What do you do with an egg-eating chicken? Steps to take for preventing or stopping chickens from eating eggs.
There you are, walking out to the hen house, egg basket in hand. You open the door to the coop, happily peer into one of the nests…and what is this? An egg covered with yolk and bits of egg in the nest?
One of the most frustrating things for a person who keeps egg chickens, is when one (or more) of your chickens decides to start eating your eggs. When you discover that a chicken has started eating eggs, sometimes there’s very little evidence of the dirty deed. There may be no scraps of egg shell anywhere, but an egg or two looks dirty, like there’s egg yolk smeared on it. Chances are, you have an egg-eater. While this is a completely natural occurrence, it is most assuredly not a harmless one. You are now in competition with your chickens for the eggs.
So what do you do? There are a number of things that you can do to end the egg-eating, from simple to extreme. I tend to start with the easiest things first, and save extreme measures for extreme situations.
First there are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening.
Prevent broken eggs. The moment an egg gets broken, it leads to a feeding frenzy. If eggs get broken regularly, your chickens will develop a taste for eggs, and will begin intentionally breaking and eating them.
Nesting Boxes: Make sure you have enough nesting boxes for your hens, and that the boxes themselves are big enough. I used to have cut 5 gallon buckets for nesting boxes. They are cheap and simple to make, but if you have heavy weight birds they may be too crowded. Crowded boxes can lead to crushed eggs. I now use “milk crate” boxes with one side partially cut out. They are plenty big, easy to clean and also very inexpensive. Additionally, if you can relocate a broody hen, you may want to do that as well.
Sufficient Bedding: Make sure there is a good layer of clean nesting material inside your nesting boxes. Whether you use straw, wood shavings or something else, you want to keep that layer about 2 inches thick or so. This nesting material will cushion the eggs so that when a hen steps on them, they will not be easily cracked or broken.
A Good Diet: Chickens should always have access to clean, fresh water, and feed your chickens a full, well balanced diet. If a chicken is not getting everything they need they will turn to the eggs as a source of nutrition. It’s also a good idea to divide their feed into a couple feeders or feed pans. This way if you have a “pig” of a chicken that bullies others and hogs one pan, they can go to the other for food and not be left out.
Not only should your chickens have enough good feed, but they need an additional calcium source. Many people use “recycled” egg shells for calcium, and that is fine. Be sure to completely pulverize the egg shells so they in no way resemble eggs. NOTE: Egg shell alone is not a sufficient source of calcium. While it is a great, free supplement, you will need to supply some other source of calcium as well. I keep a dish of oyster shell in my chicken coop. It is free choice and the chickens will consume what they need. I just check it each day when I collect eggs and fill it when needed.
Not having enough calcium in the chicken’s diet, leads to weak, thin, fragile egg shells. Flimsy shells are easily broken. And as we have established, broken eggs lead to egg-eating.
Gather the eggs regularly. Of course one of the simplest things you can do to keep your chickens from eating the eggs, is not giving them the opportunity to do so. Most books say that chickens are usually done laying eggs by around 10 am. If that is the situation for you, great! But around here, egg-laying goes on until well after 1 pm. I have one Rhode Island Red hen that always lays in the very late afternoon, as late as 4:30 or even 5 pm. Because of that. I try to go out a couple times a day and collect eggs. Do what your schedule allows you to.
Stopping the Egg Eaters
Now that we have talked about some ways to prevent egg-eating, what do you do if one of your chickens starts? Please know, that if this starts, you can’t just let it go. Don’t think “Well it’s only one egg” or “It’s only one chicken” because it won’t stay that way. If a chicken sees another eating something, they’ll jump in to eat whatever the other is eating. Once one chicken starts eating eggs, they often continue…and this can be a “contagious” situation. In no time you won’t be getting hardly any eggs, and your chickens will be fat and happier than usual.
Trick Them. One way to stop an egg eater, is to trick them with fake or booby-trapped eggs. You can purchase fake, ceramic decoy eggs online or in most any farm supply store. The point of a fake egg is to frustrate the egg-eater. You simply place the fake egg in the nesting box and leave it there. When they peck-peck-peck and can’t break the egg, eventually they may just give up altogether. Besides purchasing a fake egg, many people successfully do this with a golf ball.
Another option is to take an egg, tap a small pinhole in each end, stick the long pin into the egg and “whisk” the inside to break the yolk and air sack. Then blow the contents of the egg out through the hole. Fill the egg with mustard (chickens hate mustard but it is harmless) and seal the holes with some hot glue. Place the egg in the nest, and when the egg-eater breaks into it, they will get a very unpleasant surprise. If you go with this option, be sure to clean the nesting box out well afterwards.
Yet another way to “trick” the chickens is to install “roll away” nesting boxes. These boxes usually have a fake grass mat or similar flooring inside. The floor of the box is sloped and when the hen gets up, the egg rolls down into a protected area where you can collect the eggs, but the chickens can’t get to them. These boxes are not cheap, but they definitely do the job.
If All Else Fails
In a “worst case scenario” situation, you may need to separate or cull the culprit from your flock. Once egg-eating becomes a habit, it is often difficult or in some cases impossible to stop. But like stated above, this behavior can be “contagious” and will often spread to the other chickens as they learn the bad habits from those bad influences.
If you don’t know which chicken is doing it, there are a couple of ways to find out.
First, separate one or two hens from the rest of the flock for a couple days. Eggs still get eaten? It probably wasn’t one of them. Do this until you narrow it down to the right chicken. When no eggs get eaten, you know you have separated the right one.
Another option is to watch and see if you have one particular chicken that starts hanging around the nesting boxes when the others sing their egg-laying songs. You might be able to catch them in the act.
Once you know which one is doing it, that chicken either needs to permanently live separate from the rest of the flock or needs to go to “Freezer Camp.” In other words, cull that chicken and make Chicken & Dumplings. I have a great recipe for that.