soft shell

Soft-Shell Eggs

By Gaynor Davies

There is no nicer treat than checking your hen’s nest box and finding a perfect egg laid just for you. However, sometimes the eggs we find are not the smooth perfect eggs that we would find on a supermarket shelf.

It is important to remember that whatever the shape, colour or texture of the eggs your hens lay, the quality and taste of the egg are not affected.

When your hen comes into lay the eggs are small ‘pullet’ eggs and these increase in size as she gets older.  When she reaches 26 weeks she will settle into a normal laying pattern and should lay consistently sized eggs of good shell shape and quality. A laying hen can be expected to lay between 250 and 300 eggs in a laying season.

At 72 weeks commercial hens are classed as end of lay as the number of non-standard eggs may increase.

Shell Variations

You may find eggs with wrinkles, speckles, target or thumb print marks or soft shells. If an egg is retained in the shell gland for too long, the next ovulation takes place at the usual time, but before the previous egg is laid. The second egg may spend less time than normal in the shell gland, and the result is a shell-less egg. In such cases a hen may not lay an egg one day but may lay both a coated and a soft-shell egg on the next.

Stress or disturbance (thunder storm, low flying planes etc) can be enough to desynchronise the process of egg formation for several days. Inadequate nutrition can also lead to inferior shell quality. The laying hen has a particular requirement for calcium at the time when the egg is in the shell gland. If supplies aren’t maintained, the shells will become progressively thinner and egg production may decline or cease. A calcium supplement such as Zolcal D can be a useful addition to your hen’s diet at this time.

Temporary thinning of the shell may occur during periods of high temperature (above 25C) since shell feed intake is reduced. In the UK this is not likely to happen often!

Finally – when you crack your egg into a bowl you may notice white twisted strands of albumin – this is the chalazae which keeps the yolk more or less central inside the egg.

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