The Case of The Egg Thief has been a long and frustrating saga. Fortunately, it has now come to a close and thus I can release my full report.

We have had an egg stealer. Eggs were going missing without a trace after I had seen a hen in the nestbox or heard her singing the egg song. If I got in there right after the hen had laid I got the egg, but if I didn’t get to the coop pronto, I risked missing out on the egg. What is going on?! At first I suspected Sookie or Georgiana, as they were being a bit awkward about laying and were the newest layers. But it was not just some of their eggs going missing. It was not a hen laying then turning around and eating her own egg. Eggs from every hen have gone missing. This led me to the next suspects: Jane B and Lorelai, who hadn’t started laying yet. I was watching the chickens as closely as I could but whoever was stealing and eating eggs was super-stealthy and I just wasn’t able to figure it out. It was making me mad and driving me nuts! The alternative to it being a hen was it being rats. As bad as that sounds it would be better than another egg-eating hen. But I suspected it was a hen, as I hadn’t heard or seen any rats while I’d been in and around the coop a lot.

Jane B spent her first day in the Big Cage in the next phase of my investigation. Jane B was suspect number one. She is a weird chicken. She was friendly and easy to handle when she was a chick named PB, full of promise, but something of her nutheaded hatchmate, Mr Collins, rubbed off on her. She gets freaked out about everything, runs away making scared noises even when I’m bringing in treats and is the only chicken I’ve ever had, bar Elrond (my first rooster who later attacked me), who still refuses to eat from my hand, except when I get hold of her at night. Even though she is a big, beautiful purebred, I would be the least sorry if Jane B was the egg eater. Jane B had just started laying when she went into the cage.

If the egg stealing ceased while Jane B was in the big cage then she would be found guilty. Could it be the curse of the Janes? Jane Day 1 was a Sunday and two hens were laying as we went off to church. Eggs tended to go missing when I went out so this would be a good test. Upon our return I eagerly ran off to the coop and came back with two eggs! Later that day I also got an egg from Sookie. Jane B was in big trouble. I was talking about the possibility of having roast chicken on the weekend. Jane further dug herself a hole when she sharply pecked The Little Fulla as he tried to pat her side while I was holding her. She lunges at me sometimes but I’m usually careful enough to avoid pecks. The poor little boy though, he looked so sad and he almost burst out crying. Jane B was in BIG trouble.

Jane B
Jane B stands on trial. She’s giving me the stink eye.

On Jane Day 2, however, things took a confusing turn. Eggs went missing again. I was disappointed. It’s not that I wanted to kill Jane, even though her behaviour was undesirable, but this meant there was a distinct possibility that a hen I liked much more was the egg eater. On Jane Day 3, eggs were still going missing so Jane returned to the flock. At least she got some handling time every day and she’s not quite as freaked out about me as she was before.

I started to explore the possibility that it was rats. I had already put the bait station into the woodshed by the coop and I started to rat-proof the coop a little more, although there isn’t much I can do about the pop hole that the chickens need open to get in and out of the coop. I tried an app that The Husband found that uses my phone as a video camera to record what was happening in the coop. I could watch the video live on my computer screen. Unfortunately, the reception wasn’t good enough in the coop so the video never played for more than a matter of seconds at a time and I was left none the wiser.

One day, I went to check for Kitty’s egg soon after she had laid. She was eating at the feeder, as the hen’s do straight after eating. But there was no egg. This was insane. It was infuriating! How was something taking the eggs so quickly? I went back inside in a huff. Then, looking out the window I noticed something in the pen that looked potentially egg-like. As I threw the chickens some distraction cabbage, I went and picked up a large, warm Kitty egg from the pen, a few meters from the garage door. Hooray, I got it! But how on earth did it get there? There was also the time, early in the investigation, when I found The Little Fulla holding an egg and following the chickens around the pen trying to give them the egg (he doesn’t quite get the concept of the egg process yet). It was dirty so he had found it in the pen somewhere. Looking under the shelter, I found another dirty, half-buried egg in the corner. A float test in water revealed that they were quite fresh. These things made me more convinced that it was rats that were stealing the eggs. And yet, in all my checking and building of the coop I hadn’t seen a rat or any rat poop.

Surely, it could not be suspect number two, Lorelai. Lorelai is the other hen who hadn’t started laying when the egg thievery started. She was suspect number two because the eggs of any and all other hens were going missing if I didn’t get them soon enough. But she did not have the egg-eater personality that I had experienced in the past. She isn’t weird, neurotic or dramatic. She’s so chilled out and friendly. She’s easy to handle and she would never lunge at The Little Fulla. But I was running out of options. I needed eggs for cooking and baking for The Little Fulla’s birthday party on the weekend. I refused to buy eggs when I should be getting plenty. Lorelai went into the Big Cage to stand trial.

Lorelai
My beloved Lorelai. Please don’t let it be Lorelai!

On Lorelai Day 1, I collected five eggs from the coop. I was stoked to have the eggs I needed for the quiche I had planned to make and could stop panicking about a last-minute menu change. But I was also gutted. Gutted that Lorelai could be the egg-stealing culprit. She is one of my favourite hens. She’s no good for breeding as a purebred, because her colouring isn’t very good, although she would make pretty crossbred babies, but she’s got such an awesome personality. She’s my snuggle chicken, my answer to the loss of my friendly Barred Rock, Legolas. There are three chickens that trump my ‘usefulness’ analysis and ranking because of my emotional attachment to them: Frodo, Kitty and Lorelai. They are my favourites. Stuff usefulness when it comes to them because they’ve found the soft places in my heart. As long as they’re not doing naughty things…

As Lorelai’s days in ‘jail’ continued, I kept collecting eggs. Eggs weren’t going missing from the nestboxes anymore. Well, mostly. There was still maybe one a day unaccounted for. Then Lorelai laid her first egg. She didn’t eat it but there was a crack in one end, which is more likely a result of it hitting the wooden floor as she had scraped away a lot of the wood shavings when nesting. I still wasn’t sure about Jane B. I wasn’t getting many eggs from her and I was was suspicious about her eating her own, especially since she seemed to be laying down the far end of the coop. I had to let Lorelai back out with the others to test if more eggs started going missing again.

The first morning , when I went to feed the chickens, I found a mostly-eaten egg in the far corner of the coop. Jane is most likely to have laid there but Lorelai was sleeping down that end. Hmm. Later on, Frodo’s egg went missing from the top nestbox but there were two in the other nestboxes at the same time that got left alone. Things got more confusing when I checked the rat bait station in the woodshed and all the bait was gone, including one metal rung that held down a bait block. One of the plastic entrance holes was also defiantly nibbled. What on earth has been in there?! Now I started to suspect a double-whammy: rats and chicken culprits.

DSCF2849
What is going on, chickens?!

Jane B went back into jail, because I still wasn’t sure about her. The main eggs that were going missing were hers and Lizzies, which were being laid down the far end of the coop. Lizzie had started laying again after the worst of her crazy moult had passed. More eggs went missing that morning. Jane was released. I decided it was time for suspect number three to go into jail that night: Lizzie.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to suspect Lizzie. Had she really stopped laying for as long as I thought she had? Why hadn’t I suspected her before? She is smart. And she had a rough, stalled moult over winter. Then I heard Sookie’s egg song, heralding an egg laid. I quickly but quietly ran over to the chicken pen, noted that Lizzie wasn’t present, saw Sookie eating pellets at the feeder, opened the coop door and BOOM! There was Lizzie, standing in front of Sookie’s egg, which had been moved out of the nestbox onto the coop floor. YOU!!!!!!! Lizzie was disgruntled and alarmed but I managed to grab her and took her straight to jail. She was half wild and tried desperately to escape through the door. What had happened to good Lizzie?

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Lizzie turned to the dark side.

Now it made sense. Lizzie had been eating her and Jane B’s eggs and some of the others’. She is very smart. She’s as wily as her sister Lydia was, but in a calm, quiet way. She hasn’t been the easiest chicken to handle, but she was always a good chicken. Until now. What went wrong? Was the crazy moult too much for her senses? Whatever the case, I was pleased that I had caught the thief.

The next day, an egg went missing. Great. This is NUTS! I had one egg thief in jail but did she have associates? I addressed Lizzie: “If you tell me who your accomplices are, I may be more lenient with your sentence. But not really.” I decided either Jane B or Lorelai would have to go back into jail that night, as they were the most likely chicken suspects. Who would I pick? I picked Jane B. More of her eggs were getting eaten and she had the weirdest behaviour. Then I changed my mind. The evidence was more in favour of Lorelai as an egg thief, as less eggs had gone missing when Lorelai was in jail and the afternoon before, Lorelai and Frodo’s eggs went missing from the top nestbox soon after Lorelai had laid. I just didn’t want it to be Lorelai.

Now I had two hens in jail. I was stoked when Lorelai laid an egg in her cage and didn’t eat it while I was out all afternoon. And one or two eggs were still going missing. Lorelai was released. Meanwhile, two more blocks of rat bait had disappeared from the bait station and now there was some rat poop in there. The next two blocks of rat bait weren’t getting much attention and there was a drop-off in egg-stealing.

Thus, we entered the occasional missing egg phase. Some days no eggs were stolen but some days one or two were stolen. I now knew that rats were the secondary thieves, but I became increasingly uncertain about whether Lizzie had a chicken accomplice. Lizzie was culled. It was sad to say goodbye to the last of the original Bennet girls and weird that all three suffered the same fate: death sentence for egg-eating as well as being the only chickens troubled by bumblefoot. What made it a little easier was that I think Lizzie was sick too. She went right off her food while in the big cage, even though her feathers were growing back a lot better, and she just wasn’t right. And she stopped laying again so I know she wasn’t just pigging out on her eggs. There is something to be said about a chicken that takes way too long to moult. We must also remember that Lizzie fell from top hen spot during winter. Mr Bingley is smart and the last hen he demoted from top spot was Lydia when she attacked mother Frodo upon her reappearance with chicks in tow. I’m not pleased that Lizzie turned to the dark side, but I’m relieved that she was the egg thief given her sub-par health and overall position at the bottom of my usefulness scale. And it’s a good thing she was so sneaky that the others didn’t cotton onto her egg-eating. I will miss her large eggs though. Goodbye, Lizzie.

I was poised to start putting chickens in cages again because some eggs were still going missing. Poor Jane B was in my firing line again because her early morning eggs were the most frequently stolen. But then The Little Fulla came up with a dirty egg from the pen. It was one of Jane’s, missing from one of the previous two days. Now I was convinced that rats were the only secondary thieves. Then the egg thievery dropped right off. None of the hens were eating their own eggs after laying. Finally, I was sure of that. What a relief! Yes, I still have rats to deal with, but I will keep baiting the bait station and take further measures if needed. I am calling this case closed. At least closed in terms of knowing who the perpetrators are.

I feel like I ought to apologise to Jane B. She did nothing wrong, aside from the pecking, she was just the most suspicious, weird chicken out there. The best thing is that Jane B has actually calmed down a lot. She doesn’t freak out at the sight of me anymore, she realises that I bring good things and she even EATS FROM MY HAND! She accidentally ate a pellet from my hand one day when I put my hand right in front of the feeder where she was sneakily stuffing her face while the others ate from my hands. She was like, “Oh my goodness I touched the human’s hand!!!!” Then she realised that she didn’t die. She has slowly been taking more pellets from my hand since then, at first begrudgingly and peckishly, but now in a sensible way, almost as eagerly as the others. I think Jane B is going to be ok after all. Also, sometimes she lays jumbo eggs. She may be the perfect replacement for Lizzie. Sorry, Jane! I am glad you’re not the thief after all.

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