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Can hens "hold it" (delay the timing of their egg-laying)?

 
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Can hens hold in eggs for several hours until they want to lay?

I have a flock of 11 pullets that are in the coop or run till mid day.  Then we let them free range the rest of the day.  I have nest boxes inside that they haven't used yet as they are just starting to lay.  I found a nest with 8 eggs in it outside about two weeks ago.  Since then I've found about 4 eggs in the coop in random places.  So I'm trying to figure out how they could generate 8 eggs for an outside nest but not be dropping eggs inside the coop.  Unless they know an egg is coming and they cross their legs until I let them out and they can find a bush to put it under?
 
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heheh
some of my hens just lay eggs in the afternoon between three and four and i have no idea wether they can hold eggs in or not ive seen a quail get scared and drop an egg in the middle of a foot path though. I think that if you free range chickens they will find a way to hide their nests from you or any predator by instinct. ive found eggs in very creative places. maybe the new layers are also not into a rythem yet?
 
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I believe they can do some degree. I've gone out to clean the chicken coop out an dump new bedding in. Sometimes a hen or two will be in nesting boxes trying to lay an egg, and I'll kick them out so I can change the bedding. Off they go, pecking and scratching while I rake the soiled bedding out and when I'm all finished, they'll walk back in, spend a few minutes reconfiguring the new bedding material so it's just right, then proceed to sit and lay.

I have also experienced the opposite- a chicken getting "caught off guard" and plopping an egg out in the grass. I was walking up to the coop, chickens all around me, I reached in to get the empty feeder, and I turned around and there was an egg on the ground that wasn't there 10 seconds earlier. I like to think that the hen was thinking "wait! that wasn't a turd!"

It takes something like 26 or 28 hours for an egg to develop and a hen to lay it, so inevitably as the laying time moves forward each day, an egg will be ready in the middle of the night when she's roosting and they won't lay while roosting. I've gone out to the coop at dawn and seen hens in the nesting boxes, sometimes double occupancy.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks for the input.  So I'll assume that they are holding them in a bit.  I figure that once they really get laying, they'll have to put them in the coop since they're locked in the coop/run for 16 hours a day.  

Is this an ongoing part of free ranging?  Or will they learn where to put them (in the coop) and stop leaving them in the woods?  All winter they will be confined to the coop and run so I figure they'll be forced to give them up starting in a month.
 
James Freyr
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The ones laying in the woods are likely doing that out of habit now. I put ping pong balls in my nesting boxes to "teach" them where to lay, and mine have always layed in the boxes. I would speculate that you need to break them of the habit and retrain them so they lay in the boxes. May I suggest putting something in the nesting sites they have in the woods, like a pile of sticks and twigs to deter them from laying there, and put "egg lookalike objects" in the nesting boxes so every morning and every time they're in the coop they see them, and they'll likely get the idea, especially if they see others using the nesting boxes.
 
Mike Jay
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I just did an Easter egg hunt in the woods and found nothing.  The first clutch of eggs I found was right by the house.  I swiped them and they haven't put any more there.  When I found those, I installed the nest boxes, I put ceramic eggs in two boxes and showed them to three of the larger hens.  No dice.  I added a nest box on the floor and they haven't used it yet either.  It's supposed to be rainy this weekend, maybe I'll keep them locked in the coop/run for a few days to see what happens.

I don't know if this is a problem but I'm using 5 gallon buckets as nest boxes (as seen on the internet).

Maybe I'll search some more in the yard....
 
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Hi Mike,

I think you'll find that laying hens have a sort of follow the leader attitude with laying.  They can wait for a while to lay if they have to.  My coops have twelve nesting boxes each and when I collect, the eggs are almost always in only three to five of the boxes.  In fact, many times a hen will sound a distress call if another hen is on the nest that she wants.  She'll stand close and make a fuss and keep calling until the hen gets out of the box she wants.  So yes, they can hold them for a while, but if she's ready to lay an egg that day, she'll lay it somewhere eventually.

It may be that by laying in clutches together, nature has embedded a way to get more chicks hatched when a hen does grow broody, or maybe chickens are like people and just want what everyone else has?  

Although I have not done it, I have heard people having good luck getting hens to lay in a specific area by placing ceramic fake eggs in the boxes.  They see the egg and think "That's a good place to lay!"

Also, hens like privacy, so make sure the boxes you want them to nest in are covered top, back,  and sides.  I've had to eliminate hidey holes in my coops because of it's secluded, they gravitate to it.
 
Marcus Billings
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Mike Jay wrote:I just did an Easter egg hunt in the woods and found nothing.  The first clutch of eggs I found was right by the house.  I swiped them and they haven't put any more there.  When I found those, I installed the nest boxes, I put ceramic eggs in two boxes and showed them to three of the larger hens.  No dice.  I added a nest box on the floor and they haven't used it yet either.  It's supposed to be rainy this weekend, maybe I'll keep them locked in the coop/run for a few days to see what happens.

I don't know if this is a problem but I'm using 5 gallon buckets as nest boxes (as seen on the internet).

Maybe I'll search some more in the yard....



Hi Mike,  

I apologize, I didn't see your last post regarding the eggs.  As for the buckets, I haven't found any big enough that the hens appear to be comfortable in. Now, buckets will work, people use them all the time, but if a hen is setting on more than a couple of eggs, she tends to spread out and if they kick out some of the nesting material, the curve of the bucket reduces their space.   I'm assuming you're placing them on their sides?  

I've gone to building stacked shelves that I place milk crates on.  I cut out the front so that they can access and I staple black plastic to the sides and bottom.  The shelf above closes in the tops.  I also use pine shavings for the nesting material although a lot of things would work.  

 
Mike Jay
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Yes, the buckets are on their sides.  Maybe I'll knock together some wooden nest boxes and see if that does the trick.  I liked the portability, cleanability and availability of buckets.  But if they don't work...
 
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They can certainly hold it for a while, I don't know how long. Mine are normaly very good with laying only in the nest boxes but a couple of weeks back we slaughtered our ducks, so the chickens were shut out of the coop for several hours, they found a couple of creative places to lay and then continued to use them. I simply shut them into their run for two days so they couldn't get to their new nests, and now they are back to putting the eggs where I want them.
I do have four rubber eggs that I use with new hens to show them where to lay, I also use them if I have an egg eater as a first lne of defence. pecking at a rubber egg doesn't give any reward and they normaly stop.
 
Mike Jay
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Yesterday I built a wooden nest box for them to try out.  It's raining today so I think they'll stay in.  Hopefully that does the trick.  

Yesterday I had a chicken making weird noises while up on a high rain barrel.  I peek up there and find an egg.  So now I know what sound they make when they're laying.  Fast forward an hour and another one is making the same noise. It was nestled down in some leaves in the run and after a bit I found an egg there too.  Unfortunately another hen made the same sound in the orchard and I coudn't find that egg.  

The silly challenges of a first time chicken keeper
 
James Freyr
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heh! I love the egg song! I remember first learning that after putting two and two together and realizing it was associated with egg laying. It still puts a smile on my face when I hear it.
 
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James Freyr wrote:

I have also experienced the opposite- a chicken getting "caught off guard" and plopping an egg out in the grass. I was walking up to the coop, chickens all around me, I reached in to get the empty feeder, and I turned around and there was an egg on the ground that wasn't there 10 seconds earlier. I like to think that the hen was thinking "wait! that wasn't a turd!"



Sometimes I wonder if they do the opposite, too. When my ducks aren't laying, I'll often find lots of poop in their nesting boxes, which stops happening as much once they start laying. Like, are they going in there, "bearing down" so as to lay and egg, and just poop instead?! It's rather frustrating, too, because it means I have to clean out their nesting boxes everyday, so that they don't go laying the next day on their giant wad of poop!
 
James Freyr
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Heh!! :) Funny. I don't know Nicole, I'm sure anything is possible. The only time I find what seems to be a rather large pile of poop in the nesting box is when a hen spends the night in there instead of on a roosting bar. Do ducks prefer to roost up off the ground like chickens do or have preferred sleeping places? I don't really know much about ducks. I have friends who have ducks and they're fun to watch. For me, the entertainment value alone is reason enough to have ducks :)
 
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Just to confirm Marcus and James' advice worked for me.   My free range girls definitely hold their eggs for hours when necessary.   I put a golf ball in each of 4 nests when I first got chicks last winter and they've used a nest 100%.   However, they all want to use the same nest so they wait their turn - all the while grumbling (crabby squawking) and pacing around the yard close to the coop, occasionally going inside to remind the current occupant that they're waiting, sometimes crawling on top of her.   Additional evidence is that recently I did some "remodeling" of the coop roosts, ventilation and such, for most of the day.  They didn't go in and lay at all and no eggs in the yard, but before I let them out the next morning I found an egg under the roost that was dropped during the night and they started laying first thing in the morning (7am) which is unusual.

My girls definitely like privacy.  And they really like a dark corner amongst straw/hay bales.
I'm still laughing at the "crossing the legs" question -  lol!
 
Nicole Alderman
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James Freyr wrote:Heh!! :) Funny. I don't know Nicole, I'm sure anything is possible. The only time I find what seems to be a rather large pile of poop in the nesting box is when a hen spends the night in there instead of on a roosting bar. Do ducks prefer to roost up off the ground like chickens do or have preferred sleeping places? I don't really know much about ducks. I have friends who have ducks and they're fun to watch. For me, the entertainment value alone is reason enough to have ducks :)



Mallard type ducks like to sleep on the ground. The few times I've snuck a peek at them, they were all just lying on the coop floor. I don't think any sleep in their nesting boxes, but it's hard to know. They will lay their eggs most anywhere in the coop, but usually in corners. Once I attached ground-level nesting boxes, they started laying in there. Though, I did have one duck that would sometimes lay her eggs in the nesting box we put up for our chicken (meanwhile, the chicken would nest in the duck's nesting box. Go figure.). Ducks also usually lay at night, and are done by 9:00am. When I go to let them out in the morning, I often find my ducks up on crates or even perched on 2 foot tall dividers I have in there. For all I know, some of them sleep that way. Silly ducks don't know they're not supposed to perch.

I think muscovy ducks roost up on sticks like chickens, and lay in raised boxes too, but I could be wrong. I've never had muscovies :).
 
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My chicken coop is a camper on a truck, the chickens have to commute from place to place, from the rental we live in to the property where they eat bugs. I had to get the truck inspected, the birds were out in the yard so I took the truck (well, one was on the nest, refused to get off, so she went to get inspected too, chattered at the inspector, who was amused.) Came back, pulled the truck in, and four of them ran at me yelling, I opened the back doors for them, and they stampeded into the nests and laid quickly. All I could think of was they had been dancing with their legs crossed, waiting for their coop and nest boxes to return. So I'd say yes, they CAN hold it, but mine aren't happy about doing so :)
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks for all the replies!  So they can hold it for a little while, but probably not for 12 hours of daytime.

I put a hen in the new nest boxes this morning and she nestled right in.  I didn't want to disturb her so I'll go back out in an hour and see if any magic happened.  If there is an egg there, I may leave it for the other hens to find (along with the ceramic eggs).
 
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As you have discovered, hens with no rooster tend to lay where they want to, one of the roosters jobs is to show the hens where to lay their eggs.
Now that one of your girls has used the nest box and you are leaving that egg there, the others will get the idea that this is where we lay our eggs.

I have three nest boxes, the three hens we have currently all use the same box, I can change which box by moving the fake brown egg (your fake egg needs to be the same color the hens lay, discovered this by accident).
Our rooster inspects the coop every day and if I move the fake egg, he sits in that box and calls to the girls to come see where to lay.

Our hens can and have held off on laying as long as 8 hours, if you disrupt their "normal" they will shut down for a day maybe two before getting back into their normal laying routine.
Each of our hens lays at a different time of day, they do not like covers on their nests nor do they like curtains, when I tried those two devices the laying shut down until I removed the offending piece(s).
 
Mike Jay
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She laid her egg in the box!  I found another hen that seemed to be thinking about laying so I caught her and set her up in the nest box and she started checking it out so I gave her some privacy.

I do still have two roosters with the hens but I'm not sure they know their full job description yet.  They seem to be doing the protection job and the mating chore though...

My ceramic eggs are brown. So far the eggs I've found have been greenish/olive but I have faith that most of them will be brown.

I have a curtain in front of the boxes for privacy but I could remove it.  I'll see if the second hen used it or not.

Thanks!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Mike, one of the strange things I've found out about roosters is not all of them seem to use the same play book.

I have a neighbor who has a rooster that has never crowed, not once, he doesn't even seem to know he should protect his hens.

We have a great roo, he has always taken great care of his girls, shows them food, chases off threats, crows when ever he want them to gather round, he warns them of hawks and as I told you, he checked out the new coop several times before getting his  girls to go in.
He even shaped the first nest in his preferred nest box, before I got the fake egg in there.  He doesn't eat the food he finds until his girls move away from it, they always get first pickings.

Glad you are getting your girls to lay where you want them too, that always makes it easier to gather them all.

This spring I'm going to leave some eggs and see if one of our marans will go broody and hatch out some chicks for us.
 
Mike Jay
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Chicken #2 added her egg to the pile  I'm imagining I should leave them in there till tomorrow afternoon before I collect so that the other girls can hopefully learn.  Luckily it is supposed to be rainy/snowy/windy/miserable for the next few days so hopefully they all stay closer to home and learn from hen #1 and #2.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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awesome!  yes I am sure they will all learn where to lay if you do that.  cheers
 
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Chickens are creatures of habit. Once they lay in a particular spot, they will want to return to that spot every time.  This is particularly true of broody breeds.  Layers with no brooding instinct tend to be more casual and careless about where they plop their eggs.  You can train a hen to lay where you prefer... Put her on the nest and cover her with a basket until she has laid.  Do this for a couple days and it will settle in her brain that "I lay my eggs here.". I had one hen that fell in love with the basket we were covering her with... And continued to crawl in the basket to lay after we stopped covering her.  I love chickens.
 
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