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Chronic Egg Laying - A Real Concern!

Hormonal Hens

Certain types of birds are prone to the over production of eggs during hormonal periods.  These birds include, but are not limited to: Cockatiels, Budgerigars (Budgies, parakeets), lovebirds and finches.

Many times, I have been contacted concerning this issue and it has been a concern of mine as well as I have four hens of my own.  Once stimulated to lay, a hen CAN over produce eggs.  Either she will lay HUGE clutches of eggs or she will lay eggs in clutches back to back in a seemingly never ending cycle.  Some hens never lay or only lay occassionally but some, never seem to stop. 

How do you know if your hen is over producing and when should you become concerned?  How do you stop the cycle once its started? These are all questions I hope to answer with this page, dedicated to this very important issue.

A cockatiel egg
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Hens can be pretty discreet about their homonal urges.  Moreso than males at least, so oftentimes, folks just don't know their female is "broody" until she's dropped an egg.  Then, they find more and more, and are lost as to what to do about it.  If you can stop it before it gets out of hand, chances are, you can get ahead of the game.  The best way is prevention.
 
The first step in prevention is to understand what spurs birds into a hormonal frenzy in the first place. This goes for both males and females, so owners of males may want to pay some mind to this too. It may help some "screaming issues" you may have.  Screaming can often be attributed to hormones. 
 
 
  • The first factor is daylight. When the days get longer in the spring, an automatic switch goes off in birds whether they're wild or pets. Time to MAKE BABIES! It seems it happens again in the fall. I don't know if its because birds like cockatiels nest twice a year, or if its because they're native to a land where its becoming spring when its our fall (Australia), but whatever the case, lookout, because the coming of Autumn usually heralds another peak hormonal time.
  • Food also plays another key role: When there's an abundance of food, (usually more than they can eat in a day), it signals that There is plenty to feed a family so MAKE BABIES!
  • Stroking on the back, wings and shoulders: Usually this is where a mate would preen. It gets them in the mood.
  • A percieved mate: The presence of another bird of the opposite sex or someone she feels is "mateworthy".
  • Access to something in the cage or outside of the cage they can use as a nest box.  No matter how cute it appears to be, don't let them have "shoe boxes, happy huts and other items they can seclude themselves away in.
  • Age: Sometimes, a cockatiel hen will suddenly become hormonal and want to lay eggs with the onset of puberty.  This can happen as early as 6 months of age, but typically around 9 - 12 months of age.

How Can I Stop The Madness?

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If you're reading this page, you're as concerned as I am about this issue.  Perhaps you have a hen and are worried about a potential problem and want to know how to prevent it from happening. GREAT! Or.. maybe you're going through the nightmare.  Your precious girl is spitting out eggs faster than an automatic tennis ball server can lob em out.  Does this make you a bad pet owner? Absolutely not! But there IS something you can do about it! Read on for some tips to help your girl through this.
 
Spaying your bird is EXTREMELY risky and its a procedure most avian veterinarians will not perform unless the situation is dire.  Most small birds like budgies and cockatiels don't survive the surgery if it can be performed at all, so its up to you to intervene.  There are hormone shots available for chronic egg layers, however they're A) expensive, B) don't always work (especially if external influences that got hormones going in the first place don't change accordingly) and C) can have side effects.
Lupron is the hormone administered for overactive laying and is injected via shots, during a series of several visits.  It should be discussed with your avian veterinarian and really, only considered as a last resort if all other methods have failed.  Honestly though, some gals are stubborn and NEED those shots!
 
On the Home Front
  • COVER THAT CAGE! No excuses! She needs 12 hours of night time (or simulated night time) a night.  You need to find a place in the house where she will have some privacy.  Move her to it and get a thicker blanket to cover the cage.  She cannot be disturbed.  If she has eggs, they go with her.  Leave a dim night light on if she's prone to night frights, but that is IT. No sounds, no televisions, no people in and out.  She needs to know its bedtime.  During the day, uncover her and bring her back out, but make sure she goes back into seclusion at night.
  • Cut back on her food!  She can ONLY have what she will eat in a day.  NO TREATS! Veggies are okay because they're not high in fat but monitor her very closely.  Take her food cup out at night before bedtime and dump any left overs.  No extras, no millet.  She can't think its "bounty time" with extra to feed chicks.  It seems mean, but its in her best interest.
  • Change her pellet to a low fat pellet if available.  Harrisons and Roudybush offer such pellets and some birds take to them readily.  Some avian veterinarian clinics offer them in sample sizes or sell them as distributors, if not, they're also available online. If you're REALLY lucky, you might even find a retail outlet for these brands at a reputable bird store.
  • Give her drenching showers (warm water) daily.  You can either use your own shower or a spray mister (that has never been used for anything else) and get her soaked.  Make sure not to use soap though (for those who have never bathed their bird before).  If you live in a colder climate, make sure there are no drafts and if its chilly weather, a blow dryer set on low afterward to dry her feathers off is a good idea to keep her from chilling. Drenching showers works great in the same fashion that cold showers work for chasing the "hornies" away for people :wink:  Just make sure the water is warm and not cold.  Birds are sensitive to that. 
  • Either change her cage to a different one, or rearrange her cage frequently so she doesn't get so comfortable in it that she views it a great nesting place. Moving the location of the cage around frequently can help too, unless its too large.  If that's the case, rearranging it frequently or transferring her to a smaller more portable cage will do the trick.
  • Remove any nesty type structures or materials from the cage.  Anything she can hide in, behind, shred, etc.
  • Remove anything she maturbates on.
  • Remove her as far away as possible from any males who may be stimulating her behavior by courting her with singing and displaying to her.
  • If she perceves you as her mate, (and even if she doesn't) don't stroke her on her back, wings and tail.  During this time, even limit scratches on the head as preening activities will stimulate hormones.
  • If she HAS eggs, DO NOT remove them from her! Let her have them, even if she doesn't appear interested in them! Removing them will only spur her to lay more eggs to replace the clutch you've taken.  She will sit (or perhaps not) on them for at least 3 weeks waiting for them to hatch.  She won't abandon the nest for four weeks usually, when she pretty much gives up hope on them hatching.  If you've removed the eggs AND female from a male and there's a chance that they could be fertile, you can addle the eggs by freezing or boiling them so that they do not hatch if you're not wanting to deal with babies and the problems that could arise from that.  If you are planning on keeping the babies, install a nest box and let mom and dad do their thing. *Please do not allow birds under the age of 18 months old to breed for their own safety.
  • A typical clutch is anywhere from 3 to 5 eggs for a first timer, and sometimes even 9 for a more mature bird.  If your girl starts to lay eggs, and you begin "tough love" early on, you may get lucky and stop her after she's only laid one or two eggs (such as I was lucky with Taxi).  However, DON'T panic if she lays a full clutch of six eggs.  That's not over laying. 
  • If she drops her 10th egg, you might show some concern and step up your efforts to get those hormones under control.  If she's sitting on 14 eggs, there's a problem.
  • If she's laid two full clutches of 8 eggs a piece within 3 months, you need to get aggressive about curbing her hormones. 
  • Typically, a breeding female can safely lay 2 NORMAL sized clutches a year.  Any more than that is taxing her system.  They should NOT be back to back.  SO please, keep that in mind.  This goes for females who are breeding and females who are single.  If your brid is laying eggs in irregular cycles, more than two times a year, she has a chronic problem.  BUT, a bird who is not being used for breeding really has no business laying like that anyway, so please make every effort to control her hormones so she won't lay in the first place.
  • If these measures fail, consult your avian veterinarian for more options!

EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF HORMONAL ONSET

  • Early warning signs are:  Beckoning, repetitive, chirps (to herself or a percieved mate) as she's pacing about
  •  Eating more than usual.
  • Becoming defensive of her cage - becoming nippy
  • Masturbating against objects while making a "squeaky wheel chirp"
  • Displaying her vent with her tail up to her percieved mate
  • Gaining weight (Calcium intake thickens the bones and females can put on 10% of their normal body weight)
  • Ripping up paper/making a nest
  • Looking for areas inside or outside of the cage to nest in.

If you start to see ANY of the above behavior, begin the "tough love" program for 2 weeks and see if it doesn't curb her behavior.  Chances are, you won't have to deal with a chronic egg layer if you know what to look for and how to deal with it before it gets out of control.

12 Hours of Sleep is the KEY!
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The Dangers of Chronic Egg Laying
 
So now we've discussed how to avoid chronic egg laying.  Now we can touch on why its so important to avoid it.  The first and formost danger is Egg Binding.  This is a serious medical condition that occurs when an egg is lodged in the hen's cloacha and she cannot expel it.  Egg binding can QUICKLY lead to death in your pet if the egg is not expelled, either with or without intervention.  It seems the smaller the bird, the faster death occurs.  A number of factors play a role in egg binding and I will touch on them briefly.
 
  • The age of the hen. Either too young OR too old can play a key role in the risk of egg binding.
  • Too often bred:  Please rest your breeding hens in between clutches and don't let them breed more than twice a year. Its often recommended to only let them breed on alternating years as well.
  • Improper diet:  Hens fed on only seed diets and not receiving the proper amount of fresh produce are more likely to become egg bound.
  • Lack of calcium: It is of UTMOST importance to provide the proper foods for laying hens.  Cuttle bone, mineral blocks, egg biscuits, boiled egg including the shell, and veggies high in calcium are crucial so hens can get the calcium they need for egg production.  Hens who don't receive these foods are more likely to have problems.
  • Obesity:  Overweight birds tend to have more trouble passing eggs than birds who eat right and get the proper exercise (ahem Trinny!)
  • Underlying medical conditions: Its always recommended that birds who are in breeding programs receive physicals to ensure they are in the best physical shape.  Even birds who are not should get annual health evaluations.
  • Hens who lay to many eggs:  Birds who are chronic egg layers tax their systems and their calcium supply.  Eventually, they will suffer prolapses of their cloaca, egg binding and other problems.

If you notice your bird has laid a soft shelled egg or mishappen egg, you should contact your avian veterinarian right away.  Other warning signs could be, but are not limited to: Straining or panting in the bottom of the cage (oftentimes accompanied by fluffed feathers), immobility of the legs, inability to pass stool, oozing a yolk like substance from the vent, wet sounds coming from the vent like someone passing gas, not eating.  If you encounter your bird behaving in this way, place your bird's cage in the bathroom, turn on the shower so the room gets steamy and warm, and contact your avian veterinarian IMMEDIATELY! You have no time to waste!

Other problems can arise from chronic egg laying, such as infections, prolapses and eggs breaking inside of a hen, but the most common is egg binding.  With awareness and the proper intervention, it can be avoided.

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