This is one of the not so great problems that can arise when owning chickens. It’s never fun to walk out to gather eggs, only to find a broken egg mess in the nests, or notice your egg count is down. Chickens eat their own eggs for a few different reasons. we’ll cover all those, how to take preventative measures, and how to proceed once you have the problem.
When someone finds out for the first time that chickens eat their own eggs, well. . . they think it’s gross. Let me share a fact, chickens aren’t the brightest bulbs, so don’t be weirded out when they do and eat strange things. The calcium in the eggs shell is actually very healthy for them, so we’ll cover calcium levels for laying hens first!
Chickens eat their own eggs: the whys
Low Calcium Levels in laying hens
Hens in their prime, laying almost an egg a day, require about 4-5 grams of calcium per day. One of the first signs of low calcium levels is egg eating. Eggshells are about 40% calcium. Fun fact: half an eggshell provides enough calcium to meet the daily requirement for an adult! Crazy right? It’s no wonder that a chicken goes straight for its shell when lacking calcium.
To help your chickens get enough calcium, add some natural crushed oyster shells into their diet. This brand from amazon work great. Any local feed store will carry oyster shells as well. It’s a very inexpensive way to keep your chickens happy and your eggs shells hard and thick.
You can also keep the eggshells left over from eating and baking and crush them to give back to the chickens. Just make sure they’re crushed thoroughly and don’t resemble an egg at all. If they put two and two together they’ll lay their next egg, turn around, and enjoy a little snack.
Scatter the oyster or chicken shells over the ground around the feeder, or make a small separate container. Keep the shell out all the time for access whenever the chickens need.
If a chicken steps on an egg, or lays it in a box that isn’t properly padded it can crack, leading to accidental discovery. Out of curiosity a chicken may peck the egg, realize it tastes good, and consume it. Your chicken now has a special treat it can give itself daily.
As often happens, other chickens will catch on to what the first is doing, and you’ll soon have a flock of birds no longer intent on sharing their bounty with you.
Once egg eating starts, it can be a tough habit to break. I’ve heard of chicken owners who’ve had to put down entire flocks and begin again. The chickens simply would not break their egg eating ways.
Early realization and intervention is key.
Things to do immediately once an egg eater is discovered:
These look and feel like real chicken eggs. Place them into the nesting boxes. When the chickens go to peck at them, and they don’t break, they’ll assume all eggs are now like that, and quit altogether.
-Retrieve eggs often
Check for eggs several times a day. The sooner you can gather an egg after the chicken lays it the better. This prevents the egg eater checking the boxes frequently for other chickens’ eggs, and stop the spread of the habit.
-Heavily pad nesting boxes
Make sure your nesting boxes have a lot of padding so when the egg drops (chickens lay eggs in a squatting position) it doesn’t break when it hits the box. I switched from straw to cedar wood chips a few years ago with great results. This also prevents them from cracking as easily when stepped on.
-Remove problem chicken
If the eating doesn’t stop, it’s time to remove the problem chickens from your flock.
How to catch an egg eating chicken
You’ll need to go out often to survey the flock, checking for egg yolk on beaks. Remove who you think to be the culprit for a few days and place into a separate area, making sure you have the right one(s) before disposing of or gifting to a new home where the owner is aware of the problem.
Other reasons chickens eat eggs:
Overcrowding, not enough boxes
Too many chickens in one area can lead to discontent and off behaviors, such as pecking each other, fighting, and egg eating. Check out my previous post on how many chickens to have per square foot. If you have too many, consider making a larger enclosure or gifting some of your chickens to new homes.
Lack of water/hunger
If the chickens do not have access to fresh water and food daily, not only will their egg production decrease but because of hunger and thirst, they will be reduced to eating them. Chickens should always have access to fresh water food out 24/7. High egg-yielding chickens can consume a lot, so make sure you’re giving them enough.
As I’ve shared in past posts, chickens need more than just a hen house and a dirt enclosure. They don’t want to stand around all day doing nothing, so make sure you have a little chicken playground to keep them busy. Also, offer them your dinner leftovers and fridge purges. They’ll enjoy the scraps and you’re recycling old food that was headed for the trash into yummy eggs!
Chickens eat their own eggs conclusion
Every few years I deal with an egg eating chicken. Most often it’s due to accidental discovery or boredom. (Boredom can happen in the winter, as chickens hate snow and don’t explore or play as much.) For this reason, I always have ceramic eggs in a few of the nesting boxes, and calcium available continuously.
Once I find a chicken eating eggs I’m almost religious about checking the nesting boxes multiple times a day. I’ll also let them out into the yard in the day so the chickens want to lay their eggs, and get back to the yard as quickly as possible. I have no idea if this truly helps, but it seems to for me. These egg eating phases often passes quickly if I can catch it fast enough.
I hope this info has been helpful and that you put into place as many of the preventative measures as possible so you can avoid dealing with this issue!