When do I open up nesting boxes
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Keep the boxes blocked off until the pullets are around sixteen to eighteen weeks old. Then open them so they can explore in the month or so before they begin to lay. They will make a mess, but it's normal and necessary to their development.
Articles by azygous:
Articles by azygous:
A few people have said they have had pullets start laying before 16 weeks, but that is really rare. I try to target 16 weeks as a good time to have the nests open. Most still won’t lay for another month or so, but I’ve had some start at 16 weeks. 16 weeks should give you time to correct problems if you have any.
So before 16 weeks are up you need to have them roosting on the roosts. Most of mine start roosting around 10 to 12 weeks of age but I’ve had some start just after 5 weeks. I’ve also had some wait a lot longer than 12 weeks, especially if there are older chickens on the main roosts. If you can get them in the habit of roosting on the roosts before you open the nests and the roosts are higher than the nests, you are in a good situation.
Since yours are already roosting, you’ve pretty much got it made. In general, I suggest people relax until they are about 14 weeks old and see if they will make the move on their own. If they don’t I suggest start putting them on the roosts after it is too dark for them to get back down. Keep the coop dark enough they can’t see to get back down. They should catch on fairly quickly but some are a lot more stubborn than others.
If some roost but some refuse to, you may not have enough roosts. Chickens can be fairly brutal to each other on the roosts. Where they get to sleep is decided by pecking order, the higher ranking get to sleep wherever they want to. They can be pretty brutal about enforcing that pecking order right. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, but mine tend to have the higher ranking sleeping in one place and the lower ranking sleeping in the far corner. As yours mature there may be some changes to the pecking order. If you see this kind of problem develop add another roost to give the weaker a safer place to sleep that is not your nests.
Sometimes egg laying seems to take a pullet by surprise. A pullet may drop her first few eggs anywhere, from the roosts or just walking around. Most have control over this process to start with but not all do. Don’t expect your pullets to be real consistent about this, they often are not. Being patient and flexible can come in handy for you.
Most pullets do have control from the start. Often about a week before they start they look for a safe place to lay. What constitutes a safe place to lay will vary by individual. Often they like places that are camouflaged so predators can’t find their nests. They may like places like in your nests, under your nests, in a corner of the coop, especially a dark corner. Even shadows on the floor can help make it look like a safe place. It doesn’t have to be in your coop either, it can be anywhere they have access. It doesn’t have to be dark and hidden either. Some will lay in lawn chair seats out in the open or places like that. As I said, they are not consistent. But most will like kind of darker hidden places so try to keep your nests from being too bright.
I’m a strong believer in using fake eggs to show them where to lay. You’ll find that most, not all but most, like to lay where another hen is laying. Even if you have several nests most will probably lay in the same one. Not always all, but most. I use golf balls but ceramic and wooden eggs or plastic Easter eggs can work. I’ve had cases where the fake egg wound up on the floor so the hens started laying on the floor in front of the nest where that egg was. When I put the fake egg back in the nest, they went back to laying in the nest. Does this mean that fake eggs work each and every time without fail? No, it does not. Someone on here said that their hens would not lay in the nests until they removed the fake eggs. And some people think chickens are consistent! Nope not at all. But I still strongly recommend fake eggs.
If you find the fake egg and nest bedding scratched out of the nests, that tells you that you have a problem. It’s good to find out about these problems early. When they are looking for a safe place to lay they often scratch a lot to see if they can arrange it into a good nest. If they are scratching that stuff out, your lip on the nest is not high enough. I personally like a lip of 4” to 5” but some people get by with less. I’ve seen hens the size of yours use a nest with the front opening 6” high. I prefer a little more because it looks tight, but I’ve seen hens use it.
What bedding material is best for a nest? I hate the word best in this context. What is the best color for your car? What is the best color for your bedroom? It’s going to be different for different people. We use anything from wood shavings, straw, hay, cloth, carpet, Spanish moss, even shredded paper. In my opinion it should be inexpensive and fairly available. I cut long grass that has gone to seed where I don’t mow or weed eat, dry it, and use that, so I guess technically that’s hay. We all have our favorites and we all have things we don’t like. But other people use them so who am I to say the others are wrong.
You are still at least a couple of months away from egg laying so you have plenty of time. I assure you, that first tiny pullet egg is going to be exciting when you find it.
The biggest clue as to when they are getting close to being ready to lay is the comb. When a pullet starts to pink up and turn red in the comb, it means her body is hitting puberty. The more developed and red, the more mature she is. It usually takes about a month before she starts laying, once the comb begins to turn red.
Other than the comb, when you are checking them for mites and lice, look at the vent. If it is small, tight, and dry, they are not ready. If it is getting bigger and moist, they are getting ready to lay.
Another clue is the width between the pelvic bones. When they are laying the pelvic bones spread out. Different chickens come in different sizes and shapes so it helps to have a few to compare, but the more fingers you can fit between the pelvic bones the closer they are.
Another clue I don’t put a lot of faith in is when they squat. I’ve seen a 13-week-old pullet willingly squat for a cockerel and she was over two months away from laying. I’ve seen plenty of pullets that are laying refuse to willingly squat for a rooster. Often that squat is more about dominance than fertilizing the eggs. But if the pullets assume the mating position for you, it can be a clue that they might be getting close.