Holes in eggs
When I go to collect my eggs I find that several have holes in them and are partly consumed. I thought this was due to rats but I have now seen a hen eating the egg. What shall I do? Are these problems common?
Egg-eating is one of those problems that can be difficult to stop once it has started. It’s important to gear your management towards preventing this annoying and also devastating vice. It’s devastating because a hen can encourage others to do this as well and the worst-case scenario is that you have to cull all the hens and start again or else devise methods so that the eggs cannot be pecked once laid.
Preventing egg eating
Usually (but not always, there are exceptions) correct management and understanding how hens behave will discourage any form of egg eating. Overcrowding, boredom and irregular collection of eggs will inevitably lead to this behaviour occurring. It’s important to understand that its natural for hens to peck at things and eggs left uncollected are an obvious target.
Nest boxes too should be private, situated in the darkest place in the house or designed so that once the hen has laid, the eggs are not on show to all the other hens.
How to stop egg eating
Firstly, identify why it has happened and correct the management problem. If hens are bored and overcrowded, enlarge the run, give them something to do – hang up vegetables or seed blocks for them to peck at. Try to let them free range for at least part of the day or even week. Then look at the nest boxes and take whatever action is necessary to make them secure from the casual attentions of the other hens. Other actions you can take include:
- Remove the culprit to another house with perhaps one other hen. Place pot eggs (china eggs) in the nest so that pecking at them does not produce anything. Be sure to collect their eggs as soon as you can after laying. Give them plenty to do and it is likely they may forget about pecking eggs when you return them to their house – having undertaken any modifications you need to do.
- The old cure for egg eating was to fill an egg full of mustard so that the pecking at it was an unpleasant experience for the chicken. No one recorded how successful this was however.
- If you really cannot break the habit it is possible now to buy free-standing nest boxes with a ‘roll-away’ tray. This means every egg that is laid rolls away from the nest box and is covered with a plastic sheet so the hen can’t get to it.
My cockerels wake me (and my neighbours) by crowing. Is there a way I can reduce this?
It’s not necessary to keep a cockerel to get eggs but if you do then there is a possibility that his crowing will be a problem, and draw comments from neighbours. Can you stop him crowing?
Cock a doodle – don’t!
You can’t stop a cockerel crowing. It’s entirely natural and right he should do so. He needs to declare his presence to other poultry in the area at daybreak and he’s done this since the first Jungle Fowl were hatched. All you can do is to use sensible methods to minimise the crowing.
Calming the crowing
If you keep more than once cockerel they will compete with each other and the same thing happens if there are two or three cockerels within hearing distance of each other. Keep only one cockerel with your hens especially if in a semi-urban area or even if you simply have close neighbours.
Not you, the cockerel. Look at where your henhouse is situated. Could you move it away from the neighbours and nearer to your house? Could you screen the crowing by planting a quick-growing barrier at the end nearest to the neighbours? Can you soundproof the house? If you black out the windows at night be sure you have not restricted the all-important ventilation.
This is probably more for prevention than cure but try to involve your neighbours in your poultry keeping activities by taking round the occasional box of eggs and inviting them to come and see them. It’s harder to complain about problems to someone you know well, and like.
Extreme methods of controlling crowing
These are to be avoided especially the ones that actually damage the bird but they include caponising (giving the bird chemicals) to ‘neuter it’ – illegal in the UK and many other countries – having a vet operate on the bird’s vocal cords (this is just plain wrong) and putting the bird in a box overnight so it cannot get its head up to crow. These are mentioned purely because a well-meaning person might advise you of them – don’t do any of them.