The rhythmic song of laying hens is a happy sound to every backyard breeder. From time to time an egg can become stuck due to dehydration, inadequate nutrition or parasites. You can help your hen out with a couple of home remedies, but if she doesn't pass her egg within a few hours, veterinary intervention is imperative to prevent imminent death.
Signs of Trouble
Hens usually lay eggs between early morning and early afternoon. If you see a hen in the nest after midday, you should keep an eye on her. She may make repeated visits to the nest without laying an egg and pump her tail up and down. She may become exhausted, sitting on the nest or ground with puffed feathers and lowered head. Gently inspect her vent area and feel under her tail along both sides of her body for the hardness of a stuck egg. Don't press too hard or you may break the egg, which can lead to abrasions and infection.
Bring Her a Drink
Dehydration and lack of enough calcium are two major causes of egg binding, which can be helped by home remedies. When your hen is dehydrated, the lubrication she needs to pass her egg dries up causing the egg to become stuck. Calcium deficiency affects the muscle contractions, making it difficult for her to move the egg along her reproductive tract. Bring her electrolyte formula to drink, which may resolve either issue. Use a commercial powder for poultry available at a local feed store or make your own by adding 1/8 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar to a cup of water. This can be given to her straight or diluted into a gallon of water. If she doesn't take fluid and is pretty sick looking, don't try to force it down her throat, as she may aspirate it into her lungs. Instead, take her to the vet.
Warm and Cozy
Moist heat is another remedy that may help her relax enough to pass the egg. Give her a warm bath in the sink, immersing her abdomen and vent area. You can put a damp towel on top of a heating pad on the lowest setting inside a crate or cage to create moist heat. Cover the cage with a towel to help to increase humidity. If her vent area looks dry, you can lubricate it gently with K-Y jelly or petroleum jelly to help it stay moist. Do not place the hen's cage over steam as it may burn her. Make sure she has electrolyte formula to drink and use a thermometer to keep the cage between 90 and 102 degrees.
What to Do Next
If a couple hours of moist heat doesn't do the trick, give your vet a call. A stuck egg is a potentially life-threatening condition; your hen can die within 48 hours. Don't try home remedies such as injecting oil up her vent to lubricate it as it may cause a bacterial infection. Trying to break the egg and remove the pieces is also a bad idea as it may scratch her inside and set up conditions for infection. A simple injection of calcium gluconate given by your vet usually will remedy the situation. Your vet has the right tools and know-how should extraction be necessary.