Eggs are a valuable resource when it comes to owning chickens. They can either be a source of revenue when sold, they can give birth to a new generation of chickens, or you can consume them and never have to buy eggs at the store again. Sadly, one of the fastest ways to ruin your egg-related goals is your own chickens pecking holes in them.
Most owners see this as an irrational behavior and can’t understand why any of their chickens would intentionally sabotage their eggs. If you’re one of these individuals, read on as we cover the seven reasons why your chickens might be pecking holes in their eggs, along with some tips for preventing this behavior.
Chickens Are Just Curious
Anyone who has owned or currently owns chickens knows that they’re incredibly curious by nature.
Despite being prey animals, domesticated chickens love to wander their owner’s property (if permitted) and investigate new things due to their notable intelligence, sparking an affinity for inquisition. Unfortunately for your eggs, this burning curiosity can quickly become an issue.
A leading reason why chickens poke holes in eggs is that they are curious about the egg itself and its contents. This behavior is most common in younger chickens, particularly pullets (hens less than a year old).
Remember that the hen laying your eggs isn’t the only chicken in the flock that might have access to them. There will be times when other members wander by, and their curiosity takes over. This might lead them to move or even peck at the egg to the point that they create holes in the overtly fragile shell.
Considering hens can lay eggs as soon as 18 weeks old (although 6 months is more common), it isn’t unusual for first-time mothers to investigate their new eggs a little too enthusiastically and unintentionally damage them. (source)
Chickens May Be Bored
If there’s anything worse than being too curious, it’s being too bored, and if you think you get bored, try being a chicken stuck in a coop with nothing around but a roost and tons of straw. In an environment like this, messing around with eggs might be the most stimulating thing your chickens can do.
Apart from curiosity, boredom is one of the more likely reasons your chickens are pecking holes in eggs as boredom increases pecking behavior.
As we mentioned previously, chickens are relatively intelligent animals (comparable to dogs), which means they require sources of stimulation to stave off boredom and, hopefully, leave your precious eggs alone.
How to Prevent Chicken Boredom and Redirect Curiosity
When your chickens don’t have an outlet for their curiosity or energy, they’re going to turn towards the nesting area for entertainment.
Therefore, one of the best ways to eliminate these causes of egg pecking is to add sources of stimulation around your coop and your chicken’s immediate environment. Some ideas include:
- Installing perches, swings, and ladders
- Hanging treat dispensers
- Providing a dust bath area
- Purchasing chicken-friendly toys (ex. plastic balls, mirrors)
If your chickens are used to being handled, sprinkling in some petting time can also be great for stimulation and bonding, in addition to the sources of enrichment listed above.
Giving your chickens more space, both outside and within the coop, will also help, as this allows them to wander around rather than being cooped up with the eggs.
Shell Testing: Natural Selection At Its Finest
While we’d like to get the most out of every egg laid, either through sale, consumption, or hatching, sometimes hens know best, and they discover this through pecking an egg’s shell.
Hens will often test eggs to see if they are viable for hatching and, therefore, worth the effort and energy of being sat on. One way they do this is by pecking at the egg’s shell to test its strength.
Eggs with exceptionally weak shells will be discarded by the hen and sometimes eaten by one of the chickens in the coop.
Sometimes, the egg was perfectly viable, and the hen simply pecked too hard, but usually, this form of testing is used to find soft-shelled eggs, which have a reduced chance of hatching a healthy chick and should not be consumed.
Soft-shelled eggs are more common in older hens and/or hens with a calcium deficiency.
So, if you notice an uncommonly high number of soft-shelled eggs being laid in the nesting area, you can potentially reduce this by limiting how often your older hens lay eggs and by taking a serious look at your chickens’ diets to ensure they are receiving enough calcium.
Here’s a good video with some info on chickens and calcium in their diet:
Supporting the Growing Chick
This is probably the most wholesome reason why your hens or other chickens might be pecking an egg’s shell, which only makes it more disheartening when it goes a bit too far, and they poke a hole in the exterior.
As chicks grow and develop inside the egg, a hen will occasionally tap on the egg’s shell as a demonstration of support and encouragement for the chick.
An easy analogy to this would be a pregnant woman rubbing her abdomen or talking to her baby. Granted, that is more for bonding purposes, versus in this situation, hens will perform this behavior in the final stages of the chick’s development process around the time they’re expected to hatch.
Typically, the peck isn’t supposed to be more than a light tap on the shell, but sometimes a hen will accidentally peck too hard or too frequently in the same spot, creating a hole. Another cause could be if the chick’s shell wasn’t as strong as it could be, and therefore, this light tapping was more than the shell could handle.
It Wasn’t a Beak at All, But a Chickens Foot
You wouldn’t be the first chicken owner to come out to the nesting area, find that an egg or two has some punctures in the shell, and assume one of your chickens pecked a hole in it. While egg pecking does happen, it isn’t entirely unlikely that there’s an alternative explanation for why there are holes in some eggs.
Sometimes holes in chicken eggs are created by chickens stepping on them rather than pecking them. This is particularly common in cramped coops where chickens don’t have space to move or roost away from nesting boxes.
A great way to see if a chicken is pecking your eggs or if it’s being trampled on instead is to set up a camera in the coop to try and capture these occurrences.
If you don’t have the technological means to do this, maybe analyze your chicken’s coop and overall living area. Ask yourself if they have sufficient room to move around and away from the nesting area you have set up.
- If you don’t have designated nesting boxes, then this is definitely the first step you should make, as training your hens to lay in nesting boxes will reduce the odds that these eggs are laid around the coop.
- You’ll also want to be sure these boxes are large enough for your hens to move around and lay eggs comfortably without being overly roomy, hens like to lay eggs in dark, cozy spaces.
Another factor to consider is whether your nesting boxes are on the ground. Chickens instinctually prefer to lay their eggs in an elevated environment, so you’ll want your nesting boxes to be a foot or so off the ground both for egg production purposes as well as reducing their chances of being trampled.
Something Might Be Lacking in the Chickens Diet
We briefly discussed how a chicken’s diet could affect their egg’s when mentioning that a calcium-deficient hen often produces soft-shelled eggs. But this isn’t the only time your chicken’s diet can play a role in egg pecking, and it isn’t just the laying hens you’ll want to consider.
The most troublesome reason why your chickens might be pecking holes in eggs is that they are hungry and trying to acquire something nutritionally from consuming the egg that they are lacking in their general diet.
Aside from a calcium deficiency (which will be evident if the chickens are also eating the shells, not just what is inside), a chicken consuming the contents of an egg could indicate a protein deficiency. Ideally, you’d catch other signs of these deficiencies before they lead your chickens to eat eggs, as this can cause a serious issue we’ll discuss further momentarily.
Symptoms of a calcium-deficient chicken include: (source)
- Soft-shelled eggs or shell-less eggs
- Abnormal skeletal development (usually in chicks)
- Feather loss
Symptoms of a protein deficiency in chickens include: (source)
- Compromised immune system
- Reduced muscle size
- Wing depigmentation
- Feather abnormalities
Of course, you can hopefully avoid these deficiencies altogether by providing your chickens with ample sources of both protein and calcium through foods and supplements like those listed below.
|Sources of Calcium for Chickens||Sources of Protein for Chickens|
|Crushed oyster shells|
Leafy greens (ex. kale, swiss chard, collard greens)
Layer feed with higher calcium content
Calcium supplements specifically for chickens
Most meats scraps and organs (ex. lamb, beef, pork)
As long as you have a healthy amount of these foods and supplements available for your chickens, it’s unlikely they’ll develop a deficiency that leads them to peck and consume eggs laid in the coop.
Here’s a good video with some tips on preventing eaten eggs:
A Chicken Formed A Habit of Eating Eggs
We’ve saved this reason for last because it is undoubtedly the biggest challenge to prevent and resolve if you’re certain this is why your chickens are pecking eggs.
Whether they consumed one egg due to a dietary deficiency, out of boredom, or from sheer curiosity, your chickens can become habitual egg eaters that will grow to enjoy the taste of unhatched eggs and intentionally go out of their way to peck holes in an egg’s shell and consume the contents.
The unfortunate reality here is that you could be feeding your chickens a spectacular diet and fill their environment with endless space, toys, and various sources of enrichment and stimulation but find that one (or more) always seems to eat an egg or two for no other reason than the fact that it wants to.
Dealing with habitual egg eaters can be an exceptional challenge, especially if you don’t know initially which chicken(s) is responsible.
Even if you know the culprit, now you have to find a way to keep their content and away from the eggs. Luckily, we have some tips for overcoming this nasty habit.
How to Stop Chickens from Eating Eggs
There are several ways you can stop your chickens from eating defenseless eggs, but the process always starts with confirming this is the cause of pecked or broken eggs and then finding the chicken(s) responsible.
Previously we mentioned that owners could easily install cameras pointed at their nesting boxes to try and catch any egg pecking, and this can be adapted here to see if your chickens are actually eating the eggs.
Some alternatives are to go in an old-fashioned way and plant yourself on a chair outside the coop early in the morning and wait until you hear that indicative tapping sound of a chicken breaking the eggshell. You could also safely fill an egg with food coloring (green or blue is best) and if you find it broken or eaten later, try to find traces of the food coloring on any of your chickens.
- While you search for the culprit, it’s strongly advised that you take preventative measures, such as collecting eggs as quickly as possible.
- The less they sit in the nesting box unprotected, the better.
- If you struggle with this, maybe for schedule reasons, try installing roll-away nest boxes that will hide or remove the eggs once they’re laid.
Once you know which chicken is responsible, the ideal approach would be to test the many solutions listed above for other common causes (ex., diet deficiency) and see if that solves the issue. Unfortunately, once an egg-eating habit has formed, it’s extremely difficult to break.
As a result, it isn’t uncommon for chicken owners who strongly rely on their eggs for revenue to rehome their egg-eating rooster or hen. The only other solution is to hope that keeping them away from the eggs and providing them with enough space and sources of entertainment will help them overcome it in time.