Chickens have been a part of my life from my earliest memory. There have been a lot of chickens and a lot of eggs, but I have never seen nor heard of what I recently witnessed in the hen house. Honestly, if I had only read about it (like you are now) and not actually seen it for myself, I would have said there must have been some mistake or someone was playing a practical joke…(actually that IS what I said). But here is what happened…really!
About a week after one of my Buff hens started setting, a second one decided she would, too. We had a few struggles at first, because they kept swapping nests and getting up from time to time. This gave opportunity for the other hens to lay in the already full nests. There was a lot of confusion and candling going on while I tried to keep straight which eggs were supposed to be there. I eventually threw out a whole batch and started over after everyone settled down and stayed put consistently. I marked the eggs around the middle with a pencil ring so I could see it even when they were turned by the hens. This would allow any new ones to be seen and removed, because there was at least one hen who insisted on laying in the occupied nests for a while.
All was well and those two hens were sitting there every time I went down to the hen house. There were 10 eggs under the first one and 8 under the second. I marked the date, kept watch, and waited. Then, about two weeks in, I went down one morning and found a surprise. The first hen was off her nest, and instead of the 10 eggs that had been in her nest, there were only 2! It took me a bit of time to process. I looked around for the missing eggs, watched the missing hen (who just watched me) and tried to figure out what I was missing (besides eggs). It then occurred to me to look under hen number 2 to see if she was missing eggs, too. A really big, hungry rat snake maybe? Oh, but no. There were 16 eggs under her! They were all marked with a pencil ring. All eggs accounted for. And she just sat there as if nothing was wrong. I was really scratching my head now, and going back over the last day. Who and when and why had someone moved them? It wasn’t April 1st. I had been home all day the day before. Had someone done it in the night? Why didn’t the dog bark? Maybe it was the neighbor…that is the only thing that would explain the dog not barking, but that was just too weird to be true. I don’t take him for a practical joker…maybe he was harassing me! I told myself to stop being silly…but the eggs had been MOVED and hens DON’T move eggs. Roll them across the floor maybe, but there is no way they could move them over a divider into another nest. It had to be my husband. I still had no idea why, but that was the only explanation.
So, I called him to inquire. He said, “I think you’re losing it. Chickens can’t move eggs.” I insisted that I was looking at them, and it was very real. He called his parents who have always had chickens, too, and they said they had never heard of any such thing. He then got on the internet and started researching. When you ask Google about hens moving eggs, several things come up. There are a couple of places where people have run into my situation and dared to ask the question on a forum. Almost all answers are “Chickens don’t/can’t move eggs…there must be some other explanation”…followed by an amusing list of possibilities. One forum answer was even my husband’s response, “I think you’re losing it”. There are a couple of people, though, who say that chickens not only CAN move eggs, but they have SEEN it. Seems the theory is that when a second hen goes broody, she gets a little jealous of the first hen’s eggs and steals them for her own nest. She runs the other hen off or waits for her to get up for a minute and then jumps in, rolls the eggs (someone said they saw this with more than one egg at a time!) under her wing with her beak, tucks it tight, and then walks back to her own nest and gently deposits it with the others. I have to say, I breathed a sigh of relief, because my back-up conclusion was the neighbor. We called my in-laws to tell them what we read and that jogged my father-in-law’s memory. He said that made him remember his mother telling him about such a thing when he was young.
In the end, I divided the eggs up even, with nine under each hen, and put the absentee hen back on her nest. So far 4 have hatched under hen number one. I decided to leave each one for a day to dry and get strong. When I went down to remove chick number 3 from hen number one, it was in the nest with hen number two…