How to Identify and Treat an Egg Bound Hen
When a hen has an egg stuck inside her oviduct and is having difficulty passing it, that is a term we chicken keepers call being egg bound. Regardless of the cause, a hen that is egg bound has a life-threatening emergency. If the egg is not passed within 24 to 48 hours, she may very likely die as a result of her egg-bound state. Veterinary care is important if there is any hope of saving an egg-bound hen. But if veterinary care is not immediately available, careful intervention on your part may be required.
There may be several reasons for why a hen becomes egg bound:
- Nutritional deficiency, specifically calcium
- Unusually large egg
- Infection of the oviduct
- Early onset of lay
A hen that is having trouble passing an egg may first show signs of it by spending a longer time than usual in the nest box. This early warning sign may also be confused with a hen that is going broody. But if at the end of the day, when all of the other hens are roosting for the night, you find a hen still in the nest box, be watchful of her the next day. Especially if she seems to still be straining to pass an egg.
The next sign of being egg bound is the typical “penguin stance”. A hen who is struggling with passing an egg will sometimes walk around with her rump and tail down and her body upright. Not every egg-bound hen does this, but if you see it, investigate.
A hen who is egg-bound will usually not eat or drink, which quickly leads to death if you don’t intervene. Her comb and wattles may appear pale or dull in appearance. If you gently feel on either side of her vent, you may feel the egg just inside the oviduct.
Chickens are notorious for masking any illness or injury, so by the time you realize a hen is ill, immediate action is needed. The first thing to do is isolate her but using a large dog crate or other pen. Take her to a dark, warm, quiet location. Give her food and water, and if she doesn’t seem interested in drinking, try offering her some by dropper. Add some electrolyte/vitamin mix to her water, such as Vital Pack. Then let her rest and give her a few hours. While you are waiting, call your veterinarian.
A veterinarian has the knowledge and equipment to administer fluids and calcium to help the hen recover more quickly. The best chance of saving an egg-bound hen is by seeking medical attention. Again, this is a life-threatening emergency situation.
A warm bath may or may not help the hen pass the egg. The theory is that the warmth may allow her oviduct muscles to relax and allow a larger egg to pass. It usually has a low success rate. Lubricating the oviduct with KY jelly is perhaps more effective, but be very careful that you do not rupture the eggshell inside the hen. This may lead to a rupture or tearing of the oviduct. If the hen survives the immediate trauma, infection is likely.
If moving the hen to a quiet location and allowing her to rest and recover somewhat hasn’t produced an egg, you may need to take the intervention to the next level by manually trying to remove the egg from the oviduct. Please be advised that manual removal of the egg is a last-ditch effort. Things can and do go very wrong when attempting to remove an egg manually. But if you can tell that the egg is near the end of the oviduct just beyond the vent, you may be able to VERY GENTLY apply the slightest pressure to either side of the hen’s abdomen just ahead of the egg. You don’t want to break the egg if at all possible. If that should happen, very gently remove as much of the egg as possible, put the hen back in her quiet, dark place and let her rest. The rest of her recovery will be up to her.
Hopefully you never need to deal with an egg bound hen. But if you do find yourself with one, we hope you’ll find this blog helpful with some tips you may not have considered.
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