Picture the scenario; you’ve headed out into your yard first thing in the morning, egg collection basket in hand, and you stroll over to your nest box hatch. You open it and find yourself greeted by a horrifying sight: instead of the eggs you had earmarked for breakfast you see shards of shell and a gooey eggy mess.
Any number of different predators can help themselves to eggs; from small rodents such as rats and mice, to larger mammals such as coyotes and racoons, right through to birds and even snakes. Chickens are also known to eat their own eggs, so determining responsibility is the first step towards fixing the problem.
Rats and Mice
You’ll know if rodents are the source of the problem because usually the eggs that have been plundered will have been pierced or bitten into rather than crushed or demolished completely.
Rats and mice are particularly problematic because they’re able to squeeze themselves through such small gaps, making it difficult not only for you to see how they’ve been getting in to engorge themselves on your eggs, but by the same token to know where to look to stop them from getting in to do it again.
Short of patching up holes in fences there are of course a few other things you can do to try and stop rodents in their tracks, the most obvious being to keep a pet cat who will gladly keep your mouse population at bay, although this probably won’t help with larger rats.
I’ve had success with mouse and rat snap type traps, with chocolate spread and peanut butter both proving to be effective bait. If you go down this road you obviously need to be sure the traps are positioned such that they don’t pose any danger to the chickens or any other pets you may have roaming around your yard.
Likewise poison can be effective as well, although I would exercise even more caution using this method. I’ve known rats to drag away entire blocks of poison from where I originally placed them and consume them elsewhere out of sight. The trouble being of course that you don’t know if said other location is within pecking distance of the hens, or any other creature for that matter. So whilst certainly effective, poison isn’t without risk.
Depending on where you live in the country you may have to contend with everything from raccoons, skunks, weasels, foxes, coyotes, and possums. It’s crucial to try and keep these animals out of your chicken coop, if they’ve been eating eggs then it will probably only be a matter of time before they turn their attention to the chickens themselves.
Determining whether larger mammals are the source of your egg eating epidemic is usually pretty straightforward; larger creatures are more heavy handed, and indeed tend to stomp on eggs and scoop or slurp up the contents, rather than leaving the remains of a shell behind in the case of rodents.
If larger animals are finding their way into your chicken coop then the good news is that it should be fairly easy to determine their route of entry. Check for holes in fences, signs of burrowing or consider the possibility that something is climbing over the fence, or even through it, if the gaps in the chicken wire are large enough.
Certain birds such as magpies are rather partial to eggs, just as they are too shiny things such as milk bottle tops. Indeed, the pay off from pecking the two things is actually pretty similar too.
Just as with small rodents, birds tend to make a hole in the shell to get to the contents, rather than crushing it, but unlike rodents the hole will probably be smaller and more of a ‘piercing’, indicating that a beak is responsible for creating it.
If you’ve ruled out all other points of entry, and tried laying traps/poison to combat rodents, yet you have an open topped enclosure, then it’s probably time to put a net roof covering to keep out any unwelcome feathered guests.
Snakes are another possible candidate egg eater, often characterised by their unique skill for swallowing food whole and leaving no evidence of their intrusion.
If snakes are an issue where you live, you might be lucky and find your hens take care of the problem for you, (if the snakes are small enough that is). If not, trapping and relocating them is your best bet. I’ve not had experience of this myself, but some in the poultry keeping community swear by the use of ‘minnow’ type traps, typically used for catching fish, but apparently just as effective at catching snakes. Simply bait such a trap with an egg (what else?) and wait for it to receive an occupant. The design of this type of trap means the snake can go in, but can’t find their way out again. All you then need to do is safely relocate and release the snake somewhere, preferably a long way, from your chicken coop.
Yes believe it or not chickens have been known to cannibalise their own eggs, yuck right? Well desperate times call for desperate measures, and it seems that chickens do this because they aren’t receiving a sufficient amount of protein and calcium from their diet, making them more inclined to derive their nutritional needs both from their own eggs, and those of other chickens in the coop.
Another school of thought suggests that chickens eat eggs having witnessed other birds do the same thing, and indeed you often find that once one chicken starts eating eggs it is only a matter of time before the others follow suit. This is why it’s so important to nip the problem in the bud as early as possible
Whatever the cause, prevention is better than cure when it comes to chickens eating their own eggs, as unfortunately once they have a taste for eggs it can be very difficult to break their bad habit. It’s far better to provide the best diet possible in the first place so that they don’t become tempted to eat their own.
As mentioned above, eggs provide a good source of calcium and protein, so you should ensure that whatever you feed your chickens provides a good source of both of these. This means using good layers feed, with a high protein content, and having ground up sea/oyster shells on offer to provide all the calcium needed for healthy eggshell growth.
Besides diet, maintaining good conditions within your chicken coop and nest boxes will help keep any anarchic egg eating behaviour at bay. In particular, overcrowding can lead to eggs being accidentally crushed, so be sure not to overpopulate your coop, ideally such that there is one nest box per hen.
The very fact that we like to consume chicken eggs means that it’s hardly a surprise that other creatures (even chickens) like to eat them too. Whilst it will never be possible to completely eliminate the chance of your eggs being eaten or snatched, hopefully this article has illustrated a few simple steps you can take to minimise that chance as much as possible.