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A reader has asked for advice on what to do about his 1-year-old flock of two Rhode Island Reds and three Wyandottes. They have begun eating eggs as fast as they are laid, and he wonders if he will have to butcher his entire flock.
Chickens need a variety of things to eat—bagged feed usually has sufficient vitamins, but calcium needs to be added to laying hens’ diets. Low calcium levels lead to thin or porous shells that are easily broken. Small bags of crushed oyster shells can be purchased at your local feed store; I have a two-bin feeder that holds oyster shell on one side and grit on the other. Chickens also need Vitamin D (this helps their bodies absorb the calcium more efficiently), but if your flock is outside during the day, they shouldn’t need supplements of this. A free-ranging flock will also have access to fresh greens, bugs and earthworms that add more nutrients to a diet. Chickens also need lots of clean, fresh water; sometimes egg-eating is in response to lack of liquid.
If your chickens are let outside to roam each day, you shouldn’t have a crowding problem. If your flock is penned, however, your coop should allow up to 10 square feet of floor space per bird, depending on the size of your chickens (and Rhode Island Reds and Wyandottes are good-size birds). Your coop ought to have at least one nest box for every four hens, and most sources say you should have at least six nest boxes, no matter how many chickens you have. I have seven nest boxes for 18 hens, but they often only lay eggs in three or four of the boxes. Sometimes with too few boxes, eggs will be laid on the floor, stepped on and broken, and this is the first taste the chickens will have of that yummy treat.
If you can’t free-range your chickens, you might try a chicken tractor or portable coop to ensure that your birds are getting fresh greens and other yard delicacies. I also take all my apple and carrot peelings, leftover watermelon and cantaloupe, and (right now) bolted spinach from the garden in to my hens as diet additions. There have been several recent Community Cluckers blogs that talk about extra treats, too, and one last spring gave directions for building a neat “boredom buster” from a cabbage. Look for Jennifer Burke’s “Boredom Buster.”
Gather eggs several times a day. Because my birds often choose to lay their eggs in the same few nests, I think that my heavy Buff Orpingtons, jostling around on top of several eggs, can cause one or two of them to crack. Leaving eggs in nests, particularly if you know your birds have an egg-eating problem, is asking for trouble. Also, make sure that your nests have plenty of nesting material in them. I use shavings as a bottom layer, and cover them with straw. Eggs landing on hard surfaces tend to crack, too!
Some of the resources I consulted suggested darkening the nest boxes, with a tacked up curtain. This is one way to keep egg-eating chickens from seeing if there are eggs in the boxes. Another suggestion, from a Mother Earth News article (February-March 2010) is to raise the nest boxes 18’’ off the floor so bored chickens won’t be able to reach in. This article also suggests using nests that allow eggs to roll to a tray behind the nests, so chickens will not be able to reach them.
Take a pair of nail clippers or small, sharp scissors and clip the point off the top mandible of the birds’ beaks. Just clip the point off the top: Don’t clip far enough in to make it bleed, and don’t clip the bottom. They’ll no longer be able to break the eggs with their beaks.