Why Hens Sometimes Lay Shell-less Eggs

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Egg Laid without Shell

Last week my husband went out to the coop to collect eggs, and he was met with a surprise: a shell-less egg. It looked just like all of the other eggs, so he didn’t notice anything was off, until he picked it up and it felt rubbery. We had our very first shell-less egg, courtesy of one of our Buff Orpingtons.

He carried it into the house to show me, and we both poked and prodded at it because really, it’s something to marvel at.

I mean, did you even know hens could lay eggs without shells? It’s crazy stuff. But it’s not as unusual as you may think. In fact, if you keep chickens, you’re probably going to find a shell-less egg in one of your nest boxes at some point. It’s just one of those things.

So, How can an Egg Come Out Intact, If It’s Missing Its Shell?

Eggs usually come double wrapped, first in a thin, protective membrane and then in a hard outer shell. If that outer shell is missing, the membrane is usually strong enough to hold the egg together. So when you find an egg that feels like it has a soft, rubbery shell, what you’re actually feeling is that inner membrane, sans shell. And if you’re like us, you’re probably going to poke at it, photograph it and keep it around as a novelty. It’s kind of a cool thing.

What Causes Hens to Lay Shell-Less Eggs?

Lots of things can cause a hen to lay a shell-less egg, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Here are some possibilities:

  • Something stressed your hen out. She may have gotten chased by a kid, spooked by a predator, startled by a storm, had a tiff with another hen or simply be upset about a recent change in her living arrangements. This can cause eggs to be laid before they’re ready.
  • She isn’t getting enough calcium in her diet. It takes a lot of calcium to produce egg shells, so hens need a lot of calcium in their diet. If you’re feeding your hens layer pellets and providing them with oyster shells, they should be getting all the calcium they need. But something could still be off in their diet. Make sure you aren’t overdoing it with the scraps and treats. If you’re providing lots of extras, they may be favoring those over their regular feed and not getting enough of the nutrients that they need. Also make sure you’re giving them plenty of free-range time. Like us, hens need Vitamin D to process calcium and other nutrients.
  • She’s getting too much salt. If you use a water softener at your house, your hens may be getting too much salt. Switched to untreated water.
  • Your hens is an egg-laying all-star. If your hens consistently lays every day, she may simply be producing more eggs than she has calcium for, or be laying faster than her body can produce a shell.
  • You hen is young. If you hen is just beginning to lay, she may have some funky eggs in the beginning. Don’t worry; her shell gland will catch up soon enough.
  • Your hen is coming in or out of her egg-laying season. A lot of breeds stop laying in the winter and resume in the spring. You may get a couple weird eggs, while they’re winding down or picking back up.
  • She’s old/has a defective shell gland. If your hen is consistently laying shell-less eggs, it could be because she’s reaching the end of her egg-laying years or has a defective shell gland. There’s no fix for either of those.
  • She may be sick. Infectious bronchitis and eggdrop syndrome can also cause shell-less eggs. If you have reason to believe your hen may be sick, take her to a vet.

If Hens Lay Shell-less Eggs for So Many Reasons, How are You Supposed to Know Why Your Hen Laid a Shell-less Egg, or Even Which of Your Hens Laid the Egg?

Most of the time it probably doesn’t matter. If this is just a one-time event, there’s probably no reason to investigate it further. If you start seeing shell-less eggs on a regular basis, definitely try to root out who’s laying them, so you can determine if it’s cause for concern.

In our case, I think it was the work of a stressed out chicken. One of our hens had gotten her feathers in a bunch about something, and my husband found the shell-less egg soon after. We haven’t found another one since.

Can You Eat Shell-less Eggs?

Yep, you sure can. Shell-less eggs are perfectly safe to eat, but it’s best to use them right away. Without a shell, the yolk and whites will evaporate pretty quickly.

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  1. My grandma, who raised chickens, told me that when picking out eggs in the grocery store, I should choose the brands that have shells that are really hard to crack. That’s the indication that the chickens are wel fed, she said. If an egg has a very thin shell, the hen isn’t getting enough nutrition. But I’ve never seen a completely shell-less egg! Thanks for this topic, Erin.

  2. I have a hen who is highest on the pecking order and the least likely to get ill. However, she has been laying eggs with thin shells for months. Today, we got the first egg with no shell from her. She is a one year old free range hen and is provided with a constant access to clean water, shade, sun, and layer feed. I did read once that a hen could lay thin eggs if they are too fat, but I am not sure. What is wrong with her? Is there anything we can do for her?

    1. I’m by no means an expert, but one thought is that she may not be getting enough calcium. If you aren’t already, it may be worth putting out oyster shells for your hens. They’re an excellent source of calcium, and double as grit.

  3. One of my hens consistently lays thin shelled eggs with yellow yolks, not orange like the others. All the other hen’s eggs have nice hard shells. They have free choice oyster shells and broken up egg shells, they eat fish heads and fish guts and bones daily, which I boil and blend for them, bones and all, so plenty of calcium. I give them a bowl full of milk kefir free choice kale and cabbage daily. Acv in their water. And fermented grains in the evening. Plus at midday, i give them a cup full of mealworms for the 4 of them. They are deep litter so they get vitamin k and loads of b vitamins from that. I also grate carrot for them and when I’ve made beetroot kvass, they get the beetroot, ground up from that too. So i am mystified. Any advice?

    1. When I first started reading, my guess was that she wasn’t getting enough calcium. But based on the diet you’ve described, that doesn’t sound likely. Sometimes young hens, who are just starting to lay, will lay thin-shelled — or even shell-less. But other than that, nothing immediately comes to mind. I’ll let you know if I think of something, or come across something it might be.

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