So why do chickens eat their eggs? It can be quite a shock seeing a chicken eat an egg for the first time, as it can conjure up horrible images of cannibalism, not to mention that in some sense the chicken is also eating its own young. More often though, it’s an annoying habit because the chickens are destroying a perfectly good breakfast.
There are a few reasons chickens may develop an egg eating disorder, including nutritional deficiencies, but a bored chicken may also get curious and start pecking on an egg to see what happens. It doesn’t take long for the average chicken to realise that eggs taste pretty good and are probably an excellent source of nutrition – most notably protein and calcium. (Chicken Feed – Step by Step Australian Beginners Guide)
If left unattended, egg eating soon passes from an idle to curiosity to a habit that is hard to beat, and so needs to be stamped out as soon as you discover evidence of it.
Why do Chickens Eat Their Eggs?
A bored chicken looking for something to do may peck on an egg out of curiosity if it’s left in the nesting box longer than usual. If they manage to break the shell and get a taste for what’s inside, then egg eating can potentially develop into a nasty and annoying habit.
Chickens have an innate sense of when their diet is lacking in nutrition and will seek to rectify the situation through any means necessary. If eggs are handy and the chickens are deficient, then they may start using the eggs as a source of calcium or protein.
Nesting boxes that are too well lit from sunlight and located near the rest of the flock may cause laying chickens to become edgy and agitated, and nervous chickens may start pecking at their eggs out of frustration and nervous energy. Ensure you place nesting boxes in a secluded and dark area so your chickens feel safe and secure while they are nesting.
Overcrowding in the coop or chickens who are constantly startled may accidentally break an egg or two. Chickens being the curious creatures they are, will give the leaking contents an exploratory peck or two. Once they get a taste for egg then a habit may develop, and they may start pecking at the eggs deliberately to gain access to the contents.
Finding the Offending Culprits
Chickens who develop the unfortunate habit of eating eggs usually aren’t too clever at covering their tracks, but if you have a reasonably sized flock you may still have your work cut out for you when searching for the offending chicken or chickens.
Firstly, consider that it may not be your chickens eating the eggs. Are you completely confident that your coop is predator proof? Wire mesh flooring and sensor lights will keep most predators out or scare them off for fear of being discovered.
Chickens are quite regular when it comes to egg laying so schedule a visit to the coop when you know there are going to be fresh eggs lying around. The offending chicken may also be laying in wait for some tasty fresh produce. Keep an eye out for any suspicious loiterers hanging around the nesting boxes when they should be out with the rest of the flock.
You can catch an egg eater because they will have egg on their face, literally. If you notice a few broken eggs check everyone’s beak and face, and if any of the birds have suspicious residue around the facial area you have most likely located the wayward chicken. If you have too many chicken beaks to check you can make the job a little easier by blowing out an egg and replacing the insides with food colouring. The guilty culprit will get some of the colouring on her face and will stand out from the crowd.
How to Stop Chickens from Eating Eggs
Provide a more protein-rich feed – if you suspect your chickens are using eggs as an alternative source of protein, it may be that the feed you are using is inadequate.
Fish meal or a bit of dry cat food may be all that’s needed to get the protein intake up to standard, and the chickens won’t feel the need to go pecking at your favourite breakfast food for supplementation. Some chicken keepers have even been known to supply their flock with scrambled eggs, which works because chickens don’t associate the cooked eggs with the raw.
You can play a little trick on your egg pecking chickens by taking out the straw from the nesting boxes. When she pecks at an egg laying on a hard floor it will roll away. Eventually, she may give up, as it’s not that easy to break through an eggshell, especially when it keeps moving away at every peck.
Use plastic eggs or golf balls to replace real eggs. You will need to be prompt in gathering the eggs if you use this strategy, as this will further foible the chicken’s egg-eating efforts. Golf balls and plastic eggs aren’t much fun after a while as they will never crack, and your birds will get a sore beak from trying.
Chickens can’t peck at eggs they cannot see so you could try hanging curtains around the nesting boxes to block out almost all of the light and rendering the eggs all but invisible.
When all else fails and your egg eaters foil your every effort to break their habit, you may have to order in a nest box similar in style to the versions you see on battery hen farms. When eggs are laid in these nesting boxes they immediately roll out of reach of the chickens. They are a quite humane solution and much better than the chopping block some chicken farmers use as a last resort.
Egg eating is an annoying habit which can be broken with patience and persistence, but prevention is always a preferable strategy. Make sure your chickens are receiving enough protein and calcium in their diet, regularly remove freshly laid eggs, and provide treats such as hanging cabbages and apples they can peck on to prevent boredom. (Keeping Chickens FAQ)