What Can You Do?*
If the hen seems ill or is producing eggs that look abnormal, it must be seen by an experienced avian veterinarian.† If the hen seems healthy but fits the description of a chronic egg-layer, there are some home treatment approaches that can be tried; however, the bird should be taken to an avian veterinarian† immediately if there are any signs of distress or illness.
Artificial or “dummy” eggs (available from many online stores) may be used as a form of birth control. If an egg is laid, it is replaced in the cage or nest box by a dummy egg that is similar in size, shape and weight as the real egg. Most hens shut down egg production after they lay the typical clutch size. Substituting dummy eggs at the upper end of the clutch size may cause even a prolific hen to stop laying.
Releaves (LINK) is an organic red raspberry supplement that works synergistically with continuous light cycle therapy but may also be used on its own. Raspberries have a hormone-like action that stops hens from further ovulations and may ease the passage of eggs already in the oviduct (Click here to read the Releaves Mode of Action). Take note of the bird’s egg-laying cycle, and for best results, Releaves should be started about 4 weeks prior to the anticipated date that the first egg would be laid or start of the breeding season. If this information is not known, Releaves may be started at any time.
LIGHT CYCLE THERAPY
Manipulation of the light cycle is a simple way to interrupt egg-laying. Leaving the hen in a cage exposed to continuous light for 3-7 days in a row may disrupt the circadian and annual rhythms to “reset” the reproductive hormones to a resting state. Most birds will rest with 3 days of continuous light; however, others may need up to 7 days.
The light needs to be about as bright as a room in the middle of the day. Bright white incandescent bulbs (approximately a total of 300-400 watts or 4200 lumens daylight compact fluorescent bulbs [ie, 95 CRI, >5500°K]) may be used in the room with the cage. A nest box or anything the bird could use to hide from the light should be removed from the cage. If the hen stops eating or starts to appear fluffed or stressed, the natural day-night cycle should be resumed.
While a healthy, certified organic formulated diet is ideal, changing a bird’s diet during egg-laying may be dangerous and must be done under the guidance of an avian veterinarian. For more information about diet conversion, click here. All high-fat and high-sugar foods, such as corn, grapes, apples, nuts and sunflower seeds, should be discontinued. If the bird is on a seed diet, switching to a lower fat diet, such as white or grey millet, may also be helpful.
A thorough assessment of behavior by a veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviorist may help determine the reason for the bird’s egg-laying. If a pet bird is exposed to sexually stimulating styles of owner interaction, has little competition for attention, and has no other options for interaction, it may likely become sexually active and perceive its owner as a mate. Examples of inappropriate pair-bond behaviors by owners include regular, prolonged cuddling or caressing of the bird, frequent carrying on the shoulder or inside of clothing, and sharing food directly from the mouth. Many owners are unaware that their interactions may be sexually stimulating, even when birds pant or demonstrate coital-like spasms in response to petting. Replacing this type of interaction with games and other non-physical touch interaction may be helpful.
Some birds may not respond to home treatments. A veterinarian can perform a physical examination and may recommend additional diagnostic tests to better assess the bird’s condition. It is not unusual for older hens to have a diseased ovary that has sparked the egg laying. Injections with leuprolide acetate or other hormones may be recommended. Leuprolide may need to be repeated multiple times to reach the desired effect and may need to be continued for the lifetime of the bird. Additionally, some birds may not respond at all to leuprolide, and there is also the possibility of side effects. veterinarians may recommend Releaves and light cycle therapy in conjunction with injections or instead of injections.
In some cases, surgery is necessary. Removal of the oviduct (salpingectomy)requires an expert avian surgeon but may prove practical for birds that are chronic egg-layers with seemingly healthy ovaries. This surgery leaves behind the ovary but removes the oviduct and thereby breaks an important part of the hormone feedback loop that governs egg-laying. Thisworks very well; however, there is a risk that a hen may ovulate into its body cavity if the feedback loop continues to function (common in chickens).
†Click here for help in finding an avian veterinarian and select the link “Find a Vet.”
*Adapted from Excessive Egg-laying by Kevin Wright, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Reptiles & Amphibians), unpublished.