A productive egg-laying hen can produce a new egg almost every day—around 300 per year. That’s a lot of egg-laying. It makes you wonder: Do they enjoy it? Or does it hurt, pushing out all those eggs?
Chickens appear to feel some pain when laying eggs, but it’s not usually very bad for very long. That said, some authorities have concerns about large and “Jumbo” eggs causing more pain to hens. Younger chickens may also experience more pain while laying eggs.
Below, we’ll look at the signs of pain in egg-laying chickens, why chickens squawk after laying eggs, whether hens get sad when you take their eggs, what causes an egg to get “stuck” in a chicken, and more. I’ve also gathered real videos of chickens laying eggs!
Can Chickens Feel Pain?
First, let’s address the basic issue of whether chickens can feel pain at all.
Yes, it is widely understood that chickens can feel sensations of pain. Chickens do have a central nervous system, brain, and nerves, just like mammals and humans.
Here is how it’s described by United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization:
“It is indisputable that poultry are capable of feeling pain. All poultry species are sentient vertebrates and all the available evidence shows that they have a very similar range of feelings as mammalian species. Poultry can suffer by feeling pain, fear and stress.” (source)
We can also observe clear behavioral signs of pain in chickens. They react to painful stimuli, as would be expected. And surprisingly, scientists even say that chickens experience empathy, and can feel each other’s pain!
And lastly, it makes evolutionary sense for chickens to feel pain. Pain would help motivate a chicken to move away from harmful stimuli. This is not the case for plants, which are rooted in one place—but for chickens, yes, there would be an evolutionary benefit to feeling pain.
So now, let’s look at egg-laying specifically.
Does It Hurt a Chicken to Lay an Egg?
There are not excellent studies on how chickens feel when laying eggs. Of course, they may experience “pain” a bit differently from us humans. But I still wanted a practical answer.
To get a good sense of the “common wisdom,” I spent a full hour reading forum posts, comments, and blog posts written by people with years of experience raising chickens, who answered this exact question.
Most people who raise chickens do believe that it hurts chickens to lay eggs—but not necessarily to a large degree.
Chickens typically appear very “focused” while laying eggs—their expressions and breathing often seem strained, including wheezing or hissing. Then they look “relieved” afterward.
The common understanding is that laying eggs is probably more painful than taking a poop, but less painful than a human giving birth. Of course, this is not a very scientific statement. But just think about it logically.
There is definitely some stretching that goes on when chickens lay eggs. The larger the egg, the more stretching occurs. Sometimes, bloodstains can also be found on eggs, and that is more common with large eggs.
But there is no reason to believe that egg-laying would be as painful for chickens as giving birth is for humans. Humans give birth to children with particularly large brains, and it commonly takes hours. Chickens lay eggs a bit more casually.
See below for more on how long it takes chickens to lay eggs.
Large Eggs May Be More Painful
Some eggs are much bigger than others. Many authorities believe that larger eggs (e.g. “Jumbo” eggs) may cause significantly more pain than small or medium eggs. Selective breeding can lead to larger eggs, and diet changes affect egg size, too. (source)
Tom Vesey is the chairman of the British Free Range Producers’ Association. He’s gone on record stating his belief: Very large eggs can be “painful” and “stressful” for chickens to lay. (source)
Another authority, a professor from Bristol University, Christine Nicol agrees that large eggs can be “mismatched” to the size of the chicken. Nicol mentioned, “We often spot bloodstains on large eggs. I would never eat Jumbo eggs.” (source)
Extra large eggs can also sometimes lead to “binding,” where a large egg gets “stuck” in a chicken. This is also a painful condition. Read more about that below.
Young Hens May Feel More Pain
Younger hens may experience more pain when laying eggs. Why? Their cloaca is not as “stretched out” yet, and they’re not as accustomed to the experience yet.
Many people who raise chickens have observed more discomfort in young hens, as well. They have been observed squawking and appearing more “disturbed” by the experience, compared to older, more experienced hens.
How Long Does It Take for a Chicken to Lay an Egg?
Each egg takes around 24 to 36 hours for a chicken to produce. Around 20 of those hours are spent making the eggshell, actually. The process tends to get slower and take longer as the chicken gets older and less productive.
But how long does the chicken actually spend in the process of laying the egg?
Well, first, usually the hen will spend at least a few minutes preparing the nest and kind of “getting ready.” The actual focused, uncomfortable egg-laying experience seems to only take 30 seconds to 2 minutes, typically.
Close-Up Video of Chickens Laying Eggs
Here is a video where you can clearly see an egg emerging from the cloaca. This looks pretty uncomfortable, in my opinion. It takes about 1 minute and 40 seconds:
But here is another video of an egg being laid. This one goes a bit faster. You can see that the cloaca is not stretched out for many seconds, compared to the other video. And this was supposedly the hen’s first egg, too:
Why Do Chickens Squawk After Laying an Egg?
Hens are known for raising quite a ruckus after laying eggs. It is commonly referred to as the “egg song.” There are several theories about why chickens squawk after laying eggs, but it’s not known for sure.
Here are some of the reasons that have been suspected:
- Pride after successfully laying an egg
- Relief after laying the egg
- Attracting a rooster to mount her again
- Drawing the attention of predators away from her egg and toward her, as she walks away from the egg.
- Drawing the attention of predators away from another hen that is currently busy laying.
As you can see, these suspected reasons have nothing to do with pain while laying eggs. However, some people have reported hearing a hen squawk while laying an egg. In that case, it could have to do with pain or discomfort.
Do Chickens Get Sad When You Take Their Eggs?
Under normal circumstances, hens do not seem to mind if you take their eggs. However, if you have a broody hen, she will be territorial and do her best to get her eggs to hatch.
Broody hens will stay by their eggs, incubate them all day, and protect them against intruders. If you try to remove her from the eggs, she may try to peck you. (source)
Behavioral clues would suggest that broody hens are very opposed to having their eggs taken. Still, it’s not clear if “sad” would be the right word to describe it.
The blogger at A Gentle World shared a moving story of a distraught black hen after her eggs were taken. Hours after her eggs were taken away, she was found still searching for her eggs.
Chicken Eggs Come Out of What Hole?
Chicken eggs come out of the cloaca. This single hole is what hens use for peeing, pooping, and egg-laying. It is also where sperm is received from a rooster. (source)
So while it’s probably not scientifically accurate to say that chickens “poop” eggs, it does come out of the same hole. Sometimes when chickens lay a very large egg and bleed on it, they will also have some blood on their poop later in the day.
Can an Egg Get Stuck in a Chicken?
Eggs can get “stuck” in a chicken, particularly if they are large or oddly shaped. More specifically, the egg can get stuck in the oviduct. This is called egg-binding.
Egg-binding is painful and potentially fatal for chickens—so if you’re taking care of chickens, then definitely learn how to recognize and respond to egg-binding.
Cruelty Toward Hens on Factory Farms
About 95% to 98% of eggs today come from factory farms. And on factory farms, there are many more forms of pain and discomfort that chickens experience—not just the pain of laying eggs.
Here are just a few of the forms of cruelty that chickens often experience on factory farms:
- On factory farms, male chicks are killed by the millions, either ground up alive or suffocated in trash bags, as they have no value to the egg industry. (source)
- Female chicks have their beaks seared off after just a few days. This is typically done without painkillers. (source)
- Hens living in battery cages experience extreme confinement, causing them distress, frustration, and unnatural deterioration of their health. (source)
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