Part of the allure of keeping chickens is the mystery. So many odd things happen that require investigation, monitoring, and lots of hypothesizing that you almost can’t help dragging family and friends into making bets and taking sides, because some of the mysteries require action before things get too ugly in chickenland. Things like bullying and sometimes murder. Or, in this case, eggocide.
It looks like someone didn’t make it up to a nest in time, but there was also a pile of damp eggy straw in the nest above that egg. Since we’ve been running into occasional broken eggs and soppy straw in that nest, we’ve been assuming someone has a weak shell problem, but this scenario with two eggs on the same day might mean more is going on.
We know some wild birds will roll eggs out of nests, and we know farm poultry will sometimes roll eggs over when they ‘set’ to distribute heat more evenly. We also know chickens will carry food around when they don’t want another chicken to eat it first, but chickens can’t carry eggs around.
All my chickens have been laying in mostly one nest out of four since we got this bunch, no idea why, but sometimes we catch two hens laying together side by side in one nest, and all the eggs are in one nest when we gather them. There was never a problem before with someone rolling someone else’s egg out of the way. Actually, some chickens prefer to lay in nests that already have eggs in them, which is why some people put fake eggs in the nests, to encourage or train the hens where to lay.
I’m guessing someone’s egg broke at some point in all this group laying and then someone got a taste for egg. Perhaps over time someone else noticed egg being eaten and jumped in to grab a bite and also developed a taste for egg. It’s so hard to tell when you only get an occasional broken egg and a pile of wet straw, because that’s not uncommon with aging hens. When that happens I mostly worry that part of the broken shell might have remained inside and will cause the hen a lot of pain and infection and possibly death, but all my girls seem to be fine.
One of the eggs we brought in this last week looks like someone gave it a light peck. Eggs very rarely hit just right to crack like this, as if it had bounced off the point of a little rock or something. I’m wondering now if someone was checking it to see if it would go ahead and pop open, and when it didn’t, left it alone.
This soggy eggy straw problem has been going on for at least a month, and quite suddenly over the last couple of weeks our daily egg harvest has dropped from 3-4 eggs a day to one a day, and often none. At first I thought it was the weather changing, the equinox shortening the days again, maybe a molt starting (I once had a chicken who molted every November like clockwork for some reason), or even simply just getting older. They’ve been stuffing themselves full of autumn bugs like grasshoppers and big spiders and crickets, so we even thought maybe they were getting too lazy to come back to the henhouse to lay.
Today is solid enough evidence to change all our casual guesswork to hard decision making. If we had a flat yard it would be easier to separate the hens, and then I’d be able to observe who is doing what fairly quickly. As it is, just owning chickens has resulted in a couple of injuries carrying things down the steep yard, one requiring some pretty impressive staples and another coming close to a concussion, so putting the extra work it would take into separating the hens would only increase my fall risk, and we’ve got other needs to consider that take priority over chickens.
I’m afraid our action at this point is to make our best guess about which chicken might be the main culprit and cull her out. Which makes me sad. My chickens are pets, and even though I grew up butchering, I haven’t eaten my own pet chickens in many years. It’s a very big deal when it comes down to having to banish someone from the group. Sometimes we manage to find other homes for them, but that’s not always the best answer, either.
In years past on a previous blog, I know a few readers found it very upsetting for me to talk about killing my pets. We got lucky with one crazy chicken that we had to keep separated all the time and didn’t have to cull her ourselves because a hawk finally got her, and we could tell she didn’t go easily and probably put that hawk off chicken the rest of its life beating the crap back out of it, but that was better than her killing the other chickens, which after several weeks we finally realized would eventually happen. Some chickens just go crazy.
I can’t keep a chicken around that’s going to purposely break and eat eggs. My chickens already get top of the line feed, thanks to cheap feed breaking my arms out (vegetable protein could include peanut plants after the peanuts are processed out), and free range nearly every day for several hours, so this eggocide has nothing to do with being hungry or nutrient deficient. It’s also a behavior you really can’t train back out of a chicken, and once the behavior is learned by other chickens, there it all goes. You either wind up checking nests every hour or so to beat them to it or you put chicken in the pot and start with a new bunch, because I really don’t have the time to devote to watching them this closely. (And what do you think causes ‘crazy chicken lady‘ syndrome? lol)
I’m suspecting either Nadia, the golden laced, or Mary Margaret, the smallest white one.
I doubt this happens quickly, and when it ever does, it’ll still take a little while to see if we made the right call. Would you believe this is my first time dealing with eggocide in all the years and flocks I’ve had? I can’t believe people thinking this is a common problem in their flocks and actually sitting by nests waiting to grab eggs. Guess it was my turn this time.