Cannibal in the coop

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We have an egg problem.

Production has dropped to just one or two eggs a day. At first, we thought it was just that the chickens are molting. Then we realized we had an egg-eater.

Was it her?

We occasionally found a broken egg in the nest box, but we put it down to accident. These things happen. Eventually, it became clear that there were too many to be happenstance. And sometimes, there was nothing but a damp yellowish spot in the straw; the whole egg was gone.

It probably started because the chickens weren’t getting enough calcium (we should have given them more oyster shell) and their eggshells were thin. The first couple were accidents, but then at least one of the chickens discovered that she liked eggs and, miracle of miracles, that there was a constant supply.

Egg-eating is a very hard problem to cure. You’re supposed to minimize the opportunity by collecting the eggs as frequently as possible but, no matter how vigilant you are, the chicken’s always going to be first to know when there’s a new egg.

The only sure-fire solution is the stewpot but, if that’s the route you’re going to go, you first have to identify the egg eater. This is no easy task. Kevin did some research on how to figure out which of your chickens is eating eggs, and here was the best suggestion he found: look for the one with egg on her beak.

Or maybe her?

Great.

Many years ago I saw a movie, or maybe a television show, in which a young girl was raped. She had to spend some time in the hospital, and the scene that sticks in my mind is the one in which her father, or maybe her brother, is driving her home. They’re driving through town and the girl gasps and points at a man walking down the street. “That’s him!” she says. “Are you sure?” asks the father, or the brother. She’s sure.

The father or the brother pulls over, chases the man into a parking garage, or maybe a vacant lot, and kills him. He gets back in the car and they’re on their way. A half-mile down the street, the girl gasps and points again. “That’s him!” she says.

Kevin caught Queenie, fair and square, with egg on her beak. “That’s her!”

Now what do we do?

Snack time

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Comments

  1. Kim Graves says:

    LOL. What to do. Depends on if you’re raising chickens for meat or eggs. If the latter then slaughter the egg eating chicken and eat her. If the later, than slaughter the egg eating chicken and eat her.

    If you’re asking how to slaughter, read Michael Pollen. He has a complete description. Killing is easy, cleaning is the hard part.

    Really enjoying your blog. We’re doing the same thing in the Hudson Valley

  2. Not Queenie!!!!! (said with a gasp) In Queenie’s defense, Maybe she just curious and checked out the offenders left overs and got a little shell on her beak. Could it possibly be a weasel or a snake? Can you use the varmint cam?

    Love the blog, it is addictive. I grew up on the Cape (on the other end) and you bring me home with each entry. Lobstering is HARD work. But when you do it right, My high school students make half my teacher salary in 8 weeks. Can’t wait for the book, no pressure.

  3. My daughter-in-law had two cats and had a problem with one of them urinating in the house – and she’s a VERY finicky housekeeper., so this was unacceptable. She thought she had identified the culprit and had it put to sleep. Oops, turned out it was the other one. Needless to say, she felt horrible. So I think you might keep watching, or use the varmint cam to try to catch the culprit in the act. Can you separate her from the others and see what happens?

  4. I wish I could remember where I saw a diagram of a special nest box for egg-eating hens. It has a drop floor where one section of the floor cants back and down to gently roll the egg onto the second half of the floor, which cants forward and down to gently roll the egg onto the real floor of the nest box. I’m sure Kevin could rustle up a new nest box- I just wish I could describe it better.

  5. Kim — If we were absolutely sure that we had one egg eater, and we could identify her with confidence, we wouldn’t hesitate. But at this point, they may all be doing it, for all we know. Either way, this may give us our first experience slaughtering chickens.

    Julie — Yes, Queenie. But it’s certainly possible she stuck her beak in an egg that was already broken. Hence our hesitation. I like the varmintcam idea.

    I’m glad that you see Cape Cod in my blog.

    Sarah — A second on the varmintcam! We may have to rig it up in the coop. Isolation is another possibility. We tried it, but only for an afternoon because we felt too sorry for her. Fine chicken owners we are, eh?

    I’m sorry about the cats. Once you have more than one animal, everything gets more difficult.

    Paula — Now there’s an idea! I’m sure we can find a diagram on the web. If our nestboxes are big enough to accommodate the false floor, that might solve our problem. Thanks.

  6. Gather some eggs and blow out the insdies then fill with mustard or hot sauce or anyting a hen will hate. Put it back and let the hen find it. You might have to repeat in a few days but it ususally works. I think I found this idea on Backwood Home, Grit or Mother Earth. I’m sure the info is out there. It’s like breaking the fingernail chewing habit. Just make them taste bad.

  7. Brooke S says:

    My husband would use an instance like this as the perfect excuse to have a beer can chicken on the grill.

  8. The caption of your last picture is sooo ambiguous….Queenie ready to have a snack, or time to turn Queenie into snack food? Hmmmm…

    I have this stone egg I bought decades ago at some airy-fairy exhibit, for no discernible reason. I guess I just liked the feel of a smooth, heavy, egg shaped stone. I’ve always thought that if we had an egg eating problem, I could leave the stone egg in the nest for them to bust their beaks against. I imagine it would precipitate a magnificent chicken headache. Chickens are none too bright, but I feel sure they’d figure out the connection sooner or later. So maybe the varmint cam plus a deterrent? Do you feel confident the varmint cam would show enough detail to firmly identify the culprit?

  9. Great suggestions! I know if we lock everyone out of the hen house for a day (24 hours) that seems to break the cycle (of course you get a lot of pent up hens who want back in). My best luck finding the egg eater is to break an egg. All I do is set an egg on the ground (in the hen house, when they are all settling in for the night) and drop another egg on it. Usually the hen who has figured out that eggs are yummy, associates the sound with food and hops down and comes running over. (often followed by and accomplice or two). We often separate her for two or three days (old rabbit hutch) and make sure the problem is gone before going through with the death sentence.

  10. This is great. I write a whiny post about my egg-eating chicken, and I get inundated with practical suggestions!

    Susan — That hot sauce plan is really clever. And easy to implement. That may go in tonight.

    Brooke — That’s Plan Z!

    Lisa — Do you suppose I can still get one of those? I figure they knew a thing or two about chickens in 1938.

    Kate — I, too, had one of those stone eggs at one time, but I don’t know that I can put my hands on it. (Maybe a golf ball would be a reasonable substitute?) I hope you never have to use it.

    Adam — Weird that locking them out would break the cycle, but I’ve had chickens just long enough to know you can’t reason it through. In any case, it’s worth a shot. We can’t let them roam free at night because of predators, but we can keep them in the run and lock them out of the coop. Boy will they be mad.

    We may try the breaking eggs strategy, too, but since we’ve already caught Queenie in the act, perhaps we should try isolating her. Now that the turkeys are out of the brooder, it could be home to a hen in solitary.

  11. I love the mustard idea, and also the egg-catch contraption thing. This is reminding me of wiley coyote. good luck and let us know what happens!

  12. The only problem with hot sauce is that birds can’t taste capsaicin- that’s why they put it in bird feed that’s supposed to be squirrel proof- the mammals can taste and leave it alone; the birds can’t taste it, so they plow right through the seed. Maybe mustard would work.

    I’ve read that the stone egg works, and that golf balls do too, so try the golf ball.

  13. Dina — You’re right! It is a Wile E. Coyote kind of problem. I clearly need the Acme Egg-Eat-No-More Kit.

    Paula — There is just no limit to the things I don’t know. I had no idea birds couldn’t taste capsaicin. But I have a few unappetizing things lurking in the back of my refrigerator that just might work.

    You sure know a lot about chickens, for a girl who doesn’t have chickens.

  14. I know a lot of things, about a lot of things, but that’s because I research, research, research. And I remember weird stuff that interests me, and a lot interests me. But you remember that I couldn’t remember where exactly I’d found that nest box tidbit….hate when that happens.

  15. Can you just load them up on calcium and hope for the best? Of course you may not be able to tell the difference between the eggs passed and the kidney stones passed….

  16. Paula — I have enough trouble remembering things I’m supposed to know, let alone where I read them.

    Faith — We’re clearly on the same wavelength. My stepson is outside crushing oyster shells as we speak. And I put golf balls in each of the nest boxes — so far today, one intact egg, none eaten. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

  17. No chicken experience here but just wanted to check in and say how much I enjoy your blog. I am really curious to hear what happens.

  18. I never managed to break Myfanwy our egg-eating chicken with the stone egg, mustard egg or chicken specs (I’m happy to send you a pair if you would like to give them a try). I couldn’t even get to the eggs before she did.

    I just wanted you to know that if you don’t manage to break her, you’re not alone. It is incredibly difficult to dissuade a hen with a taste for a free, delicious calorific food source to ignore it.

    The only thing that cured her was a new home, and I don’t know why that worked, except she’s the only hen there.

    I wished I asked Paula – the cantilevered floor-into-box seems so obvious in hindsight!

  19. Stephanie says:

    You can get stone or wooden darning eggs in antique/collectible stores or at auctions, and new ones from some fiber arts places (just search “darning eggs” online — there’s probably a source near you!). We used to use them to show the young hens where to lay; I don’t know if they’ll teach them to stop pecking the eggs, but it can’t hurt, and the stone ones, in particular, are very satisfying to hold. You can always display ’em in a bowl if you’re not using them in the henhouse — or use them to darn your socks!