Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Davaroo, Jun 25, 2008.

  1. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    We hear a lot about this topic, here at BYC. Lots of question surface about it, often from alarmed newbies seeing it occur for the 1st time.
    There are always lurid reasons given as to why it happens, from protein deficiencies to phases of the moon.
    There are also similarly lurid details given as to ways of stopping it. Much is mere colorful fantasy, sometimes repeated just because it sounds good. [​IMG]

    In the interests of public service, here are some details and facts on the matter. I found them at least interesting, and hope they help one and all; make of them what you will.


    Egg Eating by Chickens
    J.P. Jacob, F.B. Mather and H.R. Wilson

    Egg eating in a laying flock can cost a producer considerable money. Like many bad habits, it is much easier to prevent egg eating than to cure the habit once it has developed. It is usually initiated by accidental egg breakage, but birds will then learn to break eggs themselves.

    Egg eating occurs primarily in flocks that are kept on the floor (i.e., not in cages). A number of factors can contribute to egg eating. Egg eating can result when the hens are overcrowded, when light intensity is too bright, when there are inadequate nests, when the nests are not constructed properly, or when there is insufficient nest litter. Some small flock owners throw cracked or broken eggs on the floor for the chickens to eat. This practice will encourage egg eating.

    Failure to house pullets before heavy egg production begins, failure to provide nests on range, or failure to train pullets to lay in nests may also cause egg eating to develop. When pullets begin laying, or when they are moved to the laying house, they should be trained to use the nests. Providing roosts during the growing period contributes to greater ease in training pullets to use nests. A little time spent each day in putting floor layers in nests will assist in reducing egg breakage and reduce chances of an egg eating outbreak.

    The tendency to eat eggs can be aggravated by either a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D in the ration. Such deficiencies also contribute indirectly to egg eating by causing poor shell quality and broken eggs. If the flock is receiving a commercial layer ration, such deficiencies are rare. When a small flock owner mixes a commercial feed with scratch (i.e., cracked grains) or other feed elements, they are diluting the previously complete diet. Under such circumstances, deficiencies may occur.

    - Control Measures
    If there is a problem with egg eating in a flock, the following control measures may help:

    1. Gather eggs more frequently. Once a day is not enough -- three times or more is better.

    2. Be sure plenty of nests are provided. Allow one regular type nest for each four layers or 1 square foot in a community type nest for each three to four layers.

    3. Darken nests. Dark nests reduce egg breakage and egg eating as well as the numbers of dirty eggs produced.

    4. Feeding of liquid milk for a few days often reduces egg eating.

    5. Break an egg in a bowl and mix 1-2 teaspoons of ground pepper into it. Pour the mixture on the floor so the birds will eat it. The bad taste may reduce egg eating.

    ((( Like all birds, chickens are unaffected by capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers. In fact, most birds, chickens included, relish peppers of all kinds!
    Given that, why would you be advised to give them a free egg meal, as a way to solve the problem??? This one strikes me as sheer lore, and I'm surprised to see it here. But, hey, what do I know [​IMG]: )))

    6. As a last resort, beak trim the birds. Often it is only a few hens which are doing most of the egg eating. Observe your hens and try to identify such hens. The presence of egg yolk on the beak often helps in identifying them. These hens can be removed from the flock or at least beak trimmed by cutting off ¼ inch to ½ inch of the upper beak. Beak trimming the entire flock while in heavy egg production may result in reduced production unless care is taken to see that feed consumption is kept at a normal level.

    University of Florida Extension Services


    Prevention of Egg Eating

    Egg eating by hens is a habit formed over time which is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to break. It is important you plan and manage your facilities so that the hen never gets the first taste of a broken egg.

    Prevention management practices include:

    - Reducing Traffic in the Nesting Area.
    Egg breakage is a major reason why hens start eating eggs. Excessive traffic in the nesting area increases the chance of egg breakage. Some precautions which can be taken include:

    a) Provide one 12" x 12" nest for every 4-5 hens in your flock. Never have less than 6 nesting boxes. Always locate the nests at least 2 feet off the ground and at least four feet away from the roosts.
    b) Keep 2 inches of clean, dry nesting material in the nests at all times. Many eggs are cracked due to a lack of protective padding in nesting boxes.
    c) Remove all broody hens from the nesting area. Broody hens reduce nesting space and cause more traffic in the remaining nests.

    - Nutrition.
    To keep the egg shells strong, feed a complete ration and supplement oyster shells free choice. The oyster shells serve as a calcium supplement to keep the shells strong.
    Never feed the hens used egg shells without smashing them to very fine particles. If the hen can associate the shell to the egg; the hens are encouraged to pick at the fresh eggs in the coop.

    - Keep Stress Minimized
    a) Don't use bright lights in your coops, especially near the nesting area. Bright light increases nervousness and picking habits.
    b) Do not scare the hens out of the nesting boxes. The sudden movement can break eggs in the box and can give the hens a taste of egg and promote egg eating.

    - Egg Eating Can Be From Outside.
    Egg eating can be done by predators such as snakes, skunks, rats, weasels and other predators. If your hens are eating eggs, the hen will usually have dried yolk on their beaks and sides of their heads. Egg eating hens also can be seen scouting the nests for freshly laid eggs to consume.

    If you do catch an egg eater, cull her from the flock at once. Egg eating is a bad habit that will multiply the longer you let it continue. If one hen starts eating eggs, other hens will soon follow.

    Prevention is the only proven treatment. Collect eggs often and collect eggs early in the day. Most hens will lay before 10:00 am each morning. The longer the eggs are in the barn, the better the chance it will be broken or eaten

    - - Virginia Cooperative Extension, Small Flock Factsheet, Number 33

    Phillip J. Clauer, Poultry Extension Specialist
    Animal & Poultry Sciences Department
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 25, 2008
  2. ravenfeathers

    ravenfeathers Songster

    May 23, 2008
    Quote:is it possible the author is referring to black pepper, which has piperine as the active "hot" rather than the capsaicin of the capsicum cultivars? i've no idea of piperine is more or less tolerated by birds than capsaicin, but it's possible.
  3. dacjohns

    dacjohns People Cracker Upper

    I think the article gives some sound advice with a couple of possible exceptions.

    The article has the appearance of legitimacy since it comes from university and has multiple authors. Does it reference research or other articles. I have in some cooperative services publicatications that misinformation is often passed on because anothe publication was copied word for word.

    It should have said what kind of pepper. I assumed red pepper which is often put with bird seed to keep the squirrels away.

    Beak trimming may help with identification of the culprits but I don't think trimming itself will stop egg eating.

    I think some egg eating is the result of thin shells. Hen lays an egg, checks it out, shell is thin and cracked or punctured, hen gets a taste, hmm, this is good and finishes the meal.

    Milk? Hadn't heard that before.

    Most eggs by 10:00. Maybe, mine are more like noon.

    As always, thanks elderoo for some great information.
  4. Nupine

    Nupine Songster

    Nov 21, 2007
    That is some great info, I have two egg eating turkens, I will try the pepper and report back.
  5. Wolf-Kim

    Wolf-Kim Songster

    Jan 25, 2008
    Quote:Let us know your results and please be sure to specify whether you used red pepper or black.

  6. WestKnollAmy

    WestKnollAmy The Crazy Chicken Lady

    Apr 22, 2008
    upstate SC
    I put red pepper in my chickens feed all the time. They love it and readily eat it. I use it as a dewormer. I am really confused about the pepper.........[​IMG]
  7. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Im w/dacjohns here. Just because something comes from a "reputable" source, does't mean it has any resarch to assure its validity. Scientists are as prone to re-telling the colorful as anybody, I suppose.

    Most of you know I am a legitimate "poultry crank," and have an extensive library on poultry keeping. I have heard of all of those things mentioned, at some point or another, written down long before the credited authors were probably alive.

    The pepper trick? It was mentioned long ago as being worthless, so I WAS surprised to see it. The feeding of milk? Ditto.
    Skim milk was used as a wet mash component to use up what was otherwise a normal dairy by-product. Hogs have always received it, and so it is logical to feed it to chickens. This was the first place I had heard of it being fed in liquid form, for any reason.
    Egg eating will continue with or without it.

    Honestly, I was in debate whether to even include the first of these two. I didn't want to edit it to be fair, and because there was much good in it.
    However, it should be said that the latter one jibes perfectly in both detail and tone with what has always been taught about egg eating.
    The former has some holes in the prevention end, to be blunt.

    Taken as a whole, these two sum the matter up nicely. I am not credentialed, however, and my opinion is just that - opinion. Again, do with the information what you will.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 25, 2008

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