead to a range of health issues. Some signs of vitamin D3 deficiency in chickens include:
- Soft-shelled or thin-shelled eggs
- Eggs without shells
- Weak or misshapen eggshells
- Reduced egg production or infertility
- Poor growth and development
- Lameness and skeletal deformities
You can offset the Vitamin D3 deficiency by adding a liquid vitamin to their food and also get the chicks to get enough sunrise.
4. Calcium Deficiency
Many first-time chicken owners or inexperienced hobbyists tend to believe that low calcium in the chicken is the leading cause of laying soft eggs. This cannot be further from the truth.
Yes, calcium deficiency is a common cause of soft-shelled/thin-shelled eggs. However, egg-laying chickens above 18 weeks of age feeding on a layer pellet or layer mix won’t have a calcium deficiency.
Chicken needs calcium to form strong eggshells. A calcium deficiency can result in the formation of soft-shelled or thin-shelled eggs, which can break easily or even collapse inside the chicken.
If this goes on further, the chicken will decrease its egg production or even stop egg production altogether. This is because calcium deficiency not only hinders proper eggshell formation but can also cause the chicken to become weak and lethargic.
Calcium plays a critical role in muscle function, and a deficiency can lead to muscle weakness.; hence it won’t be able to lay eggs at all.
A calcium-deficient chicken may also be more susceptible to illness or infection. This is because calcium is essential for a strong immune system, and a deficiency can weaken a chicken’s ability to fight off disease.
It’s important to ensure that your chickens are getting enough calcium in their diet to prevent these issues. A calcium-rich diet can include oyster shells, crushed eggshells, or a specially formulated layer feed that contains adequate amounts of calcium.
It is important to note that a layer feed is specifically made to provide calcium-rich diets that will ensure your chicken does not lay soft eggs, eggs without a shell, weak-shelled eggs, or thin-shelled eggs.
Add a separate supplement dish full of calcium (like chicken grit) in case you want to tick all the boxes. Regardless, if your chicken is on a layer palette, then you can rest assured calcium deficiency is the last thing your chicken would be suffering from to give you the soft eggs.
5. Excess Phosphorus
Excess phosphorus in the chicken’s diet is known to cause thin-shelled eggs because it leads to the binding of calcium in the intestine. This prevents the necessary calcium from getting into the shell gland to help with shell formation.
A grown hen has a phosphorus-to-calcium level of 1:10, which is naturally balanced. However, in case of high phosphorus levels, it is recommended you increase calcium intake, not because the chicken isn’t getting enough calcium, but so as to offset the phosphorus ratio back to the optimal balances to keep the shells stronger.
6. High Temperature
Did you notice that chickens tend to lay soft-shelled eggs more frequently in the summer than in any other season?
High temperatures during the warm weather have been noted to reduce the amount of calcium in the chicken’s body that is being directed to the shell gland. This is because the calcium-binding protein responsible for adding calcium to the eggs in the shell gland is not in plenty during warm temperatures.
If the chicken is consistently exposed to high temperatures, it can further impact egg production and quality. Temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit are not favorable for hard-shelled eggs.
Please ensure that chickens have access to shade, cool water, and proper ventilation to prevent the negative effects of high temperatures on their health and egg production.
7. Related Infections
Infections of the reproductive tract and inflammation of the uterine lining are the most likely causes in this case. This includes bacterial infections and respiratory diseases.
Some of the signs of bacterial/respiratory infections that will accompany soft eggs include difficulty breathing, infected shell glands, and lash eggs (balls of hard pus).
Please ensure to address these signs immediately and consult your vet since the likes of bacterial infections do not go away by themselves and can make things more complicated by hindering the ability of your hen to lay eggs again.
Viruses like Egg Drop syndrome and Infectious bronchitis are also possibilities and contributors but are less common causes. Keep in mind that these viruses can also cause permanent damage when young chickens are infected.
Use antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pain relief medications. As with most animal viruses, these virus infections can heal by themselves with time.
Cancer of the reproductive tract is another possibility. Sadly, there is no cure, and to ensure your chicken lives a long and happy life, you will have to administer a contraceptive implant.
Infections are common in hens, and one of the good ways to ensure they are the cause of soft-shelled eggs is to see whether multiple hens in the flock are also feeling sick and producing soft eggs.
There are several infections that can lead to a chicken laying soft eggs; pay attention to some of these as a starter checklist:
- Infectious Bronchitis (IB): IB is a highly contagious respiratory disease in chickens that can also affect the reproductive tract, resulting in a decrease in egg production and the production of soft-shelled eggs.
- Egg Drop Syndrome (EDS): EDS is a viral disease that can cause a decrease in egg production and the production of soft-shelled eggs. It can also lead to eggs without shells or thin-shelled eggs.
- Avian Influenza (AI): AI is a viral infection that can affect the respiratory and digestive tracts in chickens, causing a decrease in egg production and the production of soft-shelled or thin-shelled eggs.
- Newcastle Disease (ND): ND is a viral infection that can cause a decrease in egg production and the production of soft-shelled or thin-shelled eggs.
Can You Eat a Soft-Laid Egg?
There is no harm in eating a soft-laid egg so long as the egg is well-cooked. The main concern with soft-shelled eggs is the potential for bacteria to enter the egg through the shell, so it’s important to cook the egg until the yolk and white are completely firm.
How Do I Increase Calcium in My Chickens?
The best way to increase calcium in your chickens is to provide them with calcium supplements, including crushed oyster shells or eggshells.
As much as calcium deficiency is a cause for soft-shelled eggs, chicken
keepers should also make a note of looking at Vitamin D deficiency, high stress/excitement levels, as well as high temperatures and old age.
Most of these causes are easy to address and a call to your vet will get rid of many of the infections that may befall you chicks. All in all, quick actions and prompt responses will always ensure your chickens don’t suffer from permanent damage.