Chicken is the most widely consumed meat in North America, and chicken eggs are the most popular food eggs. It seems that not only do people appreciate the by-products of chickens, but so do the birds themselves.
Egg eating is a behaviour you’ll want to prevent, or at least, nip in the bud before it becomes an entrenched bad habit. In my experience it usually starts as a result of when an egg get accidentally broken and then, a curious hen pecks and develops a taste for it. Who would blame her? Eggs are full of tasty protein and vitamins and their shells are a good source of calcium. Chickens play follow-the-leader and often join in on the action of sampling broken eggs.
The catalyst for egg eating might have been accidental, but once your birds have discovered the nutrient-rich orbs you’ll have to work to divert their attention elsewhere. A few prevention strategies go a long way towards stopping a bad habit before it takes hold. The reasons that birds continue to eat eggs are two-fold: stress and nutrition. Learning to manage those issues will contribute to boosting their immune systems as well as minimizing negative behaviours such as bullying, pecking, decreased egg production, cannibalism and, of course, egg eating.
- Laying in shared nests is an evolutionary adaptation wherein hens hope that one of their flock mates will incubate their eggs if they themselves are not broody. The problem is that scuffles often happen and eggs get inadvertently broken or fall to the floor.
- Provide one nest box for every four or five hens. I have 20 hens and seven DIY nest boxes and they usually rotate using just two or three, but at least they have options and aren’t competing for space.
- Nests boxes can be located at floor level up to 2’ off the ground. The higher the box the greater the chance an egg might break if it falls.
- Attach a lip to the front of the box to prevent eggs from rolling out.
- Nest boxes should be placed well below the roost bars to discourage birds from sleeping in them.
- Keep 2” of clean, dry nesting material to protect eggs from breaking. Annoyingly, my hens often kick all the new shavings out, so I have lined the bottom of each box with squares cut from a yoga mat. It provides padding, can be removed/replaced and are easy to hose down.
- Place nest boxes in a darkened area or install curtains to reduce visibility inside the nest box.
- Separate broody hens from the main coop. They are territorial about their nests and scraps over their usage can result in broken eggs (both hers and other hens that might lay in her nest).
- Do not use bright lights which increase nervous behaviour and picking habits.
- Don’t disturb hens in the nest box. Minimize scares that might cause hens to jump out of the nest box, cracking eggs as they do so.
- Thin-shelled eggs are easily broken. Provide both oyster shell and eggshell as a source of calcium, ensuring that the eggshells are dried and crushed before feeding them to the chickens. I dry mine in a paper bag, then crush using a rolling pin and place in a separate dish from their feed.
- Minimize feeding too many snacks as it compromises the nutrient balance provided by manufactured feed.
- Pecking is a normal chicken behaviour. Make sure your birds are provided with stimulating activities and boredom busters to keep them out of trouble.
Stopping Egg Eating
Before pointing an accusing finger confirm that your birds are actually eating their eggs. Rule out predators such as snakes, skunks and rats, first. Sometimes it may be just one hen that is the problem and it might take a bit of detective work to catch her in the act. Check the nest boxes for broken shells and remnants of the inside of eggs in the bedding. Look for dried yolk on beaks and feathers on your birds’ heads.
- Collect eggs several times a day to reduce their opportunity to break them.
- Install rollaway nest boxes (they can be purchased or can be a DIY project using paint roller trays or lumber).
- Put ceramic or wooden eggs/golf balls in the nest boxes, which hens will find are hard and uncrackable (avoid using these if you live in areas with large snakes. It can kill them if they eat them, mistaking them for real eggs).
- Increase dietary protein and calcium.
- Blow out the contents of an egg and then fill with cayenne pepper or dried mustard and place in the nest box to deter the perpetrator.
- If you find one hen eating eggs remove her for a few days and see if she’s the lone problem. Sometimes changing their routine is enough to break them.
- Install Pinless Peepers which reduces their line of sight directly in front of them.
I know for some folks egg eating is a deal breaker and a sure way for a hen to guarantee herself a date with the soup pot. For others, it might mean beak trimming.
I’ve had egg eaters in my flock and managed to deter them. If you understand chickens’ motivation for eating eggs and can curtail their opportunities you’re likely to prevent or resolve the behaviour without resorting to drastic measures.
Credit: Dr Jacquie Jacob. Featured Photo: Taya Baker-Hardacre, used with permission.