A common question asked by many chicken keepers is ‘how to get chickens to lay eggs in the nesting box?’ Finding eggs laid randomly about the coop and run is a problem most chicken keepers will face from time to time as there’s always one chicken who will decide to lay in the oddest of places.
Why is it a problem if a chicken lays eggs outside the nesting box?
There are a number of potential problems which may arise when a hen starts to lay eggs outside the nesting box. The first problem is that it greatly increases the chances of the egg being broken. Whilst this will affect your egg production numbers, perhaps the biggest worry is that if an egg gets broken the other chickens will eat it. If this becomes a habit for them they might then start eating the ones left in the nesting box too and this can totally wipe out any egg production you have.
If eggs are found outside of the coop, it may not only lead to broken and eaten eggs, it might suggest to other hens that this is the place to lay. To avoid this, if you find an egg laid somewhere else remove it immediately.
Another problem is that eggs laid on the floor are going to get covered in excrement. In the UK, you cannot sell these eggs, nor can you sell washed eggs as washing removes the antibacterial barrier covering the semi-porous shell, leaving the inside vulnerable to bacteria and fungus. If you are using eggs with excrement on the shell for home consumption they should be eaten quickly.
The third problem with eggs laid outside the nesting box is that, unless you check your coop and run thoroughly every day, there’s no exact way of telling when it was laid. If it’s suddenly appeared in a very obvious spot it is likely to be fresh but if you find it in a hidden spot where you seldom look, the egg could have been there for weeks. If this is the case, throw it away immediately.
How to get chickens to lay eggs in nesting boxes
The answer to this is to establish, first of all why the chicken or chickens are laying elsewhere and then to deal with that issue. The nesting box, should be the best place in your chicken run for the chickens to lay, so if they aren’t laying in there, there’s either a problem with the boxes, there’s a better place to lay or there’s a problem with the chicken.
Promote good behaviour
By far the most successful solution that most chicken breeders have come across is to show the chickens the right behaviour. Hens are intelligent birds and learn from each other, so, whilst you have hens laying elsewhere, always leave a fake egg in each nesting box. By seeing the fake eggs in the nesting box the other hens usually learn that this is the place to lay and follow suit. Ideally, the fake egg should be as realistic as possible in terms of size, shape, colour and weight. Wooden eggs are good for getting the weight right but ceramic eggs can be useful too if not too heavy. You can use real eggs if you wish, but make sure you don’t leave them there too long or it will go off.
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Poor coop design
If using fake eggs doesn’t work, the next thing you should check is the design of your coop. Chickens like to roost as high as possible so it is always important that the highest thing in the coop should be the perches. If the nesting boxes are at the same height or above the perches, the chickens may prefer to roost in the nesting box instead of on the perches. You can usually tell if this is the case as chickens poop a great deal when roosting and the nesting boxes will be full of excrement. If this happens, chickens will find it difficult to lay in the nesting box if others are roosting in there, as a result, they’ll lay eggs elsewhere. If this is the case with your coop try hiring the perches and see if this works.
Another cause can be a conflict between the chickens. Hens do establish a flock hierarchy or pecking order and one of them has to be at the bottom. There’s also the possibility that one hen is ill and the others are protecting themselves from it. In either case, it could be that other hens are forcing the chicken away from the nesting box or making it feel unwelcome. Unfortunately, there’s little you can do about this issue apart from checking that the hen s are all healthy. Over time, social problems will probably resolve themselves. However, if laying outside of the nesting box becomes a habit, you can ‘encourage’ the chicken to lay in the nesting box by keeping it in the coop for a couple of days so that it has fewer options about where to lay. Eventually, it might start preferring the nesting box again.
Create the perfect egg laying environment
Hens prefer to lay in comfortable and private surroundings. Always check that the nesting box is the right size, has comfortable bedding, is quite dark and in a quiet place. There should not be too much noise, light or a draft and nor should there be too much interference from the other hens. The boxes should be clean, fairly warm and not positioned next to anything that can disturb or frighten them, like machinery. You should also check that you have an adequate number of nesting boxes for the size of your flock: one box for every two to three hens.
Discourage bad laying habits
Finally, if a chicken is laying elsewhere it could just be that they prefer that place to the nesting box. If this is the case your job is to stop that place being so comfortable for them. If they have scratched a hole in the ground or are using an old bird bath, fill it in. If they have found a quiet corner behind the coop, block their access to it. If it’s in the corner of the run, put the feeder and waterer there.
As a last resort, you can always keep an eye on the chicken until you see it’s getting ready to lay. Before it’s in the actual process, gently move it into the nesting box. If it gets up and starts to leave, try stand in its way and see if it will go back. Don’t be forceful, however, as chickens are easily frightened and this can have poor consequences for their health. However, gently moving them on a few occasions can help get the message through.
What solutions have you found?
Share your experiences by letting us know how you have managed to get your hens back into the nesting box. Leave a comment.