First of all, this is a fairly common problem.
The habit most often starts when an egg breaks accidentally and the chickens start pecking at the broken egg.
It is necessary to stop the habit early, because if this goes on too long it will be nearly impossible to break. It could have started with a hen producing a soft shell egg which probably broke and that’s why she started to eat it.
Or it could have fallen on the floor and broke because of this.
The answer is to try and limit the chance of the egg breaking. To this end, you need to ensure there are sufficient nest boxes for the number of birds you have — ideally one nest box to maximum 4 birds- and make sure the box is well lined and protected.
Eggs should be collected regularly and removed from the nest. If an egg breaks, clear it up immediately to prevent them from getting a ‘taste’.
Your hens may need a calcium supplement to strengthen the shells but at least make sure there is plenty of oyster shell or similar calcium available to your hens at all times.
Some people recommend a dish with milk be made available for your hens over several days which will decrease the problem of egg eating (University of Florida Extention).
Another suggestion is to put artificial eggs (golf balls have been used!) in the nest so if a hen is deliberately trying to break up the eggs she will be in for a nasty surprise!
If there is one particular culprit and it continues, it might be necessary to separate this bird from the flock or even cull it.
As with humans, chickens do sneeze –normally to clear the nasal passage.
If it is a regular thing then it could also signal a temporary cold.
Hens can suffer from colds during the wet and cold months, it’s not uncommon. Using Citricidal drops and Apple Cider Vinegar, added to their water, can be helpful in keeping the auto immune system healthy.
Keep an eye on them and if it persists or gets worse, the vet might be necessary.
If they have other symptoms like coughing, gasping for air, bubbly or mucousy eyes with a rattly chest then this could be Mycoplasma. Treatment for this is normally with antibiotics and a visit to your vet is recommended.
Birds suffering with respiratory disease should always be isolated from the other healthy hens, given lots of TLC and be given veterinary attention where necessary.
So how many chickens should you start with?
I would suggest that if you are completely new to keeping chickens to start with just two or three hens to begin with and see how you get on. Chickens like to live in groups (birds of a feather and all that) so never keep less than a pair.
If laying properly, three hens will provide a family of four with enough eggs to keep the fridge stocked and the poached eggs flowing, so to speak.
Just how many eggs can you expect?
According to the International Egg Commission, the UK average egg consumption per person is approximately 180 eggs a year, or just under 3.5 eggs a week. So, on paper a family of four would eat about 12 to 14 eggs a week, which is exactly what you would expect from three happy and well-fed hens.
You should also know that egg production does vary depending on what breed of chicken you keep. For example, a Light Sussex may lay up to 220 eggs a year, while a showier breed such as the Orpington may only produce 80 eggs a year.
Also, egg production does vary between winter and summer. During the summer months, most hens will lay an egg a day, but in winter, they will lay fewer, and may even stop altogether. Egg production will also decrease when a hen moults which can happen at any time but is most common at the end of summer. As hens get older, their egg production also slows.
What I have found since keeping chickens is that we seem to get through a lot more eggs at home than we used to. Maybe it’s because in the past it was just another item on the list to pick up at the supermarket and now it’s just a short walk in the garden. And it’s a conscious thing; I find myself frying up a quick egg whenever I’m in a rush and feeling a bit peckish.
The girls also bake a lot more, as we don’t want to let any extra eggs go to waste!
Yes they will. A hen will lay eggs whether a rooster is present or not.
In fact, there is very little reason to have a rooster around if you only keep a handful of chickens for eggs. We would advise against it unless you have more than 6 hens, then maybe there is more of a reason to have one. Obviously if you want baby chicks then you must have a rooster with your hens to fertilise their eggs.
Your hens will produce eggs hopefully on a regular basis and their production won’t increase or decrease because you have or don’t have a rooster about. So in the back garden, hobbyist world they serve little purpose!