If you have free-range chickens and you’re not finding regular eggs in their nesting boxes, it probably means they’re laying eggs somewhere else.
There are a few things chickens instinctively look for when choosing where to lay eggs. In this article, I’m going to explain where free-range chickens typically lay eggs, and how to encourage them to use their nesting boxes.
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Where Do Free Range Chickens Lay Eggs?
When chickens have a large area to roam free and can choose where they lay their eggs, they will instinctively always try to find somewhere they feel is ‘safe’.
I say ‘safe’, in inverted commas because I’m assuming there are very few predators or dangers where you’re allowing your chickens to roam. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be giving them free roam, right?
Still, a chicken will look for somewhere quiet, dark if possible, and well-hidden to make a nest. This does, of course, vary from breed to breed. Some chickens are a lot better at hiding their nests than others, too.
A lot of people think chickens make their nests in trees like other birds. This is not the case. Even though chickens will sleep up high in trees in the wild, they will not make nests in trees.
It’s just too difficult for them to balance eggs in a tree and being able to sit on them. Chickens are far from being as nimble (or as light) as other birds that commonly build nests in trees.
You’re likely to find their nests hidden in thick brush, or in a tight spot under a porch, or somewhere similar. Anyone that a chicken can get to with relative ease, and where they think it’ll be hard for predators to find their nest.
That said, I’ve seen nests left pretty much in the open before. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to how safe and comfortable those chickens felt, or how stupid they are!
Related - How Far Will Free Range Chickens Roam?
How Do Chickens Make Nests?
This is another interesting thing about how chickens make ‘nests’ for their eggs. Because they don’t make nests as other birds do.
You’re not going to see a chicken collecting twigs and other debris to build a nest. More often than not, a chicken will pick a quiet spot and just use whatever soft surface they can find to lay their eggs.
They will often dig out a round depression in the ground if the soil is loose enough. Clearly marking an area where they want to lay their eggs. Just as a chicken would be able to in a box with bedding, this is to help them cover their eggs with their bodies.
Will Free Range Chickens Go Back To the Coop To Lay Eggs?
There is no definitive answer to this because as any chicken keeper will know, chickens can be unpredictable.
Generally speaking, in my experience as long as you round your chickens up each night and have enough nesting boxes in their coop, more often than not they will lay eggs in their coop.
It really depends on a lot of factors though. It’s important you keep an eye out for any chickens laying away from the coop and put a stop to it as soon as possible.
Having your chickens laying eggs outside of their coop is bad for a number of reasons:
- It may attract predators to your land that have a taste for eggs.
- Your hens are more likely to go broody if you don’t spot the eggs.
- You’re missing out on eggs by not finding them in their nesting boxes.
How Often Do Free Range Chickens Lay Eggs?
Free-range chickens lay eggs at the same rate as organic, housed, or any other housing arrangements - as long as they have the same exposure to light, nutrition, and so on.
The fact that a chicken is free to roam doesn’t impact how often they lay eggs if all other factors are similar.
To lay eggs regularly, chickens need good living conditions, quality nutrition, and 16+ hours of sunlight each day.
The reason I see some people saying free-range chickens lay more eggs is that they have a better quality of life. If this is the case, then, of course, they will lay more eggs.
For the purpose of this question, I’m assuming that you’re comparing free-range chickens with some that are kept in a coop and run but still have excellent living conditions.
There is one thing that I’m sure about, chickens that are able to free-range are generally healthier and lay tastier eggs.
You can’t beat allowing chickens to roam and find bugs and other nutritious things to graze on. This is why free-range eggs cost a little more in the supermarket and are of higher quality.
Are Your Free Range Chickens Hiding Eggs?
If you’re unsure whether or not your chickens are building nests and hiding eggs, it’s time to do some investigative work.
This is for peace of mind, and also so you know your chickens are healthy and laying eggs. Even if they’re not laying them where you want them to.
First, find out what breeds of backyard chickens you have if you don’t already know. Then, make sure they’re of laying age and get a rough idea of how many eggs they should lay per week on average.
Now you know how many eggs you should be expecting to find in their nesting box. This number can vary a little, so don’t stress over it too much. But, if you’re not finding anywhere near that number of eggs, you need to find out why.
It’s worth keeping one or more chickens in their coop and run for a few days to solve the mystery. You want to make sure that they are in fact laying eggs, and those eggs aren’t being stolen by predators.
Related - Here's how chickens make nests.
Unless you give your chickens acres of land to freely roam during the day, it shouldn’t be too hard to find where they’ve built nests if they’ve done so.
As I explained, it’s worth solving the mystery of where their eggs are and training them to lay their eggs in their nesting boxes though.
This reduces the chance of attracting predators, makes it less likely you’ll have broody hens to deal with, and also makes your job of collecting eggs a lot easier!
Image credits - Photo by Emiel Maters on Unsplash