Case Study Emergencies/Illness Health Issues

Case Study: Egg Bound Hen

I’ve only once dealt with an egg bound hen. It was quite dramatic, in that the egg was actually stuck partially outside her vent. Unfortunately my hands were busy trying to extricate the egg, which prevented me from taking any photos. I regret that I wasn’t able to document that case and was excited to see when a member posted photos on a Facebook chicken group. Here is Elizabeth’s story dealing with her own case of an egg bound hen.

Egg binding occurs when an egg gets stuck in the reproductive tract causing the hen difficulty in laying it. The recommended treatment is to support the hen in whatever ways possible to lay the egg: a hot Epsom salt bath to relax the muscles and calcium (crushed Tums in water) to help with the contractions. Inserting lube into the vent can also help ease the egg out.

If it becomes necessary, like in my case, you may have to break the egg and carefully extract all the contents. The risk is that any yolk remnants left in the reproductive tract can become the perfect medium for a bacterial infection like egg yolk peritonitis.

Egg binding usually occurs in young layers or when attempting to lay very large eggs. Other causes include: calcium deficiency, obesity, oviduct infections or the use of supplemental light to force laying year round. I’m careful to give my birds a good supply of oyster shells, crushed eggshells and a healthy balanced diet. I don’t use lighting in winter, which allows them a much needed break from laying.

Chloe, 20-week old Buff Orpington Pullet

As luck would have it Chloe ran into troubles laying her very first egg. It wasn’t overly large, but she was still a young pullet. Elizabeth had seen her go in and out of the nest boxes over the previous days and assumed she would start laying soon. Earlier in the day Chloe was fine, but upon checking her three hours later, Elizabeth noticed the bulge of an egg pushing through her reproductive tract on the outside of her body.

Elizabeth brought Chloe in the house and gave her an Epsom salt bath. She repeated that once more and although Chloe was straining to lay, she was unsuccessful passing the egg.

As so often with chicken emergencies, especially your first time dealing with them, you end up juggling investigating a diagnosis and treatment with doing first aid. While the hen was soaking, Elizabeth was googling solutions. She found a YouTube video in which the poster rotated the egg so the narrow end was facing the vent and pushed it out from the wide end. Ideally you’d have a well-stocked first aid kit that included lube, but all Elizabeth had on hand was lip balm and Preparation H.

She managed to liberally lubricate Chloe’s vent and manipulate the egg, narrow end first, out of the vent in one piece. As soon as the egg was out Chloe’s vent went back to normal. My egg bound hen, Mango, was not so lucky: her vent was permanently distended and she never regained control of it.

Chloe was crated in the infirmary for a couple days, but was not a compliant patient. She was actually normally and Elizabeth returned her to the flock. Again, Chloe was seen straining. This time she was dealing with constipation. Elizabeth gave her another bath and managed to clear out the backlog of impacted poop. Four or five days later she laid her first normal egg and has been fine ever since.

Elizabeth is lucky that Chloe resumed egg laying with no further complications. My advice would be to crate the patient for longer in order to give the internal tissues a chance to heal as well as to deter her from laying again too soon. This can be accomplished by offering lower protein feed and by darkening the crate (put a towel over the openings).

Many thanks to Elizabeth Martin for her story and photos. All material used with permission.

Two out of three of Elizabeth’s tiny flock experienced serious, potentially life threatening health issues before they were even six months old. Check out the story of Clara and her broken leg here.

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