About a month ago I bought 25 laying hens from a nearby farm. I'm in Southern Ontario. The coop is about 8ft x12ft and 12 ft high with slanted, shingled roof. The run is the entire backyard, which is maybe 1000 sq ft. The floor is dirt plus hardware cloth plus gravel plus pine shavings. The walls are mostly insulated, and there's about 5 sq feet of ventilation along one wall towards the top (covered with chicken wire).
We feed them an organic layer mash + oyster shells supplemented with our vegetable compost and an occasional barley dump from a friend who brews. They go through about one 50lb bag of mash per week. And they devour the barley dumps.
The winter so far has been extremely moderate, and we've been averaging close to 20 eggs a day. Our original nesting boxes were milk crates, but they didn't like those, and all just went and lay in a corner. So we re-arranged such that there's some platforms with space under them, and now they've been laying under the platforms, though all of them more or less lay in the same spot. I've heard there should only be about 4-5 hens per nesting box. Will this become a problem?
Sometimes we find an egg or a couple where they sleep.
Maybe once a week we find an egg without a shell or with an extremely soft one. The eggs are brown but we did manage to get one white one last week. There's lots of variation in color and size too.
We started with a heat lamp but I'm too nervous about it so we've taken it out. Hopefully we won't need it.
We don't have proper roosting boards/poles yet, but we have an elevated platform with holes in it, and they all basically gather there for sleep (and most of the poop falls through), though a couple of them will sleep on other platforms. How critical is having rods vs just an elevated platform?
As for dustbathing, they do lots of it, but its been a bit wet lately, so I've noticed less of it. Should we be maintaining dry areas of dirt so they can dustbathe all winter? What do folks recommend?
Other behaviour: they're very curious, hell bent on getting in the house and the shed. Occasionally we find them on the window ledge or vegetable tables. They seem to be much more excited about water dumped on the ground then drinking from the waterer. They do lots of digging and scratching and venturing around the yard. Once in a while we see one chase or peck another out of the way, but it seems pretty in control.
They're an absolute pleasure to have, hard to turn away from, and the eggs have been incredible.
Thanks in advance for any feedback/comments/suggestions!