The American Egg Board says they’re incredible and edible, I still remember that ad campaign and jingle from my childhood. But, how does an edible egg pop out of one of my hens? Well, we all know the how (and a quick video search on the internet will yield a hen laying an egg to validate your basic assumption), but how about the mystery of when and under what typical conditions will a hen lay an egg?
I wasn’t surprised when my chicken farmer confirmed that moving my newly acquired one year old egg laying hens, from her farm to my urban henhouse, would be enough of a physical disruption to interrupt their egg laying cycle for 2 weeks. And, they did indeed stop laying eggs briefly (it turned out to be just days 3-12), when I relocated them to my urban hen house. What did surprise me, was the mystery about where they’ll lay their eggs, the science of when, and some of the tricks to use to encourage hens to lay their eggs in the nest box. Those first 2 days, each of the layers dropped an egg in the run –still scared and not knowing what their new house was, I figured that the eggs were already ‘in the shoot’ so to speak.
- Frequency Some authors and farmers will tell you that hens may naturally lay eggs every 25 hours. Two of my hens are a specific breed that lays every other day spring through fall. They are known to stop egg production in the winter. My other hen is a breed that is known to produce an egg a day, all year long. Egg production numbers are listed, breed by breed, readily on the internet. Also, when a hen Molts (looses her feathers, a natural annual occurrence), egg production my be interrupted briefly.
- Time Just because a rooster crow’s at dawn, doesn’t mean the hens get down to egg business at the same time! I don’t know why I assumed my hens would lay an egg bright and early with the new day, but I did. They actually lay their eggs in the late morning, early or middle afternoon.
- Place Two of my hens had originally been housed in a roomy open cage, with merely a plastic bin (set on it’s side in the cage) filled with some wood shavings, to serve as a nest box (the place the hen lays an egg). The accompanying picture shows a circular plastic bin placed in an open chicken run, where my hen –Crackers II, laid an egg around 2:30 one afternoon. When the hens spend a typical day in the chicken coop, they lay their eggs inside the hen house, in a small wooden box that is filled with clean wood shavings.
- A Trick to Remind Them Where to Lay I placed a polished egg shaped piece of granite into one of the nest boxes, and a wooden egg into another. The very hour that I placed these, two of the hens had already laid eggs. I think it’s safe to say we all had eggs on our mind that day. I swapped the still warm eggs, with these decoys. One of the hens, Penny the pullet, had just begun laying eggs, and surely she had no idea where to lay her eggs. Perhaps she copied Crackers I or merely acted on instincts and naturally found that quiet high spot in the hen house. Occasionally, the hens will throw the decoy eggs, or the real ones, out of the box, breaking the ones they can, to eat the raw eggs. This is called Egg Breakage and should be discouraged for obvious reasons. Keep the decoys in the henhouse and the hens will remember where to lay, and will eventually ignore the real eggs. An oval shaped, egg sized rock will serve as an adequate decoy, so will a ceramic or terracotta egg.
At my home, a few of us like to check the nest box several times a day for eggs. I brush off any bits of shavings, feathers, or debris that occasionally cling to the eggs. I refrigerate the eggs immediately. If I don’t collect an egg within the first 2 hours from when the hen laid on a hot summer day, I won’t save that egg for eating, but put it into the compost.
Maybe the novelty and mystery of all this, will wear off once I’ve collected a hundred dozen eggs, but I can tell you after collecting the first 2 dozen eggs, I still think it’s pretty amazing to partner up with nature and let it takes its designated course. Incredible indeed.