Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?

Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?



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Back when I first got my little flock of chickens, I had no idea if they’d eat their own eggs or not.

Being a newbie to the whole backyard coop thing, I had tons of crazy ideas buzzing around my head about what chickens could and couldn’t do. Boy was I in for a big surprise!

Chickens will absolutely chow down on their own eggs if given the chance.

I came home from work one day and couldn’t believe my eyes – there were eggshell fragments scattered all over the coop floor.

My girls had an all-you-can-eat buffet while I was gone! I just about had a heart attack thinking they became cold-blooded cannibals on me.

Turns out chickens ain’t committing some unnatural sin by occasionally noshing on eggs.

Mother Nature actually has good reason for why they do it sometimes.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty details of when your feathery friends will googly-goop it up or leave those eggs lay.

Why Chickens Scarf Their Eggs

Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?

Now I know what you’re thinking – chickens eating their own eggs? That’s gotta be some freaky fowl behavior right? Well hold onto your feathers Amigo because there’s perfectly sensible causes for it. Mother Nature may work in funny ways but she sure does look out for her chicken creatures.

First off, laying an egg is no picnic in the park for a hen. It takes a lot of energy and nutrients to produce that calcium hunk every day. A hen’s body needs to replace all the important minerals and proteins she loses. By snacking on a cracked egg every now and then, a chicken can replenish what she’s missing and feel right as rain again.

Another key reason is to avoid attracting predators around the coop. I’m sure you’ve seen how broken or damaged eggs absolutely reek to high heaven. That pungent stank will draw in all sorts of unwanted varmints like rats, opossums, raccoons and such looking for a free feathered feast. By gobbling up those eggy smells, chickens help protect the whole flock from becoming some wild animal’s dinner.

Also, sometimes there are defects or illnesses inside an egg that make it not suitable for hatching. Rather than waste time and energy incubating bad eggs, hens will just chow down to regain any lost nutrients. No sense letting those resources go to waste, am I right?

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Signs It’s Egg-Eating Time

Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?

Most of the time, your ladies won’t give eggs a second look and will stay good little egg-layers. But under certain conditions, they may decide the eggs are better off in their bellies than on the ground.

One big sign is obvious cracks or damage to an egg. Like I explained earlier, broken eggs call all sorts of predators over for a late-night snack. Eating it is the safer bet.

Abnormal-looking eggs are also fair chicken game. Any issues don’t get passed on that way. Nutrient deficiencies from a poor diet can also trigger egg-munching when a hen needs energy.

Overly busy egg-layers may scarf extras if they have more eggs than they can reasonably hatch at once. And boredom or stress from too little space are surefire ways to make chickens do strange things like start snacking on eggs.

Ways to Egg-vent Eating

Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?

Thankfully there are plenty of tactics to discourage this egg behavior before it starts. Here are some top tips that should do the trick.

Frequent egg collecting is key – twice daily is best. Leaving them lying around is asking for trouble. A balanced feed full of nutrients keeps ladies satisfied and not peckish. Adding oyster shell ensures plenty of supplemental calcium too.

Keeping bedding clean and dry helps control undesirable smells. Toys and activities fight boredom. Space prevents stress. Overall happiest hens are least likely to get pecky!

Different Types of Eggs Chickens May Eat

Can Chickens Really Eat Their Own Eggs?

It’s not just regular white eggs that chickens may decide to eat – they’ll sometimes snack on other types too. Fertile eggs are actually more commonly consumed than unfertilized ones. Since a fertilized egg has the potential to develop into a chick, hens may eat them if they sense something is wrong and the egg won’t hatch properly. This prevents wasting resources on non-viable eggs.

You may also catch your chickens nibbling on weirdly shaped, very small, or unusually large eggs occasionally. Hens can tell when there are issues with an egg’s development and will consume these abnormal eggs rather than try incubating them. Double-yolked eggs also get eaten more often since twins are high-risk for hatching.

Some breeds known for exceptionally colorful eggs like Easter Eggers may also be more prone to limited cannibalism. The flushed pigments used to produce shades of blue, green, or pink eggs can be lacking in important nutrients. Hens may eat these flamboyant eggs when their diet isn’t sufficient.

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Does Season Affect Egg Eating?

Chickens are more likely to snack on eggs at certain times of the year connected to their natural breeding cycle. In late winter and very early spring, you may see increased egg consumption as hens start preparing their bodies for breeding season.

This is the time when chickens really need to replenish nutrients in order to lay a robust clutch of fertilized eggs. By eating some of their own previous eggs in the weeks leading up to peak breeding, hens can better support the energy demands of courtship, mating activities, and ovipariton.

Similarly, as the breeding season winds down in mid-summer, hens may snack a bit more on eggs no longer worth incubating. They need to regain condition before the next annual molt when feathers are replaced. Overall egg eating is usually higher in spring and summer than fall and winter months.

Cannibalism Risk for Chickens

When chickens start consistently eating more than just the occasional cracked or abnormal egg, it can potentially lead to problems. Sometimes a hen will develop a genuine taste for eggs given too many opportunities to snack. This behavior is termed egg cannibalism rather than natural consumption.

Persistent cannibalism disrupts normal flock pecking order and egg production. Hens may even turn aggressive targeting other hens’ eggs. Stress from overcrowding or other husbandry issues usually enables this anti-social behavior to develop. Prompt action needs to be taken like adding distractions if cannibalism signs emerge.

In rare cases a chicken develops an egg eating disorder similar to pica in some humans. These problem individuals may need separating. Generally ensuring sufficient space, feed quality and clean coops prevents cannibalism from becoming an issue within the flock.

How Do Chickens Actually Eat Eggs?

It’s pretty interesting to watch exactly how chickens put those eggs away when they’ve decided a snack is in order. First, they’ll pick the egg up gently in their beaks and give it a few good shakes to break it open. Then they’ll carefully tilt their heads back and swallow large pieces of egg shell and all.

Unlike humans who chew their food, chickens do all their “chewing” after swallowing thanks to the muscular gizzards in their digestive tracts. Sharp stones, grit and other hard materials in the gizzard grind up swallowed food over time. Eggshell passes through this same process without issue.

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Some chickens wolf eggs down whole while more dainty eaters may pick the egg apart first. Either way, the sharp egg teeth on their tongues help shred and break pieces small enough to swallow. In less than an hour, the entire egg – shell bits and all – is efficiently digested and absorbed as usable nutrients.

Using Eggs to Feed Chickens

While most people think of keeping chickens for their eggs, some poultry farmers will actually feed eggs back to their flocks in controlled amounts occasionally. This provides an ideal complete protein source to support rapid feather growth and egg production. It’s also more affordable and environmentally-friendly than most commercial feed ingredients.

Cracked, misshapen or otherwise unsellable eggs are carefully washed, cracked and mixed into feed or served in separate troughs. Whole or hardboiled eggs halve preparation time. Eggs fed back should not account for more than 10-15% of a flock’s total weekly diet to avoid overuse. Used sparingly, chicken-safe scraps boost natural foraging behaviors.

Some farmers collect all eggs for a few days and feed them back entirely to the same hens once processed. This annual “Egg Eatin’ Day” coincides with molting season changes for extra nutrients as new feathers grow in.

Human Safety When Chickens Eat Eggs

Those new to keeping backyard chickens sometimes worry about any health risks if their egg-eating birds are also still providing table eggs. However, there’s no cause for concern when chickens occasionally consume eggs in a clean, natural way.

Domestic chickens aren’t true carnivores and their whole physiology has naturally evolved alongside egg consumption behaviors over centuries. Properly fed flocks show no increased disease transmission risks from limited cannibalism.

As long as coop hygiene is maintained and hens have a balanced diet, eggs laid after witnessing egg-eating should pose no food safety threats. Thorough cooking also eliminates any potential salmonella concerns as it does when using store-bought commercial eggs.

So rest assured – your little egg-munching birds are still perfectly safe providers of delicious, wholesome backyard eggs for your table. Let those natural chicken habits be!

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