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Chicken Nesting Boxes and Hidden Eggs

Chicken Nesting Boxes and Hidden Eggs

Chicken Nesting Boxes and Hidden Eggs from Free Range Laying Hens

Free ranging your chickens creates many positive results such as decreasing commercial feed, healthier chickens, and decreased maintenance. However, like everything else, free ranging your chickens comes with some potential drawbacks as well. Realizing that your laying hens are not using their chicken nesting boxes can be one of them.

How do you know if your chickens are hiding eggs?

One easy clue is that you are not gathering as many eggs from your chicken nesting boxes. Less eggs or none at all is clearly a clue that you might have some hidden eggs around your property. Another great clue is “Egg laying noises” coming from places other than your designated nesting boxes. If you have ever watched a chicken lay an egg, you know that chickens make a loud clucking noise when laying an egg and you will know the sound of a hen laying an egg when you hear it. If you hear this audible egg laying clue in abnormal places around your property, be very suspicious.

You suspect it, now prove it!

I was able to prove this theory by not letting my chickens out of their coop before I left for work. When I came home on lunch and had time to observe, I freed the laying hens. They were clucking like crazy and all ran to different locations. The fact that none had laid in the coop and their purposeful sprint to far off locations solidified my suspicions.

Two of my hens ran to the woodshed, ducked through a hole between rows of firewood, and started laying in their previously designed nests. I found 4 eggs in this location from prior days. One hen ran around the side of the pool area and disappeared. Listening as I walked, I heard the distinct egg laying cluck that formerly came from the chicken nesting boxes. Walking up to the deck, I was able to determine the sound was coming from the tightest spot under the deck and could see the nest through a crack between the boards. After she completed her task and appeared in the yard again, I checked and found 5 eggs in a nest under the deck!

Stop, Look, and Listen!

Taking the time to be observant is the key to finding the hidden nests on your property. Chickens have a natural instinct to find what they consider the optimal nesting site.

Many factors contribute to this, but some of the most evident are security, temperature, and seclusion. Laying hens will often find the tightest, most secluded area to build a nest and lay eggs. Often these areas are in a shed, under a house, or my most recent discovery, under my deck at the tightest spot that is almost impossible for a human to get to. These places provide security from predators and protect the chicken eggs from being harvested by humans. Hens will find a hidden spot to lay eggs, especially during the spring and summer when their instinct demands that they hatch some eggs.

Weather and temperature are obvious to the laying hen and should be obvious to the eggseeker as well. Sheds, under buildings, and tight dry places provide the hen cover as she sits on the eggs. The driest nooks ensure that the eggs and hen won’t get wet and provide a nest that won’t get colder with weather. Hens need some sort of bedding close by. Dry grass patches, hay, or pine needles create a fine nesting site.

Foot traffic from people and animals discourage a laying hen from nesting in an area. She will pick a site that is not frequented by other animals. Somewhere quiet and away from all the “chaos” of people and their daily activities. That quiet place in the yard where you would love to hang a hammock is a likely nesting area.

So you’ve taken the first step and found out that your sneaky girls have been hiding eggs. Now what? How do you discourage your hens from hiding eggs around your property? And how do you encourage them to lay in their chicken nesting boxes?

Stop the Bleeding and Fix the Chicken Nesting Boxes

The fist step is to immediately stop the bleeding and break the laying cycle. A laying hen will continue to return to a nest, as long as she knows that there are eggs in it. The most immediate fix is to snatch up the eggs and block the hen from reaching the nest.

This may be a more difficult task the longer she has been laying there. My experience was after five days of her hidden nesting practices, my laying hen was determined to get to her nest. She banged her head against the trellis,used to block the entrance to her nest, for hours. She walked around and attempted to peck through the brick and even gave her first shot at flying. Luckily after one whole day of crazy chicken freak outs, she seemed to forget about the whole thing the next day.

Physical barriers are a short term fix to a long term problem. Laying hens don’t quickly give up and eventually they will find a way into almost all locations. Some chosen nesting sites are not in a location that can be barricaded or fenced off, such as my open faced woodshed. Even if the physical barrier is successful, your hen will most likely make another stealth getaway and start the process all over again. Just know that blocking hens from an unwanted nest may help discourage them, however will not solve the problem completely.

Step two is to find the root cause of the problem and fix it. Apparently the chicken nesting boxes you are providing leave something to be desired. This is gut check time. Be honest and don’t get defensive. If your nesting box is providing all the necessities a layer needs, she won’t wander off and build her own. Why does your hen prefer her nest over yours? What attributes of her nest does she prefer and how can you integrate those attributes into the nest you want your hens to use?

Let’s look at what chicken nesting boxes should provide:

Security: Whether the nest is actually safe or not really doesn’t matter. Its all about the perception of the chicken. A tight box, closed on all but one side is what your hen will perceive as secure. Hens are known to lay in chicken nesting boxes that have two open side, however it is not optimal.

Stability: Your hen deserves a nesting box that doesn’t rock back and forth when she moves around in it. It shouldn’t sway with the wind. I have used some makeshift boxes made from carboard, old wood shingles, and scrap bricks temporarily. You will not get consistent eggs and you may even feel like a slumlord(I did).

Climate control: 1. Freedom from rain, sleet, and snow. Your chicken nesting boxes and your hens must stay dry and free from freezing winds. The boxes must be wind and draft proof, however still provide adequate ventilation. Most commercially made boxes are covered on 3 sides and the top. Mine are the same, however the open side of my boxes is directed into the interior covered area in my coop. This gives plenty of ventilation with no rain or wind.

2. Warm but not hot! Chicken nesting boxes must be warm and dry in the winter, but what about summer? The average body temperature of a hen is 107 degrees and it can get very hot in a box with no ventilation. Ventilation and shade are key in the warmer months. Ensure that your nesting boxes have a cover over them to protect from the sun and consider moving the entire coop to a shaded area if possible.

Bedding: Soft, dry, and pliable bedding is the key to happy egglayers. Hay and straw are an inexpensive option for bedding matter. Hens love to move the hay straws around their nest prior to laying. Hay gives hens the flexibility to build the chicken nesting boxes to their liking. It is very soft, pliable, and provides a warm dry nest.

Wood chips as bedding? Heck yes! I ran out of hay and the local feed store ran out, so I picked up some pine shaving from Tractor Supply and the hens love it. Wood chips absorb moisture very well, resist bad smells for extended period of time, and are dirt cheap. I bought a compressed bail for $4.99 two months ago. I have replaced the bedding in my chicken nesting boxes twice and change out the bedding for the chicks every week and still have more than half of the bag. Wood chips provide a very soft nest for my layers and never results in broken eggs.

When working with the egg laying hens, your flock is prone to hiding eggs. Hens that tend to be more broody will be more likely to hide eggs. Stay aware and good luck in your freeranging adventures

If you build it, they will come!

When you provide your hens with a chicken nesting box that provides all that a laying hen needs, your hens won’t bother building other nests around your property. Hens prefers to lay in a nest close to their coop or a nest that is part of their coop. It makes things simple and the simplest solution is always the right one.

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