Thursday, August 23, 2012

Chicken Emergency: Egg Binding and Calcium Deficiency

We recently had a traumatic chicken emergency wherein Rouge, one of our year-old Rhode Island Red hens, became egg-bound. This is when a hen has an egg stuck inside her. Not a fun time for her or for her owners. Thankfully, I had (for some reason, really no idea why) recently read about egg-binding and was able to identify the symptoms in her and treat them accordingly.

I write this to you, possible chicken owners or future chicken owners, to know how to treat egg-binding. Egg binding is a serious problem because it can cause infection and can cause everything to "back up" in a hen's digestive system, since in a chicken everything comes out of the same hole - poop, pee, and eggs.

So here it is. Maybe knowing this in advance will help you prevent or at least identify if you ever have a hen in this predicament!

Egg Bound Hen Identification

1. Refusal to walk or even lay down properly. This is what first tipped us off to Rouge having issues.

2. "Pumping" her vent. This is the hen's "hole." It usually flexes when you first look at it, then doesn't move. Rouge was pumping hers like she was trying to get something out.

3. Sometimes you can feel for the egg by gently squeezing either side of the vent. We couldn't feel anything in Rouge, though.

Egg Bound Hen Treatment

(what we did that seems to have worked, fingers crossed)

1. Gave her a "bath" in warm water for about 30 minutes. When she got out, she finally wanted to stand up and let out a big poop. Poop is a good thing. It means the system is working and not stopped up.

2. Isolated her. We kept her in a dog crate in the garage with food and water.

3. Gave her fish oil. To lube up her system.

4. Gave her liquid vitamins. This can be good for any type of chicken illness, just as an extra boost to their body. We bought a children's liquid vitamin, Poly-vi-sol, from the drugstore. We administered both this and the fish oil with a dropper.

5. Gave her calcium supplements. We got soft gel calcium tablets from the drugstore, cut them open, and put the inside goop on watermelon (which she loves). This was two days in, she was acting more like herself, and gobbled it up.

What We Did Not Do

1. Take her to the vet. Too expensive. She is livestock, not a pet.

2. Stick a finger inside her. Some people on the internet recommend this as a way of feeling if there is an egg stuck. Some people even advise doing this in an attempt get the egg out. TERRIBLE IDEA. If there is a membrane-only egg inside, your finger will pop it and infection will ensue. Leave your poor hen's hole alone.


After she had gotten sick, I realized something: I should have seen this coming. I knew Rouge was having problems with calcium deficiency. The very first egg she laid for us had a broken shell and every egg after that was very thin-shelled. The exterior of her shells had a chalky residue on them. You can tell in the picture below which eggs are Rouge's and which were laid by our other hen, Ruby.

The majority of a chicken's shell is made up of calcium. When a chicken is calcium-deficient, her body will pull calcium from her organs to try to compensate. The problem with this is that:

1. Shells will be thin or non-existent, causing cracking or breaking.
2. The hen has a hard time pushing out soft-shelled eggs, as there is little resistance to push against.
3. Egg binding can occur when the hen is unable to push out the egg.

Looking back, I wish I had realized the calcium deficiency was such a big deal. We had given them oyster shells, which apparently are adequate supplement for many hens but not for ones who are severely deficient. 

For now, Rouge seems to be doing well. She has only laid one egg, with a broken shell, since the egg-binding incident two weeks ago. I am hoping that her body is just recovering and that she can rebuild her calcium stores with the softgel supplements we are giving her. I had gotten spoiled with the two eggs a day we were getting for awhile!

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