As if I didn’t have enough challeges in daily life right now, I have also been battling an issue with my hens. 

Oh, I’m thrilled to report they are finally laying!  I estimate that about 7-9 are laying regularly, as we get 5-7 eggs every day now, with 6 most days.  I suspect I know who isn’t laying, as we never see them in the nest boxes.

Except at night.  Which leads me to my latest battle.  You see, hens are supposed to use the nest box ONLY for laying an egg.  As a result, that means the nest box stays nice and clean for the egg, and the egg doesn’t get contaminated with chicken poo.  However, when they roost (sleep), they poop right where they are, making a big mess–including when they roost in the nest box.  I was having to rinse my eggs every day.  I tried the old “go out after roost time and shoo the hens out of the boxes” trick, but it wasn’t working.  Every day I was finding messy eggs, and it was causing more work as I tried to keep the boxes clean, which in turn cost more money in the nest bedding (usually a mix of hay and straw). 

Plan A, the original coop design, was comfy nest boxes and shooing the roosting hens out.  It didn’t work.  The worst of the problem was hens roosting on the outer lip of the box, with their tail ends hanging into the nest, thereby leaving a mess along the front edge in the morning.

So we tried Plan B….S cut some port holes out of a piece of scrap wood, and I hoped that darkening up the box would help prevent some roosting.  S also added a new roost along the front, both to allow the bigger hens to easily enter the tiny holes, and to provide another option for roosting.

It didn’t work.  In fact, the hens went from roosting on the outer lip to just going inside the nest entirely, making the entire nest messy.  Sometimes, 2 or even 3 would share a nest.  So, this weekend, I resorted to Plan C…stapling strips of fabric across the port holes, to create a completely isolated nest box.

BINGO!  As of 2 days later, my nest boxes are still clean!  Not a single hen has been caught roosting, and not a single pile of manure has been deposited in a nest box.  My eggs are clean, which means I don’t have to wash them, which means they are able to keep their naturally protective coating on the shell to keep germs out.  We’ll see if it lasts, but it seems the roosting hens still wanted to be able to see their coop-mates.  With the fabric in place, they can’t see, so their security is taken away (or at least that’s my theory).  On the other hand, the layers want to be as secluded as possible, so they appreciate the darkened, more private boxes. 

After further research, it seems the root of my problem is that my nest boxes are not located correctly.  Apparently, they need to be located sufficiently away from the roosts, and lower than the middle-level roost if they can’t be seperated significantly.  As you can see in my first photo, my boxes are located directly adjacent to my roosts (with some roosts actually touching the boxes), and at the same level as the most popular roosts.  Therefore, when the higher roosts fill up with hens, the remaining hens were content to roost on the boxes rather than perch on the lower roosts. 

As a final note, should you find yourself using this final technique, the hens were not thrilled about the change to their boxes when I added the fabric.  So, I pulled the 2 middle pieces out of the way of the opening (I just tucked them up out of the way), which allowed the hens to more easily see the other side.  Then, I took a few hens, and placed them inside the boxes, to find their own way out.  Within a few hours, I had my normal number of eggs.  That evening, I allowed the 2 tucked up strips to fall back down, completely closing off the hole.  The following day, it didn’t seem to bother the girls at all.