Small Eggs Confusing Me

henhilton(8)April 23, 2008

My girls (10 Rhode Island Reds)seem to be molting. I say "seem to be" because nobody has a bare butt or anything, just some rather minor, but unusual, feather loss going on. Production has been down from the usual 10 eggs per day to about 5 or 6 most days. And they are the TINIEST eggs I've ever seen these ladies produce! One was so small I almost thought a song bird had found her way into my hen house - it was almost all yolk inside. Anyway, today I'm back up to 8 eggs, but they are still very wee. I thought the eggs were supposed to get larger after they molted the first time. If the numbers are coming back up, then I would think some of the girls are finished molting (appearances back this theory), and thus their eggs should be larger than before, not smaller.

Meanwhile, Mr. Roo (Silver Spangled Hamburg, we think)is looking quite skanky. Some tail feathers have fallen out, but others have just thinned and/or broken about halfway down the shaft. The rest of his body looks fine, but that magnificent tail is a mess.

Instead of a molt, could the hens be shedding? It's become suddenly very hot here the last few weeks and my dogs are shedding like crazy. Do birds put on extra feathers for winter, too? (Okay, I know I'm probably giving y'all a good laugh here!)

Can anybody enlighten me about what may be going on with my dear flock? Any ideas would be appreciated.


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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

Well, an occasional small or soft-shelled egg, especially in the Spring when egg laying is really cranking back up after a cold winter, isn't unusual. And some chickens' feathers can get QUITE ragged looking before they molt, just due to plain old wear and tear.

What you need to investigate right away is whether or not the unusual eggs and feather issues are related, and possibly caused by either a nutritional (protein, I'd guess) deficiency, or an illness. Consistently small and/or wrinkled eggs and a drop in egg production can each be signs of illness.

Check them over thoroughly for signs of weight loss, mites, worms, runny nostrils/eyes, sneezing, wheezing...are they eating, drinking and carrying on normally or are they listless? Check for signs of Coccidiosis and other protazoan infections. More on what to look for and possible issues you can diagnose yourself are here on my site:

And MSU has a great section of poultry disease, symptoms and treatments:

If you can rule out either internal or external parasites, and they don't seem ill and are otherwise healthy, check your feed for adequate protein and calcium.

If they are simply producing the odd small egg and are choosing now to molt as well, you can help them out by offering an additional protein and calcium boost--making eggs and feathers requires a lot of each, plus a ton of energy. Live mealworms or crickets are a terrific source of protein, and chickens go bananas for them. You can get them at most pet stores, feed stores and bait shops, ask if you don't see them, they need to be refrigerated. Scrambled eggs and cooked ground beef are two more.

Crushed oyster shell is a great source of calcium (get it at the pet store in the bird/reptile section, or online), as are dark, leafy greens.

Where does your roo sleep? My roo Phoenix sleeps with his fancy fanny up against a wall, and it's ruining his tail. :( Maybe your roo is doing something similar? I'm going to move the roost farther out so it will stop--the roost fit him when he was a youngster, but not now that he's so darned big!

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 7:25PM
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Hey, Velvet, can she be getting smaller eggs because her hens are breeding a banty roo? I don't know if roos can determin eggs size or not?
I have golden phoenix in my incubator. A friend has a beautiful roo and she gave me some eggs.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 2:07AM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

Well, I've never noticed it in my flock, but that's a good thought. I have a banty roo and a full size roo, and it seems to be the mom's body that determines the egg size. But in my clock, both roos are in with all the girls all of the time, so...

I noted this in my flock because the same thought had occurred to me last year, when I was going to be incubating eggs and thought I might be able to ID 'mystery mom' eggs using this method. :)

Also: oooh, Golden Phoenix! I hate you. :)

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 1:06PM
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Thanks, Velvet Sparrow! I have a lot to look into now! And actually, last month I bought my laying pellets at a different feed store than I usually go to. They loaded the bag, so I was already home with it before I noticed it had no nutritional info whatever on the package! And the price had been suspiciously cheap. So I started supplementing their diet with dry cat food until we used up the 'mystery food.'

I have never seen them touch the calcium that I provide, but their eggs shells are really strong and thick. They get plenty of green leafy veggies.

I handle the girls and haven't seen any parasites. Roo - who knows? (little chuckelhead has a nasty streak) But I think your idea about the roost is right on, VS!!! The roosts in HenHilton are about 12" from the rock walls, and now that you mention it, that's just what the damage to his tail looks like! Rubbed on rock. We can fix that. Thanks, again.

Oh, backlanelady, he's not a bantam. He's just about as large as the ladies. Too bad he's not as sweet!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 7:49PM
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A large fowl hen lays an egg relative and average to her breed, the size of her egg is never decided by the male she is bred to, think about it for just a minite! tho a bantamized bird may produce a quite large egg for her size, and some large fowl breeds, like Hamburgs make a small egg.

Seems as the best golds are produced from reds to silvers as gold to gold will make too light a color, being dilutes..

The roosts for the longtails, or any tail breed, should be away from walls and higher than the tail is long, I use about 7 feet(no, my tails arent 7 feet long, more like 36 inches or so but the height gives them exercise). The tail can become wrapped around the roost and a bird can be tied to the roost as he mounts and dismounts the roost then the tail must be plucked and have to wait for those new mains to grow in.. Things I have discovered for the best feather in longtail breds are, higher protein, exercise and most of all good breeding. misting with a fine spray is good too, it helps shed the feather sheath. meat protein promotes good feather.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 11:37PM
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"A large fowl hen lays an egg relative and average to her breed, the size of her egg is never decided by the male she is bred to,"

Thanks for answering that, fancifowl. So, if a banty roo breeds a full size hen, the egg will be average size to the bred of hen, but the chick might be quite a bit smaller than the hen? What about the size of the yolk? Just curious.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 1:55AM
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semen has 0 influence on the size of an egg or its parts. Obviously the F1 generations eggs will be different from the parent female or male breed.

we have bantamized several breeds, mostly Hamburgs and a friend made bantam Sumatras about 40 years ago with a large fowl sumatra over a sebright female.. Using a large fowl male over a bantam female is the quickest path. Even tho the bantam females eggs are smaller, progeny will be of duffering sizes; selecting against too large size is the way to smaller birds. using a bantam male over a large fowl female will also produce bantams over time but will neccesitate more offspring and more severe culling.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 10:48PM
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Ok, that makes sense. Thanks for explaining.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 11:57PM
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Thanks for all the responses! It's interesting how a subject evolves.

Great web-site you have there, Velvet Sparrow. Very helpful.

At this point, I'm pretty certain they are just molting. Everybody is as perky, active and hungry as usual. The feather loss seems to be increasing some, but the skin and remaining feathers look healthy and I see no external parasites. Still, nobody looks at all bald, so I guess new feathers are growing in about as fast as they're falling out! Dust bathing appears to be no more or less popular than usual.

I use DE sparingly in the boxes -under the carpet scrap I keep in the bottom of each box- and on the slab floor, before replacing wood chips every time I clean the coop. And nobody with chickens on their own place EVER enters my hen yard. So I think I maintain a healthy environment. I never have wormed them (they are almost a year old now), but after reading VS's view on that, I'm thinking maybe I should. I guess I'll ask my good old country vet for his thoughts. I would really rather use the DE for worming, too, instead of ivermectin, but I'll see what his experience reveals. Doc spent some years in research at Texas A&M before going into private practice, and he has some really unusual and practical remedies up his sleeve for various things. If I learn anything good, I'll pass it on!

I've heard the roo sneeze about 3 times in the past month. The first time he did it I was terrified that everybody was gonna be sneezing and wheezing within days, but nothing developed. I'm thinking maybe ol' Silver Streak just has allergies! DH and I are sure suffering with the oak catkins lately.

Yesterday I only got 4 eggs - an all-time low, but then on Saturday we had disturbed the flock with tractor work all day right beside their pen. I get such a kick out of watching the ladies watch us! They are quite the curious little mob. Even tho the tractor is loud, they crowd right up at the fence to see what we're doing. Only poor Streak seems truly upset by the disturbance.

I found it interesting that after a good rain yesterday morning, the chickens spent the day industriously excavating a pretty deep hole in the mud. I couldn't see any worms or bugs, but they acted like they were finding plenty to eat in their hole. Guess I had better get them some meal worms next time I drive to town. I wish I could let them into my veggie garden to devour whatever is munching on my chard, collards and lettuce, but the birds do more damage than the bugs! All I can do is pick off the pests I see and toss them thru the fence to the chickens. (and of course they also get all the bug-eaten greens)


    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 12:19PM
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