Chickens are omnivores, which means they’ll eat just about anything. They love to forage in the grass for greens, grubs and other bugs, and they’ll happily gobble up any of your old table scraps, from berries and squash to French fries and stale bread. They’re natural foragers, meaning their instinct is to go out and search for their next meal. On occasion, a hungry or bored hen may accidentally stumble upon the delicious taste of one of her own eggs, and this is a dangerous habit for a hen to develop.
Egg eating can become a serious problem for hens. Understanding the ways this exploratory behavior becomes a habit can help you prevent it from escalating.
Why Do Hens Eat Eggs?
When young hens start to lay, their eggs’ shells are thin, soft and break easily.
A curious pullet might explore a new egg with her beak, only to find that it bursts open to release floodgates of tasty stuff inside. Chickens are quick learners, and a hen that has developed a taste for eggs will undoubtedly return to a fresh nest to break open the next one … and the next one … and the next one. Other hens might get wind of this new treat, and soon, you’ll have an epidemic on your hands.
Another school of thought is that a broody hen checks an egg’s shell strength by pecking at the egg; this is thought to be a way of testing the egg and evaluating if it’s strong enough to set and hatch. If the egg is strong and the shell is thick, the hen will sit on it. If the egg is weak, and the shell is thin, she will gobble it up, destroy the evidence and try again.
Other times, hens may simply be calcium deficient and are just naturally searching for something to consume that will satisfy this depletion. Eggshells are a great source of calcium, but hens should not develop the habit of eating them right out of the nest. (If you do decide to give your hens eggshells for calcium—an acceptable practice—make sure you crush them up into little pieces so they don’t resemble whole eggs, and provide them in a designated feeder.)
The easiest solution for calcium deficiency is to supply your laying hens with oyster shells; oyster shells are high in calcium and should always be made available to your laying ladies. This supplement, designed specifically for poultry, can be found at your local feed-and-seed or farm-supply store. If there are none in your area, many farm-supply chains and poultry suppliers are found online.
Halt the Habit—Now!
If you find that you have an egg-eating rampage on your hands, act quickly but don’t panic. Take a raw egg or two and blow out the insides. This can be done by making small holes at the top and bottom of the egg and blowing out the insides with a drinking straw. Then fill the now-empty shell with plain yellow mustard and offer it to your chickens. Chickens notoriously hate mustard, and once they break open the shell, they will find that the inside is not to their liking!
Repeat this process as necessary until you find that the hens leave all eggs alone. If you notice that one hen is spearheading the egg-eating trend, isolate it to a chicken tractor or broody house and monitor it closely. Egg eating is incredibly contagious, and once demonstrated, the rest of the flock will learn quickly.
As always, the best way to stop a bad habit is to keep it from forming in the first place. Keep a vigilant eye on your flock’s behavior, and take the necessary precautions to create a healthy, happy laying environment for your birds. Before you know it, you’ll have more eggs than you know what to do with—so practice those recipes, and enjoy your eggs!