Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Odd Squat: A Gathering of Bad Eggs

The wrinkled shell wonder laid by our hen.
This isn’t the first time this investigation has been conducted.  It certainly won’t be the last.  I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here; I’m just looking for answers.  You might be asking yourself why.  Well, you see, I have recently ran into this bad egg.  I should correct myself right about here: I’m sure it’s not a truly bad egg.  It’s just a little odd, a little different than the rest.  Let me paint you a picture of the day we met.  It was a dark and stormy summer night It was a cold and windy Saturday afternoon. This past Saturday, to be exact.  This little chick I know was on lock down for bad behavior.  The little vixen (No, really.  Her name is Vixey, our Partridge Plymouth Rock) got mixed up in some feather picking and needed solitary confinement to think about what had gone down.

A pretty little tan colored egg was ready for me that morning as I awoke at 6:30.  A peace offering I think, but this guard can’t be bribed so easily.  I ran out to do some errands and was headed back home when my husband gave me a call.  He told me that he found something weird in Vixey’s shavings.  An egg; a bad egg.  Two eggs in just three hours.  Hmmm…My curiosity piqued, I hurried home, at the safe and respectable speed limit.  Sure enough, waiting for me on the counter when I arrived was the salvaged pieces of the bad egg he’d scooped up from the shavings.  Break out the gloves.  It’s autopsy time.

The thin, leathery shell just couldn't contain a yolk that big and bold!
Immediately I can see that the beautiful yolk, bright and vivid as a daffodil in spring, has leaked out.  Such a waste!  The shell is leathery, wrinkled and puckered in places.  It isn’t at all firm and protective, as a normal shell should be.  Why on earth would this happen?  My girls aren’t sick.  They eat a very healthy diet, supplemented by fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention probiotics and other power packed extras.  Aside from a little bout of bullying, nothing has been out of the ordinary at all.  Here’s where my researching came into play.

I first consulted:  The Chicken Encyclopedia and Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, both by Gail Damerow.  I love The Chicken Encyclopedia for its ability to be quickly and easily accessed for reference to topics.  I can get the cold, hard facts without sifting through chapters after chapters of a book.  Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens is an absolute go-to book for the things you need a detailed, comprehensive explanation on.  Breaking down the who/what/when/where/why for the chicken keeper is what has made this book an essential part of the chicken keeper’s library.  

From these books, here are a few things that Gail Damerow has to say about this subject:

Notice the lower egg has a very different, very odd shape. (Photo:Janet Garman; Timber Creek Farm)

“The number of eggs a hen lays and their size, shape and internal quality – as well as shell color, texture and strength – may be affected by a variety of things including environmental stress, improper nutrition, medications, vaccinations, parasites, and disease.”

Egg Shape: “…An egg’s shape is established in the part of the oviduct called the isthmus, where the yolk and white are wrapped in shell membranes.  An egg that for some reason gets laid after being enclosed in membranes, but before the shell is added, has the same shape as if it had a shell.  Each hen lays eggs of a characteristic shape, so you can usually identify which hen laid a particular egg by its shape.”

Odd Shaped Eggs or Wrinkles Eggs: “…may be laid if a hen has been handled roughly or if for some reason her ovary releases two yolks within a few hours of each other, causing them to move through the oviduct close together.  The second egg will have a thin, wrinkled shell that’s flat toward the pointed end.  If it bumps against the first egg, the shell may crack and mend back together before the egg is laid, causing a wrinkle.”

This egg has a wrinkled, rubbery outer membrane.
(Photo: Kate Richards; Farmhouse 38)
BINGO!  We have an answer!  Vixey was definitely stressed from being separated from the bunch, not sick or having parasites.  She laid one perfectly normal egg, followed about 3 hours later by a wrinkled, thin leathery shelled egg.  Sounds exactly like what these two books described.  Mystery solved, but I am learning so much by this research that I’d like to point out a few more egg oddities that we all might encounter.

Thin Shells: “…may cover a pullet’s first few eggs or the eggs of a hen that’s getting on in age.  In a pullet, thin shells occur because the pullet isn’t yet fully geared up for egg production.  In an old biddy, the same amount of (or less) shell material that once covered a small egg must now cover the larger egg laid by the older hen, stretching the shell into thinner layer.”

Soft Shells or Missing Shells: “…occur when a hen’s shell forming mechanism malfunctions or for some reason one of her eggs is rushed through and laid prematurely.  Stress induced by fright or excitement can cause a hen to expel an egg before the shell is finished.  A nutritional deficiency, especially of vitamin D or calcium, can cause soft shells.”

Bloody Shells: “…Blood on a shell sometimes appears when a pullet starts laying before her body is ready, causing tissue to tear.  Other reasons for bloody shells include excess protein in the lay ration and coccidiosis, a disease that causes intestinal bleeding.  Cocci does not often infect mature birds, but if it does you’ll likely find bloody droppings as well as bloody shells.”

Chalky or Glassy Shells: “…A chalky shell or glassy shell occasionally appears due to a malfunction of the hen’s shell making process.  Such an egg is less porous than a normal egg and likely will not hatch but is perfectly safe to eat.”

Pale Shells: “…An older hen typically lays eggs with paler shells than those laid when she was younger.  Once explanation is that as the hen ages and her eggs get larger, the brown-pigmented bloom must spread over a larger surface area.  A younger layer that produces eggs with paler-than-usual shells may be suffering from stress.  Overcrowded nests, rough handling, loud noises, and anything that makes a hen nervous or fearful can cause her to either lay her egg prematurely, before the brown-bloom coat is completed, or retain the egg long enough to add an extra layer of shell on top of the bloom.”  (I would venture to say that the word brown could be substituted for white, blue, green, etc depending on the color eggs your hen lays)

Double Shells: “An egg within an egg, or a double shell egg, appears when an egg that is nearly ready to be laid reverses direction and gets a new layer of albumen, covered by a second shell.  Sometimes the reversed egg joins up with the next egg, and the two are encased together within a new shell.  Double-shell eggs are so rare no one knows precisely why or how they happen.” 

Hobby Farms Chickens is another wonderful book for the chicken keeper to have on hand.  Full of great information is an easy to read manner, this is a book I consult often.  Here is the books explanation for why two other common egg oddities occur.

Double Yolks: “…Double yolks occur when one yolk moves too slowly and is joined by a second yolk before the shell is formed.  Usually heavy-breed hens lay these eggs, though pullets sometimes lay them, too.  According to Guinness World Records, the current record-holding largest egg had five yolks, and the heaviest egg on record had two yolks and a double shell!”  (Say it with me folks; OUCH!)

Yolk-less Eggs: “…Wind eggs, sometimes called “cock eggs” or “dwarf eggs”, have no yolk.  They’re usually laid by pullets in early production.

While you are still online, you can check out these websites and articles that have some great information and photos about abnormalities that occur in egg laying:

The University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture has this to say on their frequently asked questions page about eggs with calcium deposits: “…Calcium deposits on egg shells are not that uncommon. The 'pimples' (calcium deposits) are distortions to the shell. The hens may have an infection affecting their reproductive system. Infection is not the only cause, however, because the same condition also occurs in disease-free flocks. The defect may be partly hereditary. Age of the hens is also a factor. With increasing age there is an increase in the likelihood of calcium deposits.”

A beautiful speckled egg.
(Photo: Lisa Steele; Fresh Eggs Daily)
A lovely streaked egg.
(Photo: Lisa Steele; Fresh Eggs Daily)
The Fat Finch has a wonderful blog entry on that details egg color, including why we find speckled or streaked eggs.  Truly amazing what birds are capable of!

Be VERY sure you stop by my good friend Kate’s blog, Farmhouse 38, to see what funky egg her girls gifted her with.  Her photographs in this post really help illustrate some of the truly weird things that can happen with laying!

As you can see, the occasional bad (or rather odd) egg can happen and isn’t necessarily a sign that your chicken is infected with a horrible disease.  You should always be vigilant to the signs your chickens give you however, and if you start to see symptoms that indicate a bigger problem, please seek medical attention for your birds.  Whether it’s a fluke occurrence or a side effect of illness, if you keep chickens then you will eventually find a crazy looking egg in your nest box one of these days.  Lucky for Vixey, I learned that the stress from being separated from her gal-pals was proving to be a harder lesson for her than I planned.  Solitary confinement was now over.  Vixey has been pardoned and is now out in the yard with her friends again.


Bibliography of Books Cited (in order):

  • Damerow, Gail.  The Chicken Encyclopedia. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2012.  Print.
  • Damerow, Gail.  Storey’s Guide to Raising Chicken, Third Edition. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2010.  Print.
  • Weaver, Sue.  Hobby Farms Chickens, Second Edition. Irvine: BowTie Press, 2011.  Print.

Links to Websites Cited (in order):

Credits to Photos Used (in order):


  1. Barbara J. KirkdorfferJanuary 30, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    Good snowy morning from Eldora Iowa... I sooo much enjoyed reading your information on eggs. I used to have chickens when I lived in the country and loved every minute of it. I loved sitting in the chicken house just watching chickens clucking away ans even one of my favorite hens, Penny, would keep my attention the most. She would put on a show for me and parade in front of me and turn her head to see I was watching her. She had the sweetest 'cackle' and actually would 'talk' or try to, lol, but soon she gained my trust and would sit on my lap. We would sit for long periods of time like that. One day I went to the Chicken coop as I had had a bad day at work. Penny immediately jumped up on my lap and cackled away to me and soon I was laughing and then she jumped down and went to her laying spot and layed an egg ... it was awesome to watch her and then picking it up was placed in a special bowl later to be used. It was a double yolker! Penny and I shared 3 years together and the the saddest day was when I came home and found Penny on her back with her legs straight into the air.. I cried and and had a buriel for her too. I liked all chickens but Penny will always be my favorite one. She was a golden buff/road island red combo... Barb

  2. Thank you so much, what a very informative article.

  3. I loved this blog! Thank you for sharing this information. I passed it along to my mother in law, who has chickens.

  4. A very thorough investigation! Thank you for providing such great information, resources and humor! Terrific post chock full of all things eggs!