I have a new chicken.
When I dropped by my brother’s place last weekend, this caged and cranky bird was waiting for me in the driveway. It only took a moment for me to see why she had been removed from his thriving coop of 30 birds and placed in lock-up. It was all over her face. Yolk. She was an egg eater.
A chicken may develop a taste for eggs after discovering one that has been broken. Sometimes egg eating starts when a hen pecks into an egg out of boredom or if too many eggs have been left in a popular nesting box.
However it begins, once a chicken has discovered those things are edible, action must be swift. Not only is she unlikely to stop on her own, it is an infectious habit other chickens will pick up quickly. Soon, a once bountiful coop may yield only heartache and broken shells.
Is egg production falling and you suspect it’s an inside job? Rehabilitation is possible without resorting to eviction. Consider these techniques for preventing or breaking an egg-eating habit in the coop before you’re forced to switch to cold cereal for breakfast.
Collect Eggs Frequently
Eggs should be removed from nesting boxes every day. If egg production is high or you already have competition, increase collection to 2 or 3 times a day.
Use Soft Bedding
Keep plenty of straw or wood shavings in boxes to prevent eggs from being broken accidentally.
Keep Them Fed
Don’t allow food hoppers to go empty. A well-fed chicken is less likely to seek alternate meals.
Strengthen the Eggs
Eggs with thin shells are more likely to break when jostled or pecked. Mixing ground oyster shells into chicken feed to add calcium will result in thicker eggshells.
Toss a couple of wooden eggs or golf balls into nesting boxes. When pecking at the “eggs” doesn’t pay off, chickens may lose interest.
Add Nesting Boxes
Too many eggs in a box or too many chickens competing for space can result in broken eggs and the realization that eggs are tasty.
Give the Chickens Something to Do
Chickens get bored too. Idle beaks are the devil’s playground. Toss scratch feed into the run regularly to give them something else to peck at or allow them to free range for a few hours a day. Hanging a cabbage from a length of twine in the run will also keep them occupied (and chicken tetherball is fun to watch).
Identify and Isolate Offenders
Once you have determined which chicken has developed a taste for eggs, remove it from the general population for a few days. A change in routine and limited egg access is enough to break this bad habit without resorting to drastic measures.
In the case of my brother’s repeat offender, he’d had enough and I was happy to take her in. She is doing well in her new home. New surroundings combined with some of these other habit-breaking strategies seem to be putting an end to her troublesome ways. She lays pretty green eggs and so far has left them all intact.
Originally: Backyard Chickens: The Egg Eater