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Why Do Chickens Lay Eggs Without Shells?

One phenomenon always perplexes chicken keepers when it first happens: the mysterious soft egg or shell-less egg. Surprise! Chickens really can lay eggs that are soft or rubbery, without any hard shell at all. Why do chickens lay eggs without shells? Well, there are many reasons. Obviously, it’s a cause for concern, because you don’t want your hens falling ill. Don’t worry. Most of the reasons for chickens laying eggs without shells can be easily remedied.

What are Soft or Shell-Less Eggs?

shell-less egg
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

While it’s shocking the first time around, chickens laying eggs with soft shells or no shell is not uncommon. There are several kinds of underdeveloped or defective eggs:

  • Soft shell eggs
  • Rubber eggs
  • Shell-less eggs – generally the same thing as a rubber egg, which is an egg without a hard shell
  • Partially shelled eggs

Egg-laying hens sometimes produce eggs that are only the egg yolk, albumen, and a thin membrane. Other times, the shell might be there in some places or so thin the egg cracks when you touch it.

These eggs aren’t to be eaten. The shell has an important purpose—one that protects the egg from outside bacteria and dirt. Dispose of shell-less eggs. Thin-shelled eggs, on the other hand, aren’t fit for human consumption, but as long as the eggs don’t shatter, you can feed them to pigs.

Why Do Chickens Lay Eggs Without Shells?

soft egg
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Finding thin-shelled eggs or shell-less eggs can be disheartening and confusing. But there is some good news. Chickens rarely lay eggs without shells, so if you spot the problem and remedy it, you shouldn’t have to worry about it happening again.

The reasons for why chickens lay eggs without shells are broken into categories:

  • Dietary
  • Health conditions
  • Stress levels
  • Environment
  • Age

With that in mind, let’s check out the reasons in greater detail.

Dietary Causes of Eggs Without Shells

In order for chickens to lay eggs with sturdy shells, they need a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. If any of the required nutrients are insufficient, shells won’t form correctly.

Dietary problems include:

  • Lacking calcium. Why do chickens lay eggs without shells? It’s mainly caused by a calcium deficiency. Calcium makes up a large portion of the eggshell, so your hens need a lot of calcium to lay eggs. Without enough calcium, their bodies will either produce very thin shells or be unable to produce a shell at all.
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Without vitamin D, the body can’t properly absorb calcium. Make sure your chicken is getting enough fresh air and vitamin D from their feed and treats. The best way to add vitamin D to a chicken’s diet is with cod liver oil.
  • Saline water. Too much salt can cause thin or shell-less eggs.
  • Too little or too much phosphorus. Check your chicken feed for the amount of phosphorus. Chickens that don’t have enough phosphorus will have shell-less eggs, while chickens with an excess of phosphorus tend to develop thin-shelled eggs.

If you think it’s a dietary issue, you can amend this easily. Switch your chicken feed, if necessary. Aim for a diet that is balanced between pellets and free range foraging. You also want to give your chickens access to soluble grit—namely oyster shell grit—since it is a great source of calcium.

soft-shelled egg
Photo credit: Flickr

Water too salty? Consider switching up the source of water. You can get your water tested, add a filter, or purchase spring water (though that is expensive).

Health-Related Causes of Soft Eggs

Health problems and a noisy, dangerous environment is going to have a huge physiological and psychological impact on your chickens. Happy chickens will lay more eggs than you’re ready for, but sad, stressed out hens? Expect poor quality eggs.

Health-related causes can compound with environmental stress, so make sure you are keeping your chickens safe, healthy, and happy. Diseases like Avian flu, infectious bronchitis, bacterial and viral infections, Newcastle disease, mycotoxin, and egg drop syndrome all have effects on the quality of the eggshell.

Immature or dysfunctional shell glands can also be problematic. It’s possible that hens haven’t fully developed or have an issue with their reproductive organs. In this case, they could struggle with laying eggs. If you’re worried that your chicken might be sick, take them to a veterinarian immediately. That last thing you want is to neglect your flock and have a fatal disease spread to the rest of them.

By keeping your coop clean and fresh water available, many bacterial and viral issues can be avoided.

Overweight Hens

This one deserves a long explanation all its own. Did you know that overweight chickens will stop producing quality eggs or may even stop laying eggs altogether? Even if your hens look healthy, they could have too much fat on their bodies. Here is how you check: Gently hold the hen and part the feathers over the chest. The skin should be thin here, thin enough to see the breast bone. Too much fat under the skin will hide the breast bone from view.

How does this happen? Improper feeding. Many chicken feeders are adding too much corn and scraps to their feeding. Mixed corn, often called scratch, contains about 10% protein, which isn’t enough for your chickens to stay strong and lean. In fact, corn is fattening for chickens and can lead to a bunch of health problems, including poor quality eggs.

You should also limit how much scraps you give your hens. Yes, chickens are omnivorous and eat almost anything, but they also have digestive systems unlike our own. Scraps should be an accompaniment to a well-balanced diet, not make up the bulk of it.

Environmental Stressors & How They Affect Eggs

Next, there’s environmental stress to consider. Loud coops, lots of activity, dogs barking, lights flashing, and the dangers of predators attacking will keep chickens on edge. It takes about 16 hours for a single egg to develop, meaning that agitation can hinder the process.

Stress also comes from fluctuating temperatures, especially when its hot and humid and your flock can’t stay cool. If you live somewhere that has high temperatures in the summer, make sure your chickens have enough shade and plenty of fresh water.

There is not much you can do for some environmental stressors, but you can provide your chickens with a secure coop, water, shade, and a clean area to roam. As long as you do that, your chickens should be able to relax.

Age-Related Causes of Shell-Less Eggs

Now let’s talk about how age can affect a chicken’s egg-laying abilities. Young or old, hens can have moments where laying eggs is difficult.

Young hens, called pullets, will often lay underdeveloped or shell-less eggs. Since pullets are still growing themselves, their bodies require a greater amount of calcium. If they try to lay eggs while they are still developing, they won’t have enough calcium to produce a high quality egg.

To mitigate this, make sure you are producing calcium-rich feed and grit for your young hens. You will notice their eggs are much healthier within a few weeks.

Another reason young hens lay more thin-shelled or shell-less eggs? They might not be fully developed yet. Until a chicken has matured, their reproductive organs might not be ready for egg-laying. Yet, broodier breeds might start early, regardless of whether they are ready or not. Sometimes, all they need is time!

Older Hens

Usually, once a hen has matured, their bodies realize instinctively that calcium is for egg production. Let’s say you have a flock of older hens who suddenly stop producing as many shelled eggs as usual. You can consider any of the aforementioned reasons, such as calcium deficiency or being overweight. This is common.

Older hens are excellent at producing eggs. Even if they have a calcium shortage, their bodies are capable of pulling it from the reserves to make eggs. Therefore, it’s rare for a healthy older hen to stop producing eggs.

Wrapping Up

Why do chickens lay eggs without shells? You’ve learned a number of reasons, included stress and environmental issues, like heat, disease and illness, as well as age. Knowing why is half the battle, though. There is no guarantee that solving these issues will actually make your chickens lay higher quality eggs. Sometimes, it just happens!

That said, when you make sure your chickens are well taken care of and safe, you are guaranteeing the best possible outcome. And remember, if you find an egg with no shell on it, remove it from the coop immediately.