We often get letters from readers about odd eggs. Anne Perdeaux explains what can cause these anomalies – and how to get excellent eggs
You pick up an egg and it breaks in your hand. Even worse, you find yourself holding a jelly-like object with no shell at all. What’s going on?
Remove these eggs quickly before the hens discover they are easy to eat. Then consider the possible causes.
Hens coming into moult may start producing thinner shells, and will eventually stop laying until re-feathering is complete. When the moult is over, egg quality should return to normal.
Pullets starting to lay for the first time, and old hens at the end of their laying years, often produce some egg oddities.
A sudden fright can result in strange eggs the following day.
If none of these applies and shell quality continues to be poor, you may need to investigate further.
The first suspect is often a lack of calcium, but this is unlikely to be the case if the hens are eating a balanced diet. An adequate supply of good layers’ feed with access to soluble grit should provide sufficient calcium – as long as the hens are eating it! If given a choice between layers’ feed and ‘extras’ they will choose the more exciting option, resulting in a lack of essential nutrients. Rather than letting them eat their pudding before the main course, keep treats and grain for the afternoons.
Hens eat less in hot weather, so make sure they have shade and cool water in summer.
Occasionally a hen can’t process calcium properly, but this would have to be diagnosed by the vet. Don’t give calcium supplements without veterinary advice – an excess can cause health problems.
Calcium can’t be utilised without Vitamin D. This should be included in the layers’ mix, but is also absorbed from sunshine. If your hens live mainly under cover, they may need a vitamin supplement (such as cod liver oil) added to their feed.
Check your flock has a relaxed lifestyle! Shell quality as well as egg production can be affected by stress, which might be caused by something as simple as a change in routine.
Lack of food or water, changes to the pecking order, unusual weather conditions, predator threats, rough handling, and bullying by other hens can all upset the laying mechanism. Apple cider vinegar (20ml per litre of water in a plastic drinker) can help hens cope with stressful situations, but try to keep tension in the flock to a minimum.
Parasites and Disease
Poor shell quality is one indication of parasites. Check the birds and housing regularly, so you can take fast action if necessary. Parasites will multiply rapidly and cause serious debility.
Disease may also cause shell deformities, although there are likely to be other symptoms. Infectious Bronchitis sometimes affects the reproductive system, leaving the hen only able to lay soft-shelled or wrinkled eggs. There is nothing that can be done about this, and the bird is likely to be a carrier of the disease.
It’s No Yolk!
The outside may be perfect, but what about the contents? Meat spots in the egg-white or blood spots at the edge of the yolk are harmless, but don’t look very appetising. Some hens, especially older ones, regularly lay such eggs and this can be an inherited trait. Hens may also produce a meat or blood spot as a result of shock, stress or rough handling.
The hen’s diet can also affect the egg-yolks. Hens on grass will lay eggs with deep orange yolks, but acorns and some plants may add a greenish tinge. Fertilisers and weedkillers can also affect yolk quality, so don’t use these where hens are ranging, even if they are ‘safe’ for animals. Make sure the hens have plenty of clean water and don’t drink from dirty puddles, which may affect their health as well as their eggs.
Site the henhouse in a shady place to keep both hens and eggs cool. Collect eggs as often as possible to prevent them from being broken or sat on by broody hens.
Tiny eggs with no yolks are sometimes laid by pullets or hens at the end of their laying season, and are usually nothing to worry about.