1. My hens are eating eggs. What do I do?All hens will eat broken eggs if they find them. Chickens are unsentimental (in addition to being unintelligent), and to them a broken egg has no significance beyond being free food. Hens do not normally consider unbroken eggs to be edible, but if they have anything stuck to them, such as smears of yolk from another egg, they'll peck at that. Sometime hens learn to break eggs on purpose this way.
Hens keep an eye on each other, and when one finds food, others crowd in. In this way, egg-eating can spread through a flock.
There are a lot of old wive's tales about egg-eating. One claims that if you blow and egg and refill it with cayenne pepper, the pain of the hot condiment will cure a hen of egg-eating. This doesn't work; chickens don't react to peppers the way people (and other mammals) do, and they think it tastes just great. Another concept is that egg-eating happens because there are one or two ringleaders, and if you remove these from the flock, the egg-eating will stop.
Both my own experience and the research papers I've read indicate that egg-eating generally starts up when conditions favor it, and it dies down when conditions don't favor it, regardless of whether you isolate "ringleaders" or not.
To reduce egg-eating, you should:
1. Provide darkened nests. Hens do not like to eat in the dark, and they are less active in the dark. They break fewer eggs moving around in the nest boxes, and if they do break one, they're less likely to eat it (and all the surrounding yolk-smeared eggs). Nests can be darkened by putting flaps over the front and by installing them in a dim area, such as at the back of the house. Having a separate (darkened) nesting house or nesting room also helps.
2. Use colony nests. These are essentially big nest boxes two feet by four feet by about 18" high, with a small door about eight inches square. In ordinary nest boxes, two or three hens will jam themselves into a nest meant for one, and this breaks a lot of eggs. Roomier nests lead to less breakage, and colony nests are very dark inside. These are often set directly on the floor in a dark part of the henhouse. They should be ventilated (making a couple of walls out of pegboard is good). Use one for every 40-50 hens. A variant is the tunnel nest, which is two feet wide and eight feet long, with a door at each end. Use one for every 80-100 hens.
3. Use deeper litter. Many nests have a front board only 4" high to hold the litter in. Doubling the height of the board will prevent the litter from being scratched out of the nest so quickly, and fewer eggs will be broken. I find that a mixture of straw and wood shavings makes a good litter. I add straw about half the time and shavings about half the time, and it evens out. (Throw out the litter when it gets dirty.)
4. Collect eggs frequently. If I collect my eggs on time, twice a day, I have little trouble with egg-eating. If I'm away and collect them only in the evening, I lose some eggs, mostly from the nest boxes that least resemble the advice in suggestions 1-3 above.
5. Don't use screwy rations. Deficiencies in vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, or biotin can lead to thin-shelled eggs and rickets. The feed recipes people invent for themselves without reading poultry nutrition textbooks tend to be deficient in one or all of these. By feeding a balanced poultry ration with a feeder of oystershell on the side (for supplemental calcium), you will avoid a lot of trouble.
6. Don't crowd the nests. If you're using ordinary compartmentalized
nest boxes, provide one nest for every four hens.
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