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!
In this article we’re going to take a look at why hens eat their own eggs and what we can do about it. We will also take a look at some other egg laying behaviors that can be problematic for you and your flock.
Why Do Hens Eat Their Own Eggs?
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: If the hen has an imbalance in her diet, she will try to correct it. If there is not enough protein available, egg eating is one way to supplement the diet with protein.
- 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. If they are confined, you need to offer other activities to keep them busy- tetherball, scratching etc.
- 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!
- Curiosity: Sometimes, chickens are just plain ‘or curious and they play with or peck at their eggs. It could be due to boredom, but sometimes they see a crack, speck, or otherwise on their egg, and break into it. An egg that was broken, accidentally, is something interesting to your hen; they will definitely check it out.
How to Stop 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. My girls have ‘favorite’ nesting boxes, so I have put out a few more boxes so there is room for all. My ratio is ten boxes for twenty seven hens, so roughly one box per three 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 web. 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 and teenagers! I can’t help with teenagers, but for hens there are a few things you can do to keep them out of mischief.
We have discussed in our boredom busters’ article 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.
Even More Ways To Stop Your Hen Eating Eggs
If despite all our suggestions, you have a hen that persists in this bad habit- what to do?
There are a couple more things you can try before we get to ‘decision time’.
A favorite deterrent is ‘blowing’ eggs. You make a small hole at the ends of the egg and blow out the contents. Replace the content with mustard. Chickens can’t stand the taste of mustard and this will stop them in their tracks.
A friend tried Plaster of Paris filled eggs- the hens ate them! So calcium was possibly a deficit… however, you can try using ceramic or wooden eggs, even golf balls. The theory is the bird gets tired of pecking with nothing to show for it.
Ceramic eggs almost always work for chickens who have taken to egg eating. While a chicken’s beak seems pretty plain, it doesn’t take well to hard objects, especially when the chicken was expecting a delicious surprise inside.
Ceramic eggs are impossible for chickens to break open, and it will only take a few days for your hens to give up on all the eggs in the nesting box.
As long as you are ensuring your chickens have everything they need, then there’s no other reason they are eating their eggs other than a habit at this point. Ceramic eggs will break that habit.
Changing the Bedding
Removing all bedding in the nest box is said to help since the egg will roll away when pecked at.
Roll away nesting boxes can also be used. When the egg is laid, the egg rolls out from the hen and cannot be pecked at.
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.
You should follow the process outlined within our broody hen article.
This can be tried for as long as it takes to break the habit.
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!