There are no bad chickens, only bad chicken habits. Some chickens jump up to sleep in trees every night or treat themselves to an egg scramble from the nesting box. But itâ€™s up to you to break your chickens of whatever bad habits picked up over time.
If left unattended, you could be out dozens of eggs. In the worst cases, youâ€™ll be out a few chickens, too.Â
Thankfully, you can break chickens of bad habits fairly easily. Some common examples follow, with directions on how to break them if you see them pop up in your flock.
Youâ€™ve picked your chickens carefully, and you have a nice mix of rainbow eggs from all different types of heritage birds. Every day youâ€™ve gone out to pluck beautiful eggs from the nesting boxes. Then, one day, you notice there arenâ€™t as many.
The day after that, even fewer remain. You see a mess of eggshells on the bottom of the nesting box where your eggs used to be. It wonâ€™t take you long to put 2 and 2 together.
One of your chickens is eating eggs, one of the most common bad habits in the coop.
Chickens will eat eggs for numerous reasons, from boredom to a lack of protein in their diet. Itâ€™s a difficult situation for any flock owner to be in. Eggs are one of the main reasons why people raise chickens.
If you sell your eggs, youâ€™ll be out of income. If you and your family eat them, youâ€™ll be out of food.Â
Once your chickens get a taste for eggs, it can be very difficult to break them from this bad habit. That being said, you can try a few different strategies to regain your daily dozen (or two dozen) eggs.Â
Renovate Your Nesting Boxes
A wide-open nesting box is an invitation to come inside, get comfortable and lay an egg. For some chickens, itâ€™s also an invitation to come inside, see whatâ€™s in there and treat themselves to a snack.Â
If your chickens eat eggs, the first thing you should do is take a good look at your nesting boxes. Use wood chips for nesting material? Try switching to straw. If you use straw, try switching to wood chips or some other nesting material.
A dark nesting box is less likely to be looked at as a spot to search for snacks. Try adding curtains to darken the area and keep your hens from seeing the eggs lying inside.Â
If youâ€™ve tried renovating their existing nesting boxes and youâ€™re still struggling with egg eating, you can find plans online for nesting boxes with a rollaway bottom. You can DIY this type of nesting box yourself. As the hen deposits the egg in the box, the egg will roll into the corner and out of sight so the hen canâ€™t turn around and eat it.Â
Have you ever looked over your flock and asked yourself, â€śI wonder if my chickens would like mustard?â€ť The answer is no. No, they do not.
Chickens arenâ€™t fans of mustard. Thatâ€™s why some chicken owners place eggs in nesting boxes that have been hollowed out and replaced with mustard.Â
You can do this by poking a hole on both sides of the egg and blowing until the contents are empty. Once you have an empty eggshell, squeeze some mustard inside the egg. For maximum effect, fill it as much as you can, but try not to let any drip out.Â
Place your mustard egg or eggs in your nesting boxes. Then wait until your egg-eaters take a peck at them.
You can set up a camera in your chicken coop if you want to know which chickens head there first to practice bad eating habits. If they do peck at them, they may just be turned off of eggs forever. If not, youâ€™ll have a visual from the camera as to who is eating the eggs and you can choose to isolate them from the nesting boxes temporarily.Â
Jumping the FenceÂ
You built a secure coop for your chickens. A fence to keep out predators fortifies it. But what you might not have considered is that itâ€™s not tall enough to keep chickens inside the fence. And for chickens, hopping the fence is a common one amongst bad habits.
For chickens, the grass is always greener on the other side of the coop, and jumping out an is an often-. Even if they have an entire acre to peck around on, some birds will still jump the fence and come into your yard. They might peck at your living room windows or beg for food on your front porch.
Some people find this charming. But if youâ€™ve ever slipped on a pile of chicken droppings when walking onto your porch or you have a rogue rooster crowing loudly outside your window, jumping the fence will lose its appeal very quickly.Â
Jumping the fence can also have serious consequences for the chickens. If they graze, unattended predators such as coyotes, hawks or eagles could easily swipe them.Â
To stop your chickens from jumping the fence, you can try a few different thing.Â
Fortify the Fortress
One of the first things flock owners can do if their chickens jump the fence: Build a coop with a closed run. There are different plans for chicken coops with runs online. The benefit to this type of coop is that your chickens remain in a safe, enclosed area.Â
But if a closed coop isnâ€™t for you and youâ€™d like your chickens to be able to free-range more than a small area will allow, youâ€™re going to have to adjust your fence. If you already have a sturdy fence but your chickens jump it, youâ€™ll have to increase the height.Â
The average height of a chicken coop fence is approximately 5 feet. To keep your flock inside, you may want to add a layer of fencing to the top of your existing fence to make it 8 or 9 feet tall. You can do that with a layer of mesh fencing on the bottom and a layer of plastic garden fencing or chicken wire on the top.
It might look a little like youâ€™ve set up your own chicken Alcatraz. But it should keep them safe in their area.Â
Wing clipping is a bit of a controversial issue for chicken owners. While some may advocate for wing clipping, others feel as though itâ€™s a lot like declawing a cat. It takes away a birdâ€™s ability to protect itself in sticky situations.Â
Ultimately, itâ€™s up to you whether or not you want to clip your birdâ€™s wings. If you plan on doing so, a general tip is to trim them so one side is shorter than the other. Uneven wings will keep your chickens just slightly off-kilter.
This can prevent them from gaining altitude when they try to take off.Â
Donâ€™t be surprised if they still manage to jump the fence, even if youâ€™ve clipped their wings. Some birds are lighter than others. And others can parkour a fence or small structure without spreading their wings at all.Â
Sleeping in TreesÂ
Sleeping in trees goes part and parcel with jumping the fence. If you suddenly see a drop in population when you lock your chickens up at night but you find everyone is there for roll call in the morning, you may just have a few tree-sleepers on your hands.Â
Itâ€™s natural for a chicken to want to sleep as far away from the ground as possible. But when they sleep in trees they are exposed to the elements and predators.
Not only that, but if they choose to sleep in a tree right outside your bedroom window or near your house, youâ€™re going to be treated to a very early wake-up call every morning. Some roosters will even crow all night long if they feel they need to alert the flock to danger.Â
Chickens will return to their roost night after night. So the first step to stopping them from sleeping in a tree is to figure out why they might be doing it in the first place.
Do you have several roosters? Or maybe you know your hens have a strict pecking order? Some of the chickens that have a lower ranking may look for a new home rather than sleep with the enemy.Â
If you know the chicken or chickens that get picked on, you can separate them within your coop so they feel safe while sleeping. Some flock owners build a new chicken coop entirely. Others will have several small structures separated within a large fenced area.Â
Retrieving a Treed Chicken
If you have a rogue chicken in a nearby tree, the best way to move them is to wait for them to head there to roost. If you can, wait near the tree and pick them up before they manage to get up. It can save you a lot of hassle if your chicken jumps branches until they are too high for your ladder to reach.Â
If the chicken is in the tree and accessible by ladder, place the ladder under the tree before the chicken goes there to roost. You donâ€™t want to startle the chicken. Theyâ€™re very easy to pick up when roosting.
Wait until itâ€™s dark and be sure to take a headlight to help you see.Â
Once you have the chicken, your best bet is to place it in an enclosed, locked-down area within your coop and keep it there for a few days. Donâ€™t remove the bird from the chicken population. But donâ€™t allow the bird to be vulnerable to the other birds in case they want to attack it.Â
You can let the bird back out into the flock after itâ€™s adjusted to being back in the coop. If you fixed your fences so it canâ€™t jump out, odds are it will stay within the coop from that time on. Just keep in mind that if the bird can find a way out, it most likely will end up back in your tree again.Â
Read more: You can help a broody hen hatch her chicks!
If you have a large yard and a lot of free-range chickens, youâ€™ll find a few hidden nests of eggs once in a while. No matter how appealing you make the nesting box, some chickens have a mind of their own. These ladies will lay an egg in whatever spot looks comfortable.
The problem is that if a hen continues to go to a nesting area and lays eggs but you have no idea where that nest is, eventually theyâ€™ll amass a large pile of eggs and go broody. Brooding is natural (and not exactly right to list alongside bad habits), but you’ll need to deal with chickens in this state.
A broody hen sitting on a big pile of eggs can mean a large and unexpected addition to your flock. In my time raising chickens, my record for unexpected hatchings is 18 chicks from one hen!Â
The only way to stop hidden nests and random egg laying is to make sure you can account for all of your chickens. If you let them free-range, youâ€™ll want to count heads every night to make sure everyone sleeps where they should.
If you do find a nest of eggs and a hen sitting on them, you can pick up hen and eggs and place them in a safe, enclosed area until hatching. That way theyâ€™ll have food and water as soon as the babies hatch. You wonâ€™t be greeted by a surprise family at your back door!Â
Â Chickens are the type of animal with an independent mind and a casual disregard for their personal safety, but breaking them of their bad habits ensures your flock will be safe to lay or crow another day.Â
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue ofÂ ChickensÂ magazine.