Some poultry develop a habit of eating freshly laid eggs. We have never seen it in geese but have with ducks. It can be prevented if you follow these steps, with the most important first.
1) Have an adequate number of well bedded nest boxes. It is highly unlikely a duck will purposely break and eat an egg. Normally they acquire the taste when an egg is accidentally broken and they find they like the taste. So make sure you have enough nests (a minimum of one nest for every four females), your birds are not overcrowded (at least five square feet per bird) and each nest has at least two inches of wood shavings, sawdust, straw or hay in the bottom. It is important there is a 3-4” front on the nest so the bedding stays in the nest. We will discuss nest construction for ducks and geese in a future blog. We have found the larger, clumsier ducks, such as Pekins, accidentally break and then eat more of their eggs than the lighter breeds.
2) Pick up any broken eggs quickly and do not toss cracked or broken eggs back to your ducks.
3) Make sure your ducks are getting a well balanced layer feed that has at least 3% calcium. And remember, by mixing chicken scratch with a balanced layer feed, you are making an unbalanced layer feed. The scratch adds carbohydrates but little protein and few minerals. If you are having an egg eating problem, buy some oyster shell at your local feed store and allow them to eat as much of that as they want. Just put it in a feeder and place it in a dry spot. They may eat more than they need but not enough to harm themselves.
4) Remove the offending ducks. Watch your birds and see which are doing the breaking and eating. Any incriminating yolk on their bills?
5) Give the birds other things to play with and eat instead of eggs. Put in chunks of vegetables: cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets, potatoes, etc.
6) The last alternative is using fake eggs. Some recommend putting golf balls in the nests. Ducks are not brilliant but I think they are smart enough to quickly learn they cannot eat a golf ball, then ignore it and continue eating eggs.
Besides losing good eggs, there are also health concerns for your birds if they continually eat raw eggs. An essential vitamin is biotin and eggs contain avidin, which binds and prevents the use of biotin. Cooking deactivates the avidin. But if your birds continually eat raw eggs, they may develop a biotin deficiency.
Some people have said to put hot pepper in an egg and the birds will learn to not eat broken eggs due to the pain from the peppers. The problem with this theory, however, is that peppers cause no discomfort to birds!
They even put hot pepper in bird seed to prevent squirrels from eating it! In my research I did find there is a compound, methyl anthranilate, that birds detest.
It is a naturally occurring compound that is found in concord grape skins and burns the pain receptors in birds just like hot peppers do us. It is used in all sorts of bird repellents but it is not sold in smaller, retail quantities. I wonder?
Is there enough methyl anthranilate in grape juice to train ducks to not eat their eggs?
I ran an experiment by putting duck feed in two troughs. In one trough I poured water on the feed at one end of the trough and Welch's grape juice on the feed at the other end. On another feeder, I poured water on half and Grape Kool-Aid on the other. The result? All was equally eaten. If there was any methyl anthranilate in either product, there wasn't enough to bother the ducks! Of course, hungry ducks will eat most anything. It is like putting two kinds of feed in front of a hungry Black Lab (our dog). Everything will be eaten – taste does not enter into the equation!
So until someone can find something with adequate amounts of methyl anthranilate in it to put in “training” eggs, you will need to follow the six steps listed above to prevent your ducks from eating their eggs.