Wrongly Accused

I’ve been concerned that one of the Ladies is eating her eggs. Once in awhile a pullet’s first eggs are thin-shelled or just a membrane. They’re easy to break, and no hen can resist eating runny yolks. Sometimes, a young hen doesn’t know how to settle into a nesting box, and breaks the eggs that are there. She quickly learns to stomp on purpose and eat the eggs. Sometimes a pullet lays an egg while out in the run, while on the run. The egg falls onto the hard ground and cracks. The other hens learn to look for eggs dropping out of the back end of another and peck as the egg is coming out. Sometimes you’ll find a bit of shell leftover, sometimes you’ll see egg yolk smeared on feathers or the beak, but more often than not the entire egg will be gone.

Nancy Drew has been laying for a couple of weeks. Daily I’ve watched her go into a nesting box, but there there’s not always an egg there when I go out later with my basket. I suspected egg eating, but I wasn’t sure, so, last weekend I sat down on a stool in the coop and watched. I sat there for an hour. I’ve found that my assumptions about animals are often proved wrong with steady and patient observation.

Owly was the first to sit in a box, and Nancy soon followed.




Nancy got in and out a few times, but then settled in. She showed the classic laying behavior of picking up bedding and placing it on her back. You see this with broody hens, too. Most of the shavings slid off, but a couple stayed put. This took awhile. Owly laid her egg and left. Betsy came over to claim it. I tossed Betsy outside and put the egg in a basket. Meanwhile, Nancy sat.




After about a half-hour, Nancy stood up and laid her egg. You can see how strong those legs are. It wouldn’t take much to smash an egg. I think the surprising thing is that it doesn’t happen more often!




But, Nancy didn’t break her egg. She used her beak to position it under herself, fluffed up and sat down.



She stayed there for about ten minutes, then calmly got up, hopped out of the box and went over to the feeder to eat some pellets. Unlike some of the other hens, who noisily announce their achievement (Beatrix, I’m talking about you) Nancy was calm and quiet. Once sated, she left the coop, with nary a thought about that egg in her mind.




Obviously, Nancy Drew was wrongly accused. (Didn’t this happen in the Nancy Drew books?) But, what of the other hens? Is there an egg eater in the lot? I observed Beatrix and Twiggy lay their eggs. Both hens showed exemplary behavior. Betsy Ross, however, was a pest. She watched from the roosts. Although no longer broody in the sense that she doesn’t spend her days in a nesting box, that little hen is hard-wired to sit on eggs. As soon as she spied a hen laying, she tried to wedge herself into the box and claim the egg. Twiggy was really ticked off at her.

Here’s Twiggy, huffed up to twice her size, giving Betsy the evil eye and churring angrily.


Perhaps Betsy has been causing the hens to break eggs in their attempts to get her to go away. In the past I have found tell-tale egg yolk on Betsy’s white breast. But, I haven’t caught her in the act. Perhaps she is innocent. I have some more sitting in the coop to do.


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  1. Betsy’s behaviour would worry me! When I sit in the coop to observe I take in my tablet, to read a bit or to get absorbed in a game. It helps pass the empty time. Isn’t it interesting that when you are in there, the hens see you as one of them? They are not intimidated to go about their usual ways.

  2. Just watched Betsy on the roost, still waiting for her turn on an egg! Twiggy hung around outside a nest box then left to go outside. She pecked Nancy on the head when she had the cheek to eat some squash (who cowered bless her) then she went back inside again. Betsy is still messing about on the roosting bars and Twiggy is standing in the doorway, blocking traffic! There’s never a dull moment…..

  3. Does Betsy have a history of egg eating? Or do old hens learn new tricks (if she is the culprit)?

  4. I think Betsy would love to sit on that egg that Nancy just laid but it almost seems like the hens know it and keep checking on her. I thought Nancy was eating her eggs too because after she lays she does mess around with her head down and sometimes gets out and then back in again. It must just be her way. No yelling out, just making sure her egg is protected. I want to pick Betsy up and put her in the goats pen but it doesn’t look like that will break her need for egg sitting. All this does make it interesting to watch!

  5. It sounds like you are well on your way to figuring out this mystery! Happy coop sitting ;)
    You mentioned something that really caught my attention. Picking up the bedding and placing it on their backs? I JUST saw this for the first time with my 2 year old white rock hen last weekend and wondered what in the world she was doing! So interesting. I have noticed her sitting on other hens eggs…but only for short periods….then she gets off, walks way and makes a racket before going about her business. When a hen goes broody, do they do it instantly or does it take some time for them to settle in and get serious?

  6. Give Betsey an artificial egg of her own. Maybe she’ll then sit on it through the morning rituals so as not to disturb others. Or, boot her out into the run with some yummies whilst the others finish up.

  7. Is the picking up the bedding and ‘placing’ it on their backs actually a holdover from pulling brush and leaves over themselves to hide them while they lay/roost in the wild? If they had larger natural leaves and brush tangled as nesting material (in nature) instead of small pieces of wood shaving, they’d just be covering themselves, no?

  8. I think that is so amazing, the girls go about their business while you are in there with them. It goes to show that it is so important to spend time with them so one is able to observe without the chickens bothering you for food the whole time you are there.