Sunday, July 1, 2012

Egg Eating - Possible Causes and Ways to Break This Bad Habit in Backyard Chickens


Egg eating by your chickens is a bad habit that gets harder to break the longer you let it go on. Many say that culling the offender(s) is the only way to stop it but I offer that there are a few less drastic solutions.

It generally starts by accident. An egg gets stepped on or otherwise breaks, one curious hen pecks at it and thinks - hmm this tastes good. She will then start breaking eggs as they are laid, and soon other hens will follow her lead and you'll have a whole flock laying eggs and proceeding to eat them. Your first clue might be a lack of, or reduction in the number of eggs you collect, although there are other reasons why production slows down. Other than catching an offender red-handed with yolk dripping off her beak, your best clue will be a wet mess in the nests, but no sign of an egg. The chickens will generally eat the egg, shell and all.

There are several things that can cause egg eating to start:

1) Weak-Shelled Eggs


Even a good layer feed doesn't provide enough calcium for really strong shells. If your shells are weak, a hen can step on, and inadvertently break it. Providing free-choice oyster shell or crushed eggshell can help with that. As long as you crush the eggshells into 1/4" or smaller pieces, the chickens won't associate the shells with eggs, so don't worry about feeding crushed eggshell leading to egg eating. I have been doing it for years and not had once incidence of egg eating. Ever.

2) Not Enough Bedding in the Nesting Boxes


There should be at least 2" of soft bedding (straw, pine shavings, shredded paper, etc) in the nesting boxes to prevent eggs from breaking on the hard floor. A sheet of rubber shelf liner on the bottom of the box can also help prevent broken eggs.


I have tried both straw and shavings, but prefer straw for the nesting boxes. I have found it holds its shape better and often using shavings the chickens will make a 'bowl' in it right down to the nesting box floor and the egg will be sitting on the bare floor.

3) Not Enough Nesting Boxes


You should provide one nesting box for every 4-5 hens, although they still will want to use the same nest...at the same time....


...but it can cut down on scuffles and broken eggs to provide enough boxes (or baskets).


4) Broody Hens


Broody hens can contribute to broken eggs as they fight to hold their ground and not give up a nest. Yet another good reason to break broodies if you aren't hatching eggs. 


5) Leaving Eggs in the Nesting Boxes After They are Laid



Eggs should be collected as quickly as possible to avoid having them sitting in the nesting boxes creating a temptation. 

Replace the eggs with golf balls, plastic Easter eggs, ping pong balls, wood or ceramic eggs so they will start to find that when they peck at 'eggs' they don't break and tasty yummy inside after all.

In extreme cases, the nesting boxes can be replaced with the roll-away type where the floor is slanted and the eggs literally roll out into a collection tray as soon as they are laid.



6) Not Enough Protein

Ironically, feeding your chickens eggs can actually get them to stop eating their eggs. A protein deficiency can make them crave the egg, so add some cooked scrambled eggs to their diet and see if that puts a stop to it. 



7) High Visibility Nesting Boxes



Believe it or not, hanging curtains across the front of your nesting boxes can deter egg eating. Apparently 'out of sight, out of mind' applies here. The curtains not only shield the eggs from open view, they make the boxes darker. If passing hens can't see the eggs as well they aren't as tempted to investigate.

Other causes may be boredom which can be 'cured' by providing outdoor roosts or logs for your hens to stand on, piles of dirt, leaves or weeds to rummage through, a hanging treat feeder or even a mirror in the coop or run.

Urban Chicken Legend: Something oft-mentioned on the internet  to stop egg eating is to blow out some eggs and fill them with mustard and/or Tabasco hot sauce. The theory is that hens will learn pretty fast that eggs don't taste good. However, it's been proven that hens tastebuds aren't designed to taste or feel the hot sauce, so don't bother..... however, the hot sauce or mustard WILL help deter rodents or snakes from eating the eggs.


With a little persistence, it is possible to break a hen of egg eating. Culling should only be considered as a last resort.


Have you ever had any experience with egg eaters in your flock ?


BECAUSE LIFE IS JUST BETTER WITH CHICKENS!


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46 comments:

  1. Great post. I have bookmarked it, should I ever have the misfortune of an egg eating chicken.

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  2. Great post one of the biggest issues I have with sawdust being used as bedding is the dust! It can create respiratory issues. I have found over the years that Bermuda or Timothy hay/grass make outstanding bedding. It's clean!

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  3. I've had a couple of egg eaters and successfully broke them all. I'm not sure why it got started, but I put plastic easter eggs and golf balls in all the nestboxes and just let them peck to their hearts' content.

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  4. I currently have a chicken who is laying thin shelled eggs. They do break in the nest boxes quite often. For the most part, my chickens don't bother with the broken egg unless I throw it down on the ground for them. I also take all the thin shelled eggs back to the coop and throw in their run. They make quick work of the raw eggs and shells, but I don't have any trouble with them getting in the nest boxes and eating the eggs. Lots of times I find eggs here and there not touched either. This has been going on the say way for quite a few years now. Hopefully I don't come upon a chicken who particularly likes eggs more than this.

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    Replies
    1. oyster shell-it will toughen those shells right up

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  5. We always fed the egg shells back to our hens to help with their mineral levels. We seldom had egg-eaters because we did this and also gave them a mineral supplement. Be sure, however, to break the shells up very well so they don't know they are eggs' shells, see? If you feed them recognizable egg shells, it teaches them to eat eggs. Does this make sense. I just love chickens. I'm enjoying your blog.

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  6. Should you wash the eggs shels out first or does it matter?

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  7. The mustard and hot sauce is genious.

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  8. We never had an egg eater, but we always checked for eggs early and often. We also did break up the egg shells with a hand blender and fed that back to the hens. We also fed them eggs often, from the breakfast table in left over scrambled eggs, french toast etc.

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  9. Good timing on this blog post! I've been dealing with egg eaters and now it seems everyone thinks it's a good idea! :-/ Done quite a few of these already, might have to try the filling eggs with mustard and hot sauce! I am guessing it is a learned behavior, I have some younger pullets I need to add to my flock but am weary of adding them till I get these girls stopped!

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  10. I had a dog breaking into the coop to eat eggs. He broke some and the chickens started eating the eggs. The dog is long gone, due to this and other issues, (he is now someones pet)however the chickens persist and so I will try the above suggestions. Thanks.

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