Most chicken keepers are amazed that such tiny hen bodies can produce comparatively enormous eggs. Since responsible poultry owners care about the well-being and comfort of their animals, it is natural to wonder if laying eggs is painful for chickens.
Laying eggs is not painful to chickens and is an entirely natural process. A hen may feel slight discomfort for a short period as it expels each egg, but that passes immediately after the egg is laid. An egg-related condition called egg binding is painful, but fortunately, it is uncommon.
The loud squawking egg song hens make after they have laid is unmistakable. It is often shocking for new chicken owners to realize that their hens can make such a noise! Let’s find out whether they ‘sing’ due to relief from pain or if there are some other causes for the noisy post-laying performance.
Does It Hurt Chickens To Lay Eggs?
Evidence taken from studying hens during and after laying seems to indicate that although it may seem like it would be excruciating to pass such a large object, it’s all in a day’s work for chickens.
The Humane League has concluded that egg laying itself does not appear to be painful. Their rationale for making this statement is based on the following observations:
- While laying chickens do not exhibit typical signs associated with being in pain.
- Once an egg is laid, the recovery time is almost instant.
- Hens show no trauma avoidance of their laying box the next time it needs to lay. Chickens have great memories and learn fast, so it stands to reason that if they associated egg laying with pain, they would actively avoid the places where they experienced hurt.
These conclusions only hold true for hens kept in humane conditions with plenty of space per bird, a proper diet, and enough stimulation. Battery hens in commercial settings often experience adverse conditions that can lead to pain or discomfort. Since they are crammed into tiny, confined boxes and forced to lay unnatural numbers of eggs, they commonly experience keel bone fractures, which undoubtedly result in significant pain.
That is another excellent reason to keep your own flock of chickens in a large coop or allow them to free-range. Well-kept, content hens will consistently produce pain-free, healthy eggs and feel so proud they will likely announce it to you and your entire district each time one lays a new egg.
Although laying eggs usually doesn’t seem to hurt chickens, there can be no denying that it may be uncomfortable. A popular misconception, even among chicken owners, is that eggs are laid soft and harden in contact with air. That is not the case; healthy eggs emerge fully formed and hard, ready to be collected and used.
Actual laying is the final section of a long process that started 24 – 26 hours before. Hens continue with their regular behaviors of eating, drinking, socializing, foraging, and dust bathing right up until they can feel the egg nearing the final section of the laying tract.
When hens retire to their laying boxes or hiding places to lay, they become completely silent. They instinctively know they are vulnerable while laying, so find places where they feel safe and won’t be disturbed.
Although normal egg laying appears to be uncomfortable, it does not seem to cause physical pain to the chicken. Oversized eggs or egg binding is undoubtedly painful, but fortunately, these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Actual laying, which is when the finished egg passes through the cloaca, may only take a few minutes. Once laying is complete, hens almost instantly recover and seem to announce the arrival of a new egg by squawking loudly.
Why Do Chickens Squawk After Laying An Egg?
The distinctive loud squawking sound produced by almost all breeds of chickens after laying eggs is affectionately known as the ‘egg song.’ Unfortunately, there is nothing melodic about the rather ear-shattering, raucous sound produced by the ordinarily placid hens!
Post-egg-laying squawking can last for as long as 15 minutes. No one knows for sure why hens cackle and squawk up a storm each time they produce an egg, but there are plenty of theories, which include:
- They are trying to distract predators away from the nest. Hens often move away from where they have laid before turning up the volume. Eggs are a tasty, nutritious snack for any number of predators, so this theory suggests that the loud noise is a diversion tactic to take attention away from the newly laid egg.
- The second theory is that loud cackling is a way to communicate with the rest of the flock. Since hens naturally isolate themselves while laying, they may be anxious to find the other birds.
- A rather amusing article published in 1922 suggests that hens cackle loudly after laying eggs to express relief after the discomfort of laying is finally over. The theory is that the chicken’s post-laying squawking is similar to human laughter. It is the hen’s way of expressing pleasure.
- The loud egg song may be a signal to nearby roosters. About 30 minutes after an egg is laid, the next yolk is released into the oviduct, and the egg production cycle starts again. Post-laying squawking seems to attract resident roosters, who often drop a wing and do a little dance around the hen before mounting her. The two then return to where the rest of the flock is foraging.
How To Tell If A Chicken Is In Pain?
It can be upsetting for novice chicken owners to see their hens sitting quietly on their own, followed by loud cackling, and it may seem like they are in pain. Fortunately, the physical behavior exhibited during egg laying is inconsistent with true chicken pain indicators.
Signs of pain in chickens can be divided into physical and behavioral indicators. Since our birds can’t talk, look for the following symptoms that may signal pain.
|Physical signs of pain||Behavioral signs of pain|
|Sudden loud squawks – This is usually immediate and in direct response to a situation causing pain. This often happens when you enter the coop and accidentally stand on an over-eager chicken’s foot as they crowd around. It is like an emergency call. Once you lift your foot, the squawking will instantly stop.||Birds in pain often isolate and may avoid other chickens.|
|Wheezing||Disinterest in the surroundings|
|Hunched over posture||Not eating or drinking.|
|Moving slowly or awkwardly||Chickens in pain are often completely silent.|
|Feathers may be puffed out.||They avoid movement|
When a chicken displays any physical or behavioral signs of pain, it should be thoroughly examined to find the cause, which could be injury or illness. Regardless of the reason, isolating unwell birds in a separate, comfortable area is a good idea.
An ill chicken will want to be left alone, and any bird with a visible injury needs to be kept away from the flock. Poultry is attracted to red, and a wounded chicken is highly likely to be pecked excessively, which may even be fatal.
How Can I Help My Chickens Be More Comfortable While Laying?
Egg laying is a natural process for healthy young hens. Although it may be slightly uncomfortable, chickens take the entire process in their stride if they are well cared for.
There is no doubt that hens do feel highly vulnerable while they are in the final stages of squeezing out a fully formed egg. After all, they are social birds, and being away from their flock might feel unsettling.
There are many ways that poultry owners can make laying as comfortable as possible for their hens. Here are some of the basics:
- Ensure that they receive enough calcium in their diet. Hens that don’t take in enough calcium eventually start losing bone density which affects their health.
- Provide enough laying boxes for the number of hens that you have.
- Nesting boxes should be the safety of their coop. Even if your hens are free range, the laying boxes should be where they feel safest and have immediate access to food and water when they are finished laying.
- Provide plenty of soft cushioning in the nesting boxes. Think of it as a time when your hens can kick back and relax while waiting for their eggs to emerge.
- The laying boxes don’t need to be in the dark, but the area should be fairly dim.
- Nesting boxes should be closed on at least three sides. This is the only time hens prefer being in a small space. Predators can’t sneak up on them if they are safely hidden.
- Pay attention to sound. The area around the laying boxes should be as quiet and peaceful as possible.
How Do I Know If My Chicken Is Egg Bound?
Although normal day-to-day egg laying does not seem to hurt chickens, a potentially fatal condition called egg binding is undoubtedly painful. Fortunately, it is relatively rare, but chicken owners should know the signs and symptoms to respond quickly.
When a hen is ‘egg bound,’ it means an egg has become stuck somewhere inside her oviduct. In addition to having an egg that won’t move, further discomfort occurs because the cloaca holds the intestinal opening closed during laying. That is to prevent eggs from getting covered in poop. So effectively, the poor hen not only has an egg stuck inside but also cannot poop.
Naturally, this is a serious condition that can quickly become fatal. Although some hens will try to hide their discomfort stoically, tell-tale symptoms include:
- Waddle walking. The hen may appear to walk upright, almost like a penguin.
- Tail pumping. As she tries to expel the egg, she may pump her tail up and down to get things inside to move along.
- Decreased appetite
- Fluffed up feathers.
- Straining. You will see that the hen is straining if you check the cloaca.
- Appears depressed and lethargic.
- Hens may repeatedly move toward the nesting box but not produce an egg.
- You may be able to see or feel an egg near the vent.
Can You Save An Egg Bound Chicken?
Once you have identified an egg-bound hen, treating it is an emergency. If you can take her to a veterinarian, that would be ideal, but many homesteaders live in remote areas, so seeking medical attention immediately is not always possible.
Although treating an egg-bound chicken at home is not ideal, doing nothing will almost certainly also result in the bird’s death. Most sources recommend trying the following techniques to encourage the egg to pass on its own.
- Give the hen some extra calcium. A calcium pill like a human Tums can even work. This is thought to improve the strength of contractions.
- Gently place the hen in a warm bath that contains 1 cup of Epsom salts per gallon of water. It should be deep enough to cover her vent completely but not so deep that she will feel terrified. She should stay in the Epsom salt bath for at least 20 minutes.
- Dry the hen so she does not get cold. Use a hairdryer if necessary.
- Apply a lubricant to the vent. You can use Vaseline, KY jelly, or even vegetable oil. Work very gently.
- Place the hen in a quiet, comfortable, dark place where she feels safe. Provide her with food and water.
- Repeat every few hours. Call a veterinarian for further guidance if the egg does not come out.
One common mistake is that chicken owners believe breaking the egg will solve the problem. That is one of the worst options, and if the hen survives, it will need antibiotics to prevent infection.
When chickens are well cared for and receive enough healthy food and exercise, it does not hurt to lay eggs. Although the final stages of passing the egg from inside the cloaca to outside may be uncomfortable, it is not painful.