Although it is a problem some backyard chickens keepers never see, having hens eat their own eggs is a frustrating and demoralising experience.
The real problem with egg eaters is it very quickly becomes a habit that can spread amongst the flock.
In my case all I did was drop an egg in the nest with a hen watching, she was in there like a flash with her beak in the crack in the shell slurping up the contents as fast as she could.
Below: Eggs eating hens. It's like pringles, once they pop they can't stop.
You should also make sure it is definitely the hens that are eating the eggs, Crows, Magpies, snakes and all manner of critters will happily help themselves to the contents of your nests.
Why do chickens peck holes in their eggs and eat them?
There are a few reasons that chickens peck holes in their eggs and eat them but contrary to popular belief it is rarely because they need shell or calcium in the diet. It is much more likely to do with lack of protein, boredom or a formed habit.
Chickens eat their own eggs because they have learned that the contents are good to eat and easy to come by. I have watched this behaviour many times and it is simply that the hen has learned that their is a yummy and easily available source of food inside that shell.
Below: A nest full of eggs is tempting and they are more likely to get broken. Hens will eat broken eggs in a flash.
If you have hatched your own chicks you may have seen the mother hen eat the empty shells in the nest, indicating some sort of in built desire not to waste anything that may be useful.
How to tell which chicken is eating eggs:
You really need to identify the culprit and catch them in the act of eating the egg.
There is a classic noise hens make as they are breaking into the shells. This TAP-TAP is very distinct once you have heard it. Take a chair outside in the morning and sit and wait.
The other way to tell which hen is eating the eggs is to fill one with food colouring. Use a syringe and needle to poke a small hole in the air space and break the membranes, shake the egg to scramble it inside the shell and then inject some food colour. Don't use red, stick to green, black or blue.
You might spot a hen with the remains of a broken egg stuck to her belly or egg yolk on her beak.
How do you stop a chicken from eating their eggs?
To stop egg eaters you need to:
- Identify and separate the perpetrator. Isolation stop the habit spreading.
- Use roll away nest boxes so the eggs disappear out of the hens sight the moment they are laid.
- Collect the eggs more regularly and clean any broken ones up immediately.
- Increase the protein level in the diet a little. Don't overdo it as you could then start ending up with shell-less eggs instead. 2% more on a daily basis is fine.
- Empty the coop of food water toys and other distractions that keep the birds inside, rather than outside. The coop is for sleeping and laying and the longer they are inside the more likely an egg will get broken and eaten.
- Add toys and distractions outside in the run or on the range.
- Reduce your chicken density and remove flock stresses like having too many roosters.
- Free range your chickens. Egg eating is less likely in pastured hens.
- Cull the offender. This somewhat disagreeable solution has the benefit of being quick and simple.
The old trick with pepper or mustard filled shells is a bit of an old wives tale. Chickens lack the taste buds that humans have to enable them to feel the burn of hot and spicy foods so it is unlikely to work.
While plain mustard didn't work in my case, combining it with two teaspoons of salt did. Chickens find that much salt quite disagreeable and she stopped quite quickly.
Does feeding chickens their own eggs or eggshells make them egg eaters?
The common practise of feeding your hens the crushed egg shells will not make them eat eggs, nor will giving them cooked eggs.
As long as what you feed them does not look like an egg you will have no problems at all so if you give your hens shells then roast and crush them small and if you feed your chickens egg, then scramble it or grate the eggs for them to eat.
Are eggs good for chickens?
In my grandfathers day, chickens were raised partly on cooked egg for the first few weeks before being weaned onto adult diets and while there is a lot of protein in egg, it is good for chickens and they do like it.