Egg Binding In Hens

By Leyla (TwoCrows) on Backyard Chickens

What is Egg Binding?                                         
Egg Binding refers to a very serious condition in any female bird that has an egg stuck in the oviduct that she is
unable to pass. This can be a life threatening issue and can cause serious damage to internal tissue, infection,
bleeding, and can lead to prolapse and even death. Quick action needs to be taken when you find an egg bound hen.

Hens release a yolk into the funnel of the oviduct approximately every 25 to 27 hours where it spends about 5
hours traveling toward the Uterus or "Shell Gland", as it is also called. If there is sperm present, the area between
the Ovaries and the Uterus is where the egg will become fertilized. The egg then enters the Uterus. Encasing the
egg with a shell takes around 20 hours within the Shell Gland. When the egg is properly formed, it then takes about
an hour to travel from the Uterus out thru the Cloaca. When the egg passes out through the vent the passage to the
intestines is blocked off so as not to contaminate the oviduct.

However, sometimes eggs get stuck between the Uterus and the Cloaca and this is when a hen is considered Egg
Bound. Since the entrance to the intestines is shut off when the egg is nearing the end of the oviduct, quick action
must be taken when a hen is suffering from egg binding. If she cannot defecate she can die within

Symptoms of Egg Binding
Just because a hen has not laid an egg today or even for a few days she is not necessarily egg bound. Many times
hens will take breaks from laying, a hot spell during the summer, a cold snap in the winter or molting can cause hens
to take time off from laying. However, if you do see signs of being egg bound the quicker you take action the better
chances you will be able to save your hen and get her back on her feet to good health. Here are some symptoms to
look for:

Possible Symptoms Include:
- No interest in eating or drinking
- Walking like a penguin
- Abdominal straining
- Going in and out of the nest box repeatedly
- Watery diarrhea or no feces at all along with a full crop
- Droopy and depressed
- Pale face, comb and wattles
- Hard abdomen

Suspected Causes of Egg Binding
Many things can cause a hen to loose the ability to pass and egg. Here are some possible reasons why a hen may
become egg bound:

Low Calcium Levels: If a hen is low or lacking in calcium she will not be able to put on a hard shell. The shell needs to
be nice and hard so when the muscles contract, the egg is easier moved through the oviduct. If it is soft, these
types of eggs are not able to move as easy. Calcium also plays a role in the contractions of the entire Oviduct and
Shell Gland. So, if she is low on calcium, the muscles will not contract well enough to expel the egg.

Malnutrition or a bad diet: A hen that is deficient in many nutrients and vitamins can become egg bound very easily.
Vitamin D3, magnesium and phosphorus need to be in the right proportions for the hen to break down and make the
calcium usable inside her body. If she is not eating right, this will contribute to the lack of calcium in the shell or the
contractions to expel the egg.

Dehydration: Water is very important for the process of pushing the egg out. If she is dehydrated the oviduct can
become dry, hence the egg is not going to move out properly.

Being sedentary or fat: Hens that do not get enough exercise, have not developed or lost good muscle tone or have
too much fat in their abdomen will have trouble passing eggs properly.

Large or misshapen eggs: If the hen is producing unusually large eggs or oddly shaped eggs, these types can become
stuck easily if they are unable to pass through the pelvis. Many times overly large eggs are genetic in origin.
Misshapen eggs can be caused from something having gone wrong in the reproductive system, eggs backing in on each
other, or a defective shell gland. Of course, if the hen just can't seem to put a shell on the egg, the Shell Gland
could be deemed defective.

Illness: Any illness that causes weakness, lack of appetite, low consumption of water or other reactions to being ill
can cause the hen to be unable to pass an egg.

Any hen that you suspect is egg bound needs to be looked at immediately. If you conclude she is not egg bound you
can at least rule this out as to why she maybe sick.

You will need to start with an internal exam. It is not difficult to do and you will know immediately if she is indeed
egg bound.

Get yourself a latex glove and some personal lubricant like K-Y Jelly or even Vaseline. Apply a tiny bit of lubricant on
the index finger and gently insert your index finger into her vent. Don't go down with your finger, but straight back.
If there is a stuck egg it is usually right there within the first 1 to 2 inches inside her oviduct. The Shell Gland is
about 2 inches in and many times you will feel them that far back. The egg normally doesn't get stuck in the Shell
Gland, but most often closer to the cloaca or vent area. If you don't feel an egg by completely sticking your finger
inside her than she is not egg bound. And if there is no egg present you would be feeling into her intestinal tract and
not her oviduct. The passage to the oviduct is only open when an egg is presently moving out of the Shell Gland.

If you do feel and egg close to the cloaca then you need to take action. First thing you want to do is put more
lubricant on your index finger and really lube up the area around and in front of the egg. Sometimes this is all it
takes to get the egg to slide out. Using Preparation H inside the vent can also help to reduce swelling. Sometimes if
the hen has been pushing for a long time the tissues have become swollen and this swelling can stop the egg from
passing as well.

If you can feel the egg from underneath at the abdomen, sometimes gentle manipulation along with lubrication inside
and around the egg can help to move the egg out.

If this does not help her pass the egg, there are a couple other things you can do to help her move the stuck egg. She
needs calcium. Calcium works fast and will help to get those contractions going. You can give her a couple of broken
up Tums/Rolaids (calcium carbonate) tablets or even human calcium pills. You will have to break these into tiny
pieces so she can eat them. If she does not readily eat them, you can break them into very tiny pieces and open her
beak and one by one get her to swallow them.  You can put the pieces in raisins or even a bit of Gerber Baby Food. I
like to powder medications and mix them with baby food and syringe them down the throat. Whatever it takes to
get calcium in the hen will help.

Next you will want to soak her lower half in warm water. It is easiest to bring the bird inside the house and fill up
your kitchen sink with warm water. Place her into the warm water, and you may need to press her down in a bit. I
have found that they enjoy a warm bath and will settle in and nearly fall asleep from the warmth. But you may need
to hold them in if this is not the case. Just make sure their back half is soaking well in the warm water. Leave them
in this water for 10 to 15 mins. I like to go 15 mins to make sure. The warmth of the water can help to relax the
abdomen if it is tight from straining and many times this warmth, along with the calcium tablets, will get that stuck
egg to move out within 30 mins of this soaking.  After 15 mins, get her out, towel her off and use a blow drier to get
her all dry. Let her rest in a quiet area for an hour to see if that egg finally decides to pass. Before putting her back
into the flock watch that she is eating and drinking well.
Should it still not pass after one hour you will want to repeat this procedure again to see if you can get the egg to
pass out. It is never advised to break the egg inside the hen. The shards of egg shell can cut the inside of the
oviduct and cause bleeding and infection. Even sometime when the hen strains she can break the egg shell inside of
her. Breaking the shell is the last avenue to take if you cannot get the egg to move. At this point I would recommend
you take her to a veterinarian for more medical help. If she has broken the egg inside her body you will want to
delicately remove these shards with a gloved finger, gently working them out without scraping her insides. This may
take a while to dig all these out, but you need to get as much of these shards out as you can. You can use a turkey
baster with water and gently flush the oviduct as you feel for these tiny pieces of shell. Use a salty saline solution
to help keep bacteria and infection from setting in.

If you do chose to break the egg to remove it, and it is close to the vent you can pierce the front of the shell and
suck the contents out with a syringe. You will then need to gently collapse the shell and remove the shards.
Sometimes you can remove a big chunk of egg shell at one time. Be careful not to cut the tissue with the sharp egg

Hopefully at this point you have gotten the egg out or all the shell matter and she is not prolapsed. (This is another
topic that needs a whole other article written). If she is not suffering from an illness that has caused her to
become egg bound or she has genetic issues with large eggs, there are some things you can do to help prevent this
from happening again.  

Avoid supplemental lighting for young pullets to avoid premature laying. Many young layers are already prone to egg
binding before they have their egg laying machines in gear.

Always provide oyster shell on the side in a separate bowl or feeder. Keep it right there next to the water and
feed. Chickens will not go looking for it, but as they eat and drink, if the calcium is in their faces they are more
inclined to dig in.

Make sure to keep the treats down to a minimum, especially during those hot summer months when chickens tend to
eat less to begin with. They need to be eating a proper diet full of nutrition and calcium enriched food at all times.
Filling up on other things will cause them to not eat enough of their layer feed.

Always provide fresh clean water every day. Some chickens can refuse dirty water so change it daily. They can also
refuse to drink warm water as well. So if on those hot summer days the water has gotten too warm, cool it down
with some ice.