Most breeds of chicken lay lots of eggs every single year and will do so for most of their lives. The miracle of birth, however it happens, is always a wondrous time. But it really makes you think: is this uncomfortable for chickens?
When you stop to consider human births which are quite traumatic for mother and child alike, it does beg the question of whether or not laying an egg is traumatic for chickens.
They seem like stoic birds most of the time, but they are known to cluck repeatedly right after they lay an egg.
Is that because it is hurting them? How can you be sure? Is it painful for your chickens to lay their eggs?
No, it is usually not painful for a chicken to lay an egg. Young, first-time laying hens might experience some pain or discomfort, and certain mishaps when laying might cause pain, however. Clucking and excitement immediately after laying is normal.
It turns out that laying hens really don’t have to be stoic because laying will rarely if ever cause them pain outside of a few accidental conditions.
That being said, you’re always better off knowing more about the process and staying alert to the needs and signals of your flock. We will talk more about the subject and the rest of this article.
It Usually Does Not Hurt a Hen to Lay an Egg
The main reason why it does not usually hurt a hen to lay an egg is because of the design of her reproductive tract.
A chicken’s oviduct is designed so that the egg can move through it with ease, and without causing any damage.
There are two main sections to a chicken’s oviduct: the infundibulum and the magnum.
The infundibulum is where fertilization occurs, and it is also where the majority of eggshell calcium is added to the egg.
The magnum is the section of the oviduct where much of the albumen (egg white) is added.
The egg moves through the oviduct relatively quickly, taking only about 26 hours to travel from the ovary to the cloaca (vent) for laying.
This is amazing when you compare it to the human gestation period of 9 months!
There are muscles in the walls of the chicken’s oviduct that help to push the egg along and these contractions can sometimes be strong enough to be felt by the chicken herself.
However, these contractions are not usually strong enough to cause pain. Additionally, the spheroid shape of the egg definitely lends itself to an easy passage and subsequent laying through the vent.
Compared to the convoluted shape of live mammalian young, no wonder it seems like chickens have an easy time of it when laying an egg!
However, there are a few conditions that can cause a hen pain, even severe pain, while laying her egg, but they are relatively rare. We will talk about those later on in this article.
Chickens Usually Give Signs that They are in Pain
You don’t need to take my word for it that your chickens aren’t in pain when laying. You can simply observe your girls before, during, and after. Much of the time they will utter nary a peep.
Some hens will cluck and raise a ruckus immediately after laying, but this is due more to excitement than anything else.
Chickens as a rule do show signs of pain and other physical distress. If you know what to look for you can easily tell if any of your hens are hurting when laying.
One of the most common signs is that chickens will stop eating and drinking.
This can be a sign of many different health issues, but if your chicken is otherwise healthy and acting normally and then suddenly stops eating and drinking, it could be a sign that she is in pain when laying.
Other signs that your chicken might be in pain include:
- Isolating from other chickens
- Avoiding movement or activity
- Slow or labored movements
- Hunching over or drooping
Watch for Signs of Distress if You are Unsure
Any or all of the above might indicate pain, and you should be alert to them before, during, and after laying. If a hen’s behavior suddenly changes she might have an issue. Look into it!
However, it is important to keep in mind that not all of these signs will be present every time a chicken is in pain, and some of these signs can also indicate other health issues unrelated to laying.
It is always best to consult with a veterinarian if you have any concerns about your chicken’s health.
Young Hens Might Struggle a Bit When Laying for the First Time
Thankfully one of the most common causes of pain when laying for hens is also the most transient, typically.
This is when a young hen reaches maturity and begins to lay for the first time. It can take a few tries and a little bit of pain for a young chicken to get in the groove.
Young hens often need to push extra hard with their abdominal muscles to lay their first few eggs. And this is where things can sometimes get tricky, and painful.
The first few times a young hen lays, her pelvic bones might not yet be properly aligned to allow for easy passage of the egg. This can cause her some discomfort as she tries to push the egg out.
Additionally, the muscles around the inlet are often not yet strong enough to efficiently push the egg out, resulting in added pain and struggle.
Fortunately, as a chicken continues to lay eggs she will strengthen, adapt and develop, making laying easier and less painful with each successive egg.
A Broken Egg Can Lacerate Your Bird Internally
Another common, but unfortunate laying mishap that occurs is an egg breaking internally. When an egg breaks inside the hen it can cause her serious pain and discomfort.
This usually occurs when an egg is too thin or weak to survive the passage through the chicken and the forces acting against it break or crush it.
If this happens, parts of the shell and some of the contents of the egg can become lodged inside your chicken.
Additionally, the sharp edges of the broken shell can lacerate your chicken internally, causing her even more pain and all but guaranteeing severe infection.
If you think your chicken has broken an egg inside her, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately as she will likely need medication for the pain and antibiotics to prevent infection.
It is possible to treat a broken egg with at-home irrigation, but it will likely be an ongoing problem without professional care.
Bound Eggs are a Medical Emergency
This is one of the most serious egg-laying emergencies and one that can cause severe pain besides threatening the life of your bird.
A bound egg is one that becomes stuck in the oviduct before it can be laid. This usually happens when an egg is misshapen or abnormally large, but it can also occur if there is an infection or blockage preventing the egg from passing. Regardless of the cause, a bound egg is a very serious problem.
If an egg becomes stuck, as time goes on and more eggs continue to be produced, the pressure against the bound egg will increase, causing your chicken immense pain.
The continued pressure of more eggs behind it can rupture the oviduct, which is always fatal.
Additionally, the bound egg can put enough initial pressure on the duct or surrounding tissues that blood flow is cut off, causing tissue death and infection. Infection is almost always severe enough to be fatal in these cases as well.
It is possible to free a bound egg with at-home treatment, but the chances of success are low.
Again, your hen’s best bet for getting it cleared and a swift recovery is veterinary care. Don’t wait!
Extra-Large Eggs Can Just Plain Hurt!
Lastly, there is a cause for egg-laying pain that is mildly humorous, but only if it doesn’t happen to you!
Chickens, like all animals, come in a wide variety of sizes. Some hens are small, while others are on the larger side. When it comes to laying eggs, size really does matter.
Smaller hens often lay smaller eggs with less yolk and albumen (the white part) while larger hens lay larger eggs, on average, with more of both.
The problem occurs when a hen, often a smaller one, lays an egg that is just too big for her to comfortably pass.
While this doesn’t mean she cannot pass it successfully, and it usually won’t cause any long-term damage, it can certainly cause your chicken some pain in the moment.
The good news is that these oversized eggs are usually anomalies if your chicken is healthy, so you needn’t worry too much about reoccurrence.
But should you notice one of your laying girls in distress only to find an oversized egg in the box later, you’ll know why!
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.