A few weeks ago I started the evening chores like every other night. I grabbed the wire egg basket from the front porch and headed to the chicken coop. I collected eggs from our Buff Orpington pen, our Leghorn pen, and our Araucana and Olive Egger pen. When I went into the French Black Copper Maran pen, there were no eggs…again!
Frustrated, I checked one of the corners where they had been laying rather sporadically. For some reason, they’ve been favoring this corner as opposed to laying in the nest box like the other chickens. It’s annoying because the eggs have been stepped on and dirtier than they might if they use the box.
As I fluffed at the pine chip bedding, I saw dark-brown, broken eggshells.
“Darn it! We’ve got an egg eater!”
What is an Egg Eater?
An egg eater is an unofficial term that describes a chicken who breaks open her own eggs or her flock mate’s and eats the contents of the egg and sometimes the shell.
It often happens as an accident. An egg gets broken, maybe a hen steps on one accidentally as she goes in to lay her egg and the egg cracks open. The hen sees the yolk and white, and gives it a taste. She soon realizes that eggs are quite delicious! It then becomes an intentional habit. She will learn that if she pecks open the eggs, she can enjoy a delicious treat.
Often, this behavior is passed to other members of the coop. The other chickens observe the egg eater gobbling up the egg contents and decide to give it a try as well.
This happened to me as well, a few days later I watched as two chickens ran around the run with bits of eggshell in their beak and a whole trail of chickens chasing after trying to get a piece of the treat!
Thankfully, there is a solution that often works to stop this behavior in the form of porcelain eggs.
Porcelain eggs are a useful tool for a chicken keeper. Not only will they help stop egg eating, but as in this case, they can train chickens to start laying in their boxes again.
I think the main reason our eggs were broken in the first place is that one of the girls was emptying the box of bedding by scratching. This made the box less appealing to the other hens so they started laying in the corner. The ground, however, is a much higher traffic area and eggs are more likely to be broken.
To fix the behavior, I cleaned out the nesting box and placed fresh bedding in the box. Then I placed the eggs inside. The point of the porcelain eggs is to discourage the egg eater from breaking open the eggshell. The chicken sees the eggs and pecks and pecks but the eggs don’t break. This deters her from trying with real eggs.
Also, seeing the laid eggs in the box acts as a sign to the chicken that “This is where we’re supposed to lay.” Once eggs are in the box, the other girls are less likely to kick out the bedding. Porcelain eggs can re-train your chickens to lay in nest boxes as opposed to the floor or other undesirable places.
You can also use porcelain eggs to train young hens where they should be laying and to encourage them to start producing. They’re also helpful if you move or replace your current nest box with a new design or space.
Often times people would like to skip the incubator and have one of their hens hatch out a clutch of chicks. You can encourage broodiness by leaving some porcelain eggs in the nest box. The hen sees the eggs, and she gets the urge to sit on them. It works great if you’re waiting for hatching eggs to come in the mail, or want a chicken to hatch out a different breed than you’re collecting eggs from. It keeps her in that broody state until you can put the desired eggs under her.
I used the porcelain eggs in our coop, and the problem corrected itself within a week. I was also careful to collect eggs several times a day, and if an egg was broken, to remove any shells or remnants of yolk.
Porcelain eggs can be found at your local feed store inexpensively or online.
Some people alternatively use golf balls. I’ve not tried this method, but it might be worth a shot if you have a few lying around.