Preventing Hens from Eating Eggs

It is common for some hens in small flocks to begin consuming eggs suddenly. This is a habit, that once formed, is very difficult to eliminate. In fact, sometimes the only way to prevent the problem is to eliminate the offending hen.

Hens will sometimes begin consuming eggs when an egg breaks by accident. Any method you can use to reduce the number of broken eggs available to the hens will help prevent them from consuming more eggs. A few general management strategies will reduce the number of birds visiting specific nests and reduce the overall incidence of broken eggs. First, provide adequate numbers of nests. You should provide at least one 12 x12- inch nest for every 4 or 5 hens in your flock. The nest boxes should be placed two feet off the ground in the darker area of your facility. They should be designed with sloping tops to discourage roosting and placed well away from any roof or overhang. It is essential to maintain several inches of clean and dry nesting material in each box. Eggs can easily crack if this material is not adequate. Wheat straw is an excellent nesting material that is usually easy to locate and inexpensive. Nesting material that becomes contaminated with broken eggs should be removed and replaced. If too many hens begin laying within the same nest, relocate the nest or move the nesting material around. This will keep fewer eggs from being laid within the same nest, which will reduce the incidence of egg breakage.

Remove eggs from the nest as often as possible and properly store them below 40°F to prevent foodborne illnesses caused by bacteria. The stronger the eggshells are, the fewer will be broken during laying. Feed the hens a complete ration supplemented with calcium and phosphorus sources or oyster shells so that they receive enough calcium to develop strong egg shells. You may also consider supplementing oyster shells or limestone as a free choice in a separate feeder. As hens become older, eggshells become thinner, and the internal egg quality is reduced. If the hens are approaching 1 year of age, consider allowing the hens to molt. After molting, eggshell quality and interior egg quality will be greatly increased. This is called “Cycling,” and hens can be cycled several times. If the hens are several years old, consider culling them and replacing them with new pullets. Reduce the amount of lights reaching the nesting area. This will reduce the incidence of cannibalism by reducing pecking. Also, it eliminates any noises or sudden movement that may cause the hens to bolt from the nest. The easiest way to identify the offending hen is to observe the flock for a few days and notice if any have dried egg yolk on their beaks or sides of their heads. Once the offender has been identified, eliminating the hen from the flock is the only way to prevent it from reoccurring. Egg eating is a tough habit to break and can increase as other hens observe the first hen consuming eggs. There is nothing magic you can put in the feed or water to prevent the consumption of eggs. Eating eggs does not usually indicate that the hens are deficient in any mineral, vitamin, or dietary supplement. It is more of a learned behavioral problem.