This hot mess, laid by one of my hens, referred to as a “lash egg,” is a very misunderstood phenomenon in backyard chickens. Lash eggs consist primarily of coagulated pus, not yolk or egg white. I took the liberty of renaming the lash egg more appropriately, a Pus Coagulegg. It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Unfortunately for the hen, the Pus Coagulegg is no laughing matter as the prognosis for the chicken producing them is poor, at best.
My research into lash eggs has lead to many contradictory theories and a great deal of inaccurate information, so I worked with Dr. Annika McKillop, DVM, MspVM, DACPV, a practicing poultry veterinarian, who spoke with me at length, explaining what causes a Pus Coagulegg, until I had a clear understanding of the problem and potential solutions. Curiously, veterinarians do not have a catchy nickname for the lash egg, the simply refer to the nasty junk as “caseous exudate.” (caseous being Latin for cheese-like) The specifics Dr. McKillip gave me went into much more technical detail than most backyard chicken keepers want to know, so I distilled it down to the essentials for you.
CAUSE of PUS COAGULEGGS = SALPINGITIS
Lash eggs result from an infection (bacterial or viral) that causes inflammation of a hen’s oviduct. That inflammation is referred to as Salpingitis. The hen’s immune system reacts to the inflammation by trying to wall-off the infection with a waxy, cheese-like pus. This pus mass may or may not contain yolk, albumen, (egg white) eggshell, egg membrane, blood or pieces of tissue from the oviduct wall, but it is primarily a yellowish, cheesy, pus ball. Salpingitis is the most common cause of death in laying hens, according to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Health Handbook. (The same immune system response to infection occurs in bumblefoot where they cheese-like pus is called the core or plug.)
Lash eggs/Pus Coaguleggs are bad news for the hen. By the time one is discovered, the problem has been raging inside the hen for months and the prognosis for recovery is poor. Most hens will not survive more than 6 months with Salpingitis. According to Dr. McKillop If a hen does survive, she is unlikely ever to return to normal egg laying. I found this to be the case in one of my Partridge Plymouth Rock hens. Within four months of finding these small pieces of Pus Coagulegg, she died. She never exhibited any of the other typical signs of Salpingitis.
May, 2014: These were the first bits of Pus Coagulegg found on the droppings board. In retrospect, all of the soft-shelled eggs and Pus Coaguleggs in this article came from the same hen. I was never able to identify the hen responsible for producing them until it was too late. The necropsy report revealed she had “a typical case of oviduct impaction and resultant compression of the intestines and internal organs.”
RISK FACTORS FOR SALPINGITIS
- Age over 2 years
- Respiratory infections (migrate from the left abdominal air sac into the oviduct)
- Vent picking (E.Coli enters the oviduct from the cloaca, damaging it)
SYMPTOMS of SALPINGITIS MAY INCLUDE:
- Decreased egg production
- Habitual laying of soft-shelled eggs
- Excessive thirst
- Lethargy or decreased activity
- Abdominal swelling
- Weight loss
- Labored breathing
- Upright, penguin-like stance
- Pus Coaguleggs/lash eggs
- Sporatic deaths
This is a tough one because the bottom line is, even with the best chicken-keeping practices, a hen can still contract salpingitis. So, as always:
Practice good backyard biosecurity.
Feed the flock properly to avoid obesity and ensure proper nutrition (not too many kitchen scraps, treats, snacks)
Control bacterial infections in baby chicks (respiratory, omphalitis, etc.)
Vaccinate birds against respiratory infections such as Bronchitis and Infectious Laryngotracheitis
Buy Clean Chicks: Acquire chicks from a supplier that is NPIP certified against Salmonella and Mycoplasma, both of which are diseases capable of being passed onto the chick inside the shell.
Necropsy: Always obtain a necropsy when a bird dies of unknown causes in order to protect the rest of the flock if possible.
Antibiotics: If detected very early while the pus is relatively soft, antibiotics may help, unfortunately, signs and symptoms of salpingitis generally appear after the disease has been present for a while and by that point, antibiotic treatment isn’t effective.
Surgery: Physical removal of the ovary, oviduct and/or the pus and any egg components is possible, but the risk of infection and recurrence are high. In other countries outside of the United States, a hormone implant to suppress ovulation (yolk release) may be surgically placed by a veterinarian.
Depopulate:That’s the sanitized term for euthanizing the entire flock, cleaning the area and starting clean with a new flock. It’s not realistic for most backyard flocks kept as pets.
WHY IS A PUS COAGULEGG USUALLYEGG-SHAPED?
Since the infection occurs in the oviduct where eggs are produced, lash eggs travel through the same shaping process that normal eggs go through and are ultimately released from the hen’s vent.
WHERE DID THE TERM LASH EGG COME FROM?
The English Dialect Dictionary defines a lash egg as an egg without a full-formed shell, covered only with a tough film
A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words defines a lash-egg as a soft-shelled egg.
Personally, I am going to stick with “Pus Coagulegg” since it tells more about what the nasty bits, orbs, clumps and icky masses are.
The following photo was taken during a necropsy (post mortem examination) of a 2 yr old Red Sexlink hen. She was a prolific layer of large eggs since the age of 4 months. She has been eating, drinking and dust-bathing normally with no sign of illness until three days before her death when she began acting lethargic & her abdomen felt swollen.
Sources & Further reading:
Dr. Annika McKillop, DVM, MSpVM, DACPV
Diseases of Poultry, 12th Edition. Edited by Y.M. Saif (2008).
The Chicken Health Handbook, Damerow, Gail. (1994).
Avian Disease Manual, 7th Edition, ed. M. Boulianne.
The Color Atlas Diseases of the Domestic Fowl and Turkey by C.J. Randall (1985).
Dr. Jarra Jagne, DVM, DACPV, 6 Causes of Swollen Abdomen in Chickens
Seven Reasons Why Chickens Are Not Fed Hormones