A landmate of mine fed chickens raw egg shells not realizing the consequences. Of course the chickens became cannibals. One hen became broody and we took, in retrospect stupid, the chance of raising new chickens among the cannibals. The other chickens attacked the little newborns and the broody hen. We have separated the broody hen and the rest of the possible newborn eggs in a separate space. My question is: I've always been taught you immediately kill egg eating chickens. Is this true? Is it possible the broody hen will just eat her newborns on her own? Part of why I even bother is the hen is sitting on four Ancona duck eggs we really want hatched.
No. I have a couple chickens that will eat an egg. I lose maybe 2 or 3 eggs a year to this behavior. I don't think chickens are smart enough to get into the habit of eating the eggs they lay. I think it's more along the lines of "there's something interesting to peck at..." and they do it opportunistically. Whenever it happens, I put something interesting in the coop that will keep them busy -- a load of fresh cut clover from the lawn mower bag, a watermelon rind, overripe okra pods, corn on the cob -- something that they have to work at to get all the tasty bits out of. Chickens are stupid. And easily entertained.
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
posted 7 years ago
The 2 biggest causes of cannibalism are lack of protein, and overcrowding.
Chickens try to control flock size to match feed/protein supplies. If there is a shortage of feed or protein, they will try to resolve the issue by eliminating 'the weak'. Eggs are a known source of protein, and they can't fight back. Obvious choice for controlling flock size.
As John Elliot points out, boredom can also be a factor. A cut up winter squash will keep them occupied all day long.
Artificial lighting is another potential cause. We don't often hear of it because it is normally only practiced by the bigger commercial operations, where the birds are caged, and life expectancy of the birds is not a concern. (When the cost of a replacement chick is about equal to the daily cost of feeding a non-producer, the birds get rotated out about the time they molt their first feather.)
If egg eating is a problem (it rarely is), and cannot be otherwise resolved, it's time for chicken salad.
We had a huge egg eating problem when we let a keen wwoofer take over the chicken feeding and it turned out he had a fixed idea of how much a chicken should eat which bore no relation to what they actually needed. He would dutifully feed them a pinch each three times a day, but by the time we'd worked out what the problem was, almost all our adult hens had become determined egg eaters. We never completely cured any of them.
My neighbors are having this problem and they just figured out it was the roosters eating the chicks and eggs. We had a couple bad roosters that were going after one of the setting hens (because she wouldn't leave the eggs to run away) and they wound up breaking lots of her eggs then eating them and the babies inside. Those roos were made into soup and we didn't lose any more eggs or chicks, except for one group of hen's eggs that for some reason have very thin shells. All the rest of our hens have thick-shelled eggs. I've seen adolescent roosters get pretty violent with the hens as they try to sort out their fighting versus mating instincts. We don't keep those.
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
posted 7 years ago
Chickens attacking new chicks is not necessarily cannabilism. It's pecking order and can be fatal to the smallest of the small. I always wait at least 6-8 weeks before introducing chicks to the flock . I let the hen raise her babies in peace seperate from the others . As far as egg eating , I have always fed the shells back to chickens . I just break up the shells and toss it out with the kitchen scraps . Chickens do not make the leap of logic that the broken shell and an egg on the nest are the same thing. They do learn where their food is very quickly though and they observe each other doing so . They signal one another when they do find food . If you have a chicken that is attacking others to draw blood / flesh or eating eggs I advise putting that one in the stew pot . They will not unlearn that behavior . These habits are not normal chicken behaviors . I agree with John that protein deficits and overcrowding are the two most common causes of these habits . If you have given them plenty of room and good feed maybe you just have some crazy chickens . I'd eat 'em and start over.
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