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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36 comments on “Chickens and Eggs

  1. avwalters says:

    Chickens. Next year. I’ll footnote that egg eating thing–sort of cannibalistic if you ask me. Do they only eat the eggs of the other chickens?

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  2. Susan says:

    Sorry about the egg eater. Hind sight is always better, but it was an honest mistake and lesson learned.
    Happy 4th to you guys

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  3. BeeHappee says:

    Wow what a cool spy story of sneaking into hen house trying to catch the cannibals. 🙂 my grandma used to feed chopped hard boiled eggs to new hatched chicks. I used to find it a bit creepy.
    I bet you all looking forward to witnessing Bon Jovi’s singing talents. 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      Just a few days ago Bon Jovi began crowing–with that raspy adolescent crow. But I’m sorry to report that he was killed by a hawk yesterday. It’s been a tough year for roosters on our farm.

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  4. Laurie Graves says:

    Quite a lesson! And one learned the hard way.

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  5. valbjerke says:

    Yes – been there done that – off to the stew pot with the offender immediately. We have found that certain breeds seem to be more prone to it than others.
    We’ve lost some of our ‘yard candy’ chickens to our long time resident eagle – he’s an adult now and can easily fly away with one. Getting braver too – our outside pens are fenced eight feet high, fairly narrow, and attached to the barn so the hens can come and go as they wish. The eagle thinks nothing of dropping in and waiting for unsuspecting hen to exit the barn. Oddly enough – one of our barn cats thinks nothing off tackling him and chasing him off. The things you see when you don’t have a camera 😊

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    • Bill says:

      In my experience the white leghorns seem to be the most prone to egg-eating, but they all will do it. White leghorns are annoying birds so I don’t mind getting rid of them. But on the other hand they have hardly any meat on them. I was sorry that one of our Dark Cornish hens was caught in the act. But on the other hand at least they’re good sized chickens.

      We have a large red tail hawk who’s been picking off our chickens lately. I hate it when that happens. Makes me feel like I haven’t done my duty for the flock. Thankfully we haven’t had any trouble from eagles.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So sorry to hear about the losses – chickens and eggs.
    We haven’t had any egg eaters in the flock even when someone accidently squishes an egg in the nest box – that is until yesterday evening… I went out to lock them up and four hens were still out. Upon closer inspection they were gobbling up a broken egg. Unfortunately when the rest of the birds heard me they all ran out to see what “lunch lady” was bringing them, saw the others eating something and then the whole flock was trying to get every little bit of that egg. I suspect the hen I saw in the nest box at 5 pm (a little late to be in there) may have been having a hard time getting that egg out so gave up and headed back out to the yard when gravity must have helped it along. Fingers are crossed that one egg doesn’t turn the whole flock into egg eaters…
    I’m sure the girls will be swooning over Bon Jovi – he’s a good looking little guy already, and I bet his crow will be music to their ears.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve heard that chickens who eat dropped eggs don’t necessarily learn to crack them themselves, but I’d worry that once they discover what eggs taste like that might try. Thankfully chickens have extremely short memories, so hopefully yours will soon forget. Egg eaters can be very frustrating.

      As for Bon Jovi, I’m sorry to say that a hawk killed him yesterday, just a few days after he started crowing. It’s been a tough year for roosters here.

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      • Oh – I’m so sorry to hear about Bon Jovi! Hope whoever is next in line lives a long and happy life.
        So far – cracked eggs in the nest have been left alone, so I think I dodged a bullet there.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. As the Red Queen said, “Off with her head!” Feeding the neighbor’s chickens, I became convinced they will eat just about anything that can’t eat them. But I get the showing mercy bit. There is something about hens that makes you like them. 🙂 –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      Indeed Curt, they will eat anything, including each other. If a chicken gets scratched or wounded it has to be removed from the coop, because the other chickens will peck at the wound. If a chicken dies, the other chickens will eat it. That’s not one of their endearing qualities.

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      • And here I thought of chickens as peaceable birds. They sound like the ground squirrels along out road, Bill. One gets run over and the others rush out to eat it. Almost guaranteeing a continuing supply of fresh ground squirrel. The fact they keep at it says something about their reproduction rates. –Curt

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  8. Sadly, another hard truth about farming, hey Bill? May your coop be free of egg-eating hens forevermore: )

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  9. DM says:

    the last time we had an egg eater, there were only 5 hens….and I never did figure out which one was the guilty party. I like that phrase “send her to freezer camp” 🙂 It was maddening @ the time…dumping all that feed into the chickens and only a fraction of the eggs we should have got. Fingers crossed…the WordPress engineers have been working on me winding up in different one’s spam folders (yours included) going to see what happens when I post this. DM

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    • Bill says:

      There are lots of suggestions out there for how to stop hens from eating eggs. I’ve tried them all (repeatedly) and none worked. Banishment is the only solution I’ve found.

      Hope you get your problem solved. Your comments are appreciated and certainly don’t belong with the spam (of which I have plenty!).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. shoreacres says:

    Well, now. This is mostly all news to me. On the other hand, I know there are some birds that will steal eggs out of the nests of other birds and snack on them, so it makes sense that chickens would do it, too. Of course, we all know the experience of putting off until the indeterminate future what ought to have been done yesterday, so I sympathize there.

    Some of my favorite songs are Bon Jovi’s, so I’m all in favor of the choice. Just hope his favorite Bon Jovi song isn’t “It’s My Life.”

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    • Bill says:

      Unsurprisingly, my favorite is Who Says You Can’t Go Home, especially the version featuring Jennifer Nettles.

      But sadly Bon Jovi’s time on the farm was brief. He was killed by a hawk yesterday.

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  11. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, egg sucking dogs rate right up there with the egg eating chickens. My uncle had to put one of his dog’s down because he acquired the taste for chicken eggs which led to the tasty chickens themselves. Once they get the taste for chicken, it can’t be broken. Life on the farm has to be ruthless at times. It’s kind of the way of nature. I hope you have solved the epidemic in your coop.

    It’s the same way at Terra Nova Gardens with wildlife. So far the sweet corn fortress is holding the line. The ears on the corn are forming and the stalks are in full tassel. This is the time when the raccoons will try to breach the fences and destroy the corn crop. The chicken wire fence and the electric fence seem to be keeping them out. I’m holding on to the hope that the raccoon problem is solved because the next step would be to trap and dispose of them. I don’t really want to do that since I did invade their space.

    Have a great restoring the coop to normal day.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m rooting for your sweet corn Dave. It hasn’t been a good year for ours, but we’re fortunate to have lots of other great veggies coming in now.

      We’re also fortunate to have never had problems with our dogs killing chickens. Our Great Pyr did kill any that ventured into the pasture, but that rarely happened. On the other hand the worst chicken disaster we ever had was when a couple of dogs from a house a couple of miles away wandered down here and wiped out nearly our entire flock. They just killed them for fun. We had raised them all from chicks. It’s one thing to lose chickens to wildlife that eat them. It’s another thing to have them massacred by someone’s pets, just for fun. Grrr…

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  12. People often wonder about old farm sayings. My maternal grandfather was a blacksmith, and my mom was his oldest child who was often enlisted to help set rims on wagon wheels etc. Needless to say she learned some colorful language, most of which I didn’t hear until I was an adult. But she often used phrases that came to be when most people lived on farms. “Don’t get caught with egg on your face!” was one of her favorites. The meaning became very clear when we sold eggs, and we got quite adept at finding an egg eater, and even more adept at catching them and dispatching the offender straight away.

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    • Bill says:

      Well I’ll be. I’ve never thought about the origin of that saying. One of the ways I try to identify the guilty parties is by looking for egg on the beak.

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  13. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Never heard of chickens breaking and eating their eggs. We are putting off starting our chicken flock. Money and time are short, and we don’t want to set our selves up for failure. But I enjoy learning about the practicalities. Hope your hens (and rooster Bon Jovi) stay happy and healthy!

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    • Bill says:

      I understand your reluctance. I enjoy keeping chickens (and I enjoy the great eggs they give us) but there are certainly plenty of frustrations. It seems that everything wants to kill chickens–hawks, owls, possums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, wild dogs, snakes, bears, etc. It can be hard to keep them alive sometimes. Sadly, we lost young Bon Jovi to a hawk yesterday.

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  14. WhirldWorks says:

    We have four hens and a rooster (who just last week started crowing). They’re about five months old now so we haven’t enjoyed any eggs as of yet, but are looking forward to it. Because our initial flock is so small and because there are no shortage of predators on our borders, I elected to keep them in a mobile chicken tractor. They don’t seem to mind…yet.

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    • Bill says:

      The flock that we keep inside the net fencing has far less trouble with predators, although we have lost some to hawks and possums. The free-ranging flock is the hardest to protect of course. We have long stretches with no losses, but we’ve been under a lot of predator pressure this year. The chicken tractor is probably a wise decision.

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  15. Laura says:

    A friend of mine told me to hollow out the egg and fill it with mustard. This way when the egg gets pecked you have your culprit. We have an egg eater and are going to try this.

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    • Bill says:

      I tried filling an egg with hot sauce, but that didn’t work. I didn’t think about using mustard to identify the guilty bird. That seems like a good idea. Hope it worked for you.

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  16. We at one time were going to keep hens on the allotments.. I am pleased we didn’t ( many on the plot were not secured properly and fox’s got some of them. ) I know there is alot more to keeping hens than just feeding and watering them..
    loved the names chosen too. and loved the pictures Bills..

    Sorry its been a while since I called in.. loving my catch up right now x

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    • Bill says:

      So glad to hear from you Sue and thanks for all of your nice comments. This is such a busy time of year I hardly have time for reading blogs either. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes and thank you Bill for the trouble you took to answer them all.. You will often find I am all or nothing LOL.. as like you, we have lives in the Real world LOL.. Happy Farming and Gardening my friend.. Take care..
        Sue 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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