Jenny Cassier strolled out to her backyard henhouse, excited to gather some freshly laid chicken eggs. Much to her dismay, she instead found her hens in the nest box, eating their own eggs. “What do I do to stop my chickens from eating their eggs?” she wrote to us recently.
The problem of egg layers eating their own eggs — a form of cannibalism — isn’t uncommon, nor is it impossible to stop. However, the longer you wait to correct this issue, the harder it will be to cure your egg-eating hens from this terrible habit.
Why Do Hens Eat Their Own Eggs?
If your chickens have started pecking at and eating their own eggs, it’s usually due to several common factors. These include:
- Hard, solid floors. Research shows that egg layers who are raised in cages are generally less apt to eat their own eggs.
- Overcrowding. If you don’t give your layer hens enough room in your backyard coop, the stress may provoke them into habits such as egg-eating.
- Poor nesting space. If the nests you provide your hens are too small, or if there aren’t enough nests for your backyard chickens to share, the stress may provoke egg-eating and other poor habits.
- Nutritional deficiencies. Farming research suggests that nutritional imbalances, specifically as it relates to vitamin D and calcium, may provoke egg-eating in layer hens.
Several general husbandry features can prevent your hens from eating their own eggs in the first place. Prevention is always easier than trying to cure your hens of the habit later!
Start by providing a minimum of one nest for every four layer hens. Each nest should also provide the laying hen with adequate space. Kansas State University recommends a nest size of 12 inches by 12 inches, and advises placing them 24 inches off the ground in an area that’s dark and quiet.
Also, collect eggs as often as possible. This limits the chances of the eggs breaking, which encourages the hens to eat them. The University of New Hampshire suggests gathering eggs at least twice a day and notes that hens typically lay during the morning hours.
Finally, feed your hens a well-balanced, commercially prepared chicken feed product that’s been labeled for use with egg-laying hens.
Egg-Eating Hens: Curing the Problem
If your hens are already eating their own eggs, you can manage and resolve this cannibalism problem with several changes to your hens’ care and feeding regimen.
- Give your egg layers a calcium supplement, like a side hopper of limestone or oyster shells. The extra calcium in their diet improves egg shell strength, which Kansas State University reports will help lower your egg-eating problems.
- Fill a dish with milk and let your hens drink it. Do this for several days and you’ll see a decreased problem with egg eating, according to the University of Florida Extension.
- Remove the offending hen. Typically, egg-eating starts with one or two hens and other hens start to pick up on the bad habit. Observe your flock of backyard chickens carefully as soon as you notice a problem with hens eating their own eggs. Once you spot the hen (or hens) with pieces of eggshell or egg yolk on their beak, remove them from the flock immediately.
- Trick your hens. The University of Florida suggests beating an egg into a creamy liquid, adding 2 tsps. of ground black pepper, and pouring it onto the floor of your chicken coop. The university reports that the hens will peck at it and find the taste disagreeable, thus curing them of the egg-eating habit.
Additional offline reading:
1. Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock
2. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
3. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens