Free-range chicken owners everywhere know that hens have superpowers when it comes to hiding egg stashes. Your carefully constructed, cozy nests inside the coop get shunned in favor of a dingy spot under an old wheelbarrow in the backyard where you’ll one day discover 20 eggs after being convinced your hens have stopped laying.
Hens don’t have a manual or map that gives them instructions about where they should lay eggs, so they tend to lay wherever they find a suitable spot. This behavior can be quite challenging for poultry owners. If you constantly feel like you’re on an Easter egg hunt in your backyard, let’s delve into some hen psychology to find out why your hens insist on laying outside and what you can do to lure them back to laying inside their coop.
Why Are My Chickens Laying Eggs Outside The Coop?
You may be convinced that your hens are laying outside their nest boxes just to be difficult. However, the truth is that hens naturally seek out quiet spots to lay that are comfortable and where they won’t get disturbed.
Unless they are used to laying in the nest boxes provided, chickens may lay in any secluded spot they notice while wandering about outside. Once a hen has started laying in a particular place, whether that be in a haystack or on a comfy armchair on your porch, it is hard to convince her that it is not an ideal spot.
Before we move on to why your chicken may not be laying inside the nest boxes in the coop, let’s take a look at what makes an egg laying spot attractive to a hen:
· It should feel safe – A hen is highly vulnerable to predators while it is laying, so it naturally looks for a snug, safe place.
· There must be enough laying nests available – Hens will not wait in a line to lay, so if there are insufficient laying boxes available, they may search for another place. A good nest box ratio is one box for every four laying hens in your flock.
· It needs to be convenient – If your free-range flock forages far from the coop during the day, chances are good that some of your hens may seek a quiet nook further afield in the tall grass rather than hiking back to the coop to lay.
· It should be homely – Nesting boxes should feel soft and welcoming. They should be lined with bedding like straw, sawdust, or wood shavings.
If you have ticked all the boxes on the points above and your hens are still laying eggs outside, then we need to cover things that may be putting them off using the nesting boxes inside their coop.
9 Reasons Why Chickens Are Laying Outside Their Coop
When investigating the cause of your chickens laying out their coop, the first thing that poultry owners need to confirm is whether or not they ever did. If you have added new hens or have pullets that aren’t familiar with the coop setup, the reasons for them laying outside will be entirely different from if your older hens suddenly start picking outside spots to lay.
These are some common reasons that may make an established hen change her laying spot:
1. Loud unfamiliar noises
Excessive loud noises from something like a new power generator or tractor working nearby the nest may cause a hen to find a different, quieter private place to lay.
2. Physical disturbances
Disturbances like dogs or inquisitive kids saying hello during laying time may also put your chickens off laying in a coop, even if the boxes are ideal. Visiting rats, possums, snakes, or foxes may also scare your hens if the coop is open to the outside.
3. Lice or other external parasites
No one wants to share a space with bedbugs! Many poultry parasites are microscopic and may infest the bedding in a chicken coop. Your hens will avoid laying in a nest box that has creepy crawlies.
Chickens naturally seek dry places to lay eggs and dampness. Check that bedding in the laying boxes stays completely dry at all times.
During the heat of summer, the inside of the chicken coop may just get too hot to be comfortable. Chickens are incredibly susceptible to heat and are far more likely to die from high temperatures during hot weather than low ones during cold weather in winter. If the hen house is too hot, even an established hen may seek out a cooler place to lay.
6. Laying box hygiene
Some young chickens never learn to roost as they should and continue to creep into a secure nesting box at night – even when they are adults. Chickens will also use boxes as roosts if there is not enough space to perch higher up during the night. This leads to a buildup of feces in the boxes, which can be really unpleasant for hens when they need to lay, and they may find a better place instead. It is a good idea to make sure there is plenty of roosting places in the coop that are separate from the nesting boxes if this is the case in your flock.
Chickens are not the most graceful or agile creatures. Their massive, feathery bodies perched atop two spindly legs make them endearing, but their physique does not provide them with excellent gymnastic skills. When a hen needs to lay, she may choose a path of least effort such as nearby hay bales rather than trying to climb into a nesting box that is either too high or difficult to access.
8. Pecking order
In chicken society, there are more dominant hens and those that are lower down in the social ranks. This is commonly known as a pecking order. If a few hens start laying outside when they didn’t before, check if they are being bullied by other more aggressive hens in the flock. This can be particularly common in a new flock as the pecking order gets worked out.
9. It may be too bright
Although light is an essential factor in the production of eggs, hens prefer laying their eggs in dimly lit places. The sun’s angle changes with the seasons, so check that the laying boxes in your coop aren’t drenched in too much light at certain times of the day.
10. Not enough Nesting Boxes or space
If there are not enough nesting boxes or space in the coop for a hen to relax and do her thing then she may find another area (aka outside) to lay. Providing adequate space is essential for laying hens.
If you have new chickens or pullets that have just come into lay, they can sometimes develop a habit of laying outdoors because they simply don’t know better. Once a hen has found a safe place to lay, it will usually continue to use the same spot until it is persuaded not to.
How To Stop Chickens From Laying In The Garden
Free-range hens have options when it comes to where they deposit their eggs, so chicken owners may need to entice them to use the cozy boxes provided inside their coop. Their inside nests should be irresistible, even to the pickiest chicken!
Hens are creatures of habit. Unless something really upsets them about a laying spot or the nest is removed, they usually return to the same laying box each time. The problem arises when a youngster has selected a place outside and doggedly refuses to lay eggs inside the coop.
Once you have created suitable laying boxes for your backyard chickens inside their coop, you need to gently persuade them to use them! There are four tried and tested methods to encourage your girls to embrace their nest boxes; some are pretty simple.
· Let your hens out a little bit later – Most eggs are laid during the morning hours, so try switching up your morning routine by keeping your hens inside their coop for longer, they will be forced to seek out a nest box. This will also solve the problem of the chickens wandering off too far early on in the morning and not returning to the coop to lay.
· Add some fake decoy eggs – New additions to your flock and young hens will instinctively search for a safe place to lay eggs. What could be safer than a nest that contains ‘eggs’ already? Fake eggs can be almost anything that is egg-shaped or spherical but I have found rubber eggs from toy shops or ceramic eggs or wooden eggs from gift stores work well. Even golf balls can work to peak their interest in the laying boxes.
· Block off the outside nest – Free-range chickens will continue to return to the same nest out of habit, whether it is behind a stack of bricks or inside an old car tire. If you discover a stash of eggs, one of the best ways to redirect a hen is to simply make it inaccessible. Cover the nest with some planks or place a giant obstacle on top of the spot.
· Catch the outside layer – If you have a chicken that persistently lays outside, you may need to do some PI work to identify the culprit so you can redirect that individual chicken’s behavior. Keep the hen confined in a closed pen within the chicken coop for a few days. Ensure that the chicken has a comfortable laying box with plenty of clean nesting material, so it has no option but to lay inside the coop. This is usually enough for it to learn a new routine.
How Do Chickens Know Where To Lay Eggs?
We all love our adorable flock of chickens, but they aren’t called ‘birdbrained’ for nothing! It can be frustrating for chicken owners to carefully set up a coop expecting to collect eggs daily from the nesting area, only to find a few of the girls have decided to deposit their eggs under random overgrown shrubs in the yard.
The fact is that chickens don’t know where they are supposed to lay eggs. They simply search for the best place that is safe and comfortable based on instinct. Once they have found a nice quiet spot, they will more than likely return to the same place whenever they need to lay.
Most chickens can be redirected to lay inside the nesting boxes in a coop, but it will require the right setup and quite a bit of patience. Fortunately, hens are naturally alert and inquisitive. Anyone with a backyard flock knows the hullabaloo the group can make if one chicken spots a predator! They are all eyes and notice everything around them.
Adding a few golf balls or toy eggs to comfortable nesting boxes inside the coop will make them a lot more attractive to the hens and may encourage them to use the boxes. Chicken owners need to make the hen-laying real estate inside the coop even better than the dark spots under the hedge.
To remember the main points of things you need when creating the perfect coop nesting boxes, keep the following chicken acronym in mind:
Hens love to lay their eggs in secret, private places, so providing them with cozy, secluded spots inside their coop may be enough to trick our feathered friends into consistently using their nesting boxes. This will undoubtedly make your job of collecting your hen’s eggs feel a lot less like a daily game of hide-and-seek.
How to make sure hens have the correct place to lay
In order to prevent damage to your precious eggs there are a few simple steps which you may want to consider following, having a safe and secure area where your hens feel comfortable to lay should be your primary goal.
Step 1: Ensure that you make the designated area where your hens are going to be laying a warm dry place, this should be inside of the coop where the hens are protected from the weather. When your hens are laying outside consistently it could mean that they either do not feel comfortable with laying in the designated spots or they have not located them as safe areas for laying.
This usually doesn’t happen however a quick way to solve this issue is by placing each hen inside one of the laying boxes, this basically tells them there is a safe laying spot available. The warmth inside the coop should be kept by having a heater/insulation. This can be anything from wood shavings to hay, anything that will keep the area warm should do the job.
Step 2: Providing a contained designated area such as a wooded box is a great way to ensure that your birds know that there is a safe place to lay. This wooded box should be a decent size, we recommend big enough to fit two hens inside it comfortably.
It should be placed inside the coop and should have extra hay in the bottom to create soft bedding for the eggs. You may notice that at first, your hens may lay on the floor of the coop they will eventually learn that the boxes are a better place to lay. If this doesn’t happen straight away don’t worry it’s perfectly normal that the process can take a few months.
Step 3: When your hens start laying you might start to notice that they start becoming very broody, signs of this can be the hens staying on top of their layer eggs for extended periods of time and lack of food being consumed. Having fake eggs to replace the real ones when your hens are being extra broody can help to keep the hens from becoming flustered or upset.
However, they are only hens at the end of the day so they will forget you have taken their eggs its just something you can do but defiantly is not compulsory. The number of laying areas we recommend to have is 1 per 5 hens.
Problems with laying eggs outside:
There are many problems that can occur as a result of hens laying eggs outside, the most obvious being eggs going to waste due to them being damaged. However this is not the only problem that may be a concern, hens sometimes eat their own eggs which (in some cases can not be prevented) however when eggs are laid outside more frequently the number of chickens pecking at the eggs will increase decreasing the number of fresh eggs you get all together.
Free-range chickens are delightful pets that keep us entertained while providing a constant supply of healthy, fresh eggs – that is if we can find them! Understanding why hens sometimes choose to lay outside instead of inside their nesting boxes will go a long way to remedying the situation and redirecting their behavior.
David Cameron is a passionate chicken enthusiast. Growing up, he always wanted to be a veterinarian and loved animals. After graduating from veterinary school, David spent over 40 years as an equine veterinarian. He and his wife retired a few years ago and moved to North Carolina. Here, David’s love of chickens grew even more – he now has 7 chickens and 6 quail. If you have any questions about chickens, feel free to reach out.