Free-ranging influence on egg-laying habits

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by gadus, Nov 11, 2016.

  1. gadus

    gadus Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 28, 2015
    I am curious to know what will change about my hens' laying habits if I decide to free-range them full-time. Currently my 18 birds spend the morning in the run and coop, where they lay almost all of the day's eggs by noon; 90% of the eggs thankfully are ending up in nest boxes but there are always a few left outside. After noon, they are let out for 4-5 hours until feeding time, around dusk.

    There are a handful of Americaunas that haven't laid their first eggs yet but most of the others have been doing so for at least a few weeks.

    If I let them out early (sun-up) will they end up laying all over the place? I'm guessing they will still lay a similar quantity but I might end up on a easter egg hunt.

    Currently 9.5 hours of daylight here in Maine.

  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    I'd say the space over which they free range will affect things. Mine range in the garden for 12 hours per day, but since our plot is only half an acre, I never have an issue with finding eggs anywhere but the coop. If a flock free ranges over acres of land, then it may be a different story.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2016
  3. Maeschak

    Maeschak Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 29, 2016
    Maryland, USA
    I find that if I let my chickens out at sun up they still lay in their nest boxes for a few days (all of them). But usually by the third or fourth day of sun-up free-ranging they start laying all over the place. So now I pretty much try to wait until 9 or 10 am to let them out. That way, several chickens have already laid in the nest boxes and the rest will return to the coop to lay. If I need to let them out earlier on occasion it isnt really a problem since it seems to take them a few days to realize that they can lay just anywhere. This is only in the warmer months, though. In the colder months when they stay around the coop they will always lay in their nest boxes regardless of when I let them out. I think, that in the warm months they get so excited to forage early in the morning that they travel much further away and just dont want to return to the nest boxes.
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  4. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Their habits can change.... and be changed back.

    Free range birds sometimes need to be 'trained'(or re-trained) to lay in the coop nests, especially new layers. Leaving them locked in the coop for 3-4 days (or longer) can help 'home' them to lay in the coop nests. Fake eggs/golf balls in the nests can help 'show' them were to lay. They can be confined to coop 24/7 for a few days to a week, or confine them at least until mid to late afternoon. You help them create a new habit and they will usually stick with it. least for a good while, then repeat as necessary.
  5. EggSighted4Life

    EggSighted4Life Chicken Obsessed

    Hi. [​IMG]

    My girls are out sun up to sun down. Most lay in the "coop nest" (I love that term @aart). Especially on rainy days. But I have a couple girls that move to a new spot every time I find their nests. And sometimes when the other girls find the nest they think it looks like a great place to lay. And I'm not gonna lie, theirs' always looks better than mine! We are on an acre of heavily brushed land, but the goats have helped out a lot.

    I actually think some of the reason a few of mine go elsewhere is partly due to all the recent integrations of different broods and sudden maturity of several cockerels. We will hopefully complete our stag pen this weekend.

    When my flock was only 3, it was easy to get them trained within a few days. Now at 48, there are so many individuals all with their own ideas! [​IMG] Once I get the boys out of the coop it should be a lot better. 4 girls hide nests, 2 in the same location as each other. 1 is really good at it. And none of the hiders sing to give away their location! [​IMG]

    Leaving some type of fake egg in the nest seems to help. The girls think if others find it safe, it might be OK for them as well. Having girls still coming into lay is part of the challenge. But once they are all laying and get trained to the boxes for several days I would think it would get a little better.

    I do feel joy when I find eggs in the box, especially when it's a new layer I haven't gotten an egg from yet! [​IMG]

    The rainy season is upon us. On rainy days, they all lay in the box except the super hider. So that may help with training my next new layers. [​IMG]

    Best wishes and congrats on your new layers!
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    Generally, when they are trained to the nest, they will continue to trek back to the nest to make their egg deposits. The older girls tend to train the pullets. But, there can always be a renegade, and she will lead her flock mates into her transgression. So, you can expect them to continue to use the nest, but always be on the look out for the rebel. This is yet an other very good reason to have a run. When you need to train pullets or retrain a flock to the nest, if you have a run, they can get outside, while still being confined from the yard with all of it's enticing hiding spots.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2016
  7. gadus

    gadus Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 28, 2015
    Thanks to all for encouraging words...I'm inclined to take heart in peoples' (relative) success with free-ranging for most of the day, with risks of some departure from normal nesting habits understood. Mine seem trained thus far and I'm inclined to let them out earlier in the day even though a handful of eggs come later in the day. More troublesome are the two birds that insist on laying under the coop, which is reachable but a pain in the neck.

    I suspect in the next month or so, when snow shows up and there are no leaves to fluff up and nest in, all their bad habits will disappear and the nest boxes will have much higher occupancy-and regularity.

    I have to say, the whole experience has been too lovely for words and the egg collecting in particular has made a child of me again.

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