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Research article2014Peer reviewedOpen access

Exogenous estradiol improves shell strength in laying hens at the end of the laying period

Wistedt, Anna; Ridderstråle, Yvonne; Wall, Helena; Holm, Lena


Background: Cracked shells, due to age related reduction of shell quality, are a costly problem for the industry. Parallel to reduced shell quality the skeleton becomes brittle resulting in bone fractures. Calcium, a main prerequisite for both eggshell and bone, is regulated by estrogen in a complex manner. The effects of estrogen, given in a low continuous dose, were studied regarding factors involved in age related changes in shell quality and bone strength of laying hens. A pellet containing 0.385 mg estradiol 3-benzoate (21-day-release) or placebo was inserted subcutaneously in 20 birds each of Lohmann Selected Leghorn (LSL) and Lohmann Brown (LB) at 70 weeks of age. Eggs were collected before and during the experiment for shell quality measurements. Blood samples for analysis of total calcium were taken three days after the insertion and at sacrifice (72 weeks). Right femur was used for bone strength measurements and tissue samples from duodenum and shell gland were processed for morphology, immunohistochemical localization of estrogen receptors (ER alpha, ER beta), plasma membrane calcium ATPase (PMCA) and histochemical localization of carbonic anhydrase (CA).

Results: Estrogen treatment increased shell thickness of both hybrids. In addition, shell weight and shell deformation improved in eggs from the brown hybrids. The more pronounced effect on eggs from the brown hybrid may be due to a change in sensitivity to estrogen, especially in surface epithelial cells of the shell gland, shown as an altered ratio between ER alpha and ER beta. A regulatory effect of estrogen on CA activity, but not PMCA, was seen in both duodenum and shell gland, and a possible connection to shell quality is discussed. Bone strength was unaffected by treatment, but femur was stronger in LSL birds suggesting that the hybrids differ in calcium allocation between shell and bone at the end of the laying period. Plasma calcium concentrations and egg production were unaffected.
Conclusions: A low continuous dose of estrogen improves shell strength but not bone strength in laying hens at the end of the laying period.


Exogenous estradiol; Eggshell formation; Carbonic anhydrase; Estrogen receptors; Bone strength; Eggshell quality; Domestic hen

Published in

Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica
2014, Volume: 56, article number: 34Publisher: BIOMED CENTRAL LTD