In addition to sheep, llamas, dogs, and barn cats, we have a coop of ten chickens. During our absence the dogs were at the kennel, but the rest of the animals were cared for by a number of young farm sitters who often help us throughout the year. This time, something happened in the chicken coop that I just don’t understand — but for you to see what’s wrong, you need to know a bit more about chickens.
Our chickens are now adults, since they’re all over a year old. Although hens tend to lay an average of about one egg per day, there are many things that can reduce the egg count from a flock — including hot and miserable weather, insufficient lighting (short days equal fewer or no eggs), stress, or a poorly balanced diet. Since our chickens are no longer young, we no longer expect to get an egg from each hen every day. We have nine hens, and we typically get six or seven eggs a day — sometimes eight on a good day.
Chickens like to lay their eggs in nesting boxes, so years ago we invested in a set of four boxes with inner platforms that can be removed for cleaning. Based on statistics, four boxes are good for twenty to twenty-four hens, so we should have plenty of room. Having said that, I often find two or three hens crowded into one of the four nesting boxes, “arguing” over which one gets the box. Eventually one of them lays her egg and hops out, leaving the other one or two to finish their laying in relative peace.
Sometimes a chicken will sneak into one of the nesting boxes to lay her own egg and will break open one of the other eggs. I’ve never seen any of our chickens break their own eggs, only those of other chickens. I’ve read online that they do this because they like the taste of eggs, but if that were true, you’d think they would break any old egg, including their own. My theory is that they want their own eggs to survive and they don’t want those of that other chicken to hatch out in the same nesting box. I can’t verify this, since none of the chickens are willing to tell me the honest truth, so these are my own thoughts.
Anyhow, because chickens will sometimes break the eggs, we have put wooden eggs into the nesting boxes. The wooden eggs originally helped the young chickens figure out that they were supposed to lay in the boxes — and that worked. Now the facsimiles prevent the hens from eating the eggs, because once she has pecked on the wooden egg, she isn’t so eager to try it again very soon. We lose one egg every month or so when one of the hens gets lucky pecking at another hen’s egg, but compared to the number of eggs we collect, this small loss doesn’t bother me.
When I returned home from our trip, I was eager to make the rounds of all of our creatures and say hello, including the chickens. Our helper had not collected eggs that day, so after refilling their food and water, I went to collect eggs and found an interesting sight. Although most of the eggs from that day were in various nesting boxes, one of the eggs lay on the perch outside the boxes. It honestly seemed like an odd place for an egg, but I collected it nonetheless and forgot about it.
Yet it turns out that was not a one-time thing. The hen is laying her egg on the perch nearly every day. Because of the color of the egg, I know it is one of our brown chickens, but I can’t tell which one. I also can’t figure out why she is laying her egg there. Is the nesting box full when she arrives, so she gets in there with two other chickens and her behind sticks out over the perch, dropping the egg outside the box? Every day? Or is she like a toddler being potty-trained, waiting way too late and not making it into the box in time? I have no idea, and the hen isn’t telling. This is not a safe place to lay an egg! The perch is hard plastic, while the inside of the boxes is soft fake grass (and blue, for some reason, but I digress). The egg could easily break lying there on the perch!
None of the hens is willing to come forward to claim this mislaid egg, no matter how often I ask or how much I may bribe the other girls to tattle! I’ll keep spying on them, however, and perhaps one day I’ll figure it out. One of those girls has some explaining to do!