The first time I dropped an egg I’d collected from the coop, the pullets flocked to the egg and devoured it entirely within seconds. Like some kind of illicit drug, this first taste of delicious egg is said to be the gateway to long-term egg eating inside the coop.
The same is said for any intentional egg feeding, but many chicken keepers feed excess eggs for additional protein during a summer molt, or they will cook up some eggs for winter warmth and enjoyment when dry feed is the only food on the menu. It’s a controversial practice for those who experience egg-eating troubles, but egg-eating likely isn’t the real problem, rather it’s a symptom of something bigger.
Chickens prefer to lay eggs in strict privacy. Nest boxes should be easily accessible, dim, quiet and calm. In my egg-gathering experience, my flock leaves its eggs alone in the nest box until I open the door and let the light inside. Once the eggs are in the spotlight, perhaps they’re rushing to protect them, or to destroy them rather than allow them to be taken when the eggs are vulnerable. During certain times of the year, especially when my Australorp is broody, the flock is more likely to try to destroy the eggs when I collect them—it’s necessary to lure the flock elsewhere with treats before I collect eggs sometimes. Other times of the year, they don’t seem to mind so much.
What looks like egg eating could be nothing more than accidental breakage. If a hen’s egg breaks, she’s unlikely to waste the magic elixir inside. For chickens, anything and everything edible is fair game. If you find a broken egg inside the nest box with its insides missing, inspect the shell that’s left. Is it thin, soft or otherwise different than the shells of other eggs you’ve collected and cracked? Is the bedding underneath soaked with egg, suggesting breakage, or does it appear to be eaten from the top with clean betting underneath?
The hen laying weak eggs might not be getting the calcium she needs. Offer free-choice oyster shell grit to the flock if your feed doesn’t contain all the calcium a flock needs. Some feeds specifically note not to feed extra calcium, so be sure to read the bag.
It’s important to understand how calcium absorption works. Dietary calcium doesn’t go straight to the reproductive system. Chickens absorb calcium from the diet to build strong bones first, and then the reproductive system pulls calcium from the reserve in the bones and repurposes the mineral for building strong eggs. If a hen is eating eggs and most of the shell is also missing, she might be trying to supplement herself with calcium.
Consider The Diet
If the flock is eating too many kitchen scraps and not enough of their feed rations with added calcium, limit or temporarily eliminate kitchen scraps from the diet until the egg quality increases. Also, consider whether the flock is eating enough feed. If you’re rationing feed to control costs, but you’re not feeding them enough, hungry chickens will eat eggs. Hungry chickens could also be calcium deficient.
Older hens producing thin-shelled eggs might not be able to produce stronger eggs. As a natural side effect of the aging process, chickens can become limited in how much calcium they’re able to draw from aging bones to deposit into their eggshells. Gathering eggs quickly and handling them with figurative kid gloves can be the only way to handle these eggs. Some people might advocate culling the old hens that are producing poor-quality eggs, but I won’t advise that—there’s more to a quality chicken life than laying eggs.
Collect Eggs Promptly
Because chickens enjoy sharing a favorite nest box or two, it’s unlikely that you don’t have enough nest boxes, unless your flock is large. To stop hens from walking back and forth over a pile of eggs like a doormat, collect eggs often. If you know you’re getting a dozen eggs a day, for example, it’s wise to collect eggs several times throughout the day in order to get the cleanest, highest quality eggs possible. This practice will help save delicate eggs from being broken and eaten by the flock.
My own flock eats eggs because I offer them as treats, but we’ve never developed a serial nest box egg eater. If you’re inclined to feed eggs for protein or to recycle calcium by offering eggshells to the flock, there’s no reason to hesitate. It’s a myth that feeding eggs leads to egg eating. Egg eating is most often a symptom of another problem.