Egg laying is a complicated process. It takes about 26 hours for the germ of the yolk to progress through the oviduct, get surrounded by more yolk, then white, then get enclosed by the shell and finally dropped into the nesting box. This process works like a conveyor belt. Even as the first egg is being laid, another is getting started and is working it’s way through the system. Sometimes an egg is missing the yolk, or the shell, or is a weird shape or teeny tiny or especially huge. Sometimes an egg gets stuck. As you can imagine, this is not comfortable for the hen! Snce the egg shares the same outlet as the digestive tract (the vent), it will be difficult for her to expel manure. She’ll be miserable. She’ll die if that egg doesn’t come out.
An egg bound hen stands more upright than usual and walks like a penguin. He abdomen might feel bloated. She might be sitting in a nesting box, tilted with her tail up, her vent opening and closing, looking like she’s straining. However, these signs are also the symptoms of many other ailments. In fact, it is very, very rare that a hen is actually egg-bound. More often than not, what you think is an egg bound chicken is actually a hen that is quite sick from something else.
If she is egg bound, you might be able to see or feel the stuck egg just inside the vent. Slather vaseline on a (gloved) finger and feel up her vent. If you reach the obstruction, try to grease it to help it along.
Sometimes, all the hen needs is to relax and get the gut moving. Manure passes through the digestive, not the reproductive tract – but it’s all tangled up inside the hen. So, helping her to pass manure eases the movement of everything in there. Also, if you relax the abdomen, then sometimes she’s able to push the obstruction out.
When a hen that looks miserable and constipated she needs what I call “the spa treatment” – a nice, long warm soak in an epsom salt bath. Add a quarter cup of epsom salts (found at any pharmacy) to a washtub filled with warm water. Put your chicken in. (For more about epsom salt’s curative powers see this FAQ.)
Here is a photo of Buffy getting the spa cure:
It looks like she’s enjoying the soak, doesn’t it?
If it’s at all cold out, blow dry her before putting her back with the others.
Epsom salt is also an effective detoxifier and it doesnt hurt to give some orally as well. It is also often beneficial to give a dose of olive oil, again with the objective of moving things along. Two teaspoons, just once, is all you need. (For instructions of how to dose these curatives, go here.)
With any luck, manure and an egg will pass and the hen will be fine. Or, the treatment will fix some other problem. Several times now I thought that I had an egg bound hen and I was wrong. A couple of hens died. Autopsies on these birds showed tumors, cancer, and ascites, among other ills, but never a stuck egg. Sometimes when a hen looked “egg bound” and I did this spa cure it worked. However, the hens didn’t pass an egg, and with hindsight I know they had something else wrong and were not egg-bound. But, they did recover, and thats what counts.’s
So, if your hen is doing poorly and looks egg bound, it doesn’t hurt to do the spa cure, and it might just save her.