Of course those eggs are good!

As anyone with laying hens will tell you, one of the hardest issues to deal with is a hen who has decided she loves to eat eggs. So of course, since I'm getting the full initiation into chicken keeping with everything I've already dealt with (scaly leg syndrome, predators, shell less eggs, injuries), it didn't surprise me that I'd have this to figure out too!

When our very first hen Jessie started eating her eggs I was a little miffed. For a while I tried to get out there and collect frequently hoping to beat her to it. Then she started eating other eggs as well and this became a major problem. They say, trying to break them of this habit is near impossible and most chicken keepers designate egg eaters to the soup pot. But I'm a little sentimental and hopeful so we thought we would bring her in where I could keep a closer eye on her. I thought if I could keep her from the eggs long enough she'd forget how good they are and get out of the habit. In few cases this works. So there she was in the mudroom in a dog crate for three weeks. Try as I might I couldn't beat her to the egg. She'd drop it and before I could get across the room she'd turn around and peck into it. ARRGGGGHH!!

After three weeks of trying and dealing with the mess in the mudroom it was time to put her back in the coop with the others. So with 2 Rhode Islands Red hens (one laying and eating her eggs and one not laying), and 3 small Bantam hens (two laying an egg a day and the third not started), the egg supply was dismal. When I found myself placing a carton of eggs in my grocery cart right before Christmas for baking I had to do for fundraisers, I figured it was time to rehome Jessie and get some new hens to build up the flock again.

Efforts at rehoming an egg eater turned out to be fruitless. No one else wanted her either, even someone who advertised taking any poultry people didn't want 'for whatever reason'. Apparently that doesn't include egg eaters, however they gave me a suggestion to try. Poke holes in an egg, blow out the contents and fill it with mustard. The mustard egg goes in the nest box and when they peck in and discover how awful it tastes, it conditions them to give up on that idea. In the meantime I also ordered ceramic eggs to use which also help condition them when pecking them results in a sore beak.

First day with a mustard egg, she pecked in as usual but didn't eat it. The next morning I replaced it with a new mustard egg. That egg sat in the nest box all day and I thought, 'yay...it worked!' But the following morning there was frozen mustard everywhere and no shell to be found. Foiled! Another mustard egg was pecked and so it was clear this wasn't working. The ceramic eggs never arrived and so after losing more eggs to her it was decided she had to be dispatched. But how? I didn't have the stomach for it. It was one thing to dispatch a badly injured hen out of mercy. To take one that waddles up and squats waiting for pets was a whole other thing. I called around asking others who had livestock and no one could do it. I arranged to purchase new hens from a farmer who had 75 hens to sell and thought perhaps he might take her and do the dirty deed but, strangely, he didn't have the stomach for it either. Oh my...what to do with her?

Four new hens were brought home in the back of our little car and introduced to the group. Belvedere the rooster was really busy now! He was running back and forth trying to keep the new girls together and keep the old girls from picking on them. It didn't take long for everyone to get along and it sure seemed like he made the difference in a peaceful blending of hens. There was an occasional peck but he was always right there to break up any tiffs and make sure everyone played nice. He went from having a couple of hens to now having 9 to care for! Quite the harem! But he still favours the little brown bantams. I've tried to pick them up but they shriek like crazy and then he's there in a flash giving me the stink eye until I put them down. The new hens are young and only one has started laying. So I was in and out of the coop umpteen times a day trying to beat Jessie to the eggs.

Finally another suggestion from someone at the farm supply store.....homemade roll away nest boxes. And so I set to work with two carpet lined paint trays inside a storage bin. The hen lays the egg which rolls down the slant of the paint tray and into the trough at the bottom with a little fabric curtain to hide the egg.

At first everyone was a little wary of the new boxes. In and out they went but finally the next day, I reached in and there was an egg! Lo and behold, Joan our other old hen started laying again. And one of the new girls started as well.

But the little brown hens were not happy with the new arrangement. In she went and back out, screeching and complaining. Belvedere jumps in the coop to see what the problem is and starts looking around trying to figure out what's got her so upset. In the box, out again, In again and out again. So Belvedere being the gentleman he is, he scratched out a hole in the shavings and stood in front of it, letting her snuggle into the hole behind him while he blocked her from view. She didn't lay the egg but later I did find one elsewhere in the shavings. This went on for a couple of days, the little brown ones reluctant to lay while the big red ones were using the new boxes okay. So I figured the little hens felt lost in the new big boxes, so I put their old one back in. It's just a small plastic bucket. They lost no time and going in and dropping their eggs.

And so the little girls are using the little bucket and the big girls are using the new roll away boxes. And we are getting a few eggs a day again. Jessie has not eaten any eggs that I know of. At least, not that I've caught her doing, nor seen remnants of eaten eggs, or yolk on her beak. So it would seem we might have found a way around this and Jessie escapes the chopping block! I'm so relieved.


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