Keeping chickens comes with its ups and downs, and eggs are definitely a positive. For us, at least. But does this process cause any pain and distress to our birds? Is it a challenge for a chicken to lay – and do they go through any significant discomfort at any stage throughout? This is what the research says.
So, does it hurt a chicken to lay an egg? It generally does not hurt a hen to lay an egg. Although, for young chickens new to egg laying or for extra-large eggs, it may be quite painful for an egg to be passed. Gasping noises and bleeding are some signs that the laying was painful.
Some breeds of chickens are great egg layers, laying up to 300 eggs per year. So, it is reassuring to know that this should not be an overly painful experience for them.
Better yet; the process of physically laying an egg only takes a few minutes. So, at the very least our hens can return back to their day as soon as the egg is out.
There are caveats of course.
Let us now take a closer look at the egg-laying process and all that is involved here.
That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect from your birds and support them along the way.
Is It Hard For A Chicken To Lay An Egg?
It is generally not too challenging for a chicken to lay an egg, assuming they are healthy and the egg is of regular size and weight.
If we look at the anatomy of a chicken; and how an egg is formed and descends through their bodies. We soon see why.
It’s an intricate system, that starts in the ovary, proceeds through the oviduct (where yolk and albumen are added), and finishes up at the cloaca and vent.
But here is where we get some reassurance.
There are a series of different muscular contractions that take place at the time of laying, which help a hen safely pass her egg.
And even then, and get this, the cloaca can turn itself out when the egg is released!
It’s an amazing system; that helps a chicken to produce and lay eggs.
In fact, chickens have a highly functional reproductive process.
Their bodies do not hang about!
Once an egg has been laid, it is believed that the production of the new egg begins in as little as 30 minutes!
As such, the average chicken of egg-laying age will typically produce a new egg once every 24-26 hours.
The process is pretty much constant, until the season changes (unless the hen is provided with artificial light to keep production going) and where they may rest and recuperate for a few months, or the hen slows down production naturally with age.
When Its Hard For A Chicken To Lay An Egg
We’ve made some assumptions so far; that a chicken is healthy and that the egg is formed regularly.
But what about the instances where everything does not go to plan.
Can there be pain then?
The truth is, we can logically assume there is.
The four main different instances where some pain may be experienced are as follows:
Younger Hens; hens that are starting to lay their first eggs, who have not used their cloaca and vent organs before for egg-laying.
Sometimes a small amount of blood may be visible.
In time, as the muscular contractions develop and the vent stretches, the experience should be less uncomfortable.
Older Hens; hens that are older will naturally have a slower reproductive system.
Tired joints or slower muscular contractions may increase the need to strain.
Larger Eggs; Of course, the bigger the egg – the more challenging it will be to pass.
Usually, breeds will lay certain size eggs.
However, in some instances, eggs may be larger than usual and this is when issues can arise.
Backyard hens and those that are raised and cared for appropriately are unlikely to experience pain (outside of those three instances above).
Although this Humane Society report provides us with a good indication that hens in the egg industry (battery hens) kept entirely for egg production, likely experience pain as part of these practices (lack of exercise, cage removal, and transportation, beak trimming, etc).
Most of this pain is a by-product of egg production and not of laying in by itself.
Signs A Hen Experiences Pain During Egg Laying
But how do you know that a hen may be experiencing pain during laying?
The first could be the presence of blood, but the main one could be the sounds and vocalization a chicken makes during laying.
This has been described as a sort of wheezing sound – like shortness of breath. Like you would expect during straining.
But these are not the only noises a chicken can make during the process, and not all sounds indicate pain.
In fact, chickens notoriously make a squawking noise once an egg has been laid.
We will not take a closer look at why this is the case in the section below.
Why Do Chickens Squawk After Laying An Egg?
It has been hypothesized that chickens squawk after laying an egg for three different reasons: they are letting other hens know they have laid, they are trying to protect their eggs from predators and they are announcing their availability to a rooster.
This particular type of noise has even been described as the ‘egg song’, and there are many keepers who believe different things about it.
It generally sounds like a series of squawks and cackles, can go on for several minutes at a time, and one or several birds may partake. Sometimes several hens of the flock will ‘sing’ together.
Nevertheless, experience and anecdote tell us that this is a specific type of communication done for a reason.
Whether they are making an announcement to other hens (and so that they know its there), or they are trying to distract predators from the egg by making noise away from it.
Either way, your chickens want to be heard.
By whom and why – is of course open to interpretation.
Besides, not all hens do this. At all, or at all times.
Can An Egg Get Stuck Inside A Chicken?
It is possible for an egg to get stuck inside a chicken. This is known as egg binding, and it is potentially life-threatening. Egg binding occurs when a hen is straining to lay her egg for more than a couple of hours.
There are several different causes of egg-binding, but the main ones to be aware of include:
- Hens laying excessively large eggs,
- Calcium deficiencies,
- Unbalanced diet,
- Premature egg-laying,
As you can imagine, an egg-bound chicken is likely to be in some distress and even pain.
The hen is likely to be very placid, although some hens will react in different ways and depending on the severity of the condition.
For the most part, however, they are likely not going to want to move, pant, and show visible signs of discomfort and straining.
The hen may even have a distended abdomen and a swollen vent and may even be standing in a peculiar position.
If the egg is not passed in sufficient time, she is at risk of dying.
Generally, treatment involves supportive care to help her pass, but seeking out the expertise of a veterinarian comes strongly advised if egg binding is suspected.
How Do I Know If My Chicken Is Going To Lay An Egg?
The best way to detect whether a chicken is going to lay an egg is to check for both physical signs and behavioral changes that suggest they are in preparation.
Let us now take a look at each aspect below:
Signs of physical maturity will indicate when a hen is ready to lay.
Here are some to look out for:
- Generally, a hen will drastically increase in size and weight, particularly around the abdominal area, when they are ready to lay.
- They will be displaying the features of an adult hen of the breed. This will range from their general size and bone structure all the way through to the colors of the comb and the wattles. They should be a deep red at laying age.
- The vent will get larger and also redder in color. It will likely become quite moist and change from being dry.
- Pelvic bones will have separated,
- There will be space and signs of growth between the pelvis and breastbone, pelvis and keel bones.
Consider that hens will only start laying eggs between 16 weeks and 16 months, depending on the breed.
A hen will start to behave in a very particular way moments before they lay. This includes:
- Squatting – with the back pressed down to the floor and wings/legs spread further.
- Hens will begin preparing the nesting area (boxes) – staying nearby, rearranging bedding, or digging and collecting their own nesting materials if no nesting boxes are provided/accessible.
- Perching – on the nest – which indicated an egg is imminent.
- Straining and noises – such as crowing or cackling sounds.
How To Help Your Hens Lay An Egg
Helping your chickens lay their eggs is all about providing them with a clean, comfortable, and designated area – that is calm and private.
Adding several nest boxes to the coop, with 1 for every three hens, comes strongly advised.
In them, should be fresh and clean bedding, that is regularly checked and changed.
Chickens like to lay their eggs in the darker areas of the coop, but you also need to ensure any nesting boxes are not placed directly underneath the perch (as they may poop on them and their eggs while they sleep).
While your birds are laying – it is best to leave them to it. You do not want to stress them in any way during this time.
It is only if you suspect egg binding that you should look to intervene. But even then, getting a vet to do so is strongly advised.
The average healthy hen, of egg-laying age, should not experience any pain in the passing of her eggs.
That being said, there certainly appears to be exceptions and instances where we can logically infer that there is some discomfort.
Some of these factors may be out of your control but ensuring you meet the needs of your chickens and ensure they have everything they need certainly isn’t.
It is imperative that you do all you can to support your birds through the egg production and laying process; from providing a high-quality feed, ensuring they have sufficient calcium in the diet, and providing clean, comfortable, and private nesting boxes.
From there, monitoring your birds and keeping a close eye on production will ensure you can intervene and get the support of a vet if the need were to ever arise.
Looking to learn more about egg-laying in chickens? If so, my following guides may be of interest:
- How Long Does It Take For Chicken Eggs To Hatch?
- How Long Do Chickens Molt And Not Lay Eggs?
- How Many Eggs Does A Chicken Lay In A Week?
- Can Chickens Lay 2 Eggs A Day?
- Do Male Chickens Lay Eggs?
- Why Do Chickens Peck Holes In Their Eggs?
- What Is A Fart Egg?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.