There is nothing more frustrating than going out to the coop on your daily egg collecting run, and opening up the lid to your nesting box to find that a broken egg has leaked all over. Not only does this mess require immediate attention, as all sorts of unpleasant things will want to partake of this gooey disaster, but it leaves you with one less egg to eat.
So the question is, ‘how did this happen?’
Sometimes a broken egg is simply from not having enough bedding material to help cushion the egg during its fall. Sometimes it is from freezing cold temperatures. But sometimes a broken egg is the result of something much more nefarious. Case in point, the egg was intentionally broken…and by a creature you would least expect.
Chickens will deliberately peck at an egg in order to consume, not only the shell, but the contents inside. As omnivores, chickens can obtain nourishment from both plant and animal matter – with eggs clearly part of the latter.
Should a member of your flock decide it likes the taste of eggs, you will have a real problem.
Will Broody Hens Eat Their Own Eggs?
Mama’s and their offspring are sure to warm your heart, no matter what the species – and chickens are no exception to this. It is a labor of patience for any caretaker to watch the calendar as their wanna-be mama hen sits on her nest, hour after hour, day after day for at least 21 days as she waits for the chicks to hatch.
There are all sorts of things to worry about. It is too hot or too cold in the nesting box? Did she get enough water today? Are the other hens bothering her to get out of the box?
As a general rule, broody hens are very protective of their clutch of eggs. However, should one of the eggs be damaged or simply infertile, a hen will remove the egg either by rolling it away or by eating it. In this way, she ensures that the nest will be clean for the chicks that do hatch.
Chicks are quite vulnerable. Any yolk from a bad or broken egg is certain to attract a whole host of unpleasant things. Creatures from rats to ants will come to partake of the gooey mess. This is why it is so critical of a broody hen to remove any potential threats to her new babies.
Is It Bad For Chickens To Eat Their Own Eggs?
As mentioned above, chickens are omnivores and as such have no problems consuming eggs. And so long as the egg is viable – meaning not rotten or toxic in any way – then it is not unhealthy for a chicken to eat a chicken egg. But it is most problematic for a flock owner to have a chicken that does eat eggs.
Should one member of your flock learn to like eggs, you should work to stop this immediately! Not only is this bad as the smell of egg will bring a host of unwanted attention from outdoor wildlife, but you will soon find that your broken egg problem is multiplying.
Chickens learn from watching other chickens. And if you have one bird that discovers the taste of egg, then it will not be long before others learn this too. And once they know it, they know it for life. You could be battling this issue indefinitely.
I can tell you from my own experience that chickens are creatures of habit. We had one hen that discovered the taste of egg. And for three days in a row, it was a frantic search on my part to discover which hen it was doing this. Fortunately, we were able to narrow it down and remove the offender before she was able to teach any of the other birds.
Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs?
It can be a mystery to someone raising chickens, why their hen starts eating eggs when their feeder always has food in it. ‘Is there some reason she’s not eating the feed?’
There are four main thoughts as to why chickens eat their own eggs; the chickens are bored, the chickens are hungry, the chickens need extra calcium and the chickens just figured things out by accident and can’t stop themselves.
- Bored – Chickens need a certain amount of stimulation to get them through their day. If distraction isn’t easily available, then they will go looking for something to get into. This is one reason why I recommend chickens are given as much free range time as possible. Chickens in small confined settings are certain to be bored, and as such, a flock owner should not be surprised when the inevitable happens.
- Hungry – It stands to reason, that a bird that is capable of eating eggs will certainly do so if they don’t have enough to eat. This sort of behavior is common for those who choose to let their birds free range, but slack off on a proper feeding regiment. The thought is that the flock should be ‘feeding themselves’ on bugs or whatnot. However, today’s fatter breed of chicken really requires more than what is generally available from scavenging.
- Calcium – There are some among flock owners that believe a deficiency in calcium will cause a hen to cannibalize her own eggs. This may or may not be true. I know of no studies that can verify this one way or another. However, I think it’s worth noting that a quality egg-layer feed is designed specifically for the extra needed calcium.
- Accidental discovery – We all know how fragile eggs can be. One little slip onto a hard surface and you’ve got a cracked egg. This is why a backyard farmer should pay really close attention to the state of their nesting boxes. Without enough padding, it’s easy for your egg layer to have an accident. And you can be certain that your ever curious chicken will notice this and give it a peck.
How To Stop Chickens From Eating Their Own Eggs
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
And that totally applies to chickens.
Your life will be significantly easier if your flock never figures out just how tasty their eggs are. But if they do, there are a few things you can do to stop this.
- Supplemental Calcium – There are those who claim success when providing ground oyster shells. I can not verify this either way as I am unwilling to wait to see if the offender has desire to either change their eating habits or teach another member of the flock the joys of eating eggs. For me, the risk is too great.
- Golf balls – Placing a golf ball in a nesting box is certain to get noticed. And anything that is noticed gets an inquisitive peck. The thought is, by replacing an egg with an unbreakable golf ball, the chicken will ‘learn’ that eggs are no fun to peck at – meaning, no longer the edible snack that they once enjoyed.
- Grinding the beak – A chicken’s beak has a very pronounced point. By grinding this point down, you reduce the penetrating capacity of it. In other words, if you make it dull enough, the chicken won’t be able to break the egg. And after a time, the chicken should/might loose interest.
- Culling the chicken – Ending an animals life for the purpose of harvesting meat, is arguably one of the most dreaded things of any backyard farmer’s season. You can be proficient at it and you can do it in the most humane manner, but that doesn’t make it fun. Personally, I hate it! However, I know what will happen if I don’t act quickly. And it’s this knowing that moves me to act.
However you plan on dealing with this problem, just remember that you are working against the clock. It will only take one time for another member of your flock to learn the process and once they do, your problems have just multiplied.
### Important Tip ###
Forums that focus on chickens can provide an enormous wealth of information. I have always been able to find the help that I need on a forum. There is generally someone who has experienced what I’m going through and quite often, they live relatively close to me – meaning they have similar environmental conditions. I highly recommend joining a chicken forum if you find yourself in a predicament of an unwanted egg eater.
How To Identify An Egg Eating Chicken
Catching the offender, in this situation, can be a real challenge. Chickens will not exhibit any behavior of guilt like a dog or a cat might when they know they’ve done something wrong. And as far as the chicken is concerned, it hasn’t done anything wrong. It has simply followed its instincts and found something good to eat.
However, if you aren’t able to identify and address this offender, then you are likely to have no eggs at all as the other members of the flock are certain to follow this behavior.
In order to quickly identify the problem bird, one must check the nesting boxes at regular intervals – hourly if possibly – taking note of which bird laid their egg last. Once you are able to establish who hasn’t eaten an egg, you can narrow things down considerably.
Shiny egg yolk on a chicken’s beak is a sure sign that they’re eating eggs. Another tell-tale indicator, is seeing a chicken wipe its beak on the ground, in order to clean off the sticky fluid that is leftover from their unsanctioned snack.
I really can’t stress enough just how much of a problem an egg-eating chicken is. Not for the loss of eggs as much as the fact that other chickens will observe this activity and learn from it. And once they know that eggs are edible, they know it for life.
For this reason we work really hard trying to ensure that our flock has an ample amount of free range time, as well as, quality layer feed and adequate bedding for the nesting boxes.
Please try to remember that these birds are only following their instincts. However, if not addressed they will decimate your egg production. And even if you’re okay with loosing the eggs, understand that the smell of eggs will bring in predators…putting your flock at risk.
### Personal Reference ###
Our typical ‘end game’ when planning a flock (the egg laying kind) is to keep them a little over two years. This takes advantage of the hen’s strongest egg production years. After this, we cull them for the freezer. In this way we feel that we have maximized our investment.
That being said, we might not always stick to the ‘plan’. If I’m honest, there might be a bird or two that didn’t make it to the freezer (I’d be a terrible farmer).
As mentioned before, I really hate butcher day! It can be easy to make attachments to these amazing birds. However, because of butcher day, I have found a new respect/appreciation for my food – and I think that’s a good thing.
If you are considering a flock, take a little time and really think things through. Ask yourself, ‘what is my end game for this endeavor?’ If you want chickens just the for eggs – awesome! If you want eggs and meat – go for it! If you just want some industrious feathered activity to entertain you – welcome to the group! I can tell you, chickens are an amazing addition to your backyard.