Cannibal Chickens

5:12 PM

Minnie - my green egg layer
As you know, we have chickens. Hens, really. 9 of them.
At one time, we had 11. Except one hen turned out not to be a hen at all, but a rooster.
So he moved out to a farm where he could be wild and free and as noisy as he liked.

And then we lost one hen, sadly, to what we believe was a case of an impacted egg.
It was one of our Light Brahmas (feathered leg hens) and it was one of my favorite hens. Not a happy day.

But since then, our remaining 9 have been thriving. They toughed out our winter, which really wasn't so bad. 
It was tougher on Kyle and I who had the joyous job of making sure their water wasn't frozen solid on those below freezing days. There's nothing quite like pulling on your wellies and plodding out in the cold to hack frozen water with a wrench or pouring out warm water on the frozen stuff. As you can see, we're really sophisticated around here. 

All for some eggs. Cause that is the primary reason we got these babies.
Eggs. Eggs laid by chickens that we raised and love, and eggs that we remove from the egg boxes with great excitement each day. Eggs.

Imagine my frustration, then, when I notice a few weeks ago that my chickens have taken to eating their own eggs.  I was disgusted and irritated and appalled and at a loss.  How in the world do you keep chickens from eating their own eggs? Why were they doing it in the first place?

A little research was in order here.Right up my alley.
According to various forums on etc, I learned that egg eating is not all that uncommon, but it is a problem. Chickens who begin to eat their eggs quickly realize they're yummy and they stalk other hens to get their eggs. And if you have chickens for their eggs and there are no eggs because they're eating them, that is very much a problem.

As to why they eat their own eggs, that's really not attributable to any one specific cause. Could be because the shells were weak due to a calcium deficiency, one cracked, it was sampled and liked. Solution: Give them crushed oyster shells to eat whenever they want which will eliminate the deficiency (hardening the shells to prevent cracking and reducing their desire to eat the shells to correct said deficiency). 

I did this.

The chickens continued to eat their eggs.

Another possible cause is boredom. It was winter, it was grey and wet and cold and they were not roaming the yard or anything. To "entertain" my feathered friends, I went so far as to give them a Cabbage Pinata. I strung up a head of cabbage from the top of their coop and let them take jabs at it. Now, folks, that was actually a highly amusing day for me and the kids. And sadly, a day is all it took for them to hack into and devour that cabbage. So, they were less bored for 1 day. But not bored enough to stop eating their eggs.

I filled an egg shell with mustard and let them eat it. Supposedly mustard is not something they like, and by eating it, it would deter them from eating the eggs. Well, my hens seemed to actually enjoy the mustard.

I set out an empty egg, from which I had blown out the contents, to see who my most likely offenders were. 
(Sidebar - blowing out the contents of an egg is one of those incredibly difficult, highly hilarious processes that I really didn't see in my future back in the day. It just goes to show that you can't predict your future actions).  Turns out my offenders were most likely one of my Rhode Island Reds and a Buff Orpington. The two with the biggest, floppiest combs, interestingly enough. Not sure of the significance of that detail.

I quarantined the two chief offenders in a side pen for one day to see if the egg count rose with them out of the picture. Not by much. I actually got an egg from one of the two of them and a few others, but I managed to catch some other hens stalking and eating eggs. This was now an epidemic.

The other recommendation made by these backyard chicken forums is to collect eggs more frequently. This is probably what contributed to their getting eaten in the first place, because when Wyeth was really little and super needy and it was cold and wet, I would not be dashing out that frequently to check eggs. So it's probably all my fault to begin with.

I got so mad that I became desperate. I spent most of a couple of days doing some hen-stalking myself. I would figure out when each hen was most likely to lay, then lock that hen in the coop by herself and let the others out to roam the yard. I would get the egg she laid and then systematically go down the line. People, this was way too much trouble for a few eggs. 

One incredibly interesting thing during this time is that I was so "all up in the hen's business" that I actually watched several eggs being laid. Brooklyn even got to watch one, too. I wonder if that makes me a chicken midwife or something. I'll say that my overall respect for the hens increased. Laying an egg looks very much like birthing a baby. And they do it every day. 

I began to get really worried as the date approached for us to go to Chicago for a week.
We were going to have a house sitter and a neighbor taking care of things, and they would not be able to be as vigilant as I was having to be just to get a few eggs each day. I should have been getting 8-9 per day!

As fate would have it, I happened upon a blog the day before we were to leave for Chicago, and the author was a chicken owner with lots of suggestions about ending egg cannibalism. With the exception of starting over with a whole new flock of chickens, there was one last thing I hadn't tried:

Putting up curtains over the egg boxes.

Apparently, if the egg boxes and their contents are too visible, the eggs are more likely to get eaten. 

I was desperate. And Kyle and I had just that morning thoroughly cleaned our coop from top to bottom, so if there was ever a time to get up in the henhouse part and put up curtains, it was now.

I found some leftover black and dark grey knit fabric and cut it into some basic rectangular shapes. I sat down smack dab in the pine shavings and hammered some nails around with the hopes that the fabric would hold and not get ripped out.  I cut a slit in the fabric so the hens could get in and out, and for one egg box, I overlapped two separate fabrics as the "entrance."

And I hoped for the best. Sunday morning, as we were heading out of town, Kyle checked the coop for me and he said the curtains were still up and there was a hen in each egg box.

They don't look all that fancy, do they?

These curtains cover three egg boxes.

Folks, I am delighted to say that while in Chicago, our friend and house-sitter, Lindsey, got 22 eggs over a 3 day period. That's an average of 7.33 eggs per day. The curtains were working!

Since that day, I have been getting eggs like crazy. I currently have over 5 dozen eggs in my fridge! 
As crazy as it seems, it appears that simply being out of sight, the eggs are now out of mind and no longer on the menu. I could not be happier!!!

Of course, it was the LAST thing I tried, but I'm so happy it's working! Yesterday, I got 9 eggs - one from each hen! My little ladies are truly earning their keep these days. Praise God!

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