If you happen to follow Reformation Acres’ Facebook page, you’ll know that last week we came to realize that we had a serious, serious issue that developed in the coop where what seems to be our entire flock of laying hens has taken to eating their own eggs. That’s not exactly what I meant when I said that I wanted to start supplementing their feed rations. Those little treats are for us and I jealously covet them for my personal use in the kitchen!
We had hoped that there were only one or two culprits, but as the investigation proceeded more and more hens were found to be guilty. Finally, one morning, after finding half an egg that became fully frozen in the process of being eaten and then dropping a newly laid one on the floor of the coop and having the entire flock practically pounce on it we admitted the problem was bigger than we had realized. It’s pretty impossible to isolate the violators when it’s your whole flock! And an attempt by my 13-year-old to taint some eggs with hot sauce didn’t phase them.
After lamenting to you and reading all of your wonderful suggestions, I decided to do a bit more research and came across a most horrifying and embarrassing statement:
The causes that incite hens to eat their eggs usually result because of poor husbandry or management practices. –Source
Over the past few cold months there have been some changes to their lifestyle they are no doubt unhappy about and a few areas where they’ve been neglected more than they ought.
Namely their confinement to the coop when they’re accustomed to ranging freely their entire lives. This has made for some very bored birds who are used to much more activity.
Sadly for them, I’ve decided we just can’t have them roaming our entire property freely and I’d like them to stay within the pasture area in order to protect my perennial beds, keep the driveway and walkways clear of droppings, and in the summer months prevent them from flying into the garden and wreaking havoc.
We thought the problem had been solved by clipping their wings as well as the addition of deer netting around the perimeter of the pasture, but the deer netting withstands the elements very poorly and we only got one season of use from that investment. We’re saving right now to add something more durable soon and in the meantime they’re stuck. (Only clipping wings wouldn’t work by the way since their feathers insulate them from the shock of the electric fence and they just walk right between the first and second strands.)
It’s also come to my attention that “someone” has been doing a poor job replacing the nesting material in their nesting boxes. I learned that inadequate nesting boxes- whether they’re too bright, not the right size, too few, or improperly lined- will lead to the nasty egg eating habit. It seems silly to me that with so much loose hay lying around from feeding the cows that we need ever have a problem lining the boxes.
I simply wasn’t as good at raising chickens as I thought and you better believe I’m determined to ROCK at raising chickens from now on!
Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs
Among the other causes for egg eating are:
- A poor diet, especially inadequate calcium, resulting in weak or thin shells- I read one theory that the egg eating habit begins when a hen ‘tests’ her shell strength, culling out the weaker ones. I don’t know that they actually do that, but it was an interesting theory.
- Inadequate nesting space
- Inadequate nesting material
- Irregular egg collection- Gathering should be happening 2 to 3 times daily
- No clean drinking water
- Non-laying hens- Older hens need to be culled from the flock
After considering that list, I see that our most easily identifiable issues are boredom, having one older hen that most likely is no longer laying, and inadequate nesting material. I also read conflicting reports about lighting- some say there is too much, some not enough. Our lighting certainly isn’t consistent and is sometimes left on all night long. I’m thinking they shouldn’t have 24 hours of light and we’re getting a timer so there are no more nights where we forgot to turn it out.
But even after the cause that prompted the bad habit is remedied, the habit itself still needs to be nipped in the bud.
How To Cure Chickens from Eating Their Own Eggs
- Add calcium to the diet- Oyster shells, grit, or black oil sunflower seeds
- Implement a “Permaculture Chickens” style of management. (Which is a great way to keep your gals happy, busy, and cut your feed costs!
Crushed eggs shells- Washed and dehydrated prior to crushing
- Place golf balls in the nesting boxes- Whether they are being tricked into thinking they are laying an adequately hard shell or whether the attempt to get to the inside causes discomfort or they realize they’re not penetrating the “egg”, this is the most popular suggestion for quickly resolving the issue
- Spicing the eggs- It’s suggested trying to add hot sauce, ground pepper, or mustard to some eggs. This didn’t work for us though. She shook it off and kept right on going.
- Construct roll-away nesting boxes- Denying them access to the eggs before they have a chance to sample the goods
Don’t overcrowd the coop- Add plenty of roosting space or they’ll roost in the boxes which risks egg breakage.
- Darken nesting boxes
- Nesting boxes with adequate space- Not too much or too little. What’s adequate? Everyone has their own opinion. Backyard Homestead Guide To Raising Farm Animals suggests 14″ wide x 14″ high x 12″ deep
- Removing the offender- If you can identify her that is.
- Beak Trimming- Certainly a last resort
- Culling the offender- The fact is they teach the other birds to eat eggs and unless you can quickly correct it, you’ll have a huge problem on your hands.
In addition to resolving some of the issues that might be causing the egg eating, we’re trying the old golf ball trick. In the last several days, we’ve gone from one, maybe two, eggs a day to anywhere from six to twelve!! I still don’t believe we’re getting them all, but that’s a huge improvement with just a few simple changes. If the situation persists, I’ll most likely pick up a bag of sunflower seeds to throw down as scratch to ward off boredom and increase calcium intake. (Who are we kidding?? I’m not going to be picking anything up!)
Have you ever had to deal with an egg-eater in your flock? Did you find out the cause and how did you combat the habit?