Here’s a word of warning to those of you new to the chicken game: Sometimes they will eat their own unborn babies. Some people think it’s gross, some think it’s cannibalistic, but those of us who have been raising chickens for a while know that that’s just something that happens from time to time.
And it can happen for a variety of reasons. If the chickens don’t have enough food or water, they will desperately peck open eggs in order to get some hydration and/or nourishment. Or possibly when an egg was laid it cracked open, and the girls just weren’t able to help themselves. Whatever the cause may be, once a flock of chickens gets a taste for fresh eggs, it can become a serious problem, and one that can be quite difficult to break.
Obviously, the simplest way to avoid this issue is to prevent them from starting to eat the eggs in the first place. Make sure your nesting boxes have plenty of shavings or straw to prevent breakage, and ensure that they don’t run out of food or water, especially in the winter.
Once this problem has begun, though, it is extremely difficult to break their addiction. So here are a few steps you can take to stop the habit. The measures get progressively more extreme, so start with the first one and then utilize the other actions if necessary.
1. Collect the Eggs Frequently. If you’re fortunate enough to be around the chickens a lot, then the easiest way to keep them from eating eggs is to make sure they don’t have eggs to eat.
Obviously, if you have an off-the-farm job, then this can be a tough one to manage time-wise. And don’t plan on just collecting the eggs frequently over a weekend. It will take far longer than a couple of days to get the chickens to stop eating the eggs. Maybe you can enlist a friend or neighbor to stop by during the day to grab the eggs out of the coop for you. Offer to let them keep any eggs they grab in exchange for the favor.
2. Let the Chickens Free Range. When the girls have plenty of room to roam, their mind will simply wander away from the burning desire to consume the eggs. They will be content eating grass, leaves and insects, and just won’t be drawn to the eggs as much. Don’t worry; they will generally make their way back to the coop to lay an egg, but they will want to get back out in the great outdoors quickly. Letting them free range can be difficult to do when you have predators around, or if it’s winter and there is three feet of snow on the ground, so this is definitely dependent on those two factors.
3. Isolate the Biggest Culprit. If you’ve noticed that one chicken in particular seems to be the most aggressive about eating eggs, pull it out of the coop and isolate it for a few days to see what happens. Often it’s one bird driving the eating binge, and the other girls are just along for the ride. Chances are, when the aggressive bird is removed, she will not eat her own eggs, and the other hens will not be desperate enough to try and crack open eggs. Other than actually catching the ring leader in the act, look for signs of aggression toward the eggs in the form of hovering over the other birds while they are trying to lay, or you may notice that one bird has yolk all over its face. Keep an eye out for these signs, or just isolate one bird at a time and see what happens.
4. Use Decoys. Now is when you may get into having to spend a little money, but if you’re a golfer (or know one) then you’re in luck. Fake eggs (ceramic eggs, plastic eggs, golf balls, etc) are frequently used in a nesting box to get the chickens to lay their eggs in specific spots.
But the fake eggs can act as a deterrent as well. The hardness of the fake stuff is far greater than an egg shell, and try all they might, no chicken is getting anything nutritious or satisfying out of a golf ball or a hunk of ceramic. These deterrents are highly effective, as long as you continue to collect the real eggs frequently. You can also leave them in the coop pretty much indefinitely. If you do buy some fake ceramic eggs, be sure to mark them. The fake eggs being sold now are incredibly realistic, and can be tough to tell apart from real eggs
5. Spice it Up. Chickens can’t taste the capsaicin in hot sauce, but they can taste the heat in mustard seeds, and they don’t like it one bit. If you have a fake plastic egg or a largely intact real (but empty) egg shell, fill it with spicy mustard. The heat of the mustard will act as a spicy disincentive to their egg eating.
6. Eliminate the Biggest Culprit. If none of the above works, then you may have to have to permanently remove the main aggressor from your flock. Sometimes moving a bird into a new flock will break their habit, or you could have a nice pot of stew. Your choice.
If you’re raising chickens, you probably want the eggs for yourself, so don’t let them eat all the eggs before you get a chance to. Of course, a lot of people dry up the eggs shells and then feed them back to the chickens so that they have another source of calcium. This is fine, but grind the dried shells really finely so that they are not tempted to start getting their own in the form of eating fresh eggs.
While this issue may last for several weeks or even months, with some persistence, you can stop the egg-eating and get back to enjoying those eggs yourself.
How do you prevent chickens from eating their own eggs? Share your tips in the section below: