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free ranging hens not laying in coop?

 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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We've had our chickens (5 old warren hens, a big rooster, 3 young orps 1 rooster 2 hens) in a static run and coop (big) for a few months and it was going ok but lately they've been fighting so we decided to bite the bullet and open the run. This week they've been free-ranging and loving it. I let them out around 8.30 and shoo them back in before twilight, then they go into the coop themselves and I lock them in at night.
They've been going back to the coop to lay - we're averaging 3 eggs a day lately- so perfect. Today, no eggs. I had a look around where they seem to have mostly been hanging out (mulch piles) but can't see anything. There is a false egg in the coop to encourage them to lay there. Is there anything else I can do to encourage them to come back to the coop to lay? They normally lay between 11am-3pm, so I would rather not keep them in the run until they have laid, or it would mean only a few hours of ranging.
 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Welcome to the joys of free-range layers. The daily egg hunt is always a challenge. Eventually you will find a cache, often containing dozens of eggs. Not so bad in a cool climate but a little risky when it is 35 or 40 C outside.

Another possibility is that magpies (or your local equivalent) are flying off with them. I had a very irate neighbor ask me why my children were throwing empty eggshells in his pool.
 
John Polk
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It could, coincidentally, also be the beginning of their moult.

Letting them live a more natural life (free ranging), plus weather, could have caused the natural moult cycle to kick in. As the days get shorter (and cooler), their bodies tell them that it is time for a new winter coat. They divert their proteins and energy to making new feathers rather than eggs.

 
David Hartley
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I'm with John on this... I've raised free ranging hens and almost all come back to lay.
 
stephen sinnott
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you need to remember that it is october and egg production will start to drop off, let them out after 12 if possible and feed them a bit in the coop to tether them to it.
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
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Thanks everyone. It looks like that might have been a fluke day, as the past few days we've had 4 eggs in the coop per day, so I'm hoping that this continues! We do have magpies and crows around, really annoying. Either they or rats sometimes get duck eggs if the one of the ducks lays outside (we don't let htem out of their coop until after 9am but sometimes we get a late layer, and then find the eggshells on the path later on).

I do give them some food in the run in the morning, and when I chase them in in the late afternoon. When the weather is really bad (heavy rain) they're all back in the run/around the coop anyway.

I'm still very nervous about having them out, it's really only a matter of time before we lose some or all to foxes, but it's a risk I'm willing to take at least for now because they seem to be happier like this. What finally tipped the balance was that a couple of the hens were getting pecked - this had not happened before, and then all of a sudden two of them had small patches. I think it's pecking rather than moulting though. And actually in the week they've been ranging, one of them is worse - bigger bare patch - even though I have observed a lot less bad behaviour among them. I hope they settle down and leave the poor girl alone! It really can't be a protein deficiency, or boredom, at this point.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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