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25 November 2011

Commercial Laying Hen Problems

I've got two commercial laying hens in my flock. Rosie who is an ISA Brown and Boss, who is a black Ausrtralorp Utility. They were my original two hens, and when I got them, they were bought simply for the purpose of laying eggs and not really for any other reason. Commercial laying hens are excellent for anyone who is just wanting a few hens to provide eggs for the kitchen since they are bred to lay every day, and to never, or very rarely go broody, they are very good in those types of scenarios.

That being said, however, commercial chickens do have their own set of issues that comes along with their steady egg production. When commercial hens were first developed, they were intended for intensive farming in battery housing where they would live in temperature controlled environments with artificial lighting in order to encourage them to lay and lay and lay some more. Under those conditions, they're expected to last about 18 months and their breeding can tend to predispose them to reproductive issues.

That is what I am confronted with right now with my black utility Australorp.

About a week ago, our weather patterns took a sharp turn into hot, dry weather and on that first day, all of my chickens got quite stressed with the heat. Boss, my Australorp was also struck with a mild case of sour crop that day, which I managed to alleviate successfully, but she has not been completely 'right' since then. She's been off her food a bit, and also quite sluggish and just not herself.

For a few days, she didn't lay at all, and then she produced an egg which had a very thin shell.

Very thin shelled egg
That egg got broken by my lovely big Sussex Hen when it was her turn on the nest, and she enjoyed a little snack on the contents while she laid that day. Not her fault. There is no hen on earth who won't devour an egg that gets broken in the nest or coop, especially if it lands right in her lap, so to speak.

So for a few days after that, Boss didn't lay at all, and then she laid a normal egg. I crossed my fingers, hoping that her problems had been due to heat stress and she might have gotten over it.

Not so. Unfortunately she has been sporadic with laying since then, and then three days ago, I discovered what resembled a puddle of eggwhite in the nest with the other hens' eggs. That has been the case every day since and today, I also found the following.

Soft Shelled Egg
This is what is commonly referred to as a soft shelled egg. It's not really even a shell, seems more like just the membrane without the protective hard calcified shell around the outside to keep the egg intact. It is a very dangerous situation for a hen to be laying soft eggs like this. It is quite possible that she will wind up rupturing an egg inside her body which can cause a condition known as Egg Yolk Peritonitis. Pretty much a death sentence for her if that should happen.

Other than this egg laying problem, the hen seems fit and healthy and I am reluctant to give up on her at this stage. I have isolated her from the flock in a small pen in our garage. This is so that she will be kept in darkness 24 hours a day and hopefully will go off the lay.

By also changing her feeding routine and switching her to a different ration, I am hoping to put her into a forced moult which will mean she stops laying for some time. This should rest her system, and hopefully lead to recovery, but it is all a bit of a gamble really. Given her breeding, she might just be at the end of her productive days and I will need to make the decision whether to put her down or not.

Personally, I will not have anymore commercial layers after my current two are gone. I plan to breed Australorps anyway, and pure breeds have fewer problems with their reproductive systems due to the fact that they don't lay as many eggs.

I am hoping this poor little girl will come good, but it is a forlorn hope.


  1. Oh no! Poor little Boss :( I hope she comes right again as well. That soft shell looks just like crumpled paper. Hope she gets well soon Maggie :(

  2. @ Mrs Bok Bossie is holding her own and still looks well and healthy in spite of her ongoing laying issues. She's not happy about being penned away from her coopmates and sounds like she is whining "boooored boooored booooored!" all day. :) I'm hoping she will start to moult soon and then she will be one step closer to getting out of solitary.