Chickens and Eggs

Predators took about 2/3 of our chickens this spring. A hawk killed at least one, as did a possum. But most, we think, were killed by coyotes. Thankfully things seemed to have settled down now and we haven’t had any losses in the last month.

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This small flock of Dominiques stays inside net fencing and we move them around to help rehab gardens. Here I’m using them to help shield our sweet potatoes from deer. We didn’t lose any of them.

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Our main flock free-ranges. Their freedom leaves them more vulnerable to predators.

Sadly, the victims included Little Richard and Jerry Lee, both of the roosters in our primary flock. They’d been here their whole lives and we were sort of fond of them.

So when we bought some replacement pullets from a nearby farm, we added a rooster chick as well. He’s growing and is now at that clumsy not-a-chick-and-not-yet-a-rooster stage. I still haven’t heard him crow.

Cherie named the new guy Jon Bon Jovi. At first I objected, arguing that Bon Jovi just isn’t as cool as Little Richard and Jerry Lee. Bon Jovi is plenty cool, she insisted. And she’s right. Cool enough at least to have a White Flint rooster named after him. May he live long and prosper.

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The young Bon Jovi. 

Predators weren’t the only thing that thinned our layers this spring. There was another reason and the fault is mostly mine.

Hens love to eat eggs. If you drop one and break it they’ll attack and devour it with gusto. Of course it’s rare to drop an egg, so that isn’t much of a problem. But every now and then an enterprising hen will discover how to break eggs with her beak. And that is decidedly a significant problem. Aside from losing the eggs, the broken eggs make a nasty mess in the nesting boxes, making the remaining eggs harder to clean and generally making egg-gathering an unpleasant experience.

We had an egg-eater this spring. It’s a real problem when you can’t figure out who the guilty party is. In this case, fortunately I was able to catch her in the act and I banished her to our brooder coop, intending to send her off to freezer camp when I had the time.

That being a chore I really hate, I kept finding reasons to put it off. After a few weeks in timeout she hadn’t broken any of her eggs, so I persuaded myself that she’d been cured and I released her back into the flock.

That was a big mistake.

The worst thing about egg-eaters is that they teach the other hens to do it too. Soon nesting boxes were being spoiled with broken eggs again, and I couldn’t identify the hen (in hindsight I wish I had marked her in some way). And the worst-case scenario unfolded. Soon other chickens began breaking and eating eggs too. I had to start surveilling the coop and culling out the offenders. Eventually I caught eight in the act. They all had to go.

Had I acted responsibly when the problem first began we would have lost only one hen.

Likely those of you who raise chickens already know this, but for anyone who is just starting out and who hasn’t had to deal with egg-eaters yet, take my advice: show them no mercy. When you identify the guilty chicken purge her immediately. Don’t be fooled into thinking they’ve changed their ways.

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