Who is the Culprit?
The first thing to consider is whether or not your hens may be eating their eggs. If you find eggs that are completely empty on the inside, with scattered, broken shells in the nesting box or surrounding area, this might be the case. Read my post "When Hens Eat Their Eggs" for more information.
If you find eggs that have only one or two holes in them, and there is still some egg left in the shells, this is not likely caused by your hens. (Chickens eat eggs like I eat chocolate; I don't leave any chocolate behind, and chickens don't leave yolk or much whites behind, either.) However, this may very well be caused by wild birds, like jays.
If you think you have missing eggs, first consider whether your hens might just not be laying well. (See "8 Reasons Chickens Stop Laying Eggs" for details.) Or perhaps they are laying somewhere else in your yard. If this isn't the case, and assuming your hen house and run are well proofed against larger creatures like raccoons, the most likely culprits are snakes or rats. (Rats or mice will also sometimes chew on chicken tail feathers, so if you see indications of this, it's a strong sign rodents are the problem.)
|There are several types of jays in the U.S. and all are voracious egg eaters.|
The first line of defense against wild birds is an outdoor, domestic house cat. It doesn't matter whether the cat is a "birder" and actually catches and kills birds. Wild birds will see the cat on your property and stay away. (If you have acreage, several cats may be in order.) Cats work so well that I never had any problem with birds eating our hens' eggs - or our berries - until after my little kitty died. Then suddenly, jays were everywhere, scolding me because I was removing eggs from the hen house.
Another easy way to deter wild birds is to tie ribbons around the hen house. They wave in the wind, scaring wild birds away.
However, the best protection against wild birds - and one every chicken owner should consider, since bird flu is being spread to chickens via wild birds - is a cover for the chicken run. This can be expensive, but assuming your run and hen house are attached, it will definitely keep wild birds from eating your hens' eggs. (It will also keep hawks from killing your chickens and will keep just about every type of wild life away from your hens.)
|Cats scare birds away and may kill rodents, too.|
Rats must adore hen eggs, because they risk their life whenever they enter the hen house; chickens love to eat rodents. But nevertheless, rats and mice sometimes do get into the hen house to eat chicken feed, drink the hens' water, and eat eggs.
If you're thinking rodents are the problem, first examine the hen house for holes that rodents could slip through. General wisdom is that a hole the size of a dime is big enough for a mouse to get through - but I've seen them slip through considerably smaller holes. Plug all holes or slits with steel wool. You may also need to look at your run fencing, and consider covering it with screening material. Collecting your eggs at least once a day also helps deter mice and rats.
If rodents are tunneling under the hen house, you should raise it off the ground. You could also bury hardware cloth around the edges of your coop and run - about 18 inches below the surface of the soil.
It's also important to keep the area around the hen house tidy. By keeping weeds and grass down, removing any scrap lumber or metal, getting rid of brush piles, and the like, you avoid providing homes for rodents. And by keeping feed in metal containers with snug lids (rats can eat through plastic), you won't be inviting rodents to your yard for other tasty snacks.
In addition, keep the hen house itself tidy, cleaning up any feed that ends up on the floor. Use pellets, instead of more messy crumbles, and use waterers with nipples, so rodents aren't likely to use them.
You may be tempted to use rat or mouse poison - but this could inadvertently kill your hens, too. And if a rat or mouse dies in the hen house or run, the chickens will eat it, and may experience second hand poisoning second hand.
|A snake that's just eaten an egg.|
Chickens like to eat snakes, too, but sometimes a brave snake will sneak into the hen house to swallow an egg whole. The biggest deterrent here is to raise the chicken coop off the ground. Snakes are unlikely to slither up a ramp to get into a chicken coop. You can also look for holes in the coop that may need filling in - a 1/4 inch hole or slit is plenty big for most snakes. If that doesn't work, you'll need to look at putting screening up along the edges of the run (as opposed to chicken wire or something similar), so snakes can't get through.
Incidentally, if snakes are attracted to your hen house, it may be because there are rodents there, too.
You can keep all egg-eating pests at bay by following these simple steps:
* Raise the hen house off the ground.
* Fill any and all holes in the hen house with either steel wool or a tough screening material.
* Keep the coop, run, and nearby areas tidy.
* Cover the run. (If you can't do this right away, tie streamers around the hen house to scare birds.)
* Use finer material (like screening) on the run.
* Use raised feeders filled with pellets.
* Use waterers with nipples on them.
* Store feed in a metal container with a secure lid.
* Collect eggs at least once a day.
* Lock the coop up at night.
Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and MorgueFile.