Know Your Eggs! The Insides Of Chicken Eggs, Explained!

Know Your Eggs! The Insides Of Chicken Eggs, Explained!

How well do you know your chicken’s eggs?

 

Eggs can tell you a number of things about your hen’s health – for example, whether your hen is stressed or even sick.

 

So it’s important to know about the different parts so you have a baseline, and if you plan to HATCH eggs, knowing them gets even more important!

 

As chickens evolved, their eggs developed for reproductive purposes, ot eating, so each part of the egg contributes to whether the embryo will hatch or not.

 

Here’s the different parts of an egg and what you need to know about them!

 

 

Air Cell

The air cell is located in the large end of the egg, and it’s what it sounds like – a place where air is stored.

 

When you hatch eggs, the air cell and its size becomes very important. As an egg ages, the air cell becomes larger, which is why older eggs float in water..

 

Albumen

When we talk about “egg whites,” we’re referring to the albumen. It’s full of proteins, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.

 

A cloudy albumen means the egg is fresh. As the egg ages, the carbon dioxide escapes, leaving the albumen more transparent than their fresh counterparts.

 

Blastodisc

This is the round white bullseye-looking spot you see in the yolk, and it’s where embryo begins to develop when the egg is fertilized and under hatching conditions (meaning, the egg is at the right temperature with the right humidity for hatching.)

 

Bloom

The bloom of an egg is a natural coating that covers the eggshell and protects the interior of the egg from bacteria. It also reduces moisture loss from the egg, which is important for the hatching process.  

 

If you plan to hatch your eggs, you definitely don’t want to wash them, because it will eliminate the bloom.

 

Chalazae

Pronounced kah-layz-ah, the chalazae are the rope-like strands you see connecting egg whites to the yolk. The more obvious the chalazae are, the fresher the egg.

 

In nature, it’s an important part of the hatching process because stabilizes the yolk (which feeds the chick embryo as it grows) in the egg.

 

Membrane, Inner & Outer

The inner and outer membranes provide more protection for the eggs contents. The air sac is located between these two membranes on the large side of an egg.

 

Shell

The shell protects the albumen and yolk, and eventually the growing embryo. It’s mostly made up of calcium carbonate, which is why feeding your chickens a calcium supplement is so important. The shell is also made up of thousands of pores to allow gas exchange.

 

Vitelline Membrane

This membrane protects the yolk and keeps it from breaking. It weakens as the egg gets older, which is why yolks of fresh eggs stand up tall, while yolks in older eggs appear flatter.

 

Yolk

The yolk is a protein and vitamin rich portion of the egg, and where the embryo begins developing in a fertilized egg. It’s also where 100% of the fat in eggs is contained.

 

Just before chicks are born, they absorb the yolk, which nourishes them for up to 3 days.

 

Curious about egg abnormalities like wrinkled shells, rubber eggs, and lash eggs? the carbon dioxide escapes

 

Chickens Laying Soft Eggs? 6 Reasons Why (And What To Do)

Chickens Laying Soft Eggs? 6 Reasons Why (And What To Do)

If you have chickens laying soft eggs and aren’t sure what to do about it, you’re in luck because I have plenty of answers.

Soft eggs, also called shell less eggs, soft shell eggs, partially shelled eggs, or rubber eggs, can be a sign of a few different factors, such as illness, age, and diet.

Some of these factors are out of your control (like age), some aren’t (like diet), and some factors are a bigger cause for concern than others (like illness and stress).

We occasionally get chickens laying soft eggs on our farm, and they’re simultaneously cool and disturbing.

chickens laying soft eggs

Back many years ago, the first time we saw a soft egg, we didn’t know what to make of it. Our latest batch of chickens were young brahma pullets that just started layingOne of the first eggs we got from these layers didn’t have a shell – just the thin membrane, albumen, and yolk. And it had gotten squished and spread everywhere. We were so disappointed – we were looking forward to gathering eggs for the first time!

But the hen’s subsequent eggs were healthy and normal. Whew! So, chickens laying soft shell eggs can happen for a variety of reasons, which we’ll talk about below.

What age is your hen?

One of the first things you should look at if you have chickens laying soft shell eggs is the age of your flock. When pullets first start laying, they’re more likely to lay soft shell, eggs missing their shell, or thin shelled eggs than older laying hens. (And yes, these eggs go bad much quicker than their hard shelled counterparts)

This can be for a couple reasons: your backyard chickens don’t yet have enough calcium in their diet or their bodies are getting used to laying, and haven’t quite caught up yet.

If you’ve been feeding your older pullets a grower ration, and they lay a soft egg, then switch them to a layer ration. The grower feeds don’t have as much calcium as a layer feed, so your chickens might not have enough calcium in their diet to support building an egg shell.

Simply switching to a layer feed or offering her a calcium supplement will likely solve the problem, and your chickens will probably start laying normal healthy eggs. If your chickens already have enough calcium in their diet (if you offer them a supplement already, for example), then it’s possible her body is just getting used to the rigors of laying and didn’t properly apply the calcium to totally encase her egg.

As long as she seems healthy and starts laying normal eggs, it’s probably nothing to worry about. It also might be a breed issue. We’ve had many types of chickens on our farm, including

as well as various heritage chicken breeds, and each of these hens has never laid a shell-less egg.

Calcium deficiency

We’ve touched on calcium deficiency already, but if your chickens are older and laying regularly but suddenly give you soft eggs, then it’s time to look at their calcium intake. 

One of the most frequent causes of laying thin shell or soft eggs is a diet low in calcium. While most quality layer feeds have extra calcium in them, you should still offer a supplement just to make sure your hens get enough.

If your laying chickens aren’t eating enough calcium, soft eggs aren’t your only concern. In order to produce eggs, hens must draw calcium from somewhere. If they can’t get it from their diet, your chickens will start pulling it from their bones, which can lead to another set of health problems and shorten their lifespan.

Oyster shells or toasted egg shells are two supplements that can help provide enough calcium for your flock. Of course, you can always use the shells from eggs that fail the egg float test or use those shells in your garden – they’re too old for humans to eat. You can read more about what chickens eat here.

Can be a sign of stress

Stress can also lead to soft eggs or thin egg shells. Stress can include:

  • Environmental stress
  • Heat stress
  • Predator stress
  • Rooster stress

Environmental stress

Environmental stress can be anything from a coop or chicken run that’s too small and packed with too many chickens to stress from roosters mating too frequently. You can read about what a coop should include right here – there’s certain features you should build a chicken coop with to reduce stress.

If your flock’s diet is calcium-rich, then examine their living situation. Are your chickens cooped in a small area all day? Do they have 10 square feet of space? Are roosters picking on her? It’s possible her environment is causing her stress, and the calcium is being diverted from creating egg shells to supporting your hen’s bodily health. This type of stress can also effect your chicken’s lifespan.

In one memorable experience on our farm, one of our chickens watched a dog kill her flock mate. The surviving hen never laid well after, and laid a couple rubber eggs. Since her diet was good and she was healthy, environmental stress seemed to be the cause.

Heat stress

If you’ve ever wondered “Why did my chicken lay a soft egg” when it’s warm out, then heat stress might be the culprit. I’ve learned that hot weather can be a big factor in thin shelled eggs or shell less eggs. Heat is hard on chickens, much more so than cold weather.

Chickens have a natural body temperature at around 106 degrees, and don’t have the same effective cooling mechanisms that humans have. So, they feel the heat a lot more than we do, and that can temporarily effect their laying ability. There’s not much you can do to control the weather, but you can offer your hens some relief from the heat. Make sure they have enough water, and a cool area to rest in.

If you think heat stress can be effecting your flock’s egg production, then start offering nutritious treats like frozen fruit, mealworms, etc to keep their diet up to snuff. 

It’s also a good time to offer a free-choice calcium supplement to ensure they’re getting enough calcium. Hot weather can lead to dietary deficiencies because chickens start using nutrients to battle stress and less for laying healthy eggs.

 

chickens laying soft eggs

Rooster stress

Sometimes, roosters can over mate with hens, and cause stress. If that’s happening, then you can isolate the hen – she won’t need the rooster to lay eggs.

Sign of Illness

Soft eggs can also be a sick chicken symptom. If your hen’s body isn’t feeling healthy, she will use dietary nutrients to fight off the illness – and not on creating an egg shell. A soft egg can indicate any sort of illness, from a bacterial infection, to bumblefoot, to a virus, to trauma, and more. If you think your hen is sick, then only a vet can diagnose her exact illness and recommend a treatment. In my experience, once the illness is resolved, the hen starts laying healthy shelled eggs again.

Sometimes soft shell eggs just happen

Let’s say your flock’s diet is calcium-rich, you don’t see any environmental factors, heat stress, or signs of illness, but your chickens lay a single soft egg. It’s possible the rubber egg is just one of those things that happen. Chickens are living organisms. Like people, sometimes things just go awry, and there’s no logical explanation.

Perhaps her body just sent the egg through the oviduct faster than normal…as long as the hen seems healthy and it’s only one chicken egg without a shell, I usually don’t worry too much about it. Things happen!

Can you eat a soft shell egg?

A question I’m frequently asked is whether soft eggs can be eaten. Honestly, usually when I come across a egg with just the membrane, if it’s intact, I give it to my pigs. One of the purposes of the shell is to keep bacteria and other pathogens out of the egg. Without it, there’s a chance it’s been invaded by germs I don’t want to eat. So personally, I don’t eat them.

Soft eggs can be disturbing. But there’s a lot of ways to fix the problem, and it’s not necessarily a sign your flock is unhealthy. 

What do you think?

Did you ever deal with chickens laying soft eggs? What did you do about it? Leave a comment below!

Resources:

Johnston SA, Gous RM. “Extent of variation within a laying flock: attainment of sexual maturity, double-yolked and soft-shelled eggs, sequence lengths and consistency of lay.” Accessed August 22, 2016

Gary D. Butcher and Richard Miles, Concepts of Eggshell Quality,” University Of Florida, IFAS Extension. Accessed August 22, 2016

10 Abnormal Chicken Eggs & What You Need To Know!

10 Abnormal Chicken Eggs & What You Need To Know!

Abnormal chicken eggs: If you own chickens, it’s just a matter of time before you get one that makes you scratch your head and wonder “What the heck?”

 

Don’t worry. Usually, abnormal eggs just happen, and although they can mean your chicken is sick or stressed, they aren’t necessarily something to be concerned about. 

 

(New to chicken keeping? Grab my bestselling book Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock for less than the price of takeout here!)

 

Your chicken is a live animal, and sometimes, just like humans, things go awry without explanation.

 

There’s a few abnormal eggs you’ll likely run into regularly, while others are uncommon (although clearly not unheard of). 

 

If you’d rather learn about abnormal chicken eggs by listening, you can download my podcast about it here:

 

 

It’s important not to get too concerned about abnormal chicken eggs – while they can indicate a problem, your best bet is to watch your flock for signs of stress or illness, and remember that sometimes abnormal chicken eggs just happen.

 

With a couple of exceptions, abnormal chicken eggs are still okay to eat (and I tell you which ones aren’t!).

 

READ NEXT: WHAT ARE LASH EGGS?

 

Here’s common abnormal eggs your chicken might lay, and what they mean.

 

1. Soft Shell/No Shell Eggs

It can be unnerving (and kind of cool) the first time you see chicken eggs without their shell. The eggs can be missing the whole shell or just part of it, but the membrane is still intact.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCpeomgIK9c

 

Adding the shell is one of the last steps a chicken takes to produce eggs, and sometimes, for a variety of reasons, that step is skipped.

 

In pullets, soft shell eggs sometimes happen with her first egg – the pullet’s system just hasn’t kick started correctly, but it will soon catch up.

 

Sometimes the cause is insufficient calcium, which can happen with a chicken who’s been eating a grower ration that’s lower in calcium than a layer feed. 

 

In established layers, there’s a few reasons for abnormal soft shell eggs, including insufficient calcium or protein absorbed, inflammation of the oviduct, or heat stress. Hens also coming back into laying can lay abnormal soft shell eggs.

 

Another reason is if the previous egg stayed too long in your chicken’s shell gland, causing the soft shell egg to be laid too soon.  

 

Can you eat it?

If the soft shell chicken eggs remain unbroken until I find them, I usually feed them to the pigs or throw them on the compost pile.

 

Although they might be okay, I’m personally not comfortable eating them because I don’t know what kind of nasties have passed through the membrane.

 

 

2. Lash Eggs

 

Among the most disturbing of abnormal chicken eggs to see is a lash egg.

 

Lash eggs aren’t actually eggs, but rather the result of an infection called Salpingitis – an infection and inflammation of the oviduct. Lash eggs are generally shaped like eggs, since they still travel through the oviduct.

 

Lash eggs are the accumulation of pus, egg material, and possibly tissue laid by the hen. It can be soft or hard, and is comprised of layers of the shed material. 

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

Photo courtesy of Timber Creek Farm

 

While some chicken keepers ring the death knell if they have a chicken that lays abnormal eggs like lash eggs, the bottom line is it’s an infection – consult your vet to see if it can be treated. 

 

Can you eat it?

 

You’d be crazy to eat a lash egg.

 

READ MORE: 5 HERITAGE BREEDS OUR GRANDPARENTS KEPT

3. Incomplete pigmentation

 

“I forgot to change the toner cartridge” is a common joke when a chicken owner comes across an egg that’s not uniformly colored.

 

 

Eggs not uniformly colored are normal eggs that just have a funny pigmentation that day – it’s a minor flaw.

 

Abnormal chicken eggs like this is are usually caused by some sort of stress, such as heat stress. The hen is working overtime to keep her body cool – which means she has less energy to put into making eggs.

 

Poor nutrition or a viral infection are other potential causes.

 

Can you eat it?

 

I’ve never had an issue eating chicken eggs with incomplete pigmentation.

 

4. Bumps on eggs

 

Bumps on your chicken eggs are calcium deposits – they can range from minor to large deposits, and they’re generally white.

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

 

The most common cause is excess calcium in your hen’s diet – check to see if she’s somehow getting too much calcium.

 

Other causes are defective shell glands or stress during the calcification process.

 

Can you eat it?

I’ve eaten these eggs without any issues.

 

READ NEXT: 10 COMMON CHICKEN QUESTIONS (AND ANSWERS!)

5. Very Small Eggs

 

Lovingly referred to as fart eggs, rooster eggs or fairy eggs, very small eggs typically are missing the yolk. They’re cute to find, but don’t yield very much in the way of food.

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

 

Young pullets might produce fairy eggs when they first start laying – their reproductive system is just trying to catch up.

 

I’ve also had hens lay fairy eggs when under stress, notably with one hen that had been savaged by a rooster.

 

Her reproductive cycle might have been disturbed by the stress, or her body might not have been able to produce a real egg because it was putting its energy into healing her body.

 

Fairy eggs can also be laid when a foreign mass (such as a piece of tissue) triggers the hen’s system to produce an egg.

 

Can you eat it?

I’ve never had a problem eating fairy eggs.

 

 

6. Double Yolkers

 

Double yolkers are always exciting abnormal chicken eggs to find – they will have two yolks in one egg.

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

 

Double yolks happen when the hen releases two eggs into the oviduct, and both of those eggs are included in shell. 

 

Double yolk eggs generally are larger which can be a cause for concern if it’s too large for your hen to pass – causing her to become egg bound or suffer a vent prolapse. 

 

Although they put stress on a hen’s body, double yolks are becoming so desirable that industrial farmers have bred hens that will only produce double yolked eggs in Europe.

 

Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with a chicken that lays double yolked eggs – it’s just abnormal.

 

You can incubate it, and there are stories of twin chicks successfully hatching, although it’s rare.

 

Can you eat it?

People eat double yolked eggs daily.

 

READ NEXT: SHOULD YOU LET YOUR CHICKENS FREE RANGE?

7. White banded eggs

White banded eggs occur when two eggs enter the oviduct, thereby making contact with each other in the shell gland pouch.

 

When the hen is forming the shell of the first egg, the normal calcification process is interrupted, so it gets an extra layer of calcium – which is the white band marking. 

 

Causes for abnormal chicken eggs such as white banded eggs can be something simple, such as flock stress or something more serious such as an infection. 

 

Like always, your best bet is to watch your flock for abnormal behavior.

 

Can you eat it?

 

I’ve never had a problem eating white banded eggs.

 

8. Egg inside an egg

The fancy name for an egg inside an egg is counter-peristalsis contraction, but in every day terms, they’re eggs that somehow found themselves inside another egg.

 

It’s not common, but it does happen. 

 

It occurs when a hen releases a second egg into the oviduct before the first egg has completed the laying process. This causes the first egg to reverse in the oviduct, which is then added to the second egg.

 

The two then have a second albumen and shell form encasing both eggs.

 

You can see an egg inside an egg here:

Can you eat it?

Although I’ve not personally dealt with eggs inside eggs, I’ve read reports that they’re perfectly fine to eat. 

 

9. Speckled Eggs

Speckled eggs are pretty normal, as far as abnormal chicken eggs go. They look pretty, and it’s wonderful how unique eggs can be.

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

 

The speckles are actually extra calcium deposits, and are formed when the calcification process is disturbed or there’s a defective shell gland.

 

They can also be caused by an excess of calcium.

 

Although technically abnormal eggs, National Geographic studied eggs, and found that speckled eggs might be a way to make shells stronger – so your chicken might be on to something.

 

Can you eat it?

I’ve never had a problem eating a speckled egg – they just look abnormal.

 

READ NEXT: HOW TO TELL IF YOUR HENS ARE LAYING

 

10. Odd shaped eggs

 

Odd shaped eggs are pretty self explanatory – they’re abnormal chicken eggs that aren’t uniformly shaped all the way around.

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

Photo courtesy of Timber Creek Farm

They might have an abnormal look, like a bulge on one side, or a very pointy end, or just look lumpy.

 

Odd shaped eggs can occur if there’s some sort of abnormal disturbance in the egg forming process, or if your chicken experiences some sort of stress such as over crowding. Age also makes a difference – it can occur in very old or very young hens.

 

In rare cases, respiratory diseases can cause abnormal eggsI had a reader tell me her hen always lays odd shaped eggs  – in this case, I would venture to say that since the hen lays consistently, it’s likely a structural issue internally.

 

Can you eat it?

I’ve not personally had any issues eating abnormal shaped chicken eggs.

 

While this list of isn’t comprehensive, I’ve touched on the 10 most common occurrences of abnormal chicken eggs. Hopefully you find it useful! 

 

Got funky eggs? Abnormal chicken eggs happen to all of us - it's just a matter of time. Here's 10 weird eggs and everything you need to know. From FrugalChicken

Got weird looking, wrinkled, or abnormal backyard chicken eggs? Here's what your hens are trying to tell you!

 

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Have you ever gotten an abnormal chicken egg? What did it look like? Email me at [email protected] or comment below!

 

 

Other posts you might like:

10 Chicken Questions Answered!

Organic Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe

What To Feed Your Chicken For Great Tasting Eggs!

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