The Problem With Dolley
Our champion egg-layer, Dolley:
She's my favorite chicken, and I think this photo gives a good sense of why. She's got a winning personality--friendly like a dog, curious like a cat. She was inspecting my shiny phone when I took this picture, and the cheeky monkey pecked right at the lens just a second later.
All that and a basket of eggs.
Up until she molted this winter, Dolley could be counted on to lay an egg every day. She was a machine!
But now she's not.
The kids aren't even sure exactly when they last picked up an egg from Dolley (hers are the dark brown ones, and they are easy to tell apart from the rest). Usually, if you see anything at all in the nesting box, it looks like this:
It would appear that Dolley has been eating her eggs before we can get to them. Even other birds' eggs in the nesting boxes have been pecked at, but not destroyed. This must be the downside of her otherwise lovable chicken-y curiosity: she pecks at EVERYTHING, and has now decided that these are a wonderful treat.
On the other hand, this egg looks less purposefully pecked-at and more straight-up smashed. If that's the case, it could be that the shell is too thin, and the eggs cracks on impact the moment she lays it in the nesting box. The chickens pretty diligently scratch out all the wood chips from the nesting boxes, so there's no soft landing spot left to help with that on most days.
What to do? Well, if the problem is with the egg shell, it would most likely indicate that Dolley has a calcium deficiency. We do supplement their laying feed with oyster shells, but now we've given the chickens a separate bowl of it in their run:
This way Dolley can eat it at will if she needs to make up for a calcium deficiency. For good measure, I also added some cushioning (batting sandwiched in scraps of flannel) to the nesting boxes:
Hopefully this will stay put and create a softer spot to cradle those fragile eggs.
And if it's not a problem with fragile egg shells? Well, just yesterday I read an interesting tip from Urban Farm that suggested trying to trick your chickens into thinking that eggs actually taste terrible. You do this by blowing out the insides of a few eggs (as if you were going to do some Eastertime crafty project) and then filling them with mustard, which apparently chickens hate. When they peck at what they think is going to be a delicious yellow egg yolk, they quickly learn that eggs taste like mustard and should be avoided.
This sounds a little time consuming, but could be a good craft project to set some kids on if the calcium supplement doesn't do the trick.
I don't know…does this hen look like one to be easily duped to you?