Egg binding (hypocalcaemia) is a serious condition in which an egg gets stuck inside the hen just prior to release. Egg binding can be life-threatening when it does occur and if possible, a vet should be seen for treatment. If a visit to the vet is not an option, at-home measures are possible, but not without risk.
Calcium or other nutritional deficiency
Excessively large or misshapen egg
Hen began laying eggs before her body was fully mature
Lack of sufficient nesting areas, resulting in intentional egg retention
An overview of a hen's reproductive system is important in order to know where an egg may be stuck.*
A hen's uterus (aka: shell gland) is the muscle responsible for squeezing the egg out of the vent. Since muscles require calcium to
contract properly, if a hen has a calcium deficiency, the egg can get stuck in the uterus.
Loss of appetite
Disinterest in drinking
Walking like a penguin
Frequent, uncharacteristic sitting
Passing wet droppings or none at all (egg interferes with normal defecation)
Droopy/depressed/pale comb and wattles
Damage to oviduct
Avoid supplemental lighting with young pullets to avoid premature egg-laying
Feed layer ration, which is carefully formulated to provide balanced nutrition to laying hens
Make available oyster shell (or another calcium source) free-choice (never add to the feed)
Avoid excess treats that can interfere with balanced nutrition in layer ratio
Avoid treats in the summer heat when feed intake is reduced & supply additional oyster shell containers
Calcium (injection, liquid or via vitamins & electrolyte solution)
Apply KY jelly to vent
To assess whether a hen is egg-bound at home, gently feel on either side of her vent with one hand (think: squeezing the cheeks of a cute kid). If an egg is felt, giving the hen calcium is the first course of action. Absent liquid calcium, vitamins and electrolytes in the water contain calcium and can help. Even if she's not interested in drinking, try to get some into her with a dropper or syringe carefully. If she is too weak to drink, don't try it. The calcium may be enough to get her to pass the egg on her own within a half hour or so.
Put the hen in a tub of warm water for 15-20 minutes, which will hydrate her vent and relax her, making it easier to pass the egg.
After a warm bath, some KY jelly applied to the vent can also help hydrate the cloaca to allow for ease of passage when the egg gets to that point (don’t use olive oil, as it can become rancid). Massage the area around the egg gently towards the vent, being careful not to break the eggshell.
At this point, put her in a crate in a darkened, quiet room. If a truly egg-bound hen does not pass the egg within an hour of these measures, the egg may need to be manually removed, which can be dangerous but is possible but proceed at your own risk.
"If she still hasn'texpelled the egg, and you don't think she's going to on her own, then you can move to manual manipulation. This only applies if she is still bright and not in shock. Palpate the abdomen to find the location of the egg and gently manipulate it in an effort to move it along. GENTLE is the key word here. If manual manipulation fails and you can see the tip of the egg, another option is aspiration, implosion, and manual removal.
"First, get someone to help you hold the bird very securely while you work (preferably not upside down). Then, using a syringe and a large needle (18ga.), draw the contents of the egg into the syringe. After aspiration of the contents, gently collapse the egg all around. You want to do this gently in order to keep the inner membrane of the egg in tact, which will keep the eggshell fragments together.
Last, gently remove the egg. (Copious amounts of lubrication would be good here.) Go slow and try to keep the shell together although
broken). If all fragments do not come out, they should pass, along with remaining egg content, within the next several days."
Additional reading and resources:
*Anatomical illustrations and photo reproduced for educational purposes, courtesy of Jacquie Jacob, Tony Pescatore and Austin Cantor, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Copyright 2011. Educational programs of Kentucky Cooperative Extension serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, M. Scott Smith, Director, Land Grant Programs, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Lexington,and Kentucky State University, Frankfort. Copyright 2011 for materials developed by University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension. This publication may be reproduced in portions or its entirety for educational and nonprofit purposes only. Permitted users shall give credit to the author(s) and include this copyright notice. Publications are also available on the World Wide Web at www.ca.uky.edu. Issued 02-2011