So I have 5 Buff Orpingtons, approximately 30 weeks old. We live in the middle of town and have a privacy fence up around our entire property. They have the entire run of the yard during the day minus the garden and only go into the coop at night. A couple of weeks ago I had 5 eggs in the nesting box so I knew all 5 birds were now laying. After that egg production went into a bit of a lull, only getting 1-3 a day for most days. Occasionally I'd get 4, but never got 5 again in one day. I thought I might have had a bird not laying in the nesting boxes but after several attempts ive never located any other place where they might be laying. On one occasion I found 2 eggs outside the coop on the coop floor. That could have been from the same bird on different days or from different birds, I dont know.
My mother in law dropped by yesterday, which was my and my wifes only day off. She watched our little girls while we went out back with the boy to do some chores before winter. Pulled the tomato plants, put cages away, patio furniture away, tilled the garden, raked leaves, ect. Then I pulled out the leaf blower to clear the leaves off the patio and noticed a rather large pile of them crammed between the grill and the house in the little recess for the basement window. The grill has a bad burner in it so we havent used it all year. Fixing that is on my do-do list....Toward the bottom, I think. So we pulled the grill out and one of the birds took off running from behind the grill. After clearing the leaves I found 14 eggs. Im not sure how old they are or how long they've been back there. But she sure was not happy I removed the nest. She didnt regroup with the others after that. The rest were scratching through the freshly tilled garden while she ran circles around the house in what appeared to be an attempt at finding a new place to lay. I saw her duck into one of the nesting boxes for about 10 minutes and come back out to resume her search. I checked the box and it was empty. I let her do her own thing until after sunset. The rest of the birds filed into the coop. I found her squatting behind a stack of folding patio chairs we hadnt got put away yet. I carried her to the coop and locked her in. Later that night I went out to check the nesting boxes one more time and found another egg. I pulled 3 other eggs out earlier that day.
So my questions are:
What can I do to get her to start using the nesting boxes with the rest of the chickens? Like I said, I have 5 birds total, with 2 nesting boxes. Do I lock them in for a few days to pretty much force her? Is there any possibility that I have multiple birds laying in that same spot or just the one offender? After we finish cleaning up the yard there wont be too many other places she'll be able to hide them.
And are the eggs I found safe to eat? Is there any way to test them? If its only the one bird hiding them, and there were 14 total, some could be close to 3 weeks old, correct? Ive seperated them into a seperate carton in the fridge. Im not sure how long theyve been outside. I live in Iowa, and the weather here has been moderate the last few weeks. 50-60's, sometimes 70's during the day, and 30-40's at night. We've had a few frosts in the last couple weeks.