Crisis in the Coop?

I suspect I have an egg-eater in my coop.  Lately, my egg production seems to be down from the usual six  to about four a day.  This alone wasn’t enough  to tip me off to a bird with a possible  predilection for eggs. It’s late February and my hens have been confined to a small space now for several months.  I’d expect anyone, including birds, to be stir crazy by this point in the winter and certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see a temporary reduction  in egg production.

The possible guilty party?

The  guilty party?

But this morning when I did my usual coop check,  a furtive motion by one of my young barred rocks caught my eye.  She was thoroughly engaged with finishing off some tidbit – it looked suspiciously like an egg shell to me, but by the time I cornered her – she had swallowed the evidence.

The coop is on notice: egg-eating will  not be tolerated, and the offender, should she be identifed, will be punished.

Egg-eating is one of the most heinous offenses a bird can level against its flock owner.  Like all bad habits, it often develops out of boredom, and similarly, once started by one bird, can rapidly spread to others.  Many flock owners, especially those that have small commercial laying flocks, have a zero tolerance policy. Once the egg-eater(s) is identified, it’s culled.

For those flock owners who prefer to try a less draconian approach, it is possible to stop the egg-eating, but it takes vigilance and rapid response before the habit spreads through the whole flock.  As with the other really obnoxious bad chicken habits of cannibalism and feather-picking, beak-trimming is your answer to egg-eating.  You can beak trim your entire flock (laborious and not recommended) but generally it is sufficient to just beak trim the egg-eaters.

To do this, the culprit(s) must be identified, so start visiting your flock frequently and watch their behavior. Once  you have one or two suspects, segregate them from the flock for a few days and see if your egg numbers increase.  You can also skip the segregation part and just beak trim them immediately.

Beak-trimming needs to be done properly, otherwise a bird may not be able to eat properly. Many commercial poultry operations routinely beak trim chicks using an automatic beak-trimming machine.  When done at a young age, the beak does not regrow.  However, in  a situation such as the one here, where a fully-grown chicken is being trimmed to correct a pecking habit, the aim is to just remove a very small portion (less  than an 1/8th of an inch) of the upper beak.  This makes the beak trim temporary, and the upper beak will grow out again.  If you choose to attempt beak-trimming, refer to a poultry book for illustrations and instructions before doing so.

Obviously beak-trimming is not for the faint of heart, so the best solution to egg-eating is prevention.  Collect eggs often: two to three times a day. Keep nest boxes clean and comfy with good nesting materials to encourage hens to lay in the boxes and not on the floor.  For some reason this year, I have a couple of first-year hens that occasionally lay eggs on the coop floor – where they freeze and break; if I do now have an egg-eater, I think this is how she discovered eggs are tasty treats.     If you feed your chickens their old egg shells (which is really not necessary given the vitamin and nutrition balance of commercial layer feed), make sure the shells are completely pulverized and do not resemble an egg shell.

Lastly, young birds are more prone to this habit than older ones.  It often surfaces as the days get longer, and it is easy to imagine that it is more likely to occur in Alaskan flocks towards the end of a long winter after birds have been confined for several months.  Providing distractions, like hanging a head of iceberg lettuce, to keep birds occupied and engaged in constructive rather than destructive pecking, may help as well.

About Mara Bacsujlaky

As a 4-H agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, I offer workshops and information about raising and keeping small backyard flocks in Alaska. These services are designed for the hobbyist that keeps primarily laying chickens for home use of eggs and, secondarily, meat.
This entry was posted in Bad habits, Egg-layers, Flock, Hens, Information, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Crisis in the Coop?

  1. Jackie Moore says:

    I am just discovered that I have an egg eater as well, hopefully it is just one. I am assuming it is the one I found with egg on her face, literally. I have some pecking going on as well, I think they are just so done with winter. Been trying the hanging cabbage thing as well as a flock block. Very frustrating. Not sure I can do the beak trimming, we will see. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am sort of in a wait and see mode, figuring that as soon as the chickens can go outside during the day (which will be happening in the next couple of weeks) the bad habits will abate. I personally have not had the moxie to beak trim for anything yet (including feather picking); I have managed to subvert/alter/distract the bad habits by a variety of means – so far so good. Right now with the possible egg eater, I have just been vigilant with picking up eggs. She is definitely into eating eggs if they are on the floor, but doesnt seem to be going after those in the nest boxes…..yet.

    I tried a flock block too last year and all of my chickens totally ignored it – except to sit on top of it and poop on it. It didn’t work for my particular batch – hope you have had better luck!

  3. James says:

    Lovely post. I have shared it on my Facebook page on which I aggregate all of the best stories, tips and tricks relating to chicken keeping.

  4. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several
    emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can
    remove me from that service? Thank you!

    • Hi: I checked through all of the settings and options. I have removed the option to follow comments from future posts (so as to save others from the same headache), but I am not at all sure this will help you. If you are getting notifications from comments and other posts, then I would guess it is because you checked “follow blog” (maybe); “follow comment” should only be for that post, and it’s pretty old; I would be surprised there would be more comments. But no, I can’t manage that even as the blog author.

  5. Lydia says:

    Great information, especially as we have at least one eating eggs, probably more in our 20 bird flock. How does beak trimming keep them from eating eggs? It seems even without sharp beaks they’d have an easy time cracking eggs.

    • If you trim the upper beak – and just enough of the point, it is supposed to make them unable to peck the egg – or for that matter another bird (in the case of birds that feather-pick). I can’t vouch for it as an effective technique – although it is recommended as a way to stop egg-eaters by most poultry books. I think, however, that the conventional wisdom is that it is much better to prevent egg-eating from developing, as it is a darn hard habit to break.

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