Rachel Hurd Anger
“My girls aren’t producing the quality of eggs that I’m used to. Some shells are rough, and they’ve reduced in size, but that’s primarily from my brown egg layers. My Rhode Island Red girls are young, but even some of their eggs have become smaller. My Dominique girls are a bit older, and I’m contributing some of the issues to age. Can I get any advice on how to increase the productivity of my eggs—both size and quality?” —Michelle
What’s important to remember about eggs is that they aren’t a manufactured product with quality control, customer service and money-back guarantees. Our chickens are animals with varying parentage and genetics, subject to environmental conditions and the quality of life enjoyed/suffered in previous generations. They’re also subject to individual variations in vitality and in the health and wellbeing of their reproductive systems. While each of your hens, young and old alike, will exhibit different egg qualities, let’s not jump to the conclusion that this means a reduction in overall quality. However, there are three things that could be causing a temporary change in their eggs.
1. Environmental Stressors
Not only has it been too hot where I live, but we’ve also suffered through a string of very smoggy days where being outside wasn’t a healthy choice. Briefly, Louisville held the No. 1 spot for the nation’s worst air quality, and our skyscrapers downtown looked like ghosts rising up from the horizon. If you’re raising chickens in the city like I am, poor air quality during heat waves is an environmental stressor that will affect our health and the health of our chickens, pets and kids if exposed to it for long periods of time. Relentless exposure to heat and choking pollution can have your chickens feeling unwell, and feeling unwell can temporarily affect egg production.
Drinking water isn’t the only factor in staying hydrated. Electrolytes keep the body holding onto water and allow the conduction of electrical impulses that keep any living body functioning properly. Chickens have a tendency to avoid eating and drinking under the stress of high temperatures, so while they’re panting in the heat (emitting water vapor) and pooping across your yard, they’re losing electrolytes without taking in more.
The edible part of a whole egg is 74-percent water. Divided, 88-percent of the white and 48-percent of the yolk are water. If your flock is even slightly dehydrated, their eggs can be smaller because they’re deficient in water. If an egg is to be viable for reproduction—arguably one of the body’s top priorities—its water composition needs to be precise. The eggs won’t be dehydrated if they’re smaller; they will be smaller to maintain 74-percent water composition for a viable egg.
Too much calcium, not enough calcium or an inability to absorb calcium can all lead to egg-shell problems. Rough shells indicate too much calcium in the hen’s diet. If you’re offering free-choice oyster shell, be sure there’s not calcium already added to the feed. If it is, stop the oyster shell and offer crushed granite grit instead. Eggs with a little extra calcium deposited on them might not always be the prettiest, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them either.
We can offer the right amount of feed and clean water and even supplement electrolytes, but each chicken chooses how much she will eat, forage and drink. There’s quite a bit about the chicken life that is actually out of our control. Unless your chickens are suffering from health problems, egg changes are likely seasonal and temporary.