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Egg Eating in Backyard Chickens

5/14/2013 8:46:45 AM

Tags: egg eating, backyard chickens, Melissa Caughey, , Melissa Caughey

An eaten egg discovered in the nesting box  

Egg Eating, a form of cannibalism, is a terrible habit that some chicken develop over time.  It can start for numerous reasons including nutritional deficiencies, curiosity and boredom.  Chickens are very smart and it does not take long for them to realize that not only do eggs taste good but they are a great source of protein. It is important when keeping a backyard flock that you are aware of this potential problem and take steps in your flock's living area and life to help prevent this problem from ever beginning.

Here are some helpful tips to help prevent your flock from starting this behavior:

1.  Feed your flock a layer feed containing at least 16% protein
2.  Limit the treats and kitchen scraps that you feed your flock.
3.  Share high protein treats with your flock including dried meal worms, sunflower seeds and plain yogurt (no artificial ingredients or sweeteners)
4.  Keep nesting boxes up off the ground.  This helps keep the eggs out of sight and out of mind.
5.  Harvest your eggs at least 2-3 times per day.
6.  Provide your flock with free access to oyster shells or recycled eggshells to help form thicker eggshells.
7.  Be sure the eggs have a soft place to land in the nesting box.
8.  Be sure to provide plenty of fresh water, some chicken start eating eggs when water is scarce.
9.  Be sure the chickens have plenty of space and if you are able to safely, allow free-ranging.
10.  Never feed your chickens eggs that still look like eggs or shells.  Do not be tempted to toss a cracked eggs into the run for the chickens to devour.  You can feed your chickens scrambled eggs or crush the eggshells into small unrecognizable pieces.
11.  Keep nesting boxes dark.
12.  Be sure you have at least one nesting box per 4 laying hens.

If the egg eating behavior has already begun, it is important that most of the above suggestions have been implemented.  In addition, you can try these added measures to try and treat the problem:

1.  If you know which chicken is guilty, then remove them from the flock immediately.  Others will learn the behavior from them.  If they continue to eat eggs, try rehoming them, sometimes a change of scenery can stop a bad habit.
2.  According to the University of Florida, filling a dish with milk and allowing chickens to drink it decreased the egg eating behavior.
3.  The University of Florida also suggests beating an egg into a creamy consistency, stir in 2 teaspoons of black pepper and pour it on the coop floor.  The taste will stop hens from eating their eggs.
4.  Create slanted nesting boxes that allow freshly laid eggs to roll down into a secret collection area that the chickens cannot access.
5.  Try adding golf balls to the nesting boxes.
6.  Clean up every bit of the broken egg.  Leave no traces behind.  Change out any bedding that has egg on it.
7.  Try filling an empty egg shell with mustard.  The chickens will not enjoy the taste.  Interestingly, hot sauce does not work on birds, they can't taste it.
8.  Try pinless peepers.
9.  Try adding distractions, such as a hanging ball of cabbage.
10.  Be sure you actually have a hen eating your eggs, it is not uncommon in certain areas for snakes to enter chicken coops and swallow whole eggs.

I think there comes a time in most flocks, for whatever reason, an egg cracks and a curious chicken decides to indulge.  This happened once to our flock when we were on vacation.  My guess, is that the eggs were not being harvested enough during the day.  Upon our return during the following few days, we went out checking for eggs religiously every few hours.  Luckily, this single measure alone stopped their behavior.  Since then, no one has eaten any eggs, well that is, except for us.

Resources:
http://www.thepoultrysite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=730 
http://msucares.com/poultry/management/poultry_eat_eggs.html 
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Modern-Homesteading/Chickens-Eating-Eggs.aspx 
http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Chickens-from-Eating-Their-Own-Eggs 

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