What Do Your Hens’ Eggs Say About Their Health?
Chickens are a pet that give a return on your investment. Not just through a rewarding emotional bond that is experienced between pet and owner (though certainly that too!), but through tangible goods: delicious, nutritious, and gorgeous eggs!
It’s hard to beat the nutritional value of eggs. On average, one chicken egg contains just 75 calories, but 5 grams of protein! Along with milk, eggs hold the “gold standard” for biological protein value. Eggs also contain vitamins and minerals essential to human health. And they’re versatile to boot! There are so many different ways to enjoy eggs, either on their own or as part of a recipe.
The nutritional makeup of an egg is amazing, but you can also analyze your chickens’ eggs to get a glimpse into their overall health. From laying frequency, egg size, shape, color, and texture, your daily gathering can tell you a lot about your flock!
Egg laying frequency
How often do hens lay eggs? The answer is a bit more complex than the common notion of “an egg a day,” and many factors are taken into account when determining what is normal egg production for a hen. Breed, age, health, and time of year all affect how many eggs chickens lay.
Among the many different chicken breeds that are considered good layers (those that can lay upwards of 300 eggs per year), some well known egg producers include: Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, Leghorns, Marans, Ameraucanas, and Buff Orpingtons. Ornamental and smaller chicken breeds lay less frequently, with some only laying a few eggs each month.
Depending on their genetics, hens will begin to ovulate (release a yolk) every 24 hours on average, starting at 6 months of age. Once a yolk has been released, it takes 19-20 hours to finish forming and be fully dressed in an eggshell. After an egg has been laid, the process repeats again – good layers can begin ovulating again within an hour after laying an egg! A hen will lay the most eggs during the first two years of life. After that, production begins to decrease by 10-20% each year.
Hens that are not feeling well, or are malnourished will lay less frequently. Flock discord, inadequate nutrition, and overcrowding are a handful of stressors that can take a toll on egg production. Make sure your hens have access to clean water and quality layer pellets at all times to ensure they’re getting the calories and nourishment they need. Adding scratch grains, chicken treats, and healthy kitchen scraps or safe foods from the garden to their diet will also give hens a nutritional boost!
Hens will inevitably lay less, or stop laying eggs altogether in the winter. A hen’s ovulation cycle is based on daylight hours, so once the days shorten, you can expect egg production to slow down. This is a hen’s natural reaction to the changing seasons as they prepare to reallocate energy to keep warm instead of laying eggs. Your hens will resume a normal laying schedule closer to spring, as days grow longer.
Another annual reason for a decrease in egg production is a process called “molting.”
Molting is the process of shedding old feathers and regrowing new ones to replace them. This process also occurs in preparation for winter – so as the days grow shorter, your hens will begin to lose their dingy feathers in favor of new, more dense feathers to keep them warm. The result is a beautiful, vibrant new outfit of feathers for your hens – but less eggs for you to gather. Molting takes a lot of energy, so expect your chickens to be on “lay-cation” for 8-16 weeks. Read up on How to Help Your Chickens Through a Molt to better prepare for your flock’s annual feather-renewal!
Eggs of a different color
Did you know that chickens lay eggs in several different colors? You’ve probably seen white and brown eggs, but some chickens can lay eggs in shades of green, blue, and even pink! But what causes such a variety of colors?
Genetics determine what color eggs a hen will lay. Some breeds of chickens have a standard color you can expect from them. For example, you can count on Leghorns to lay white eggs, Orpingtons lay brown eggs, and Ameraucanas lay blue eggs. But different shades such as olive are the result of a hybrid hen – a hen bred from a combination of blue and brown egg genes. For example, if you bred an Orpington (brown egg genetics) rooster with an Ameraucana (blue egg genetics) hen, the result would be an “olive egger” hen that would lay green eggs. Egg color should be consistent with the hen laying them, and different colored eggs are not a cause for concern unless a hen suddenly starts laying a different shade from what is normal for them.
All eggs begin with a white shell, but the hen laying the egg adds a pigment to them as they make their way to be laid. This pigment only colors the shell, and does not penetrate the membrane. That means you’ll have to add some food coloring if you want green eggs and ham!
Other breeds known for laying colorful eggs include: Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Wellsummers, and Marans. Hybrid breeds (bred through selective pairing), such as Olive or Easter eggers, can produce eggs varying in color based on their genetics.
Pro tip: you can get an idea of the color eggs a hen lays by looking at their earlobes! Hens with white earlobes will lay white eggs, and hens with red earlobes will lay brown eggs. This technique is not as accurate for pigmented eggs (blue, green or pink), as hybrid-chickens will have a variety of colors to their earlobes. Still, it’s fun to try this prediction-test with your flock! For more fun egg facts, visit: World Egg Day – 9 Facts About Eggs.
In a rare, but completely normal phenomenon, chickens can lay eggs with two yolks inside! If fertilized and incubated or kept under a broody hen, double-yolked eggs can hatch twin chicks – but it’s more common for only one embryo to fully develop.
If you crack one of your chickens’ eggs and see two yolks, it’s the result of the hen releasing two yolks at the same time during ovulation, which then become encapsulated within one shell. It’s more common for newly-matured hens to lay double-yolked eggs, as their bodies are adjusting to ovulation. Laying eggs with two yolks can also be genetic, and the hen may continue to do so for the duration of her egg-laying career!
For even more information about hens that lay two yolks in their eggs, check out: Why Do Some Eggs Have Double Yolks?
Thin shell, or no shell at all
Have you ever collected eggs, only to find yourself flabbergasted by a squishy egg? Soft-shelled eggs feel like partially filled water balloons and can be very disconcerting to find in the nesting box! These strange, spongy eggs are actually laid without the presence of the shell; only the membrane. This most often occurs with high-producing hens, when their bodies simply cannot keep up with yolk production. Oftentimes they will lay a fully-formed egg, then lay a shell-less egg a few hours later.
The other most common reason for eggs having thin or missing shells is inadequate calcium in their diet. Warning signs leading up to shell-less eggs can be thinner shells, so take note if your hens’ eggs are suddenly much easier to crack, or if you find broken eggs in the nesting box. A lot of calcium is required to “fully clothe” a yolk, so be sure to feed quality layer pellets that contain added calcium. If you notice thinner shells or “naked” eggs, supplement your hens’ feed with crushed oyster shells or other chicken calcium supplements. You can also save egg shells after cracking them to crush or grind up and sprinkle on top of your hens’ feed. Be sure not to offer shells that have not been broken down into smaller pieces, as chickens can acquire a taste for eggs and can actually eat them straight out of the nesting box!
Boost your hens’ shell-producing ability with chicken supplements to ensure they have all of the vitamins and minerals they need. As an added bonus, supplements such as omega-3 fed to your chickens convey in their eggs– and then to you when you eat them!
Looks aren’t everything
Why is there blood on my chicken’s egg?
While it may look concerning, blood smears on an eggshell usually indicate that it came from a new layer (pullet). This issue should self-resolve after the first few weeks of laying.
Why are my hen’s eggs long and skinny?
Also more common in pullets just starting to lay, eggs can sometimes take on an awkward shape or appearance. Young hens will often start laying smaller, elongated eggs that look almost pointed. If elongated eggs appear suddenly and regularly in mature hens, notify your veterinarian.
Why do my chickens’ eggs have bumps, divots or ridges?
The texture of eggs is an excellent sign of potential nutritional deficiencies or stress in your flock. Any hens’ consistently laying eggs that do not have a round, smooth shell, are experiencing either stress or malnutrition. Make sure your chickens’ feed has adequate levels of protein, calcium, and vitamins and minerals. Overcrowding is often a source of stress for chickens, so give them plenty of room in a walk in chicken run or an area of chicken fencing during the day, and adequate space in their chicken coop at night.
Why is there a chalky film on my hens’ eggs?
An abundance of calcium in a flock’s diet can cause eggs to be laid with a chalky or waxy appearance. Brown eggs may take on a pink hue from this excess calcium, or you may see flecks of white on darker colored eggs. To correct this, scale back on calcium supplements until the eggs take on a normal appearance once again.
Misshapen or discolored eggs can also point to illness. If you notice your chickens having symptoms accompanying irregular egg laying, or the prolonged presence of abnormal-looking eggs, contact your veterinarian.
Even though they may not look as appealing as “normal” eggs, most unusual looking eggs are safe to eat! Most of the time deformities lie within the shell only, with the inside of the egg remaining unaffected.
Check-in with your hens by doing regular chicken health checks to make sure everyone is in tip-top shape. It’s also a good idea to have an extra chicken Eglu Go Chicken Coop set up for quarantining sick or new flock members.
Maintain optimum health and egg laying performance by giving your flock plenty of space in the fresh air every day. Walk-in chicken runs are one of the easiest and safest ways to check-off your healthy-hen list.
As always, we want you and your hens to have the absolute best experience together. Let us know in the comments below what you have learned about your flock by looking at their eggs!
This entry was posted in Chickens