Sandra was absolutely beside herself. Her favorite Rhode Island Red, Mary Jane, lays a large egg on an almost daily basis. The frequency of her egg production is without reproach. Her choice of laying location, however, is problematic.
Mary Jane drops her eggs, literally … from her perch.
“Unless I’m there to catch the eggs, they crack,” Sandra noted. “I can’t figure it out. What else can I do?”
Sandra’s frustration is understandable. Broken eggs mean continual clean-up, potential egg eaters and a loss of revenue. Fortunately, pinpointing why Mary Jane lays her eggs while roosting (and correcting this behavior) may not be as difficult as it seems.
If your hen lays her egg while roosting, try one of these four approaches to resolve this sticky situation.
1. Nest Box Issues
Your hen may find that, when it’s time to lay, the “no vacancy” sign is up. All of the coop’s nest boxes may be occupied by fellow flock members preparing to lay.
While it’s not uncommon for two or three hens to cram into a favorite nest box together, girls tend to prefer to do their business privately. If no nest box is available, your hen will scramble to find a place—any place—to lay her egg.
This could be a pile of soft dirt or a heap of dried grass. Basically, she’ll lay anywhere she views as safe and comfortable. A hen views her perch as safe and comfortable. Ergo, your hen lays while roosting.
Avoid this situation by outfitting your coop with one 10-inch by 10-inch nest box for every four hens. Don’t have enough nest boxes? Consider adding a roofed, stand-alone nest box to your run.
Fill the new box with clean, soft bedding and place a ceramic or wooden egg within as a training tool. You may need to place your hen within the new nest box several times until she catches on that she has a new, safe spot for egg laying.
2. Pecking Order Problem
It may be that occupied nest boxes are not the problem for your perch-laying hen. Instead, the issue may be the queen of the coop.
Every bird in your flock has a place in the pecking order and, if your hen is new, young or simply disliked by the alpha hen, she may discover her access to a nest box blocked by the highest-ranked girl and her cohorts.
If these biddies bully your girl enough times, the poor hen will learn to avoid the nest boxes completely to escape the abuse dished out by these flockmates.
Options in this case include splitting the flock into two, each with their own coop and run; isolating the alpha hen for several days to shake up the pecking order; or selling off the bullying hen … or the victimized one.
3. A Matter of Biology
Should your hen persist in laying her eggs while roosting, the problem may not be a flock or coop issue but a biological one. Your bird’s circadian clock—the natural rhythms that tell her when to sleep, eat and lay—may have been altered.
Circadian rhythms are very much influenced by external factors such as light and food. Birds exposed to continuous light can lay at any time of day, since there is no darkness to stimulate the surge of luteinizing hormone necessary for ovulation.
Without darkness to help trigger ovulation, a hen’s reproductive system operates on whatever schedule it wishes. This results in eggs laid at any time and any place.
If your coop uses artificial lighting, disable it once natural light lasts 14 hours to allow your hen to adjust to a natural cycle. Release your birds shortly after sunrise so that your hen is out and about in the morning sun instead of enclosed and awaiting release on her perch.
A shade or blind on your coop’s windows can also simulate darkness.
Another option involves your flock’s feed schedule. Luteinizing hormone has been found to surge when feeding activity decreases. To help your hen regulate her ovulatory cycle, remove your coop’s feeder in the late afternoon.
It takes approximately 25 hours from ovulation for an egg to be laid. If your hen’s feeding activity is curtailed in the early evening, she is more likely to lay her egg in the afternoon, when she has no interest in perching.
4. A Disabling Difficulty
When all else fails, the ultimate solution when a hen lays while roosting is to disable the device directly involved in egg dropping. Remove the perch from the coop every morning after releasing the birds, then place it back just prior to sunset.
Without a perch to lay while roosting upon, your hen will be forced to find an alternative place to nest. If your coop has enough nest boxes—and if these are clean and inviting—your hen should eventually habituate herself to using a cozy box where she can settle herself down as her new laying spot.
Sandra will be trying several of the options I suggested to see if she can get Mary Jane’s body back on a natural circadian rhythm. Hopefully, one will work and put an end to Sandra finding her eggs pre-scrambled in the coop.