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Egg Laying in Singly Kept Hens


   Yes, a hen kept by itself, whether a male is present or not, will lay eggs. It is comparable to the human female, who will also pass an egg once a month. Some hens lay frequently, others do not. Hens that lay eggs excessively, more than a few times a year, or in successive clutches, are said to be chronic egg layers.
   Many first time bird owners tend to disregard how taxing egg laying is on a bird's body. Drawing up all the necessary nutrients to make the egg - and if there are not enough nutrients supplied in the diet, the hen draws them from her own body. Obviously, that's not a good thing, because it can easily kill the bird.
   This article deals exclusively with singly kept hens - it is not meant as a guide on breeding or preventing to breed. However, common sense should dictate that when a male and female are kept together, babies will be the end result. Thus, males and females should never live together. This article is applicable to all species of female birds.


What not to do:
  • DO NOT remove the eggs. This will cause the hen to lay more eggs to replace the ones lost. The hen should be allowed to sit on the eggs until she realizes they aren't going to hatch. The hen can feel the movement in the eggs, so if she doesn't feel any, she will abandon the clutch. This may happen after a few days, or up to 3 weeks. The important thing is to let her keep them until she gets tired of them.
  • DO NOT get her a male, because she "wants" to breed. How silly. As mentioned before, healthy human females have their own eggs once a month - does that mean they want to have a baby every month, if ever? Laying an egg is a natural process, it is not a behavior signifying any need for a male.
  • DO NOT get her a friend, because she must be loney. Again, how silly. This is not a behavior that expresses any desire for a "friend" or a mate.
  • DO NOT stroke her back. This will stimulate the hen - it simulates a male climbing on her back to mate.

What to do:
  • DO provide her with plenty of calcium and protein during this time. Diet is extremely important, especially for hens. Calcium in the form of cuttlebone and mineral block should always be available. The hen also needs other sources, preferably calcium rich greens, like kale. Spinach is a poor choice, as it has a high phosphorous ratio that prevents absorption of calcium. Adding a fluorescent light fixture to your bird room will help the hen absorb calcium by providing vitamin D3. Protein can be offered in the form of chopped up, hard boiled egg. The egg must be removed from the cage every 2 hours, as it tends to spoil very quickly. The shell can also be offered as another calcium source, finely crushed.
       If a hen does not receive the proper diet needed during this time, many complications may occur. Please see below in "complications" for more information.
  • DO make sure the rest of her diet is widely varied. An all seed diet is very nutritionally deficient. An all pellet diet isn't great either. Pellets, veggies, fruits, cooked pastas, cooked brown rice, wheat bread, and a small portion of seeds (without sunflowers, and given only a few times a week) are a widely varied, appropriate diet.

The hen won't stop laying.
   This is not necessarily chronic. There are many things you can do to discourage the hen from laying. If these methods fail, and she continues to lay many times a year, you can consider her chronic. These birds must be taken to the avian vet for evaluation. Usually, they are given hormone shots. The more exteme cases may be spayed - an extremely dangerous procedure for birds that needs to be done by an experienced avian vet. It is not commonly done.

   Discouraging egg laying:
  • Lower the cage farther to the ground. This may not be an option if you have other pets that may bother the bird. However, it does seem to discourage laying.
  • Limit the hours of daylight. Cut back to 8 hours a day. This includes artificial light. The cage will have to be covered for the other 16 hours. If the hen still lays, cut back to 6 hours. You may even need to go to 4. I have also found that living in a semi dark room with 4 hours or so of dim light will also discourage egg laying. Some people don't want to keep their bird covered for that long. If you don't, then you have to go to the avian vet for treatment.
  • Rearrange the cage. If the bird feels less familiar with her environment, she's less likely to lay.
  • Move the cage to another room. For the exact same reasons. You may want to do both.
  • Cut back on protein - if a bird doesn't feel she has the resources to lay, she usually won't. How does she know? I have no idea. I can only assume it is some evolutionary adaptation they have developed to produce young when times are good and food is plentiful.
  • Cut back on warm showers - this also stimulates the hen.
  • The presence of a male, even in another cage, may stimulate a hen to lay. If your hen is laying excessively, then you should first try all the other suggestions, and then you may be forced to put them in different rooms.
   These methods usually work, but they're no guarantee. They are merely to discourage egg laying. A hen may lay regardless. These are the ones that need vet care.

Complications

   The most common, most frequently seen complication to result from egg laying is egg binding. The sad part is, it is preventable. Egg binding is when the egg gets stuck on the way out. This presents a whole host of problems for the bird, as it usually can't defecate, and ultimately dies from toxicity.
   The best method of prevention is an adequate diet, as mentioned above. Egg binding is most often seen in hens on an all seed diet. That should tell you something right there. The cage needs to be clean - birds with infections are also susceptible to egg binding. Observation of your bird, done daily, is a requirement of bird care. If your bird is acting differently, then you'll need to see an avian vet. The following is a list of symptoms for egg binding. A bird may only display one of these traits - remember that they hide their illnesses very well, because the sick bird is the one that gets eaten.
  • Lethargy
  • Sitting on the bottom of the cage
  • Labored breathing
  • Straining (as if constipated)
  • No droppings
  • Fluffed up feathers
  • Decrease in appetite
   Any bird displaying these symptoms must go to the avian vet immediately. You cannot wait until tomorrow, and there is nothing you can do at home. This is a very serious, life threatening problem. Egg binding is ultimately fatal without treatment from a qualified avian vet. That may mean you need to go to an emergency vet, which will cost more. That's just another part of responsible pet ownership. While you are finding an avian vet or emergency clinic, put your bird, in her cage, in the bathroom, preferably on a counter. Turn on a hot shower. The humidity in the bathroom may help your bird feel more comfortable.
   Soft shelled eggs are also a problem - again resulting from a nutritional deficiency.