May 5, 2016

The Business of Egg laying

I don’t think I need to tell you that the egg laying process is pretty cool. If you ever wanted to see the best video ever on how a hen produces and lays an egg, check out The Magic School Bus season 4 Episode 2: The Magic School Bus Cracks a Yolk. I’m not even yolking: it changed my life (the Frizz really does know everything…).

Chickens have incredible egg delivery systems that produces an egg from start to finish in about 25 hours. This means, your hen has the potential of laying 5-6 eggs a week. And if you have three backyard birds, well, that’s enough for a couple of great omelets a week! Plus custard for dessert!

I won’t go into the nitty gritty of egg laying, mostly because it’s technical and, unless you’re really into anatomical things, kind of boring. *yawn*. The very least you have to know is this:

Your hen comes with a predetermined amount of ova that she will release over her lifetime. Once she matures, the ova are converted into yolks and are released, hopefully one at a time, into her oviduct, where they grow in size, get wrapped in some egg white, then enrobed in some protective shell, and then finally, FINALLY, the egg is complete and laid. All in about 25 hours. Pretty amazing, right? Of course, there are requirements for successful egg laying, things like: a good amount of light, a healthy bird, access to enough food and fresh water, absence of external stimuli such as stress, change, or bullying, and the breed of the bird (some hens are predisposed to lay more or less often).

Eggs come in a variety of shapes, colours, and sizes. For your hen’s entire egg-laying life, she will lay eggs that are the same colour and size. This means that if you have a brown layer, she will always lay brown eggs. And if they start out large, they will most likely always stay that way. Sometimes you’ll encounter an egg oddity, but for the most part the eggs will remain consistent. And even though your brown layer will never lay a blue egg, she may grant you one of the following nest box surprises!

Egg Laying Quirks

The Fairy Egg

Egg Laying issues. The fairy egg. www.mudonherboots.com

Not sure this picture does this egg justice. It’s tiny. Like as tiny as a quarter.

You’ve been getting beautiful lovely eggs for months and then all of a sudden you end up with one teeny, tiny, practically minuscule egg. It looks exactly like a regular chicken egg, only way smaller. And when you crack it, it’s only egg white. Weird, but totally normal. Sometimes called ghost eggs or fart eggs (I swear!), these fairy eggs typically occur just as your hen is coming into lay and her body is getting used to the whole process. It can also happen if the egg making process is disrupted somehow, like say, during a thunderstorm or other stress.  At any rate, they are totally normal, so seriously, don’t worry that your coop has been invaded by tiny egg-laying fairies. Because that’s probably not what’s happening. I said probably, mostly because I can’t confirm or deny the existence of fairies. Plus, I hear they can sometimes play practical jokes on people they don’t like, and I don’t like practical jokes, particularly.

The Egg Within An Egg

Egg laying issues: the egg within an egg. ww.mudonherboots.com

The egg within an egg. See that smaller thing that looks like a speckled yolk? It’s not: it’s actually a tiny, soft, mini egg! Cool, right??

This is a pretty rare occurrence and if it does occur,  it tends to be a strong layer who is the culprit. Basically an egg that is almost ready to be laid returns up the oviduct where it encounters another egg-in-production. It will then get coated with more egg white, and more shell, thus being laid as an egg within an egg. It’s pretty weird when you see a giant egg the first time and crack it open only to discover a surprise egg inside, but it’s totally normal, and probably not every backyard chicken owner will experience.

Wrinkly Eggs, Bumpy Eggs, and Misshapen Eggs

wrinkled eggshell. egg laying issues

look at those lines…

These are all things you’d never find in grocery store eggs, so I was pretty freaked out the first few times I found eggs with bumps and lumps and ridges from my hens. Sometimes the ridges and wrinkles are caused from stress during shell production. There is nothing to worry about if it happens irregularly. Lumps and bumps and warty things too, are also pretty normal. It can mean vitamin D deficieny, too-much calcium, or any number of other reasons. Again, nothing to get too worried about, and they still taste pretty darn good!

Egg Laying Troubles

Nest Box Musical Chairs

Egg Laying issues. When hens play nest box musical chairs. www.mudonherboots.com

The hot new nesting box at our place is the garbage can that was “temporarily” holding clean straw…guess it’s now a permanent fixture in the coop!

So, you’ve set up a nesting box or two, or even three, depending on how many birds you have. The general rule of thumb is one nesting box for every four hens, but typically people will err on the side of caution and increase the odds by adding more boxes. You hope and pray that your hens will find the nest and lay their bounty there. And usually they won’t disappoint. Here’s why: hens like to lay their eggs where other hens have laid their eggs. I’m guessing that it has something to do with an innate need to increase the chance of their offspring’s survival or something. To encourage your new hens to start laying in a nesting box, experts will advise that you put a wooden egg or even a golf ball in the box, in order to trick your hens into thinking an egg has already been laid there and that therefore, it is a good egg laying spot. Usually, this goes without a hitch. That is, until it doesn’t.

Since hens like to lay eggs in spots where there are other eggs, they’ll often have a favourite nesting box, usually one that everyone else also likes. And when they have to lay, well…they just can’t wait. And it can become a very noisy line up of chickens, all wanting to use the nesting box. Sometimes, my girls will get up in arms, pace back and forth right in front of the nesting box, squawking and carrying on, until the other hen is finished, or gives up trying. And more than once, I’ve found two or three of them dogpiled in the box, all trying to lay an egg at the same time. Which is a typically ineffectual method. I’ve tried explaining it to them. I’ve even drawn a diagram trying to show how much space each hen needs to comfortably expel an egg, but they never listen.

If you have a rebel chicken, like the kind that gets ideas about things, she might just decide to take her egg laying action elsewhere. Sometimes, it’ll be a new nesting box. Sometimes it’ll be a large garbage can that was a temporary home for clean straw. And then maybe, just maybe, the other hens will suddenly catch on to this trendy new hot spot and all try to get on the VIP list, and then line up and wait for the garbage can instead of for the nesting box. It happens.

The Egg Hunt

As with nest box musical chairs, sometimes hens will get fed up waiting in line for the preferred nest box and start laying eggs somewhere else. As in, not in the coop at all, but somewhere in the backyard. This is a really tricky thing to solve. But being aware of who lays what egg helps. If you haven’t seen your hen Mabel’s eggs in a couple of days, and she otherwise seems totally fine, then maybe it’s worth a check around the yard. If you find a little clutch of eggs, then you know you have a rebel layer. To break the habit, keep the offending hen locked up in the coop for a week or so until she starts laying with the other girls, or at least in a spot in the coop that she feels safe in and one you can access the eggs from!

The Egg Song

Egg Laying issues. Chickens will lay where they want. www.mudonherboots.com

Did you know that hens sing after they lay an egg? They sure do! And it’s loud. When I first got chickens, they were pullets, and totally quiet. That is, until that first egg. Then suddenly there was a crazy brock-brock-brock-ba-kaw and I thought for sure one was getting eaten. But no, it was just Penny standing on the coop steps, proud as can be, singing her egg song. Not all chickens do it, but the ones that do, man, you’ll know! It’s loud and it goes on for 30 seconds or so. Sometimes other hens will join in the song and it’ll be a cacophony of chicken song across the yard. I’m not really sure why, but various opinions include, pride of egg-laying success, a calling of other hens to lay, and possibly to distract egg-stealing predators away from the nest. Not sure, but it’s pretty funny, at any rate (unless, you’re a rebel chicken owner, and then it’s just loud and like a neon sign screaming, hey, we’ve got chickens here!)

The Egg Attack

Egg eating is a thing. It’s real and once it starts it is very hard to stop. I had an egg eater. It drove me crazy. And I wish I could tell you how it started. All I know is that I noticed that more and more often eggs would be broken in the nesting box and clearly pecked clean. All that would be left would be trace whites and some broken shell pieces. In order to combat it I spent weeks hauling myself to the coop every time I heard an egg song. I scooped up each, still warm, egg, before the egg eater could strike. During this period I also increased the whole micro-flock’s protein as I assumed that one of them was clearly in need of some extra love. And happily, it worked. I also keep ground egg shells for free choice eat. It’s a good way to keep those eggshells strong and tough for beaks to peck!

 

Most likely, within your own small flock, you’ll experience a few of these. Rest assured, most of them are very normal, and relatively easy to fix. It all comes with the territory of being a backyard chicken owner!

happy egg examining!

 

 

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