It’s disheartening to open your coop’s next box only to find pecked or crushed eggs inside. Even worse is when those eggs were destined to be baby chicks in a week or two. Unfortunately, nest accidents do happen, even to experienced mama hens. Last summer, my 5-year-old Alex contentedly brooded over a clutch of 11 eggs, which became eight eggs, then five eggs, then finally one lonely egg. Don’t allow these maternal mishaps to make you miserable. Instead, follow these five steps to handle this scrambled situation.
Decontaminate the Hen
If you have a broody, remove her from the nest and check her underside for residue from the smashed eggs. Does she require cleaning? Dampen a rag towel in warm water to which a dollop of antibacterial coop has been added. Gently cleanse your bird, always scrubbing in the direction of the feathers, not against. This might be a two-person job should your hen prove uncooperative. Wrap her in a warmed dry towel to finish the drying process and soothe her jangled nerves.
Do Damage Control
Carefully examine the nest before you start to remove the broken contents. Are your eggs close to hatching? Check to see whether any eggs are far enough from the seepage to be uncontaminated, and move these to keep them unspoiled. If the eggs in the nest were shell eggs, or even if they were hatching eggs, your safest bet is to simply dispose of the entire nest and its contents. This way, there is no potential threat of salmonella contamination of the intact eggs from the broken ones. Use an eco-friendly cleaning product such as Mrs. Meyer’s to completely disinfect the nest area, then put down fresh nesting material. If you’ve removed a broody from her nest, you can return her now.
Evaluate the Birds’ Diet
Fragile eggshells can often be attributed to insufficient calcium in your hens’ diet. Laying hens require additional calcium in their diets to produce strong eggshells. Without adequate calcium, a hen’s reproductive system draws this vital mineral from the bird’s own body, weakening her bones and detrimentally affecting her health. Check your flock’s rations to see whether the feed features enough calcium to properly nourish a laying hen. If not—or even if so—you might need to consider offering a supplement such as crushed oyster shell, found at most feed shops and farm-supply stores.
Check for Crowded Quarters
Lack of space is another cause of eggshell cracking. The nest itself might be too small to accommodate all the eggs in your hen’s clutch. This is especially true if she is brooding in your coop and other hens climb in with her to lay their eggs in her nest. If nest size is the issue, consider moving your broody and her clutch to more private accommodations—such as a roomy rubber tote—for the remainder of her setting time. When this is not an option, use a pencil to mark the hatching eggs, then remove all unmarked eggs when you go out to collect eggs. If the cracked eggs are shell eggs, increase the frequency of your egg collection. Rather than doing it once in the early afternoon, collect eggs first thing in the morning, then shortly after noon, then once again near dusk. Frequent egg collection prevents the eggs from cluttering the nest box and becoming a tripping hazard for hens trying to step their way around and failing.
Bust the Boredom
Curiosity might kill the cat, but it also challenges the chicken. If your coop or run minimally offer enrichment opportunities for your birds, they might begin to find other ways to alleviate their boredom. A collection of pretty oval eggs is the perfect draw for any girl searching for a way to pass the time. Her instinctive inquisitiveness will encourage her to peck at those newly noticed treasures until ooops! her beak breaks through. You want to discourage this behavior as swiftly as possible, because a pecked egg does not help build your nest egg. Add some amusements to your run, such as a sandbox, a swinging perch, a string of shiny, swaying CDs, or a mounted head of cabbage or ear of dried corn. Keeping your flock enthralled outside the coop will keep your eggs safely away from the curious.