Thursday 21 January 2016

Farmyard hens and the great egg hunt

It's a month since the winter solstice and the increased day length has stimulated the hens to start laying again, they start slowly and build up to a peak of laying towards the end of March. The egg hunt has started.

All housing systems for hens except conventional battery cages usually involve collecting eggs from nest boxes. Farmyard hens like mine have too many choices when it comes to selecting nest sites, they have boxes in the main poultry house but they range all through the buildings often preferring stacks of hay or straw bales, hay racks and dark corners where they return day after day.
Commercial layers are mostly reared in houses without perches, the birds lie on the floor. As a result of this housing system they do not learn to perch and have no opportunity to investigate nest sites before they start to lay at about 20 weeks. As most nest boxes are above floor level to make egg collection easier birds have to fly up to a perch before entering the box and as a result large numbers of eggs are often laid on the floor where they become dirty and cracked.

Well hidden in a straw stack
Traditional ideas about hen nest site selection could be wrong too. I always believed that hens prefer dark nest sites but recent research shows that some birds will lay in brightly lit nest boxes, again it seems to be down how they are reared, if reared in bright conditions they will lay in well lit boxes.

When hunting for nests I always look in the dark places first and I'm usually right, sixty plus years of egg hunting must have developed the skill.

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