Archive for February, 2009

Here begins my reporting on the successes of the various remedies for egg-eating in the henhouse. Things started promisingly…
On Wednesday, I let the girls free range all day while I was at work – more than 9 hours. They were so thrilled to be out that they didn’t touch the two eggs they’d laid. The next day was just as successful with 3 clean, untampered-with eggs waiting for me in the evening.
Today the backsliding began. Just as I was celebrating the possibility that I might be able to keep my favorite girl (and emerging egg connoisseur) Java, I came home after dark today and reached into the nest box to find 4 eggs… And a sticky mess next to (and on) them. I can only imagine that someone got into an egg just a little late in the day, and was discouraged from finishing by the oncoming darkness.
4 eggs is not a bad taking for one day, when you only have 5 birds to begin with. Still, I know that this is not a problem I’ll be able to live with. So the search for a solution (or magic combination of solutions) continues…

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Eggs from all 5 girls - I can even tell who lays which of the brown ones!

Eggs from all 5 girls - I can even tell who lays which of the brown ones!

We’ve been getting eggs for exactly two months now, and it sure is fun. Even though it’s winter and the laying is on the inconsistent side, we get 1-3 eggs a day regularly (all the brown eggers seem to be winter layers – Java the Barred Rock, Tipsy the Buckeye, and Curry the Australorp) – and sometimes we get all 5. I still can’t get over the lovely designer green eggs – I hate to eat them, and have since found that it’s more fun to keep 3-4 of them around to show off to visitors and give the rest away to people who will go positively berserk over them. Let them agonize over breaking that beautiful shell.

But alas, the title of this post is meant in irony… would that it weren’t so. To my great dismay, the most recent converts to the buttery taste of fresh, garden-grown chicken eggs just happen to be… the chickens. This is really bad news, as far as I can tell. Aside from the drop in egg rates over the last two weeks (I’m still getting eggs, but it’s been a long time since I got 5), the other bad sign is the sticky, filthy eggs I’m now finding, with bits of leftover eggwhite and tiny shell shards stuck to the outsides. It seems they quite methodically break and eat just one egg at a time, leaving the others intact but smearing eggy grossness all over them in the process. This compels me to soak the rescued eggs and scrub them clean, which reduces their shelf life considerably. This is the least of my problems of course – because most of the websites out there that offer advice on this sort of thing are quite unequivocal about the solution to the problem. The perpetrators must go. Other, less authoritative websites – such as the many chat boards out there on chicken issues of all kinds – offer a more colorful and varied assortment of ideas for how to handle the situation. Needless to say, I’ve decided to give those at least passing credibility, until I’ve proven all the wives’ tales useless in my own personal science experiment.

Here is a list of ALL the remedies offered by chicken people far and wide, and they are all easy enough to at least try before giving up and consigning the known culprits to Craig’s List and an uncertain fate (and I have caught Java and Curry in the act – who happen to be the two best, daily layers of big brown eggs. All the rest are really just here for entertainment and designer egg colors! Wouldn’t you know it).

I am determined to implement all the suggestions in the next week or so, and observe the results. I’ll report back here, and maybe this blog can become a trial site for country wisdom of the chicken-oriented kind – perhaps it will help someone else in the near future, though I don’t wish this little situation on anyone.

Remedies, here we go:

  • Clean out the nests to rid them of the sticky mess and smell.
  • Feed them liquid milk for a few days.
  • add oyster shell or other source of calcium to their diet.
  • break an egg in a bowl, mix with 1-2 tsp pepper, and feed to the chickens. Yum-o! More fanciful versions of this involved blowing out the contents of an egg through a tiny hole and then refilling it – using an eyedropper – with a mixture of mustard and hot pepper. Whew.
  • Put golf balls or plastic eggs in the nests. A few disappointing pecks at those supposedly will make them realize they’ve got better things to do with their time.
  • Give them more access to green grass and other variety in their diets.
  • Give them more time to free range (less chance of boredom).
  • Keep the nests in the dark and the girls on a consistent laying schedule by keeping lights off at night or using a timer only in the morning (e.g. at 3 a.m. every day instead of all night)
  • Hang a flap or cloth over the nest box to darken the nest; chickens will go in to lay eggs, but then scoot out again and can’t see to eat eggs in the dark.
  • Collect eggs more often. Wouldn’t I love to live where I could come home at lunch every day to whisk away the little treasures just as soon as they’ve been laid. But we’ll do our best to be more vigilant.
  • Keep the girls busy! Feed them leftover rice, bread crusts, keep their water supply full, and give them lots of activities. If they don’t see or smell the eggs, they’ll “forget.”

Really, the least I can do before I give away my two favorite hens is make a solid effort to vary their diets and exercise – goodness knows that in the dark days of winter, I’ve slacked off on all counts here and they’ve been rather bored and, well, cooped up. I can certainly also toss some golf balls into the nests, tack a black flap over the opening and bring them a pepper-doused egg for breakfast once or twice.

I’ll try everything on this list, evaluate the results, and post them here for the collective wisdom of all the suburban and urban homesteaders out there who might be wondering what in heck got into their kind, sweet hens to make them go after their own eggs. But if you’re finding this concept really gross, I have news for you: apparently it happens all the time. After all, chickens are true omnivores. They eat lizards, mice, frogs, bugs of all sizes, meat scraps, leftover dog food, broken egg shells from your compost bin. These ain’t no budgies.

Tune in for an update in a few days. Wish me luck, and clean (whole) eggs.

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