(As Originally written and published for Backyard Poultry Magazine, June 2014)
Chicken Coop Chatter©
We tend to assume if there is a nesting box that a pullet will understand she should lay eggs in it, or that through example of older hens she will get the idea, however that is not always the case.
You may find a new layer depositing eggs just about anywhere. Bro left the hatch open to the car as he was unloading one day, he later found an egg on the floor board. We even had a light brahma pullet that was so busy foraging that she deposited her very first tiny egg right in the chicken run without missing a beat and continued to scratch through the newly mown grass for all the goodies. But you may find those eggs laid just beneath a nesting box, or if there's a step to the nesting box you may find an egg laid there, right next to the nesting box, just not in it as you might expect.
Pullets do need to be trained to lay in a nesting box. Some will place a golf ball, ceramic or wooden egg in the nest box to encourage laying, but those methods may be for naught. Sometimes it comes down to the location, the size or shape of the nesting box or even the nesting materials used. Though stationary nesting boxes may seem like a great and convenient idea, they may also be a complete deterrent to a chicken.
Through our own experiences, we have found that changing the materials or location of the nesting box encourages laying. Chickens being naturally curious creatures will investigate almost anything and are very observant of changes. These changes often encourage them to check things out and in that act of investigation, they may decide that's a great place to lay the egg. Though we are mainly talking about young laying pullets, this can also work for seasoned hens when you notice they are not laying after a molt or slow to lay after their winter rest.
Changes can be positive or negative; they may encourage laying or discourage it. It is up to each of us to figure out through observation what our chickens like and do not like, and though they cannot talk to us, they do have ways of informing us that things are not right or not to their liking.
Here at Just Fowling Around, we use portable nesting boxes, which can be moved at any time. Ours are heavy plastic fruit crates, which are free and plentiful in our orchard community, that are easy to wash and sterilize as needed and moved to another location as may be necessary. Our nesting materials are simple, we use fresh straw, however other nesting materials are suitable; even non-treated, dried lawn grass can be used as a free source of nesting materials, which would replicate a natural nesting area if the chickens were in the wild.
We have talked to people that spent a lot of money for fancy nesting boxes, that mount to the chicken coop walls, built or purchased the fancy coops with the nesting boxes built in, only to discover that not one chicken would lay in them. Other folks have found that by accident, they have left an empty egg gathering basket idle as they did other chores and found a chicken had laid in it, when they would not lay anywhere but the floor of the coop.
Buckets, baskets, crates, and boxes all serve as nesting boxes when you determine which one they will lay in, that will become the favored place of not one but possibly all of the chickens, even if you have a dozen other nesting boxes. We can't out guess a chicken, and it may be that the one nesting box has better ventilation, more or less light, more privacy or, the optimum location, as determined by the hens.
This is a dilemma for old-timers that have raised chickens many years, but even more daunting to a new chicken owner questioning why their chickens either won't lay, or why they won't lay in the perfectly good nesting box and hopefully we've helped in a small way to bring understanding about the needs and perhaps wants of chickens. Many times observation becomes our guide to bring about a positive change rather than frustration.
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