Let me start off telling you about our problem chicken, Isa. She is an ISA Brown chicken (a sex-linked variety, similar to the Red Star or Golden Buff), a variety known for having large brown eggs and excellent production. She is the only remaining member of our original flock of three chickens we started with in the fall of 2009 and has always been our best layer. My daughter was five when we got her and chose the unoriginal name, but Isa is my daughter's favorite chicken. The whole family is especially fond of Isa, who is very friendly, and my daughter has shown her for the past three years at the county fair. You get attached to a bird when the whole family participates in bathing her and buffing her nails! Even with this bad habit we don't want to get rid of her.
There are various reasons that a chicken will start eating her eggs and in our circumstance it was stress. So what was the stress that started this problem and caused her to become an egg eating hen? We had predator attacks two nights in a row and Isa was the only bird that survived.
At first we were just happy that she was smart enough to get away, and amazed that my daughter's favorite was the only one that lived. The day after the second attack, in her temporary coop in our garage, she laid an egg. I was thrilled since I know stress can have a negative effect on laying. But the next day she didn't lay or the next. We went a week without eggs and I was thinking the stress had pushed her to molt early. Then I found the remains of an egg---just a bit of shell--so we realized that Isa was still laying, but she was eating her eggs before I could retrieve them. She had become one of those dreaded egg eating hens!
I researched online about what to do with egg eating hens, and I talked to friends and farmers we know who raise chickens. I got a number of ideas that I'll share here, but most ended with "... but that didn't work with my egg eating hens, so they became soup."
Well, Isa is our pet and we don't want to resort to the most drastic measure for egg eating hens, so we are trying everything we can to break her habit!
- Gather the eggs early! This is an easy one---get the eggs before your egg eating hens have the chance to eat them. This helped for awhile with Isa; I had her schedule down to a half hour window that I knew she would lay... but when we had to leave town for the weekend, we couldn't get someone to check on her with that kind of precision.
- Diet. Make sure your egg eating hens are getting good nutrition. I have made sure she has enough protein and calcium since deficiencies can lead to egg eating. She has a high protein feed and oyster shells always available all the time. We also cut down on treats to make sure she wasn't filling up low protein goodies.
- Fake or filled eggs. A friend suggested a marble egg, with the theory that Isa would attempt to peck it open but it would hurt her beak so she would stop. Well, I didn't find any marble eggs but did place a wooden egg in her nesting box. This combined with prompt gathering has seemed to help the most. We currently have about an 80% success rate---which means she is still eating one or two eggs a week... not perfect, but better than no eggs from her. Something I have yet to try are the mustard filled eggs. That was going to be my next step until I decided to try...
- Nesting box adjustments. A roll-away nesting box is what we'll soon be trying. This idea is used commonly in commercial egg production (not that I want to keep my chickens anywhere close to commercial standards!). The idea is that the nesting box floor is sloped and there is a double back wall (open slightly at the bottom) so the egg will roll to the back section where the chicken can't reach it. You can buy them pre-made, but I'm a DIY kind of gal so retrofitting our coop with this nest box design is my project for the weekend. If that's beyond you, you can also try simply darkening the nests with a make-shift curtain, with the idea that if they can't see the eggs well, they won't be as tempted to eat them!
- Soup? NO! As I said at the start of this post, many people have told me that once egg eating hens start this bad habit, it is nearly impossible to break them of it. Logically, I understand this option---but emotionally, I couldn't do it. Isa is our pet.
So those are our options and I am hopeful that the combination of the first four will work. We even have discussed keeping her, knowing she will eat her eggs---but we don't want her teaching this bad behavior to other chickens or eating their eggs, too.
Have you ever had to deal with egg eating in your flock? Do you have other suggestions to try? I'd love to hear your success stories and will update soon to let you all know how well it is working for us. We have two Ameraucanas that should start laying in the next month and our hope is to have a happy flock of three all laying well so WE can eat their eggs!