By Katie Keiger
Poultry Times staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — To run an efficient chicken farm one must think like a chicken. Hens have a complex social structure and share similar psychology to most animals; chickens want their egg laying areas to be safe, dark and secure.
If caged systems are not utilized there is a great risk of eggs being laid outside nesting areas, losing profits and potentially creating health risks. Dr. Jeanna Wilson of the University of Georgia Extension Service has thoroughly researched the subject and has found several ways for producers to try to prevent these problems and ensuring eggs are laid in the appropriate places.
According to Wilson, hens begin searching for a nest around 22 to 27 weeks of age, and once the hens lay in a specific location a few times that is where they will want to lay their eggs. Even if the area where hens inappropriately lay eggs is covered or disturbed, the hens will seek out similar inappropriate locations.
Though hens are notably creatures of habits, there are ways to stop this behavior. Wilson said that ensuring nests are open and available is not enough, but walking around the farm a few times a day should encourage the birds to go into their nest. People should be sure not to walk around the nest areas as chickens need to feel those areas are safe from disturbances.
Having nests available is not enough, keeping the litter in the laying area dry and clean is just as important to the birds, according to Cherie Langlois of Hobby Farms. Though chickens enjoy scratching and dust bathing, hygiene is very important to the birds when they are laying.
Scratching areas benefit the hens but, because of the components they are made from, can become a popular place for hens to unwantedly lay eggs. Farmers should walk around these areas often to deter this behavior. Reducing shadows with lights can further discouraged hens from laying eggs in the area, according to Wilson.
“…It is (also) crucial to winch up the rooster feeder after the birds have eaten to prevent hens from being attracted to lay under the pans,” Wilson said.
Chickens are growing larger and larger by the year, yet nest sizes have not changed much. Though hens like to be snug, they also require some maneuverability inside the nest. Larger nests may mean building additions to the farms or lowering the number of birds, but before doing that, farmers need to decide if the number of misplaced eggs is worth the expansion.
Chickens are not very graceful creatures, and the larger ones do not only have trouble fitting in the nests, but also getting up to them. Nests should also be above the ground, but having them as high as they used to be, high as 32 inches, is not necessary and even impracticable, says Wilson.
She suggests the height differences can be as little as 4 to 8 inches off the ground. Ramps could be added to provide easier access, but can also be risky as the areas under them can be seen by hens as a good nesting area.
Any dark place could pose a risk which is why lighting should be as even as possible throughout the farm. Light conditions can be improved while keeping low energy output by natural light or taking advantage of reflective surfaces to further spread light.