We have had mixed success with our egg-eating hen Isa that I talked about in this blog post. I appreciated all the feedback and suggestions you offered on that post---it's good to know that I'm not the only one dealing with this problem! I tried one of your suggestions, and I also went ahead with my plans to create a simple DIY roll-away nest box.
I looked at a number of designs and worked out a plan for a DIY roll-away nest box using the materials I had in the garage to work with: plastic cat litter buckets. Isa was still in her temporary coop in our garage, and the nesting box she had been using is a modified bucket that we access from the front. I wanted to make sure the new DIY roll-away nest would be something she'd recognize as a nest box.
My plan was to make the nesting box so that it tilted forward, with a compartment in the front to catch the egg. I lined it with plastic door mat material so the egg would roll, but it would still be cushioned from breakage. Into the coop went the new nest box for testing.
The next morning Isa's egg was in the compartment waiting for me: success! And that success continued. The only morning I found a broken egg was when one of the zip ties broke---it had been holding the egg door. I fixed that problem, washed the egg yolk out of the doormat, and the next morning it worked perfectly again. Feeling that we had fixed the problem, I was ready to move her out to the real coop with her sisters.
When it came time to do that, we ran into a problem. The nesting box she was using in her temporary coop wouldn’t fit in the regular coop in a way we could retrieve the eggs! In other words, I had to alter my design so it would fit in my coop and I could retrieve the eggs from the rear of the box.
In the meantime, I still wanted to move her; I really didn’t want to wait the additional time it would take to redesign and construct the DIY roll-away box! I decided I would move her and try one of the reader-suggested tips in the meantime, which would give me time to get a new box designed.
The first advice received from the blog post comments was to give her raw milk! Raw milk can be hard to come by, and in my state it's illegal to sell raw milk. However, you can get raw milk here legally if you own a cow or cow share and pay boarding fees to the farmer, which is actually what we do. As it turned out, this was a suggestion that would be simple for me to try out. Even though my family drinks raw milk, I'd never heard this suggestion for egg eaters and hadn't even considered using raw milk with chickens. Because chickens aren't mammals they can't digest milk sugars so it can cause diarrhea. Still, I was willing to try it.
I poured some raw milk in a dish for the chickens and sat it in the coop. Isa went right to it and sipped away. The other two drank some, too, and seemed to like it. I left it in the coop and by evening the dish was empty. I didn't want to give them too much for fear of giving her diarrhea, so I waited until the next day to offer more.
On the second day, I gave her a dish of milk first thing in the morning, and she drank it up. When I went to the coop in the afternoon to get the dish, it was empty... and there was also a broken egg in the nesting box.
Dang, I'd really been hoping this would be an overnight fix! Still, I continued the milk for three days. In that time, I did get one egg from her, but only because she had just laid it and I was in the coop immediately. Since she was in the process of pecking at it as I retrieved it, I consider the raw milk solution a fail---certainly less successful than the DIY roll-away nest.
We still believe raw milk is better for our family's consumption, but it didn't help modify the misbehavior of our hen. I was ready to go back to my DIY roll-away nest box that had worked the week before, but my design needed to be modified so it would work in our coop.
The new DIY roll-away nest design tilted towards the back so I could retrieve the egg from the rear of the nesting box. The plan was slightly different, but still used the same materials, so it would still look like the box she was used to in her temporary coop.
The next morning I checked and found no egg---but someone had slept in the box and filled it with poop! I cleaned that out told them, “This is where you lay eggs; it's not for sleeping!” (I’m sure they understood everything I told them!)
Well, I did find eggs a couple days that week, but on the days I didn’t get an egg, I worried that she was laying somewhere else, not in the DIY roll-away nest box, and eating them. I couldn’t find evidence of that, but what else could it be? When we went four days with no egg, I was beginning to think this design was another fail... but then I noticed all the fallen feathers in the coop: Isa was molting! We were approaching the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), so it made sense that she would stop laying. Chickens need light to lay and we have not been adding artificial light to force them to lay year round.
I don't have a solution---not yet! But this new design is promising. I'll just have to wait and see if my latest DIY roll-away nest box works, when the sun comes back and Isa starts laying again. If it does work, I'll share a how-to blog post with lots of photos and instructions so you can build one yourself. In the meantime, tell me what you think--I need some encouraging words! Do you think this new design will solve the problem?