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How do I know if my chickens are eating their eggs?

Sometimes, eggs just disappear...

You know you saw some in the nest when you fed the chooks first thing and then, when you go to collect the eggs and lock the chookies up for the night, some or all of your eggs have simply vanished!

Its so incredibly frustrating... The more often you collect the eggs, the more chance you have of getting them no matter why they are disappearing though. Collecting the eggs as often as you can may also help you figure out who the culprit is - one of the chooks or un unwelcome guest.

I have got the fright of my life as a big black crow flew out of the nesting box when I opened it one time and chased a scrub turkey out of the sleeping part of the coop - she was on her way into the nesting box to eat the eggs when I finally spotted the right culprit.

So there is a chance that snakes, rats, crows, turkeys, your dog or some other yet to be identified animal is eating the eggs - not one of your chooks.  It can take a while to figure out who the egg eater is - but the method of stopping them is the same!

Here's what I did...

Simply fill the nest with fake eggs or hard egg like objects, like fake eggs or even golf balls!!

I find that its a reward for effort activity. If the predator, be that your darling chicken or a big black crow, pecks a few times and is rewarded with a lovely gooey, high protein, nutritious and yummy snack, then they will be popping in every time they are hungry to try their luck. If they peck around a bit (or a lot) and just bend their beak on a golf ball or plastic/wooden egg - then its not much fun and they soon give up.

You can order these eggs on line easily or pick them up from your local produce place for a dollar or so each. It just needs to be round, egg sized, white-ish and HARD. Old golf balls are ideal. Don't use a polystyrene ball. The chickens will peck at it, discover it comes apart and simply peck and eat it. They seem to love polystyrene and I'm sure its not good for them - even without a degree in Vet-ology!

You will easily be able to tell which are the fake eggs and which are the real ones when you go to collect them but for some reason, the predators simply cant! Works for me! Mine are so old and discoloured now that I'm sure every time I pull them out that they wont fall for it - but they do!

My biggest issue with this trick is that I have a couple of chooks that seem to go broody when they see more than two eggs together. When they come in to lay and find a nest full of egg like objects, they lay their egg and then proceed to sit on "their" clutch with determination and not only will they not move, but they wont lay any more eggs for ages as they think in 21 days they will be a Mumma chook. We have two pens and when one goes broody we pop her in the other pen to keep her away from the nest. It also gives her something else to think about as she will have to argue for a position in the pecking order of that pen. Our flock free ranges together but sleep separately so they have two pecking orders - one within their pen and the other for when they are all out together.

If you don't have two pens, maybe just leave her out in the garden during the day and pop her in a box during the night as a brood breaking option. A guinea pig cage is also a good temporary pen. It doesn't really matter where she is as long as she cant get to the nest and has food and water. She wont be happy and will certainly let you know!

If you catch the brood early enough it should only take a few days to break. If she has been broody for a week or so, I often find I cant break the brood, but pull them off the nest to eat and drink whenever I think about it so they don't lose to much condition and come back on the lay again sooner. Laying is the sign of a healthy happy chook. I always watch the ones not laying closely.

If you filled the nest with fake eggs, you should find that after a few days the visitor that's eating the eggs will give up if they have no success getting a snack when they come for an egg. Raiding a nest is a high risk activity and it needs a big reward to make it worth it for a non chook predator such as a crow, dog or rat. I have heard of people stuffing a hard boiled egg full of chili powder to make sure its not a pleasurable experience, but I'd be worried about my chookies getting a beak (or bum) full, so I haven't tried it. Let me know if you have and what happened.

You could move the nest completely... but chookies are creatures of habit and will go back to lay in the same spot unless you go to great lengths to make it very uncomfortable to sit in... and even then, that might not stop them. I also find that the predators are pretty smart and if they can see the new nest they will raid the new one as often as they raided the old one.

Try putting up a curtain over the door. A chookie desperate to lay will eventually learn to push past the curtain. It might be enough to deter a crow but probably not a rat...

At some point it pays to turn the pen, coop and garden upside down - you may find a hidden nest. This happens to me a lot. I am convinced that someone is stealing the eggs as I can hear the egg laying cluck song thing happening all day but when I go to get the eggs, I find two eggs out of twelve chooks, day after day. And then one day, I'm weeding, and there it is - 32 eggs hidden under a pile of branches... half of them rotten in the hot summer sun!

If you are SURE its not a rat, cat, dog, snake, crow, child, neighbour or some other dastardly creature, it may in fact be your chickens that are eating the eggs. I don't know why some chicken eat their eggs but I suspect its partly because chooks peck at all sorts of things just to see what it is and when they find a delicious egg yolk - they just keep coming back for more.

I suspect it could be also a calcium deficiency. Have you got a chook laying thin shelled eggs? That chook maybe your egg eater...  Make sure they have got some grit and supplement them with high calcium bits and bobs and see if that helps. A moulting chook will also need more calcium to regrow all those feathers and build up the calcium reserve through her body so she can lay again after the moult.
  • Green salad leaves (Kale, Silver beet, bok choy)
  • Green veges (broccoli, okra, beans)
  • Dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk. If you are ok with feeding your chooks this type of food. Mine love it)
  • some nuts (crush into their daily seed or they will try and choke down a whole almond) 
  • Fish - with the bones in are all high in calcium.
It could be boredom. A bored chook is looking for something rewarding to do... Try a few chook boredom busting ideas like -
  • Getting a cabbage or a handful of silver beet leaves and hang them just above head height so they have to jump to get at them. Good exercise as well as giving them something to do.
  • Move things around in the pen or add new things like a log, a tunnel, a few buckets Just something new to look at and jump on top of might do it. 
  • Put some seed in one of those dog ball things and watch them chase it around.
  • Dig a hole with a spade in the pen and let them start scratching around in and around it.
  • Pop in some dirt or compost or garden rakings, sprinkle a bit of grain on the top and let them scratch through it looking to see what's in there.
  • Grow some clucker tucker in the pen.
  • Put some bigger branches in so they have new places to preen or explore.
  • Tree pruning's often have bugs to chase. Pop them in pile and let the chooks dismantle it.
It could be that they are on the bottom of the pecking order and aren't getting enough food - so the eggs are all they are able to get as they are in the nest by themselves. Try having a number of feeding stations/bowls or sprinkling at least part of the feed around the far flung corners of the pen so they all have the opportunity to get some. The bossy chooks will always get the first lot of feed and all the best bits and will leave the not so special bits for the lower echelons. That's the pecking order in action. If I'm really worried one of my bottom chookies aren't getting enough food, I might let the others out in the afternoon (the boss chooks will be at the front of the group as they exit) and then close the gate and lock the bottom order chooks in the pen with a bit of seed just for them. Drives the big boss chooks nuts but it makes sure I know the lower ranked chooks are getting enough food.

Some people advocate for culling egg eating chickens, but so far, I've managed to turn all of mine away from a constant egg eating regime using all these tactics depending on who I think is eating the eggs and why.

If you have has success in figuring out who is eating your chicken eggs and managed to stop them - share your story with us in the comment section!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for having chooks and not supporting the cage egg industry! 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for finding a cheap way to get all the eggs you can!
Time cost: A few days of observation...
Skill level: Basic egg shape object selection skills :)
Fun-ness: great fun getting to the bottom of the case of the disappearing eggs!!








Janet Camilleri said…
I reckon you could sell this article to Grass Roots or Australasian Poultry if you wanted too!
Practical Frog said…
Thanks! I subscribe to both of those magazines and enjoy them. I might try that!
- Kara :)
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