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chickens eating eggs--true or old wives tale?

 
rachael hamblin
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I've heard and read from several sources that if you let your chickens figure out that their eggs taste good, they will crack all their own eggs to eat and teach the other chickens to do the same, so you should never let your chickens eat eggs.  However.  I know a woman who worked in a farm sanctuary for several years, and although the volunteers and staff there would take home some of the eggs to eat, they would also crack some of the eggs for the chickens to eat (since it's extremely good for them).  She says the chickens never started cracking their own eggs.  I have since talked to several people who have said they feed eggs to their chickens and have never had a problem with chickens cracking their own eggs.  So I am wondering, is the story of chickens cracking their eggs once they learn they taste good true, or a myth?  What has been your experience with this and what have you heard?
 
paul wheaton
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Yes,  chickens will crack and eat their own eggs.  This is usually a sign of protein deficiency.

 
rachael hamblin
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But will it become an unbreakable habit once they start, assuming they have a well-balanced diet and are getting all of their nutritional needs met?
 
paul wheaton
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I think that it is better for them to never start.

As the folks responsible for caring for the chickens, we should never deprive them of protein.
 
Dave Boehnlein
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It seems like a behavioral thing. The chicken probably does not correlate the hard, white, ellipsoid thing they see in the laying  box with the goopy, orange stuff found inside. In other words if they learn to peck holes in eggs to get food, that seems like a problem. However, if they are getting a bowl of beaten eggs, it doesn't seem like a problem.

At our place we feed them eggshells (it supposedly gives them calcium). However, we always crush them first so they don't get the idea of pecking through their own eggs.

Good thing they have tiny, little brains, no?

Dave
 
Leah Sattler
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I feed eggs (mostly shells) to my chickens. I squish them good first. Occasionally I will accidentally drop and egg while collecting them and the whole flock runs over to eat it like its a special treat. I think they just figure if I drop it is probably food for them. They leave the ones in the nest boxes alone. I don't think those teeny weeny brains allow most of them to make the connection. I have also heard of compulsive egg eaters but never have I seen one. Its  probably only the einsteins of the chicken world who can figure it out.
 
                              
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Some people will say "NEVER give eggs shells or eggs to chickens" because they think it will cause the chickens to become egg eaters.

We crush egg shells to give to the chickens and we will also let them have a dropped egg that we have beaten/mixed up with other food to make it not look like an egg.  So far, our chickens have not taken to breaking and eggs.  Heck, we have had a few random eggs laid on the ground and the chickens haven't bothered those either.  Our chickens are very well fed and have lots of space so I doubt they are craving the extra protein they would get from eating the eggs in the nest boxes.  We also placed fake eggs in the nest boxes from the beginning and some of the ping pong balls did get holes pecked in them and the girls didn't find anything good to eat there so perhaps that discouraged them from pecking at egg shaped things.
 
charles c. johnson
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sounds kinda like a dog that eats its own poop.
most of the time the dog is low on some mineral that is in there pooo
waste not want not i suppose
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Yes, chickens will eat their own eggs.  Mostly when it's happened here I think it started because an egg accidentally got broken, and they discovered that eggs taste good and that they could help themselves.  Mine that I have now will eat eggs if I leave them out there too long, so I have to check for eggs a couple of times during the day and make sure they aren't tempted.  They are well-fed, so that's not an issue.  It likely is an issue in some cases, but not all.

Prevention mostly consists of removing temptation (darken the area where the eggs are laid so chickens other than the hen that's laying doesn't see the eggs); put fake eggs in the nest so they get the idea that they can't break eggs; put bad flavored substances in a blown egg and let them try to eat that (cayenne pepper is one that's recommended); and replace your flock.  These are in addition to removing the eggs frequently, and upping the protein.  I'm getting some new chickens this year, and will keep them separate from the old birds so they don't learn to eat eggs.  Then I'll take some of the preventative measures, and hope the new birds never learn this frustrating habit!

Kathleen
 
Jami McBride
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I have fed eggs, old ones, cracked ones, etc. to my chickens for 6 years now and none of them have started the habit of eating eggs on their own.

Also I've heard of people having this problem with their chickens who have never fed eggs to them.... Hum..... I feed eggs and never have the problem, others don't feed eggs and have had the problem.  I would say feeding eggs is not the instigating factor.

We even feed old duck eggs to the chickens, just smash 'em on the ground. 

I had a chicken who always laid it's eggs on the ground no matter what I did, and no chicken ever ate them....

I feed all our egg shells back to the chickens without breaking up.

Now you might sum this all up to some special kind of luck, but 6 years is long enough experiment to satisfy me.

Maybe this is some kind of boredom (Physiological) that gets the chickens to start messing with the eggs, sooner or later it cracks and then you have reward.  Intermittent reward is the most powerful of encouragements to learned behavior (B.F. Skinner).  This is one thing about our chickens, since they are fenced we are always adding leaves (they love searching for bugs) hay and grass to their area.  We throw all our kitchen scrapes in.  And allow them to get out and roam the yard.  Habitat enrichment is fundamental to their happiness. 

Well we all know an acting-out kid is a board kid - maybe it's true for our chickens too 



 
Leah Sattler
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I wonder if it has something to do with crowded laying areas? I have never had a habitual egg eater. but I have had all the hens (the dummies) decide to lay in one box/area and sometimes some of the eggs get cracked. its impossible to really tell if anyone ate it but I can see where cracked eggs in the lay box getting eaten might end up triggering them to try and eat ones that aren't cracked......just a thought.
 
Jami McBride
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Hum... could be 

Part of my daughters homeschool education was Zoo School run by our Wildlife Safari.  One of the biggest concerns of zoologist there was habitat enrichment.  They said if they are not stimulating the animals with activities, challenges and fun they act out, destroy things, get depressed and no one wants to visit a depressed panther.  So the children were drilled on the care and enriching of the various animals.  It was so interesting....

Our chickens have lots of room in their house and area, even so I use those fake eggs to get the chickens to use all the nests.  There is a competition thing, where an incoming chicken wants the nest the only sitting chicken is in - and the fussing starts!  So I put a couple of plastic eggs in a couple of nests and this keeps the factory moving, because the desire to sit on an egg must be stronger than the one to start a ruckus over one nest.

 
                              
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Location: Inland Central Florida, USA
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Yes definitely enrichment is an important thing for any penned animals.  Bored chickens often start pecking or plucking eachother.  When my chickens start getting board, I know it as they will find ways out of their space to let me know it is time to give them new space.  Enrichment can also save on feed bills and improve the animals health.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Crowded nest areas might have something to do with it.  I've had trouble with egg-eating with previous batches of chickens in the chicken tractors -- they weren't really crowded, but were laying on the ground and then walking on the eggs.  When one got broken, of course they decided to take a taste, and ended up breaking their own. 

My current flock is loose, and almost all of them want to lay in one narrow spot in the goat shelter, behind the milking stand.  I've seen three hens all trying to get in there at once, with two more milling around waiting their turn -- and they have the whole goat shelter to lay in!  (I never intended to use it as a chicken shelter, so don't have nest boxes set up in there -- and I'll be building a coop soon.)  I haven't seen any signs of eaten eggs for a while, though, so I'm hoping the problem is under control.

Kathleen
 
                          
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Eat the chickens that eat eggs...In my experience they are "bad  apples" and never seem to stop.  It's somethimes tough to figure out which hen.  Mine are all free range, eat organic whole grains, wild fishmeal etc...I don't think they are missing anything in the diet.

I've witnessed chickens pecking whole unbroken eggs without a guilty look on their faces!

Of course they'll all eat broken eggs...
 
                          
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I read recently, although I'm not remembering where at the moment, that separating the egg-eating chicken from the others and keeping her from eating eggs for a few weeks or a month will often result in her losing the habit. They forget, especially if you give them other good-tasting foods. I also heard that it's good to hardboil any eggs you do feed them.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Jami McBride wrote:  One of the biggest concerns of zoologist there was habitat enrichment.


Have you read anything by Temple Grandin? I really like her work, and she has written extensively on chicken motivations. She is adamant that they need to hide their eggs: If there is straw etc. enough that they can cover up their eggs, they feel safe and relatively comfortable even if crowded to the limit of climate control, whereas they can have a lot of space, but will still feel very anxious if there is nothing to hide eggs under.
 
Jami McBride
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I haven't read any of her work Joel, but I do know that they like darkness where they lay, so I can believe the information on hiding.  Our ducks are big on hiding as well.
 
Alder Burns
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I'm in agreement that egg eating is a habit hard to break, and I'd be willing to send the offender to the pot, if I could only find out which one she is! Barring seeing egg on her face or watching the chickens all day, does anyone have a hint? Is a hen more likely to eat her own egg just laid, or someone else's? Is the rooster (have one rooster and six hens) ever to blame?
 
Jay Green
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Old wive's tale. Been raising chickens for 37 years now and have never had a habitual egg eater out of all the hundreds of chickens and many, many different breeds raised. I've never had a single egg eater....I've had hundreds of egg eaters. Every single chicken on this planet will eat an egg when the opportunity is presented and these opportunities increase twice a year...early spring and late summer/early fall.

Those are the times of year when egg laying is starting up after winter slow down and slowing down again as they go into molt. At these times the shells can be thinner and more easily damaged as hormones and reproductive systems go through changes, as hens climb in and out of nests, or even upon laying and they hit other eggs in the nest. Eating the damaged eggs is an instinctual thing that keeps nesting areas clean and they are also just tasty...chickens are opportunistic eaters. Thin shells, fart eggs, shell-less eggs~all of these are likely to occur during these times and this is when "egg-eaters" seem to make their appearance.

Every year at those times chicken forums are inundated with the question of "how to break an egg eater" and there are always people who swear by baiting with hot sauced eggs, fake eggs, golf balls, etc.

(These stories are like taking antibiotics for a cold...about the time the cold is running its course the antibiotics are finishing up, so people believe the antibiotics help them get over their cold, when those in the know realize that antibiotics don't work on a cold virus. Doctors prescribe them anyway because drug companies give perks when scripts are written and it makes the patient feel like they have done something for them.)

About the time the shells start firming up is coinciding with the time people are using their "egg eater" breaking methods, so when the eggs stop getting eaten, they assume it was the methods instead of the natural timing of the eggs no longer being susceptible to breakage as shells thicken.

Got an "egg eater"? Wait a while..when the shells get stronger the egg eater will magically stop eating eggs.

ETA: Another wive's tale? Feeding chickens raw eggs or fresh shells will make them turn into egg eaters....another myth. Been doing it for 37 years and never had one of those mythical beasts called "egg-eaters".
 
Michael Newby
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The only times I've had problems with egg eating is when the girls weren't getting enough Ca and the eggs were breaking on their own. This was solved by putting a layer of cardboard down under the bedding material in the nesting box and adding a couple more oyster shell dispensers. My hens will pounce on a broken egg and fight over every last bit, but they'll leave eggs that are whole right next to the broken egg untouched.
 
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