Maybe John and I hadn’t made any major boo-boos tending our new flock, but it was obvious we still had a lot to learn about chicken-tending.
Recently, I went to Oregon for a week to visit the grandkids. About that time, the hens were just beginning to lay. Although John and I weren’t like, watching the hens do their thing, it seemed that the process started gradually. One small pullet egg showed up, then a few days later, we had another one, then some days after that, two eggs appeared, and so on.
While our first flock of six had already been steady-layers when we brought them home, this new set of five birds were “little girls”—the folks we’d bought them from said they probably wouldn’t be laying until early spring. John and I thought we had this chicken stuff down when, instead of the months we thought we’d have to wait, it was only six weeks until we got our first egg!
The first few pullet eggs had shown up on the coop floor, but after a few days, those girls had gotten a clue and were laying in the next boxes. We’d still see an occasional egg on the floor, but as one girl, then another began to lay, more eggs appeared regularly in the nests.
A tip for all you chicken folks with young birds, who are wondering when they’re going to start laying: When the first eggs began to appear, our girls’ combs were growing noticeably bigger. Then John and I observed that when we approached any of the chickens, she would sort of duck down, in a submissive pose. You might find it helpful to watch for these two developments while you wait.
At any rate, our new flocks’ egg production was coming along just fine the day I kissed John goodbye and headed south.
Prior to that, John had been laid up for several weeks after some surgery, so I was the one taking care of feeding and watering the birds. Being the one small enough to maneuver around the roost, I was the regular coop cleaner too, mucking it out every Tuesday and Friday, rain or shine. In my absence, naturally John took over the chicken care—but not the coop cleaning.
The night I got home, John had a positive hen report. “The girls have been laying two or three eggs a day,” he said smiling. “We’ve got a good supply built up.”
“It’s good I’m home then,” I said, “so you’ve got someone else to help you eat all of ‘em!”
The next morning, out I went to the coop for its overdue cleaning, and that’s when I found the heap of eggs. “What’s wrong with you guys?” I asked the hens. “I thought you had the nest thing all figured out!”
The situation wasn’t all bad, of course—almost all the birds had to be laying! Still, when I came inside and told John what had happened, the floor-laying seemed like a real head-scratcher. “Maybe the chickens got used to seeing both of us every day,” said John. “There were a couple of days I went to town, and didn’t visit them.”
“Could be,” I agreed, “but maybe they were so offended by all the manure in the coop they didn’t want to get over to the nests.” At any rate, our girls had developed a bad hen habit.
So how to break it? I read about people leaving fake eggs in their hens’ nests to encourage them to lay in the desired spot. I didn’t have any fake eggs around, but instead of collecting all the eggs in a given day, John and I began leaving one egg in a nest. (In winter’s cool temps, you don’t have to worry about your fresh eggs not being immediately refrigerated.) After a week or so, along with John and I resuming our daily hen visits and regular coop cleaning, the birds were back in the nest-box business.
I concluded that hens, like humans, really do need more than simply food and water. To be well-adjusted, they need routine, including regular social interaction. Also, once they’re accustomed to a reasonably clean (not poo-filled) home, they don’t like a mess. With these basic needs met, hopefully chickens will remember to lay where they’re supposed to and otherwise work best with their “peeps”!
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