We were naive when it came to keeping animals, almost as naive as we were about having children. This didn't mean we thought it would be easy, we just knew we'd be up to the challenge. It would be fun.
Nobody told warned us that chickens are cannibals. We learned it quickly enough, as soon as one hen cut herself on a sharp bit of fencing. We rescued her in time, but just. A feeding frenzy had begun to form around her.
Nobody warned us that chickens sometimes eat the eggs, too. Once they start, it's a hard habit to break, and ours started this summer. Finding an eaten egg now and then is frustrating enough, but to find only one whole egg in a nest of egg shells and sticky remains is maddening. It's not like we're not feeding them enough already!
It became a crisis the other day when I watched one hen pull another one off her nest so she could peck open the egg. I swore. Loudly. I chased all the chickens out of the chicken house and went in and swore some more. My husband decided it was time to consult the experts and get some advice. He googled it. These suggestions are supposed to work because, as everyone knows, chickens are really stupid.
We tried putting golf balls in the nesting boxes. The idea is, if they peck at the golf balls, they don't get anywhere and don't get the reward of eating an egg. It didn't work. Seems our hens figured out the difference between an egg and a golf ball and started their own golf tournament in the chicken yard. Smart asses.
We then blew out a few eggs and filled them with mustard. We let the hens peck them open. Supposedly, hens do not like mustard and this would clearly teach them to avoid eating eggs. However, the hens quickly figured out which eggs were stuffed with mustard, ate the other ones, and offered the mustard eggs for sale on Craig's list as a delicacy.
It was suggested that the hens might need more protein in their diet. I was wondering why they wanted to read the back of the chicken food bag. The advice given on the internet was to feed them some cat food. This will give them the protein they are lacking and they will not need to eat their eggs. They love the cat food. They like it even more with eggs.
The last suggestion was to eat the chicken who are eating the eggs. This would be hard to do. Literally. Ever butcher and clean a chicken and get it ready to eat? It's gross, smelly, and makes you want to become a vegetarian or at least continue buying chicken already packaged and ready to cook. Besides, we have chickens so we can get eggs. If we eat the chickens, we wouldn't get eggs.
We have one more thing to try. A YouTube video shows how to make nesting boxes with painting trays - you know, the trays where you pour the paint when you're using a roller. A 5" wide board was placed on the back side of the tray and this was further blocked off by a wall. The idea is:
Chicken lays an egg. Egg rolls down the tray and through a slot just big enough for eggs and into the deep end of the paint tray where they are kept out of beak's reach. Theoretically, this should work. It means spending the next few weeks trying to figure out how to build the new nesting boxes, but if it works, it'll be worth it.
Maybe. I won't count my eggs yet.