Preventing Egg Eating
By Patricia Foreman
The following is an excerpt from City Chicks; Keeping Micro-flocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Suppliers, by Patricia Foreman. See City Chicks in the bookstore to learn more. —Ed.
Egg eating is a bad habit that is hard to stop after it begins. It usually starts when an egg cracks in the nest box. A hungry or bored hen will take a bite, develop a taste for raw egg, and spread the habit through the entire flock like wild-fire. There are ways to prevent chickens from eating eggs and some things to try to stop the eating habit if it has begun.
Ways to Prevent Egg Eating:
1. Remove the eggs as soon as possible after hens have laid them; late morning or early afternoon is the best time to collect eggs.
2. Use soft nesting material so that eggs won’t break easily. Thoroughly clean any nest with a broken egg and remove all the eggshell fragments.
3. Have enough nest boxes available so that hens don’t have to crowd (stepping on eggs) or lay where eggs are likely to get broken.
4. Don’t let your hens get so hungry they go looking for eggs to eat.
5. Make sure your hens have enough calcium, protein, and grit. If their eggshells get thin or soft, add more grit or oyster shell to your chicken’s diet.
6. Behaviors like egg eating, feather picking, pecking, and cannibalism all increase when hens don’t have enough vitamin D. Add cod liver oil to their feed.
7. Don’t feed hens eggshells that have any resemblance to an eggshell. Make sure the shell is very finely crumbled or broken up into itty-bitty bits.
8. Put something hard in the nest that resembles an egg but won’t feel pleasant to a hen if she pecks it. Wooden eggs work best, but I’ve also heard of folks using golf balls and ceramic eggs.
9. Bored hens are more likely to peck at eggs. Keep them occupied by scratching and pecking at food bits instead.
10. Install roll-away nest boxes that roll the eggs to a safe area where they are not available for pecking.
Once egg eating starts, it can spread quickly to all your hens, especially if you haven’t been leaving out enough feed for them. Egg eating is serious and entire flocks have been put down because of it. Act fast; time is of the essence.
Ways to Stop Egg Eating Once Started
1. Identify the guilty hen. If you find a hen eating an egg, put a leg band on her so you can identify her.
2. Close down the nest box where the broken egg was found. Take the nest box or area where you found the broken egg out of service. If you use metal nest boxes, remove the bottom from the nest, or put something in the box to block the entryway. If the hen is laying outside of a nest box, make that place inaccessible or unattractive; for example, put a bucket on the nest. I’ve been successful with this strategy, as it seems to break up the eating pattern. In Hen Neuro- linguistic programming (NLP) this would be called "changing her state." I keep spare nest boxes for this purpose. If I find an eaten egg, I’ll close that nest box off and make one of the other nests accessible.
3. Enough food with quality protein and grit available at all times. An egg eater might have a nutritional deficiency of protein and/or calcium, It might be as simple as being hungry. Keep food available at all times and this can deter hungry beaks from seeing food in the form of eggs. The hen might be lacking calcium for egg production. If grit isn’t available, an egg shell is the next best, closest source. Enough high quality protein and grit access can deter chickens from craving eggs, and egg shells.
4. Decoy and fake eggs. Put decoy eggs in the offender’s nest. These decoy eggs can be hard boiled or filled with something that will disgust the hens, like mustard.
5. Darken the nests. Covering the nest box openings with a cloth makes nesting area darker and harder to see eggs. Chickens can’t see in the dark and what they can’t see, they won’t peck at.
6. Bored Chickens. Chickens that are confined to smaller areas will sometimes peck at eggs because there isn’t anything else to do. Letting them out to free-range and having access to scratch can deter egg eating by keeping them busy, and full.
7. Isolate the egg eater. Remove the guilty hen(s) from the flock for a few days, then reintroduce them. This is to change their patterns and possibly the pecking order-including the order not to eat eggs (excuse the pun).
8. Trim the upper beak. Use a fingernail clipper and cut the top beak back so that it’s blunt. This limits the chicken’s ability to crack an egg. Don’t cut the beak back too much or you will hit nerves and cause permanent damage and disfigurement. The beak will grow back if you don’t trim it too much.
9. Find the egg eaters a new home. Sometimes, just relocating the egg eaters will stop the vice. This might be due to a variety of factors that affect behavior, including different diet, free ranging, distracted by new flock members, and less boredom.
10. Capital punishment. If none of the above stops the egg eating, then putting the offenders down might be your last resort.
Sometimes young pullets will lay soft-shelled eggs or even eggs without shells at all (nude eggs); these are very fragile and tempting to eat. If she gets enough pellet and grit, the young gal will probably stop tasting the egg and the problem will disappear.