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.
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!
Hens will always seek out dark, quiet and secluded places to lay their eggs. By providing suitable nesting boxes within the coop, you can provide your hens with their ideal laying environment, and a space where you know their eggs will be clean and protected – and easy to find!
Our traditionally designed wooden hen houses have the nesting boxes protruding from the side and easily accessible via a locking nesting box lid. This allows you to easily open it up and collect your eggs with minimal disturbance to the hen house as a whole.
You’ll find they don’t need much space to lay their eggs, quite often we find two hens squashed together inside one tiny compartment of the nesting box even though the other 2 areas are completely free! Up to three hens will share one nesting box happily, but if you have three hens, two boxes will give them more options.
Nest boxes should be lined with soft dry bedding material and raised from the ground. If the nesting boxes are positioned higher than the perches, what tends to happen is your hens will sleep in their nesting box because it’s the highest place.
This isn’t a problem as such but what you will find is they will foul their laying area (hens produce a large amount of their droppings at night) and then quite happily lay right on top of it! So if you want clean eggs, look for a coop which has the perches high up.
We have designed all our wooden coops so that the perches are either in line or higher than the bottom of the nesting box so there is less chance of this happening.