I have a problem with at least one of my chickens. She’s been eating eggs out of the laying boxes. It’s hard to determine which one is the culprit, but if left unchecked, the habit will be contagious. Egg eaters are aggravating. I’ve already consulted local experts, Vaughn and McNulty, who told me the problem is likely because of a calcium deficiency. “If you don’t have oyster shells,” Vaughn said, “you could give them some Tums which are loaded with calcium.” After taking a Tums myself, I broke up the rest of the roll and mixed it in the feed.
McNulty said giving them a bowl of milk would be another temporary solution. I tried that, too, and later got some oyster shells from feed-mixer Jimmy Collins, but after several days the problem still persisted. I tried sneaking up on the coop to see if I could catch the cannibal in the act but to no avail.
“See which chicken has egg on her face,” my wife Alice wisely suggested. I did a careful inspection but didn’t find any yolky evidence. An Amish neighbor told me to collect some fine roadside gravel and throw it into the yard. “They need that to help their gizzards grind up the food,” he said. “And try putting some apple cider vinegar in their water.” I blindly followed all the advice but a week later I was still going out to the coop to find the remains of an egg that had been devoured. I tried putting fake eggs in the box, so the culprit would peck at them and get discouraged when the plastic didn’t crack.
As we headed down the thruway I recounted all of this to my wife, who insisted I needed a change of scenery. “Well, you can’t do anything about it now,” she quipped. “So why bother thinking about it?”
“You’re right,” I said. But I just couldn’t get the problem out of my head. Consequently, the very next day I was on the road headed back to the farm, while my wife stayed with her mother. During the restless night spent on my mother-in-law’s couch, I had thought of an idea that was sure to solve the problem. A bitter pill could cure the guilty chicken’s malady. As soon as I got back to town I headed for Foo Chow’s Chinese restaurant to place a minimal order which would give me the opportunity to load up on packets of hot Chinese mustard. A few drops of the stuff will make smoke come out of your ears. The proprietor looked impressed by how much mustard I stuffed into the bag.
I raced home, left the chow mein on the kitchen table and headed out to the coop, where I was sure to find another broken, half-eaten shell with the white and yolk missing. I removed the shell from the laying box and tore open three packets of hot mustard that was as yellow as a yolk. The chicken would surely be fooled. Then I carefully placed the loaded egg back into the box, closed the coop door and watched from the corner of a window. Unfortunately, after waiting a half hour none of the birds came waltzing in for the bait. On the way back to the house I pictured the culprit diving into the mustard, stumbling back and shaking her head as though she had been hit with a frying pan.
Back at the house I was still consumed by this serious problem of egg eating. I carefully squeezed a few drops of the explosive mustard onto my chow mein and put it in the microwave. A forkful made my eyes tear. About 10 a.m., when I walked out to the coop to collect eggs, I was astounded by what I found, nothing!
Of course the artificial eggs were there and real eggs were in the other laying boxes, but in the box that held the bait, except for some moisture, there wasn’t a trace of the “loaded” egg, not even a piece of shell!
“I can’t believe it,” I told my wife over the telephone. “She ate the whole thing!”
“She’ll be back,” Alice said. “Get out there and keep watching!”
“Why?” I wanted to know.
“Because every time I eat Chinese food I’m hungry an hour later.”
Frustrated, I still didn’t know which chicken was guilty, but whichever one it was must have a cast iron gizzard. Eating that much Chinese mustard would kill me. I wondered how consuming large amounts of the stuff would affect the taste of her eggs. Maybe they’d be good or maybe too spicy. If I could just get to one before she devours it I’d know.
While thinking about the influence of mustard on the taste of an egg, I’ve come up with the idea of feeding bacon bits to my chickens —the kind people sprinkle on salads. If I’m right the resultant product would be Bacon and Eggs in a Shell! That’s how I’d label the boxes. They ought to sell like hot cakes. But until I find the egg eater, everything is on hold. Persistence is the answer.
Like Alice said, I just have to keep looking for the hen with egg on her face.