It’s a question that has puzzled chicken owners for years: why do chickens eat their own eggs!? It just isn’t right.
Hens are supposed to protect and sit on the eggs they lay, not eat them. It is ghastly behavior, even if the eggs aren’t fertilized.
Are your chickens just cannibals? Is something wrong with them? Why do your chickens eat their own eggs?
Chickens eat their eggs for various reasons, including environmental stressors, food shortage, calcium deficiency, and learned dietary behavior.
Egg cannibalism might occur spontaneously or be inadvertently developed by improper feeding practices.
In any case, you can and should discourage your birds from eating their eggs to prevent future mortality.
It can be a very tough behavior to stop once chickens start doing it, but with the right knowledge and a little tenacity, you can put an end to it.
In the following sections, we will take a closer look at each of these reasons and then offer some solutions on how to prevent and stop your chickens from eating their own eggs.
There are many different environmental stressors that can lead to chickens eating their own eggs. Lack of nest space is one of the most common.
If your hens don’t have enough space to lay their eggs in peace, they may become stressed and start eating them. Make sure you provide at least one nesting box per five hens.
Poor ventilation is another culprit. Poorly ventilated chicken coops can cause respiratory problems (stress) in chickens, which can lead to egg eating.
If chickens aren’t content with the safety and comfort of their environment, they decide that they don’t want to have chicks there, and may eat the egg to recycle their nutrient investment. Make sure your coop is well-ventilated to prevent this problem.
Another major stressor is extreme weather. Harsh weather conditions, either too hot or too cold, can also stress out chickens and make them more likely to eat their own eggs.
Try to keep your chickens’ environment as consistent as possible to minimize stress.
One of the most overlooked reasons chickens eat their own eggs is because they’re simply hungry.
If your hens don’t have enough to eat or are unsure of when they can expect their next meal, they will start looking for food wherever they can find it, including their own eggs.
Face it, eggs are highly nutritious, and you better believe your chickens know this!
Make sure you are feeding your chickens a high-quality diet that includes all the necessary nutrients and vitamins, and doing so on a schedule where they are both expecting the food and not going too long without it.
If you’re not sure if your chickens are getting enough to eat, ask your vet or a poultry nutritionist.
One big giveaway that this is the reason they are turning to their eggs for food is if it occurs at or around the same time every day. If they don’t hear that dinner bell in time they might crack their eggs open!
One of the most serious (and thankfully easy to correct) motivators for egg cannibalism is a lack of calcium in a chicken’s diet.
Chickens need lots of calcium for their own use and also to produce strong, healthy eggshells reliably.
If they don’t get enough calcium from their diet, they will instinctively start looking for other sources, including their own eggs.
A chicken’s diet should include a high-quality source of calcium, such as oyster shells or limestone. You can usually find this at your local feed store.
If you’re unsure how much to give your chickens, consult a vet or a certified poultry nutritionist for guidance.
In addition to supplementing with calcium, make sure your chickens have access to plenty of fresh water. Calcium intake often increases thirst.
Dehydration is bad for chickens, like all animals, and can also lead to health problems and increases stress levels, which in turn will lead to- you guessed it- the possibility of eating their own eggs!
Learned Dietary Behavior
This one seems as obvious as can be, but I am continually surprised and a little depressed at how many folks screw this up.
Chickens are omnivores, and chickens can eat eggs. Any eggs, not just chicken eggs.
Accordingly, some experts and well-meaning simpletons tell other chicken owners that you can just add raw chicken eggs (whole or cracked) to the diet of your chickens to give them a boost of nutrition. This is true: you can do that.
What happens next is the birds quickly associate the smell and taste of chicken eggs with good eating.
The next time that a hen lays an egg, guess what they see now? Food! And so they repeat the learned behavior.
But it gets worse. Chickens are highly social, and often exhibit copycat behavior. If one chicken starts eating eggs, other chickens will see this behavior and decide that it must be a good idea.
So they start eating eggs. And then the other chickens see them and so on and so on. Now you have a flock of egg-eating cannibal chickens on your hands!
To be clear, you can safely give eggs to your chickens, but you need to be smart. Cooking and scrambling the egg first drastically changes its shape, texture, color, and odor, as does hiding it in other food.
So long as you take this crucial step your chickens should not associate eggs in their diet with their own “eggs, the shape” with food.
Putting an End to Egg Cannibalism
Despite your best efforts or due to a lack of effort you now have one or more birds in your flock that are eating eggs. Now what?
The first step is to figure out which chicken or chickens are doing the deed. This can be tricky, as they will likely eat the egg when you are not around.
One way to figure it out is to separate the flock into groups temporarily and then check laid eggs regularly.
Once you have zeroed in on the culprit or culprits, you can take steps to correct the problem.
If the egg eating is due to a lack of calcium, make sure to supplement their diet with a high-quality source of calcium. You can usually find this at your local feed store.
Then set about assessing their environment with fresh eyes. Make sure they have plenty of space to roam and forage, and that their coop is clean and dry.
If the egg eating is due to learned dietary behavior, you will need to take a two-pronged approach.
First, stop feeding them eggs entirely. Then, resort to this old trick: place a golf ball in the nest box after removing the eggs.
Golf balls will resoundingly inform chickens that they cannot be pecked open and aren’t for eating, discouraging the behavior.
Culling Reprobate Egg-Eaters
If, sadly, you have a repeat offender egg-eating chicken in your flock, one that simply will not stop no matter what, then your only real option is to cull them from the flock.
This means removing them from the coop permanently, either by selling or giving them away, or moving them to a “colony” with other trouble birds.
If you are raising birds for meat as well as eggs, you can consider dispatching them so you get more use out of them.
Culling is a tough call for many chicken owners, but it is sometimes necessary to protect the rest of your flock. A single offender can quickly ruin the harmony (and production) of an entire flock.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.