Laying Hen FAQs: The Broody Hen, Soft-Shell Eggs and More

You’ve celebrated the arrival of your first farm fresh eggs and your hens are laying breakfast daily – or so you thought. Have eggs suddenly gone missing from the nesting box? Do you have a broody hen taking a vacation from laying eggs? Don’t fret. There are ways to get laying hens back on track.
Hens are creatures of habit and may need encouragement to lay consistently. A comfortable nesting box environment and the right nutrition will help keep hens laying strong, so your family can enjoy farm fresh eggs each day.
Here are three commonly asked questions about laying hens:

1. How to get chickens to lay in nesting boxesList of common challenges with laying hens, including: How to get chickens to lay eggs in nesting boxes, how to break a broody hen and what to do when hens lay soft-shell eggs.

Once a hen begins producing eggs, she tends to lay in the same spot.
If you’ve ever found an egg in your flowerbeds, you know some training may be required to encourage hens to use nesting boxes.
Use these tips to help teach hens where to lay eggs:

  1. Place golf balls or decoy eggs in nesting boxes to help hens understand where to lay.
  2. Line each box with a thick layer of straw, or other bedding, to keep eggs clean and unbroken.
  3. Provide a 1-cubic foot nesting box for every four or five hens to help prevent competition and minimize egg breakage or eating.  
  4. Ensure all boxes are uniform and off of the floor in the darkest corner of the coop.

2. How to break a broody hen

What is a broody hen? You know you have a broody hen when she decides to sit on a clutch of eggs day and night. Hens go broody because hormones drive their instinct to hatch chicks, even when the eggs are not fertilized.
Some flock raisers allow hens to go broody to raise baby chicks. It can be problematic if you aren’t planning on hatching chicks because broody hens stop laying eggs after they’ve made their clutch. If she is overly protective of her eggs, wear gloves when breaking a broody hen since she may peck your hands as you collect eggs under her.
Collect eggs as often as possible to get a broody hen laying again. If the hen has a favorite nesting box, close it off to limit access. At night, move the broody hen from the nesting box to the roost with the rest of the hens. She’s less likely to return to the nesting box while it’s dark.
When all else fails, give the hen a change of scenery. Isolate the hen away from the nesting boxes in a wire cage or separate area of the coop. Provide her feed and water, and give her a vacation for 2-4 days. You can return her to the coop if she lays an egg. You may need to repeat this process a few times if she continues to be broody. Persistence is key to success.

3. Why laying hens produce soft-shell eggs

It usually takes 24 hours for an egg to develop. Occasionally, high-producing breeds can lay an egg in less time, resulting in a soft-shell egg.
Unhealthy hens typically produce lower quality eggs and can even stop laying altogether. If you notice a trend with hens laying soft-shell eggs, there could be another issue at hand. Common culprits include:

  • Hen age: As chickens near the end of their laying years (4-5 years old), they tend to lay larger eggs with thinner shells. If you have an older flock, think about introducing younger birds to collect plenty of quality eggs.
  • Pecking order: A bird low in the pecking order may not get enough to eat, particularly during cold weather when birds ramp up feed intake to help stay warm. Keep the peace in your flock by providing alternative places to peck, like a Purina® Flock Block®.
  • Predators: Occasionally, a predator may investigate your flock at night. The stress of the encounter can trigger hens to lay before the eggshell has a chance to fully form.
  • Treats: Extra grains or scraps can disrupt the balanced nutrition in layer feed, which may leave birds lacking nutrients. Limit treats to less than 10% of their overall diet or provide a healthy treat, such as Purina® Farm to Flock Hen Treats. If you see a change in production or eggshell quality, cut back on treats for a week to see if production improves. You may need to adjust how much you are spoiling your ladies.
  • Nutrition: At least 90% of your laying hen’s total diet should be a complete layer feed. You can help hens lay strong eggshells by offering a Purina® layer feed with the Oyster Strong® System. The calcium hens need to stay strong and lay strong is contained right in the feed – no need to supplement.

A soft-shell egg every now and then isn’t something to ruffle your feathers. When hens lay 200 to 300 eggs a year, a dud is bound to happen. If it becomes a regular occurrence or you see multiple soft-shell eggs in your flock, take a closer look at what is going on with the hens. There could be a larger problem lurking in the background that needs attention.
Want strong eggshells for your flock? Sign up for the Feed Greatness® Challenge.
*The Feed Greatness® Challenge is a 60-day feeding trial where you will feed Purina® feed, monitor your flock’s performance and health, take pictures and receive emails with helpful information.

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition

Stop by Argyle Feed Store for the highest quality supplies for your free-range backyard flock. We’re proud to carry Purina poultry feed products to keep your chickens healthy.