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I’m going to be upfront with you.
Right now, I really hate my chickens.
Going out to feed and water them every day is a struggle for my husband and I right now because they have become such serious freeloaders that every time we look at them all we can do is seethe with contempt.
We are self-reflective enough to admit (albeit begrudgingly) that we are probably doing something wrong.
Our chickens just aren’t laying well right now, and we had a couple valid theories as to why until a few days ago. We push our layers throughout the winter months, asking them to produce even when nature argues they should probably be taking a break.
We use a light to simulate daylight and feed them egg producer feed to help enhance productivity, which we need as we sell our eggs, use them to feed ourselves, and also need them for incubation in the late winter months.
Therefore, our first theory was that perhaps we had pushed the birds too hard, and they were going into a molt. That didn’t prove to be the case. Instead, we opened the coop door one day to find…drumroll please…a hen eating eggs.
Now, that’s a problem.
We realized we weren’t necessarily seeing a drop in egg production, but rather, the eggs that were being produced were being scarfed up by a greedy hen. If you’ve ever experienced the utter frustration that comes when a hen (or multiple birds) start eating eggs, you know how annoyed we were. Luckily, this is a habit that can be broken by incorporating a few simple steps.
Remember that the longer you allow your hens to eat eggs, the more difficult it will be for you to rectify the situation. Get your birds to stop eating eggs ASAP, or the problem could be one you have to deal with in the long term. Know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and consider some adjustments to prevent the situation from growing out of hand (as we did!) in the first place.
Eggs are usually eaten because they get broken, and then become too tempting for your chickens to resist. Eliminating the temptation will eliminate the behavior – right? When your hens are laying, try not to disturb them. This can startle them and cause accidental egg breakage.
There are many factors that can contribute to egg eating, but many of them can be indicators that you are not providing a crucial element for your hens’ health and wellbeing.
For starters, make sure you have fresh feed and water available at all times and set up a second feeding station if you have any aggression or bullying issues going on (stress can cause squabbles, which can break eggs). Hens have been known to crack open eggs for the liquid inside when they are thirsty, so make sure you always have fresh, clean water for your birds.
Even if you have a free feeding policy, there is still a chance your hens aren’t getting the nutrients they need. Higher protein feed can help make up for any nutritional deficits related to egg laying.
Hens often eat eggs as a way to receive nutrients or calories they aren’t getting in their diets – protein deficiency is the most common culprit. If you are using a homemade feed, kudos to you for putting in the extra work – but remember that homemade rations often lack the balanced nutrients that are included in formulated commercial feeds.
If you are having problems with egg eating, your birds may be lacking in one of the following nutrients: phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D. You can supplement with oyster shell or other supplements if you suspect this as a problem. Egg breakage is more likely during the winter months or during times of inclement weather when your hens are confined to a coop.
Whenever possible, provide your hens with space outdoors to roam about. This will keep them busy and out of the nest boxes. Overcrowding is a primary cause of egg breakage. If your birds can’t get out to free range, they need more room inside the coop – at least four square feet per bird. Hens often get into trouble when they’re bored, so providing more space for them to roam can help prevent egg breakage and eating.
Make sure you have plenty of room in your nest boxes for each of your hens – ideally, you need at least one nest box for every four hens in your flock. You should position your nest boxes so that they are off the ground and far away from your roosts. These nest boxes must be filled with clean, dry nesting material.
It should go without saying that an egg that is laid and not instantly surrounded by a plush, cushiony environment will be cracked almost immediately. Plus, we’ve noticed that our hens are less likely to lay in the nest boxes if they’re at all dirty – and the eggs you do get end up being dirty and, frankly, disgusting.
A broody hen will be reluctant to get out of the nest box, and there’s a good chance the other hens will try to fight her for it. If you have a hen that just can’t get out of her own way, consider moving her to another area so that you can lay and sit in peace, without disrupting the laying cycle of the other birds.
Calcium deficiency is particularly common in young hens or those new to laying. These birds often produce eggs with thin or weak shells, which will crack on impact. And as we know, once an egg has been cracked open, it will be all your birds can do to resist the temptation to sample the insides.
Eggshells are a fantastic source of calcium, and feeding your hens eggshells is a good way to cycle calcium back into their diet and reduce food waste. However, you need to make sure that, when you do this, the eggshells aren’t recognizable for what they actually are. Grind them up so the hens don’t make the connection between the two. Some people like to feed their hens eggs to supplement their diets. This is completely fine, but you should never feed your chickens raw eggs. If you don’t cook the eggs first, your birds will get a taste for raw eggs that they will only be able to satiate by – you guessed it – eating their own eggs.
If possible, try to collect eggs at least two or three times a day. This will allow minimal time for your hens to get at the eggs. Most hens lay in the morning and will be done before 10 o’clock – although some will prefer to lay later. Make sure you continue checking back to keep the nest boxes clear.
Hens prefer private, darkened areas for laying their eggs. If you must use a light to supplement for actual daylight in the winter months, consider hanging a curtain over the nest boxes so that the hen can lay in privacy. Many people also use dimming lights, but the benefit of a curtain is that once an egg is laid, the other hens won’t be able to see it, reducing the temptation to peck.
A nest box that slants or has a roll-away compartment can help get the egg away from your hen as soon as she lays it. This can reduce breakage by eliminating the likelihood that she will step on it, and it will also keep it out of reach of the other birds, too.
I haven’t tried this yet, but I have an insatiable curiosity to do so – you can create a decoy egg to “trick” your hens out of eating eggs. To do this, make a small hole at the ends of an egg and blow out the contents (like you might if you were preparing Easter eggs for decoration). Replace the insides of the egg with mustard. Chickens cannot stand mustard, and the taste and smell alone will deter them from eating eggs. You can also use golf balls or wooden eggs to help keep your hens away. It will take some time to retrain them, but eventually, they’ll get tired of pecking the fake, impenetrable eggs and will leave the other ones alone, too.
This is a controversial method of preventing egg eating that I’m not sure I would want to try, as it would eliminate some of the birds’ natural abilities to defend themselves, as well as to peck and work the ground for bugs and other tasty morsels. However, if you have tried everything else and are still struggling with an egg-thirsty hen, you can clip the very tip of her beak sot hat it will be difficult for her to break the egg. You need to be very careful when doing this (I suggest you watch a few how-to videos) since the beak is living tissue. You can easily cut too far down and cause her to bleed and expeirence severe pain.
This was one of the first options we considered, though I’m ashamed to admit it. We haven’t had to cull a bird yet because of egg breakage, but we realize that if the habit continues, it could become an unfortunate resolution. In some cases, you will have a hen who is just hell-bent on eating eggs despite your incorporation of all of these other tips. If you find that this applies to a member of your flock, you will need to remove the offending bird before she spreads the bad behavior to other hens in your group.
At the end of the day, remember that you absolutely cannot allow your hens to eat eggs. It’s a minor form of cannibalism, and while chickens definitely don’t live by the same moral code we do, egg eating can be a difficult, nearly impossible habit to break. You can’t blame your chickens, really – I mean, farm-fresh eggs really are delicious. However, this seemingly harmless behavior can quickly spiral into a costly, unhealthy problem – so make sure you stay on top of things and nip the egg-eating behaviors right in the bud.
What are your tips for preventing your hens from eating eggs? Weigh in by leaving a comment, and be sure to follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for all of our latest updates and suggestions.