Chances are, if you have chickens, you love eating eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes your chickens will get a taste of their own raw eggs and love them, too! If you’ve ever had a serious egg eating issue in your flock, then you know how frustrating it can be to care for your flock with no eggs in return. In this post, we will talk about why and how the egg eating habit begins, and the interventions you can use to snap your birds out of this habit.
How Egg Eating Begins
While it might seem like your egg eating hens are out to get you and thwart your omelette dreams, egg eating actually has pretty innocent beginnings. There are two main causes of egg eating: nutritional deficiency or accident. If your hens are craving extra protein or calcium, they may be drawn to their eggs to fill this need. Or, they could discover egg eating by unintentionally breaking or stepping on an egg and releasing its delicious contents.
How to Prevent Egg Eating in Your Flock
Here are some strategies to prevent egg eating from happening in the first place:
How to Stop Egg Eating When it Happens--The Stages of Intervention
Stage One--Fake 'Em Out
At some point, one of your chickens is probably going to eat an egg. It happens! Early intervention at this point will help keep egg eating from becoming a habit. Keep an eye out when you collect eggs for signs of egg eating. A broken, partially eaten egg is a good one. A chicken with, quite literally, egg on it’s face is another. But all that might be left of the egg is a damp spot in the nesting box. Whatever you find, clean out the remains of the eaten egg completely, including any bedding that is soaked with yolk.
As soon as you see evidence of egg eating, add some ceramic or wooden eggs or golf balls to the nesting box and leave them there. Your chickens will peck at them hoping for another meal, but get nothing. This will encourage them to lose interest in pecking at eggs, especially if you keep collecting the real eggs often.
Leaving fake eggs or golf balls in the nesting box is also a great preventative measure, and helps encourage your hens to lay in the nest box instead of elsewhere. Feel free to add them before any egg eating occurs. Just know that the constant presence of an “egg” in the next box can also encourage broodiness, which you may not want. I’ve had more than one hen go intensely broody over a single golf ball meant to prevent egg eating.
Stage Two: The Mustard Egg
If your hens are not fooled by imposter eggs and the egg eating continues, you’ll have to step it up a notch. Take an egg, make a small hole in one end with a knife, invert the egg and let the contents drain out. Next, fill the empty egg shell with a spicy mustard and tuck back into the nest box.
The hope is that your hens will give up on egg eating once they discover that some eggs are, in fact, suddenly disgusting, while the rest are still unbreakable golf balls. But don’t be discouraged if your stubborn hens eat this spicy hell-egg anyway. Be persistent and try this method daily for up to two weeks before moving on to stage three.
I haven’t had great luck with this method, personally--but enough folks swear by it that I think it’s worth trying.
Stage Three: The Hidden Egg
If your fake eggs and spicy hell-eggs don’t work, then it is time to trap those eggs. Invest in roll out trays with flaps that can be inserted into your nest boxes. When your hen lays an egg in the tray, the egg will roll down into a protected area that she cannot reach. All you have to do to collect the eggs is open the flap to this space.
You can encourage your hens to start laying in these trays by adding a little bit of bedding--this may interfere with the eggs rolling to the safe space, but once the birds accept the tray, you can gradually remove more and more bedding until it’s no longer needed. If your coop currently has more nest boxes than needed for your flock, you can remove or block the other boxes and just purchase as many roll out trays as required.
Intervening in egg eating is important, since chickens will learn this behavior from others, and the longer it goes on, the more ingrained a habit it will become. In my own experience, preventative measures and the addition of fake eggs after egg eating is discovered is usually enough to deter the behavior. We also have a couple roll out trays that we’ve rotated through the coops when needed.
If you’ve exhausted all your options and your chickens will not stop eating eggs, then you may want to consider culling them. Of course, this is absolutely a last resort. It’s a heartbreaking but sometimes necessary intervention.
Keep in mind if things get to this point that your egg eaters will teach the rest of their flock, so moving them to another group will only spread the behavior, not stop it. The same goes for rehoming the birds. If you are absolutely against culling your egg eaters, I understand. Another solution would be to give them their own space and let them just do their thing.
While we’ve had great results with preventative measures, fake eggs, and trays, we did have a two hens in the past who were relentless egg eaters. They were two Marans that were part of a small breeding group that included two Ameraucanas as well. They also laid gorgeous dark speckled eggs--which they ate, regularly. But more often, they ate the Ameraucanas' blue eggs. It seemed they were smart enough to know who laid what, and consistently devoured the other hen’s eggs.
We loved these hens and did not want to cull them. We tried every intervention, many times, for a long time. In the end, we made the difficult decision to cull them, knowing that wherever they went, the hens would spread this behavior. However, this is really a worst case scenario and it’s my hope that with preventative strategies, as well as other interventions, you’ll never have to cull a chicken for egg eating.
Have you ever had to deal with egg eating in your flock? What strategies did you try, and how did it work out for you?
It's Broody Season...
Spring is in the air. With it comes the scent of lilacs, soft warm breezes, and...the raging squawks of broody hens interrupted on their nests.
If you’ve ever experienced a broody hen, you know they are fierce and determined as they sit on and protect their eggs. They are also a great way to expand your flock, as they will incubate, hatch, and brood chicks for you.
On the flip side, a broody can be an unwelcome disturbance in the flock, especially if you don’t have fertile eggs or young chicks readily available. They also often need their own space, but they don’t pay egg rent. Not only that, but broodiness can put a real strain on your hen.
In this post we will look at both sides of the broody coin: how to support and care for your broody hen while helping her become a mama, and how to break a broody if need be while minimizing stress to her.
What is an Eggtopsy?
Spring has arrived and with it, hatching season! Perhaps you collected and incubated eggs from your own flock, or you patiently waited for eggs to arrive in the mail from a breeder. Either way, you spent 21 days incubating and anticipating the arrival of your new babies.
Then hatch day came and went, and there are still some unhatched eggs sitting in the incubator, leaving you to wonder why some hatched, but these didn’t.
First of all, this is totally normal. In most cases, not all the eggs you set will hatch. A good hatch rate for fertile, fresh eggs from your own yard is anything over 75%, and the average hatch rate for shipped eggs is 50%.
While it’s expected that some eggs won’t hatch, those unhatched eggs can leave you guessing about what happened, and if there’s any way you can improve your hatch rate next time.
To troubleshoot your hatch, you can perform an eggtopsy, otherwise known as a “breakout analysis,” on your unhatched eggs. A breakout analysis simply means opening each unhatched egg and studying its contents for clues as to why that egg didn’t hatch.
An eggtopsy may not help you pinpoint the exact cause of death for each individual embryo, because there are so many factors affecting each stage of development. However, an eggtopsy will help you recognize patterns, troubleshoot issues, and possibly figure out the cause of a disappointing hatch.
We are on the cusp of spring. If you’re a new chicken keeper, you might be putting the finishing touches on your first coop. Or you might be adding an addition to your hen house (because, chicken math) or reinforcing what you have.
My wife Sarah and I have built eleven coops together on our farm, where we have a combination of stationary coops, movable tractors, and two small prefab coops. (Why so many? To maintain our clan mating programs). Over the years of building together, we’ve learned a lot about coop construction and what our chickens’ need--and we are still learning, even now. Our coops might not make the cover of Martha Stewart Magazine, but we built them ourselves, our birds are happy, AND not a single predator has ever breached our chicken castles!
Wherever you are in your chicken journey, having a coop that meets your flock’s needs is a vital part of poultry care. Whether you are building a coop for the first time, purchasing a prefab coop, or already have your housing set, there are a few fundamental features that every coop should have. I’m going to go over them in this post, so that you can incorporate them into your build plans or make adjustments to an existing coop.
What is Clan Mating?
If you are interested in breeding your own flock for the first time, know that there are a number of different breeding methods you can choose, including line breeding, flock mating, and clan mating. All have their pros and cons, and some might be a better fit than others for your own situation and goals. On our farm, we’ve chosen to use a clan mating system for our Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans.
Clan Mating (also known as Spiral Mating) is a system of breeding where chickens are separated into at least three different groups, or clans. You can absolutely have more than three groups if you wish, but three is the minimum. In the initial year of a clan mating program, chickens mate within their group, and in all subsequent years, males are rotated to the next clan over. (I was unable to discover where this breeding method originated, but I first learned about Clan Mating from Harvey Ussery’s great book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.)
“What is the difference between hatching eggs and eating eggs?” A friend asked Sarah and I this most eggs-cellent question recently while we were hanging some flyers for our farm.
This is a great question. Producing eating eggs is pretty straightforward: eggs laid, eggs eaten. Far more goes into the production and selection of a hatching egg.
I thought I'd share some of the differences here. When we produce hatching eggs, we pay careful attention to:
Freshness: Eating eggs last for weeks, but a hatching egg should be a week old, max, when placed in the incubator. This week includes collection, shipping, and at least a day of rest after shipping.
A few months ago, one of our Marans hens, Mollie, suffered an impacted crop. We performed an at-home surgery for her, which went incredibly well. After a few weeks of rest and recuperation in our house, Mollie started laying eggs again--a clear sign that she'd made a full recovery!
While we would miss her company, we knew it was time to move Mollie back outside. Since we don't breed birds that experience any kind of illness, this meant integrating Mollie into our laying flock, a new group for her.
Integrating or re-integrating a chicken into a flock should be done with care and planning, in order to reduce stress on all birds involved. Below are our best practices for introducing or returning a chicken to a larger group.
Why buy straight run? Here's some straight talk on straight run, the sexing of chicks, and the common poultry industry practice of killing male chicks at hatch.
On our farm, all male chicks are grown out into beautiful roosters and have the opportunity to lead a quality life. At maturity, our extra boys are swiftly and respectfully processed. We often have friends and family over to help us with this, so that others may practice harvesting their own meat. It’s a powerful experience that has both challenged us and gifted us a completely new relationship with our food.
On our farm, humanely raised, pastured meat is a natural byproduct of producing hatching eggs and chicks. Because we are such a small farm, it’s easy for us to absorb our extra roosters, adding them to our freezer or sharing them with friends and family. But what happens in large scale hatcheries?