Jun 17, 2015

When Hens Eat Their Eggs: Advice that REALLY Works!

Imagine one day opening up a nesting box to gather your hens' eggs - and discovering a scattered bunch of egg shells instead. If you own hens for very long, it will happen at some point. Though chickens can be wonderful mothers, they don't usually have motherly feelings toward their eggs. (Unless they are broody.) Hens are happy to eat their own eggs - in fact, they think they are a fine treat!


But you aren't raising pets here. You want those eggs for your family. So what can you do? First, I encourage you to act right away. The longer you let chickens eat their eggs, the harder the habit is to break. And the egg eaters in your flock won't keep their crimes to themselves; other hens in the flock will see them feasting "forbidden fruit" and will start eating their eggs, too.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Internet myths about keeping chickens from eating their own eggs. So let me tell you what I know works, from experience.

Make Sure it's the Hens

First, make sure the eggs are being eaten by the hens, not some other critter. When chickens eat eggs, they eat the entire inside of the egg, leaving only broken shells behind. If you suspect whole eggs are missing, or the shells are only partially open and there's plenty of egg inside them, your chickens aren't the culprit. (Next week, I'll type about other critters that could be eating your hens' eggs, and how to deal with them.)

What remains after a chicken eats its own egg.

Decoy Eggs

Sometimes you can fool hens by giving them something that looks like an egg, but is unappetizing to them. (Filling real egg shells with hot sauce or mustard or anything else doesn't work. Don't waste your time, my friends!)

In my experience, the best tool for this is golf balls. Yeah, I know they don't look like eggs to you and me, but I have yet to meet a hen who - upon discovering them in a nesting box - doesn't treat them like eggs. You could potentially use some sort of false egg, too, but be sure that whatever you use is safe for the hens to peck at. For example, I wouldn't use a toy plastic egg, because I don't want my chickens breaking it and accidentally ingesting plastic.

Put about three fake eggs in all the nesting boxes. Egg eating hens will peck at them. When they discover they aren't good for eating, they will likely stop pecking at real eggs, too. Soon, they will forget all about eating eggs. (Chickens have terrible long term memories!)
Golf balls or ceramic decoy eggs fool egg eating chickens.
Gathering Often

But the single best thing you can do to keep your chickens from eating eggs is to collect eggs often. In fact, not doing this often leads to an egg eating problem. The hens step into a full nesting box and get clumsy, stepping on an egg. When it breaks, they get curious and peck at it. They discover eggs are yummy and now they want to peck at and eat all eggs. (This is also another good reason to make sure your hens are getting plenty of calcium, since a lack of it makes their egg shells very thin and fragile. Great sources of calcium for hens include oyster shells and the chickens' own egg shells. Just be sure to break egg shells up so they no longer resemble an egg, or you'll just encourage egg eating.)

If I discover I have one or more egg eaters, I try to collect the eggs (or at least check for some) every hour until all the hens have laid for that day. If you can't check every hour, check as often as you can.

Dispatching the Offender

I've never had the above methods not work. But if they didn't, I wouldn't bother with other advice you mind find on the Internet. I've been there, done that, and found it doesn't work. Instead, I wouldn't hesitate to disbatch the offending chicken. It can be tricky to know who the criminal is, and you certainly don't want to kill the wrong hen, so careful observation is necessary. Throughout the day, look closely at the hens, and try to find one with egg on her face - er, beak.

However, you can avoid sending a hen to the freezer simply by being an observant chicken owner, catching the problem early, and using decoy eggs and frequent gathering, as appropriate.




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