Why hens eat eggs, prevention and cure
Egg eating in the coop can be a huge problem once it takes hold.
It’s a behavior that needs to be stopped quickly as other hens may decide to join in and that is a difficult thing to stop.
This is one of the last problems you want as a chicken keeper, because many of us raise chickens solely for the eggs!
Egg eating can start by accident, sort of. Maybe a hen stepped on an egg and punctured the shell. Or maybe once when you were gathering eggs, an egg slipped from your hand, fell to the floor of the coop and broke.
Chickens, quick to eat anything that looks like food, voraciously lap up the white and yolk of the broken egg. Once a hen has tasted fresh egg and found it to be “good food” she may start breaking eggs intentionally in order to eat them. Once she’s learned to do that, other hens will learn it from her, and soon you may be very short on eggs.
So how do we prevent this? Or if egg eating has already become a problem, how do we cure it?
Why Do Hens Eat Their Own Eggs?
It’s easier and more effective to prevent chickens from eating eggs than to cure egg eating once it has started. So first of all, why do they eat their eggs? There are numerous things that can contribute or encourage egg eating.
- Overcrowding: The recommended space per bird in the coop and run is 4 square foot per bird if they are not able to free range. If you can free range, the space allotment is not quite so important since they have the outside to explore.
- Not enough nest boxes: There should be a minimum of one nest box for every four hens. Too few boxes means that everyone will use the same boxes and eggs may get damaged by treading, rolling etc. If they break open- a hen is going to eat the contents.
- Lack of water: Hens have been known to crack eggs if they are thirsty. Ensure clean, fresh water is always available.
- Hunger: Not enough feed available to the hens. A free feeding’ policy should ensure this doesn’t happen. A good quality 16-18% protein feed should be sufficient during the laying season, unless the bird is molting, in which case, higher protein content is needed.
- Unbalanced diet: Make sure that your chickens are getting an adequate and balanced diet, with plenty of protein and calcium. Calcium helps form strong egg shells, which will be less likely to break. Lack of protein in a hen’s diet can make her more inclined to break and eat eggs.
- Boredom: Hens get into mischief when they are bored! Try to keep them occupied, if they free range, you likely won’t have a problem.
- Too much light. Hens like a darkened, private area in which to lay their eggs. Try to cut down the light by using curtains or dimming lights. If the hen can’t see the egg, she won’t peck at it.
- Stress: Stressed hens tend to pick and pluck more- eggs, feathers etc. To avoid stressing her while on the nest, don’t be rummaging around under her looking for eggs. Let her lay in peace.
- Inexperienced hens: Hens new to laying can often produce eggs with weak or thin shells. Sometimes these will crack on impact and the hen will sample the goods. Curiosity is a hen trademark!
How to Prevent Hens Eating Their Own Eggs
Give Them Enough Space
Now that we know some of the causes, what can we do to deter or stop it from happening?
Many of the causes can be dealt with quickly and easily. We know that overcrowding is probably the number one cause for egg eating. To fix this, we need either more room in the coop or less chickens.
Remember- for confined birds at least 4 square feet per bird, preferably more.
Can you add on or extend a coop or run? Perhaps get a second coop and split the flock.
There should be one nest box for every four hens.
Too few nests will result in ‘heavy traffic’ to those boxes increasing the likelihood of eggs getting trampled or cracked. Make sure there is sufficient nesting material for them too.
Nest boxes should also be in darkened areas of the coop, not in direct sunlight. As crazy as it sounds, putting up ‘curtains’ can help tremendously.
Feed and Water
Food and water should always be readily available for your flock.
Sometimes bully birds will guard the food and water, so put out a second or third station so the more timid flock members can safely eat and drink.
It is important to ensure that the feed you are giving them is well balanced. Most commercial feeds are precisely formulated, so it should not be an issue.
Homemade rations can sometimes lack vital nutrients such as vitamin D, phosphorus and magnesium. These vitamins, in conjunction with calcium and protein are metabolized by the body and produce sturdy shells.
There are vitamin D supplements for chickens available on the market. Calcium in the form of oyster shell should be given as a side dish.
Finely crushed egg shells can be fed back to the hens, but make sure the shells are not recognizable as eggshells!
Boredom- the number one enemy of hens! but there are a few things you can do to keep them out of mischief.
Ideas such as cabbage tetherball, rolling treat dispensers and chicken swings. Employ all these methods and more of your own making. Hens are curious about things, they are smart too.
Once they have sampled an egg they know how good it is, so keeping them busy is important.
Young or inexperience hens may lay weak shelled eggs at the start of lay. If the egg cracks and breaks they will naturally sample the contents.
Always ensure that if you find a broken egg to clean up every last speck of it. Change the bedding out too.
Make sure the youngsters have sufficient areas to nest in- the older birds may jealously guard their favorite box. A stressed hen may eat her own eggs simply because she is stressed by the other hens.
A little more draconian is clipping the beak. Only the very tip of the beak is trimmed so that it is more difficult for the hen to break the egg.
Care must be exercised when doing this since the beak is living tissue and cutting too far down will cause bleeding and pain.
If all of these measures have been tried and the habit persists, you are now down to your final option- isolate the bird.
How to Cure Egg Eating
As mentioned previously, it’s easier to prevent egg eating than to cure it, and it’s not always possible to cure an egg eater.
First, practice everything discussed above in the “Prevention” section.
In addition, gather eggs frequently, as soon after laying as possible. Although this isn’t extremely convenient, checking for and gathering the eggs several times a day can make a big difference. The longer an egg is left in the coop, the more likely it is to get eaten, particularly if only one hen is the culprit.
Give your egg layers a calcium supplement. The extra calcium in their diet improves egg shell strength.
Use artificial eggs (ceramic eggs work well for this or wooden eggs, or even white golf balls). Ceramic eggs look like real eggs but are much harder. Gather all the real eggs quickly, but leave a few ceramic eggs in the nest box. As chickens peck, trying to break these eggs, they’ll find them impossible to crack, and this will (hopefully) discourage them from eating the real eggs.
Try to identify the egg eater. It’s most obvious if you catch her actually eating an egg, but you may also be able to spot dried yolk on her beak, feathers or comb. Once you’ve identified her, isolate her from the rest of the flock and see if your problem with egg eating in the main flock goes away. Moving the hen disrupts her behavior somewhat and will help to break the habit. Gather eggs quickly and frequently from the isolation coop so that she doesn’t have access to any eggs. If you’re continuing to lose eggs from the main coop, then you may have more than one egg eater that needs to be isolated.
Hens eating their own eggs is a form of cannibalism and it needs to be stopped. It can be time consuming to try and break a determined hen of this habit, but it can be done.
We all know how good fresh eggs taste, so we really can’t blame them!
Many of the ideas mentioned here can be quickly implemented with little fuss and disruption.
Be diligent with this behavior. Some people initially think it’s cute, but change their minds when they don’t have any eggs! Once you have a couple of hens doing this, it becomes a much more difficult thing to remedy.
I’d love to hear your ideas about how to stop hens eating their own eggs in the comments below!