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How to Care For Laying Hens

Back in February, we ordered 20 chicks of various laying breeds through the mail. They were all guaranteed to be hens, but if you have watched my latest episode of "Small Talk With Smockity Frocks", you've heard evidence that they are definitely NOT all hens.

Meet Justice.

And Johnny Cash. (Get it? The Man in Black?)

By the way, when you see a panicked look on my face in my webisodes, it is because there is little person carrying a chicken in between me and the camera. It is all I can do not to yell, "CUT! I can not work under these conditions! SECURITY!!!"

And then I realize I have no security team, and my production team is a bunch of barefoot little girls carrying chickens under their arms and I continue on with the interview, but that explains the nervous twitch.

So, now that our 19 hens (one extra came in the shipment) are giving us these beauties, I thought I would share some of the things we have learned about caring for laying hens.

  • Lock them up at night in a safe place with hardware cloth over the windows to prevent varmints from breaking in. We haven't lost any to predators so far.
  • They will go inside at sunset once they figure out this is where they are supposed to spend the night. We had to keep ours locked up for a couple of days until they figured it out.
  • Make sure they have plenty of cross ventilation. We keep the windows open on all 4 sides of the hen house.
  • Let them free range during the day, but give them all the water and laying rations they will eat. Laying rations will keep them healthy and keep the shells from being too fragile.
  • We use the "deep litter" method in the hen house and have never had a problem with flies or odor. We plan to use the litter for our garden compost next spring.
  • Look for eggs every day when they approach 5 months old. So far we haven't persuaded ours to lay in their nest boxes, but we are working on it!
  • We have the nest boxes nailed to the wall about 2 ft. off the ground, and they are filled with hay and each has a golf ball in it to give the ladies the idea of what we are going for. There is a ramp leading up to the boxes and a roof over the top to provide some privacy, but they insist on laying on the hard floor entry way! If you have any tips for getting them to lay in the boxes, I would love it if you let me know in the comments.

Do you have any tips for how to care for laying hens?

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  1. Never trust them when they say the gender is guarenteed. The best guarentee they should give you is 90% accuracy.

    Anywho, a friend of mine started keeping hens, and they enjoyed the PVC-pipe roosting sticks thingie we built for them. It has 3 levels, so they can be close to the ground, or a few feet up if they want. I don’t know how my friend got them to lay only in the boxes, in fact I’m not sure if she ever did.

  2. Our nest boxes are on the ground….. I can’t say this is the reason they lay in them since we have never in 12 years(different chickens of course) given the opppurtunity to lay anywhere else but it, works for us!

  3. We marked one of our chicken’s eggs with a permanent marker (so we wouldn’t eat an old egg) and left it in the nesting box until they realized they should lay their eggs in there. They eventually got the hang of it. However, if I remember correctly, we never did find that egg and the chickens were known for eating their own eggs (a bad and hard habit to break). So, maybe a fake egg would work better.
    However, I probably shouldn’t be giving chickens advice because in the 3 years that we had (different sets of) chickens, I learned everything you’re NOT suppose to do while raising chickens… :) Here’s the first story if you’re interested: http://dearlylovedmist.blogspot.com/2011/05/chicken-scratch-part-1.html

  4. I find this absolutely amazing, Connie, that not only are you caring for your children, you are caring for your hens. I want just 1/10 of your energy! Please?

  5. Our nesting boxes were on the floor of the coop (but the whole coop was raised off the barn floor). They were covered and enclosed except on one side with about a 3″ board on the bottom of the front opening. Nice and cozy. The only other place they laid was in the little outdoor coop they could also access during the day when they were out and about. Pretty cooperative birds, all in all.

  6. I have had laying hens since 2008. 1st you said your birds are just starting to lay they may not have as much control as they will in a couple of weeks. It took my first birds a bit to figure out what was going on and start to nest. I keep our nest box on the floor of the henhouse with the door pointed away from the entrance. The birds need to feel like they are hiding. I use a old plastic dog carrier that has a top that I can lift off to look for eggs. Also when I did let mine free range they decided that they didn’t want to roost in the hen house anymore and started roosting on the yard equipment we had behind the garage. They also started nesting behind the wheelbarrows and flowerpots stored there. So if you are letting your girls free range you need to keep in mind to keep an eye out for hiding places and make sure they all get back in the house in the evening if you want them to roost there and not find a place of their own choosing. My experience is that the only way to truly control where they lay is to keep them confined in a large coop and run.

  7. I have had chickens for just over 3 years. I had grandiose ideas of building a nesting area in the coop for them but barely had time to get the windows and walls up before they were of laying age. As a temporary fix I had some cat litter boxes that weren’t being used, (the enclosed type with a lid) and so I put 3 of them in the coop on the floor with a fake ceramic egg in each. Well, 3 years later and they are still there and the chickens love them. They change week to week it seems on which is their favorite one and many times I have seen up to 3 in one! They are easy to empty and clean and very cheap to buy.

    I have never had a problem with my chickens eating eggs. Mine free range and I give them fresh vegetables from the garden and they get treats of bananas, blueberries, watermelon, or cheese when I have extra or it is in season. Don’t know if that has made the difference but they love any kind of scraps you throw them. Just don’t give them anything moldy or spoiled.

  8. I am really enjoying your chicken advice. You are 3 months ahead of me in the game and I don’t have a clue as to what I am doing.

  9. our hens free range during the day too and that is where they are laying their eggs! they don’t seem to lay them in the a.m either but rather early afternoon so you may want to check around somewhere besides the nesting boxes lol backyardchickens.com has been a huge help to me – they have a forum and lotsa articles. happy laying!

  10. Our older chicken has always laid her eggs in the exact same spot. Now our hens that we got this spring are laying all over the hen house. I think I’ll round up some golf balls and put them in the boxes.

    We have a rooster too. Before we got hens, a friend gave him to my husband “to help us”. At first I was very leary, but he is very tame and really helps manage our flock of 31 hens. His name is Cogburn (we named him before we knew they were making a remake of True Grit.) and he is beautiful.

  11. We just got chickens at Christmas time. It has been such a great experience! My husband built a coop for them, and we only had four at the time so it was perfect. They have a little laying area in there that they use. We also plugged in a cooler for them because they stay in there for a long time laying their eggs and it is 118 for a high during the summer here…a few of our friends have lost chickens due to heat and that is just sad. The cooler doesn’t cool much at that heat, but it does take the edge off for them. Ours went to their box the first time to lay their eggs and they kept going there, thankfully! We have one new hen that was born in February and it is a polish hen. We aren’t looking for much from her, but we are curious as to where she will start laying. We got her with two silkies and those turned out to be roosters so she is kind of by herself. Now that she is bigger she is slowly fitting in, but there is a definite pecking order!!

  12. We have 60 something hens and we have nesting boxes and they don’t use them, but we do have the top half of a large dog kennel and and igloo dog house and they lay in those. I think they like the room they offer, and being on the ground. Our new hens that are just starting to lay, lay out in the middle of everything, they don’t care. I’m too hoping they’ll learn. Some friends of ours use cheapo kitty carriers for they’re chickens to lay in. Love your site!

  13. I just wanted to share a comment my 3 yr old said when he saw the pictures. He walked up and just like he was an expert said, “Ooooo, those are some nice eggs!” Then he just kept walking like that was the most normal thing to say. I had to keep from cracking up because he was so serious. I love your site and have been keeping your family in my prayers daily.

  14. First, my credintials we’ve raised and sold chickens for many years here in Texas. Right now we are just managing our flock (of molting chickens!) . Also I didn’t read all the comments so someone may have already said this but to get your chickens to lay in their boxes you need to lock them in their house for about 3 days. You will have to do this periodically because we seem to have a simlar chicken management style.Whe you let them free range they often decide to go aboriginal and lay all over the place. A few days in lock up usually results in months of hens laying where they are suppose to.

  15. I haven’t read all the replies, so I may be repeating! One thing we learned was not to let them out (to free range around) until noon. They lay some time in the morning so if you let them out too soon they will lay where they want.
    To get them back in, we would feed them at around 4pm, before the foxes where out ranging about. We live in Australia and foxes are a huge problem. Not sure if it is the same there.

  16. Johnny Cash looks like a hen to me, unless he crows then I don’t know what I’m talking about.


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