Most people decide to keep chickens because they’re looking forward to a supply of fresh eggs. So when the hens don’t deliver the goods, it can be worrying, baffling and frustrating.
In most cases, patience is the simple answer. There are a number of reasons why hens might not be laying, but the commonest are simply to do with age. They will not start lying until they are six months old and thereabouts. The exact timing depends on breeds. Some, such Australorps, Golden Comets and Leghorns, begin laying early, between 16 and 18 weeks. With some of the larger breeds such as, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, and Wyandottes, you can wait up to eight months for the first eggs to appear.
Another complicating factor is the time of year. Hens that reach egg-laying maturity in the autumn or winter may not lay until spring. This underlines another common answer to the “Why are my hens not laying?” question – most breeds tend to stop producing eggs, or drastically reduce their output, in the colder months.
In the Mood to Brood
Sometimes a chicken decides to sit tight and wait for her egg to hatch. In this maternal mood, she is known as a broody hen, and will stop producing eggs. This is handy if you want to hatch chicks, as the hen will happily sit there for the three weeks it takes to hatch an egg. It’s less handy if you want her to produce more eggs, though.
The hen can either be left for three weeks, after which she will resume normal service, or you can gently discourage her. Placing a bag of ice cubes or frozen peas underneath her can do the trick. Some chicken keepers recommend placing the hen in a wire cage or dog crate, with food and water. This is a little uncomfortable, and will usually beak the brooding habit.
All Change – Moulting and Ageing
All hens have a time limit on their laying. On average they will produce eggs for three years.
Most hens take ‘time off’ for winter, and also for moulting. Many breeds undergo what’s known as a hard moult, losing their feathers over a few days and growing a new set quickly. Others may undergo a ‘soft’ moult, losing a few feathers at a time.
Keeping the hens well fed, and adding a little extra protein to their diet, will keep them healthy during this time. Their physical efforts are concentrated on growing new feathers, which is why the egg supply tends to drop during the moult.
This underlines another important point – a nutritious diet, centred on a fortified chicken feed and plenty of calcium, is vital. If hens are malnourished, egg production will drop.
Sick Birds Don’t Lay
If your hens are neither too young nor too old, not moulting, not brooding, and not hunkering down for a cold winter, the reason for the drop in eggs may be illness. Parasites – lice, mites, fleas, internal worms – can cause bodily stress that impacts their laying.
Stress can also be brought on by bullying, too much handling, injury, noisy children and pets in the garden, or poor environment. Making sure the hens have a space where they can stay happy and healthy is vital. A setup such as theEglu coop and run, along with suitable perches, feeders and other essential accessories, does the trick.
There may be other underlying health issues at play, though. Check out our pages onchicken health for more advice on diagnosing and – where possible – treating problems.
It’s just possible that your non-laying hens are laying – it’s just that you can’t find the eggs. There are two reasons for this. Free-ranging chickens often ‘go native’ and begin laying eggs in a spot in the undergrowth, rather than in the coop.
Check under shrubs, in long grass, and any secluded corner of your plot of land. If the AWOL laying has been going on for a long time, there may be a few eggs out there in the wilderness. Check their freshness by placing them in a bowl of water. If the eggs lie on their sides, they are fresh. If they are more upright (between 45 and 90 degrees), but still resting on the bottom of the bowl, they are not fresh, but still usable. Any that float have passed their sell-by date!
Eggs may also disappear if a hen acquires a taste for them. Egg-eating amongst chickens can be a sign of overcrowding or poor diet. Once she has acquired the taste, it can be difficult to stop a hen eating eggs, and she may need isolating to stop her pecking at her neighbours’ eggs. The isolation may also induce slight stress, just enough to interrupt her own laying, which may in turn break the habit.
Normal Egg Service Resumed
Don’t worry – unless a hen is very old or very ill, her egg-laying should soon resume. Owners can aid the process by making sure they’re giving the birds everything they need. They keys to a good egg supply are good food, a good space – and patience!
Here at Omlet we often receive calls from aspiring chicken keepers who are seeking chicken keeping advice before getting their first birds. Some of the most popular questions we get asked are, what should I feed my chicken with or how can I protect my chickens from predators? One question that keeps coming up is, do I need to shut the Eglu door at night?
Often people ask us this question because the idea of adding another task to their daily routine might be one of the reasons which puts them off chicken keeping. Much like you wouldn’t like to sleep with your front door open, unfortunately for chicken keepers, nor do your chickens, therefore most nights we would recommend you close the chicken coop door. But having to close the door doesn’t necessarily mean that it would need to be done by the chicken keeper themselves! Have you ever thought about automatic door system? Well luckily for chicken keepers, Omlet has recently launched a new Autodoor which will solve all of these problems.
Even though our Eglus are specially designed to keep your chickens warm in winter with a unique twin-wall insulation system which works in a similar way to double glazing, leaving the door open overnight would let the cold enter inside which might result in having frozen eggs after a freezing winter night and could make your chickens feel unwell. Which is why we strongly recommend you use the handle on top of the Eglu and simply lift and twist it to close the door in one convenient motion each evening after having made sure all of your flock is inside.
As important as it is to close the door to protect your hens from the cold, it is also important to do it to protect them from potential overnight predator attacks. Most predators would wait for the night to attack your chickens therefore by simply closing the door it would protect your flock from being attacked by predators such as racoons, foxes and coyotes.
Having said how important it is to close your chicken coop overnight we understand that not everyone has the luxury of being at home every night to close the coop door especially for people working late shifts that are often home well after the sun sets. That is why we recently launched an automatic chicken coop door that can be attached directly to any wooden chicken coop, wire or the Omlet Eglu Cube Mk1 and Mk2.
Much like a personal chicken coop concierge, the Autodoor will always make sure your chicken’s coop is securely closed at night even when you’re running late. Whether you decide to use the light or time mode, the Omlet secure and safe Autodoor will either open and close at dawn and dusk or at specific times that you have programmed it to. In addition to being designed to be used in different modes the Autodoor has a unique safety sensor detecting any blockages to prevent your chickens from being injured when they decide to stop half way through the door. Benefits of the Omlet Automatic Chicken Coop Door:
Easy to install, no maintenance required
Operated by light sensor or timer
Powered by battery
Works with all wooden chicken coops
Improves coop security and insulation
Compatible with the Eglu Cube
Reliable in all weather conditions
Built-in safety sensors
Can be used with any chicken run or mesh
To summarise, closing the coop door is definitely the recommended action for every chicken keeper in order to protect their chickens from the cold and predators however this task can easily be completed by an Autodoor. Check out the review below to see what one of our Autodoor owners thinks of this new product:
“Thank you Omlet for a wonderful product and great service. The door arrived quickly, very well packaged and my concerns over fitting it were unfounded as I was able to complete the task completely unaided. The door is easy to operate and means my girls are safely tucked up at dusk and I do not have to get up ridiculously early to open the coop and stop them hollering!” – Wendy
While filming a segment of our television program Coop Dreams, around Austin Texas, we were taken on a field trip to a nursing home that had a chicken coop. Daily the residents would have ‘Chicken time’ where they could hold, pet and interact with the chickens. What we witnessed was incredible. The chickens were amazingly calm and the residents were transformed back in time to when they had raised or experienced a life with chickens. It was super cool to see chickens and residents so comfortable that they both wound up napping while the chickens were on their laps in chairs… And that sparked a curiosity.
The birth of Coops For Troops
Moved by what we experienced, we couldn’t stop talking about it and googling everything around chickens involving support and therapy. We found some amazing information and stories about how chickens can help with:
Loneliness – We’ve all experienced and been amused by their crazy antics and personalities.
Stress Relief – Whether it’s the vocalizations or the scratching and pecking there is something very calming about sitting with chickens.
Depression – A study of the UK organization Henpower shows that – people become less lonely and depressed when caring for the hens.
Loss of self-worth – There is a sense of purpose one feels when caring for and feeding chickens.
PTSD – Animals have been shown to be great in relieving the symptoms and elements associated with PTSD.
And after those Google searches we decided to launch Coops For Troops (Coopsfortroops.com) where we present veterans and military families with chickens, supplies and an Omlet chicken coop to help them start their journey into backyard chicken keeping.
Sixteen and counting!!!
Currently we’ve presented 16 Coops For Troops packages and are excited to continue passing on the amazing healing power of chickens.
We’ve presented in nine states to date and are sifting through the next round of nominations. Initially it was going to be a one and done event and a small segment in an episode of our Coop Dreams TV show but the response was so great it has spun into its own TV show.
Not only does this allow us to thank more veterans and deliver more coops but the weekly TV audience allows us to share this benefit to others who may be suffering and are in need of some help and relief.
Our viewers and partners help us to continue to pay it forward.
Coops For Troops episodes can be watched, for free, any day and anytime on our webpage by clicking the Video On Demand tab and clicking the Coops For Troops episodes. They can also be seen on our Coop Dreams YouTube channel.
We all know how chicken math works and that doesn’t change if you’re a veteran, a beginner or an experienced chicken keeper and it is so great to see so many of our Coops For Troops recipients grow and add to their flocks and continue to communicate to us how the addition of chickens has helped in quieting some of the symptoms these incredible individuals now carry.
Sooooooo… On this Veterans Day what can you do? Spread the word and pay it forward. If you know of someone in need maybe mention how the help may be found in these incredible, quirky and amazing animals.
We can learn a lot from chickens. They go to bed early, and once indoors they snuggle up together to keep warm. No messing about after hours. As a result, they’re ready for a fresh start as soon as the sun comes up.
The problem is, there’s often no early-rising human around at dawn to open the door of the coop and let the hens get on with a busy day’s scratching, foraging and laying. Equally, you might not be able to be there to lock the door behind them after they’ve headed for bed early in the bleak midwinter.
An open door in the chicken shed lets in the cold, and unless your coop and run are secure, some very unwelcome night visitors of the four-footed kind might come calling…
“Someone Should Invent An Autodoor For Chicken Sheds…”
Fortunately, the necessary security-cum-draft-excluder has already been invented. Omlet’s Autodoor attaches directly to the Eglu Cube Mk1 and Mk2 chicken houses. But it’s not exclusively for those models – the Autodoor works with any chicken coop, with a unique and clever design that enables it to be attached to whatever des res your chickens are living in.
Like many ingenious inventions – wind-up radios and wind-up torches come to mind, or solar powered garden lights – Omlet’s automatic chicken coop door opener is very simple. It’s battery powered, with both a timer and a light sensor for maximum flexibility and control. The Autodoor won’t instantly seize up when the temperature plunges, either. It’s been tested to work down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius).
The Autodoor is also very easy to install. Its LCD control panel is separate from the door itself, so it can be placed in the best position for the built-in light sensor to do its work.
The door, once closed, is also very secure. It doesn’t use a string and pulley system, so it can’t be lifted up by hungry creatures hoping for a midnight chicken snack. Nor will they be able to squeeze through the tight seal once the door is shut.
Attaching The Autodoor
If your hens live in an Omlet Eglu Mk2 Cube or a chicken coop made of wood, the Autodoor comes with all the fittings you need. You’ll need a few extra attachments if you want to fit the door to aMk1 Eglu Cube, anOmlet Run or a set up involving traditionalchicken wire.
The control panel and light sensor attach via a robust cable, so you can choose the best spot for registering the daylight. The sensor doesn’t mean your hens have to be home before the sun hits the horizon, though. You can set it to close an hour after sunset, to suit your birds’ routine. Equally, it can be set to open an hour after first light, if your chickens are used to having a bit of a lazy start to the day. This makes sense when the days are particularly cold – the hens might want to take advantage of their cosy place on the perch for as long as possible before venturing out into the cold frosty morning.
The door will not open in the night, even if passing headlights, a security light or a torch beam shine on the coop. It has been designed to ignore these temporary bursts of light, and only open when there has been consistent light for an amount of time fixed by you via the control panel.
So basically, that’s your chickens’ winter worries sorted.
It’s possible that you have a stoical family member who is willing to be on guard at dawn and dusk every day throughout the cold winter months to open and close the coop door. Lucky you –that’s real chicken dedication!
For everyone else, the Autodoor does all the work for you when you’re not around. Or, let’s face it, it gives you the excuse and peace of mind to enjoy a weekend lie-in without having to brave the elements on morning chicken duty!
Calling all wicked Witches! We know October has been a very busy month for you all, which is why we are offering 31% off when you upgrade your witch’s broomstick this Halloween, to the Omlet Chicken Perch. This spooktacular offer will fly past, so don’t miss out!
Use discount code WITCHES until midnight on the 31st of October!
Give your chickens a brilliant new way to play in their chicken run with Omlet’s Chicken Perch, available in 2 lengths to suit your flock. The naturally weather resistant perch not only features an innovative bracket design – allowing it to be placed anywhere on any chicken run – but is also suitable for use by all breeds of chicken, making it the new must-have DIY chicken coop accessory!
Upgrade your chicken’s playtime with this fun accessory, and use code WITCHES to save 31% until midnight tomorrow.
Terms and conditions
This promotion is only valid from 30/10/19 – midnight on 31/10/19. Use code WITCHES to claim 31% off Chicken Perches. This offer is available on the Omlet Chicken Perch 1 metre and 2 metre only. Subject to availability. Omlet Inc. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
In the last decade chicken keeping has become a hit with families wanting a slice of the good life, propelling hens into the top ten list of pets. The reasons are clear: a supply of fresh eggs that’s the envy of your friends as well as teaching children important lessons of where their food comes from suggests that chickens really are the ultimate pet.
However, a recent survey found that over 60% of chicken keepers wish they could spend longer in bed in the mornings with many admitting they would be willing to pay up to $400 for a solution that could prolong their lazy mornings in bed! 1 in 6 couples even admitted to regularly arguing about who should let the chickens out. What will save the country’s chicken keepers from tiredness and possibly even divorce?
Introducing the brilliant new Automatic Chicken Coop door opener from Omlet. Designed to work with the best-selling Eglu Cube as well as any wooden chicken coop. Omlet’s Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener is battery powered and combines both a timer and a light sensor, giving you the ultimate flexibility and control.
Omlet’s Head of Product Design, Simon Nicholls, said: “We know our customers love their chickens and always want the best for them, that’s why we designed the Autodoor so that the hens could get up when they want, which can be quite early in the summer. It was also important to ensure that it works as well at closing the coop at night and in all weather conditions too, so we carried out extensive testing in several different countries over 2 years to perfect the design.”
The unique integrated frame and door design comes with everything you need to attach it to your chicken house or run and has been tested to work down to -20 deg C. Like a personal chicken coop concierge, the Autodoor will always make sure your chicken’s coop is securely closed at night even when you’re running late.
Sharon Burton, who has kept hens for 4 years in Oxford, believes the Autodoor has even saved her marriage! “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my chickens. I buy them the best food, I sprinkle dried flowers in their nest box to keep it fresh, but I always felt guilty if I didn’t hop straight out of bed at the crack of dawn to let them out and whenever I asked my husband Paul to do it he would pretend to be asleep! When Omlet asked me to test the Autodoor I was delighted, it’s saved my marriage!”
The temperature is already dropping rapidly, the nights are drawing in and we are just weeks away from the first frost. Although the fresh air and crunchy leaves may be loved by some, the signs of winter being just around the corner can be a worry for chicken keepers.
Now is the time to act! Get your chickens’ coop ready for the colder months before the freezing temperatures hit, and you will be able to rest easy knowing that your girls are warm and healthy throughout winter.
Take a look at some of our top tips for getting your chicken coop winter-ready…
Move your coop closer to the house
This is a simple step for making it easier for you to look after your girls and give them their daily health checks, which are even more important in the colder months. Choose a lightweight coop with wheels, like the Eglu, to make it even easier to move it around your yard.
Upgrade your wooden coop to an Eglu
The main benefit to an Eglu Cube Chicken Coop for chicken keepers in winter is the twin wall insulation found in the design of the plastic house. This works in a similar way to double glazing, by creating a barrier between the cold air outside the coop, and the air in side. The air between the two walls conducts poorly, which means inside the house stays at a consistent and warm temperature throughout winter, whatever the weather is doing outside. Chickens are very efficient at keeping themselves warm, all you will need to do is make sure the coop door is shut at night time.
…and to make sure your chicken coop’s door is always shut at dusk, even if you are not yet home, the Automatic Chicken Coop Door is a convenient solution for the Eglu Cube or wooden chicken coops. You can set the Autodoor to close at a specific time or light percentage to suit when all your girls have gone up to bed and the sun has set. The Autodoor runs off batteries and has been tested to work down to -10 degrees celcius so there is no worry, however cold it gets outside!
The other benefit to the Autodoor is that it will open again at dawn so you can head off to work early before the sun rises and your girls need to be let out, or you can stay in bed for even longer at the weekends without going out in the freezing cold to let your chickens out of their coop!
“The nights are drawing in and I couldn’t be happier knowing that my girls are safely tucked up in bed with their Omlet Autodoor closed behind them. The Autodoor has given me peace of mind, flexibility and a well needed lie in! Couldn’t recommend it enough!” – Hayley’s Lottie Haven
Chickens are very good at coping in cold temperatures, but don’t like getting wet, so it would be kinder for them to be protected from the elements when in their run by our clear covers and windbreaks. Available in a variety of sizes to suit your run length, the clear run covers protect your girls from wind and rain so they can continue to play whatever the weather, whilst still allowing light into the run.
Extreme temperature jackets
When the temperature drops below freezing for multiple days in a row during the very depths of winter, it might be wise to give your chickens extra warmth with an extreme temperature jacket. Poorly or older chickens, will definitely benefit from this extra support.
Prevent chickens getting bored when rain stops play with a variety of fun and interactive toys they can play with in all weathers. The Chicken Perch provides an easy outdoor perch which can be installed in their run (and protected by the run covers) for when your chickens can’t perch in their usual spots around your yard. The Chicken Swing provides hours of fun and again, can be easily installed in any run. While the Peck Toys and Caddi Treat Holder offer enriching entertainment as well as a rewarding flow of treats.
Prevent your chickens’ water from freezing with a water heater to ensure they have access to flowing water at all times. It is also recommended to provide extra layers pellets and treats during winter, as chickens will need more energy to keep themselves warm and lay their eggs in the colder months.
One of the most common questions we get from people who are thinking about keeping chickens is…
“Will keeping chickens attract rats?”
The important thing to note with this is that the rats are not attracted to the chickens, they are actually drawn specifically to the chickens’ feed. Once we know this, thinking about how we can prevent rats in our gardens doesn’t seem such a daunting task…
Store all chicken feed in secure bins with lids
Keep your chickens’ feed as secure and well-sealed as possible in airtight bins to reduce any smell which might attract unwanted visitors.
Only throw the food on the ground which you know your chickens will eat
Avoid there being left over feed in the grass for rats to eat, buy only throwing on the ground what you know your chickens will consume during the day. A good solution for this is using a corn dispenser such as the PeckToy, or a feed ball holder, like the Caddi.
Remove feeders from the run at night time
Securely cover or remove entirely, all feeders and treat dispensers at night fall and return to the run in the morning. Chickens are usually closed up in their coop at night so shouldn’t miss need any midnight snacks!
Hang compact discs in the run
Rumour has it, the way that CD’s reflect light startles and upsets rats which may be enough to put them off getting close to your coop. Hang old CD’s with string in your run and see if it works!
Collect eggs every day
Rats are also attracted to your chickens’ eggs for food so you should make sure you remove the eggs daily to take away another temptation. Eglus offer a completely secure house for your girls to lay their eggs without fear of them being stolen!
You may be thinking of buying chickens, or expanding your flock. But what exactly are you looking for?
There are a number of factors to consider. For example, is the main aim to have a good egg supply? Or colorful eggs? Will the hens be kept chiefly as pets rather than providers of eggs and/or meat? Will they need to be docile so that children can handle them?
Here are a few pointers, to make sure your feathered friends are fit for purpose.
All the chicken breeds available for purchase lay eggs. But if you’re looking for two or three hens that will satisfy your family’s weekly egg requirements, there are certain breeds renowned for their productivity.
Most hens go through a period in winter when production drops off. So, an average of five-plus eggs a week over the course of a year is the most you can hope for, and the breeds that regularly achieve this are Ancona, Australorps, Favaucana and Rhode Island Red. Many other breeds average four a week, but these four breeds are the queens of the coup when it comes to eggs, and will deliver between 260 and 300 a year.
And if we had to pick an overall winner, it would be the Australorps, as one hen of this breed holds the world record – 364 eggs in a single year!
Most hens lay brown or white eggs, and shell color makes no difference to the taste of an egg or the color of its yolk (that’s all down to what you feed your hens – plenty of greens will result in rich orange-yellow yolks).
However, some hens lay eggs of a more unusual colour. The Ameraucana, Cuckoo Bluebar, Cream Legbar and Super Blue Egg Layer will – as you may have guessed from that last name – deliver blue eggs.
The Araucana, Easter Egger, Favaucana and Ameriflower lay green-blue eggs, while the group of birds known as Olive Eggers give you eggs of a lovely olive-green hue.
Beautiful chocolate-brown eggs are the speciality of the Delaware, Marans and Penedesencas, while red-browns and pinkish-browns are delivered by Catalana, Plymouth Rock, Barnevelder and Welsummer hens.
The Sumatran and Swiss breeds produce eggs of a very pleasing cream hue. A mixture of different colors from a mixed flock of hens makes the perfect Easter basket – no dyes required!
Hens For Kids
Many chicken breeds can be nervous, while others can be quick to peck at intruding hands. These are not ideal for children, for the obvious reasons – ‘scared’ and ‘aggressive’ are not tags you would wish to apply to any kid’s pet!
Some hens are lovely and docile, though, and will soon get used to being stroked, picked up and treated as friendly members of the family. Some of the best breeds in this respect are the Brahma, Cochin, Belgian d’Uccle Bantam, Easter Egger, Golden Buff, Orpington, Silkie Bantam and Sussex.
Many people keep what are known as ‘dual-purpose’ chickens, and these are the breeds that combine good egg production (an average of four a week) with good eating. Not all good egg-layers make good oven birds, but many – including the Delaware, Dorking, Faverolle, Jersey Giant, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Redcap, Rhode Island Red, Sussex and Wyandotte – do.
Hens bred specifically for meat, and not eggs, are known as broilers. They grow faster than breeds developed for egg-laying. Popular birds in this category include Bresse, Cornish Cross and Freedom Ranger.
If you’re not worried about egg supply or drumsticks and simply want something that will brighten up the garden, bantams are best. These are small birds, purposefully bred to look good, with endless variations on plumage, patterns and colors. They are particularly popular with keepers who like to enter their birds in shows and exhibitions.
Popular breeds in this category include Barred Plymouth Rock, boasting a striking stripy plumage; Buff Brahma with lovely bright colours and feathery feet; Cochins, which come in a wide variety of coat patterns and colors; the spectacular Mille Fleur d’Uccle Bantam; and the wonderfully fluffy Silkies.
So, whatever you’re looking for in a hen, the ideal chicken is out there somewhere!
Ever heard the expression ‘cooped up’? It means being stuck indoors with nothing to do, resulting in frustration and boredom. We tend to lock hens in a chicken coop, and that’s where the saying comes from.
A hen kept in a shed with nothing to do will soon start to show all the signs of boredom, just like a human. She may start pecking at her neighbors, or plucking out her own feathers. If blood is drawn, the other hens will often join in the beak-attack, and hens can actually be killed in a frustrated frenzy of pecking.
With nothing better to peck and scratch at, chickens may also start to eat their own and other hens’ eggs. Once a chicken becomes an egg-eater, it’s very hard to make her kick the habit.
Bored birds will also tend to sit in the egg box all day, and may become weak through lack of exercise. Boredom also causes stress, and stress can bring egg production to a temporary halt.
Bidding Bye-Bye to Bantam Boredom
As usual, prevention is the best cure, and there are many ways of stopping boredom from becoming a problem in the chicken run. The general rule is simple enough – don’t keep hens cooped up!
Room to Roam – Give your chickens as much outdoor space as possible. If they have a garden or meadow to peck and scratch in, that’s ideal. You don’t have to worry about rounding the birds up in the evening – as soon as the sun dips in the west, hens instinctively head for the safety and security of the coop. All you have to do is close the door behind them.
Weather the Storm – A day spent indoors is a day of boredom for a chicken. They should only be confined to the coop if the weather is particularly bad. A bit of rain, snow and wind will not harm them, no matter how unpleasantly muddy the run may look to you.
Fowl Play – Chickens need stimulation, like most animals. Provide plenty of perches for roosting and resting, along with ladders, and a few pots, tree stumps or ornaments of different heights for them to clamber on and off. Many hens enjoy a chicken swing, too, as if they were parrots in a previous life.
Treats to Eat – Concealing a few tasty treats in the undergrowth or on ledges is a great way to keep hens entertained. Pack tasty titbits into a wicker ball, place it on the ground, and watch your hens enjoy a game of football as they eat. Alternatively, hang greens or a veg-filled Caddi just out of reach, so that the birds have to jump to get a beakful. Shop-bought or homemade suet-and-seed pecking blocks keep them coming back for more, too. The treats should not be overdone, though, as healthy diet is an essential part of good chicken care.
Making Hay – A pile of hay, straw, leaves or garden compost will give your hens something to scratch and rummage through, and they will find probably a few tasty worms and beetles to eat during the fun. Piles of vegetation will be leveled in no time at all – chickens remove piles, you could say!
Novelty Value – Chickens will be fascinated by anything new in their runs, even something as simple as a box or tray of straw, or an old brush. They are also fascinated by their own reflections, so an old mirror can be a good distraction. An old alarm clock or large watch with a reflective glass surface and a loud tick will intrigue them, too.
Dust to Dust – A dust bath goes down a treat at any time of year, not just in the hot summer months. If the weather is wet, you could provide a dry earth bath in a sheltered part of the run or coop.
Quality Time – Don’t underestimate the importance of interaction with your hens. Once they come to trust you they will relish your company, like any other friendly pet. Admittedly this can sometimes get a little out of hand, when hens start to flap onto the garden table to see what you’re eating, drinking or reading!
Boredom really doesn’t have to be a problem in the chicken run. As long as your hens can satisfy their strong scratching and perching instincts, and have a little fun along the way, they will remain healthy and happy.
If you’re keeping chickens in your garden, you’ve probably become accustomed to your morning routine: wake up, drink a cup of tea or coffee and collect fresh eggs from your flock. Of course it’s an unpleasant surprise when one day you go outside, looking forward to your fresh eggs for breakfast, but return to the kitchen empty handed. There are a number of possible reasons why you’re not finding eggs in the nesting boxes anymore. Maybe your hens are too old, it’s wintertime or they’re broody or moulting. But there’s also the possibility your hens are in fact still laying eggs, but are hiding them in a nest they’ve created outside their coop.
Why do chickens hide their eggs?
In a few words the cause might be either a shortage of nesting boxes, or your hens for some reason aren’t comfortable in the ones you have provided. The general ratio of nesting boxes to hens is 1:4, although 1:6 or 1:8 might be sufficient. It is important you give your chickens a safe, tranquil and shady spot for laying that makes them feel protected. Nesting boxes can sit on the ground or be elevated. Chickens aren’t picky about the material the nesting box is made off, but they are picky about where they lay their eggs. Although wooden nesting boxes are common, plastic and metal ones are less susceptible to bacteria and easier to clean. If your hens were happily using the boxes and then suddenly stopped, there might be mites in the nesting material.
Ways to get your hens laying in their nesting box
Of course you don’t want to go on a hunt every day to find eggs and you want to be able to gather them freshly from the nesting box you’ve provided for that purpose. You can take steps to encourage your chickens to lay in the nests and not outside hidden in grass, hay bales, under the chicken coop or any other place that for some reason seem to appeal to them.
Clean the nesting area out at least once a week
Whether an egg will be hatched or eaten, in both cases cleanliness of the nesting box is very important. The nest needs to be cleaned, disinfected and treated for mites regularly. Obviously a clean nest, free from droppings and red mites, will encourage your chickens to use it. It is recommended to clean the nesting area at least once a week. Put some fresh straw, wood shavings or hay in the bottom of the box to provide you’re chickens with a comfortable nesting space.
Find the secret nest
If you are letting your chickens roam about in the garden they may have made a nest under a bush or in a corner somewhere. Follow your chicken discreetly to find the nest. Hens will often let off a loud celebration cackle when they have laid an egg, which can help you finding the nest. Once you’ve discovered the nest, remove the eggs from it and try to block it off or make it otherwise unattractive. You can simply cover it with a scrap piece of wood, rocks or plastic bottles filled with water. Hopefully this will convince your chickens to return to the comfortable nesting box you’ve provided.
Hens will often lay in places where there are already eggs. Fake eggs are useful for encouraging your chickens to lay their eggs in a particular place. When young hens get ready to start laying, the fake eggs in a nesting box will give them the hint that this is the place to lay their eggs.
Collect the eggs regularly
Collecting eggs regularly is not only one of the greatest joys of keeping chickens, it is also an important thing to do. A few eggs won’t keep a hen from adding one more, but a box already full of eggs isn’t very appealing to a hen. Collect the eggs at least once a day, every day. This will also discourage egg eating and broodiness, and it will help you keep track of which eggs are fresh.
Break the habit
Chickens are creatures of habit, and they can be very stubborn about their egg-hiding-behaviour. Most chickens lay their egg in the morning. To help stop your hens laying in places other than the nesting box, you can keep them in their run until about midday. If your chickens are very stubborn, you can try to close your hens in for a few days. They’ll have to lay inside and hopefully get into this preferable routine.
Red mites, or Dermanyssus gallinae, are without a doubt backyard chicken keepers’ worst enemies! They are nocturnal creatures living in cracks and crevices of the coop, and they only come out at night to feed on chicken blood. Most long term chicken keepers will have encountered these parasites, and can confirm that they are more destructive and difficult to get rid of than all other pests combined.
Getting Rid of Red Mites
If you have diagnosed a red mite infestation in your wooden coop, there are a few things you can do to try to get rid of them. Start off by giving your coop a really deep clean. Strip the house down as much as possible to get into all corners, nooks and crannies, and scrub with warm water. You will need to replace any felt or fabric parts and carefully clean perches, feeders and drinkers and other loose objects in the coop. Make sure that you get rid of all bedding that might have been infested.
If you can still see mites crawling out of crevices in the wood when the coop is drying, try hosing the coop and all loose parts down with a pressure washer. Leave to dry for 10-15 minutes and blast it over again to get rid of even more mites. Repeat until there are very few mites emerging after every wash.
Still not completely clear of mites? Time for the anti-mite products. Mix a mite specific concentrate with water using the manufacturer’s guidelines and apply this to the coop. Go heavy on areas where it is likely that the mites are hiding (corners and end of perches are particularly affected areas), but it is important that you treat the whole coop. When the wood is completely dry, apply plenty of red mite powder on your chickens, their bedding and their dust bath before you let them back into the coop.
In summer you will need to re-apply the powder every few days, and it in many cases getting ahead of the mites will mean deep cleaning the coop with detergents on several occasions over a period of two weeks. When autumn comes the mites become dormant and will not feed on your chickens, but they are unfortunately likely to reappear when the temperature rises again in spring.
Preventing Red Mite Infestations
When it comes to red mites, prevention will always be better than cure, and one of the few things you can actually do to keep these little creatures from hurting your chickens is to have a coop that doesn’t make life easy for them.
The smooth plastic surfaces of the Eglu chicken coop leaves very little space for the mites to hide. There are no corners or gaps that you won’t be able to reach with a hose or a pressure washer, which means that one deep clean of the Eglu should get rid of all dust, dirt and possible pests. By cleaning your Eglu on a regular basis you prevent red mites from ever becoming a problem for you and your hens, and you won’t have to spend all that time and money cleaning and disinfecting that you would if you had a more traditional coop.
The Eglu chicken coops have over the last 15 years been the solution for a lot of people who have tired of constantly trying to get rid of red mites from their wooden coops. Here are some of the things current Eglu owners have told us about battling red mites:
“I’ve thought about having an Eglu for two years but this summer’s red mite infestation was too much. I hate using chemicals/insecticides around my hens so I took the plunge and I’m really pleased.”Sue
“After having some terrible experiences with mites we decided enough is enough and time to buy a “mite free eglu” as advertised. We have been slightly put off by the price previously but now I wish I had one from the start! I couldn’t rate the omlet eglu cube any higher! What used to take 2 hours to clean and scrub a chicken coop now takes 10 minutes! We have not had any lice infestations since having the cube I absolutely love it and so do our chickens, just wish we had bought one sooner!”Amie
“The most important feature to me is the hygienic, easy clean & wash nature of all the surfaces. I would never buy a wooden house again having struggled with mites which hid in all the joints and gaps of the boards. There is nowhere for the mites to hide on the Eglu and cleaning is quick and easy. I’m certain that there isn’t a better house available for healthy hens.”Neil
Does the thought of mites make you itch? Watch our video about two neighbours having very different chicken keeping experiences this summer, showing some of the struggles that chicken owners with mite-infested coops are faced with: