- Provide 1 nest box per every 4-5 chickens in your flock to prevent overcrowding.
- Nesting materials should be soft, moldable, and allow scratching/digging like wood shavings, hay, or straw.
- Discourage broody behaviors by blocking hen access to nests and disrupting sitting routines.
- Identify and remove external nesting sites chickens are using to encourage coop nest box use.
- Use fake or real eggs in nests to demonstrate to chickens where to lay.
- For new pullets, directly guide them into nest boxes and reward them with treats.
- Thoroughly clean nesting boxes weekly and spot clean daily to maintain hen-friendly hygiene.
- If isolating chickens, limit separation to 2-3 days and keep hens in visual contact to prevent distress.
- Address factors deterring chickens from nests like insufficient bedding, pests, overexposure, and box height.
- The nesting box location should be semi-dark and secluded with a roof, 3 sides, and a hen-height entryway.
As a backyard chicken keeper for over 5 years, I’ve had my fair share of experiences collecting eggs from unexpected places. One morning I’ll open the coop to find all the nesting boxes empty. After hunting around, I’ll discover a hidden clutch of eggs buried under the bedding or concealed behind boards in a corner nest.
Other times, I’ve been out in the yard only to nearly trip over eggs randomly lying in the grass or flower beds. My flock seems to enjoy coming up with new secret spots to deposit their daily gifts!
While this egg-hiding behavior can be baffling (and annoying) to owners, it comes from innate tendencies and needs to be embedded into chickens over centuries of evolution. By understanding the motivations behind it, we can create an environment that satisfies our desire for easy egg collection and the chicken’s natural nesting instincts.
In this article, I’ll share the reasons my chickens hide their eggs based on my personal observations. You’ll learn the common motivations behind this quirky habit, along with tips to encourage more desirable nest box use. I’ll also recommend chicken coop products designed to support natural laying behaviors.
Why Do Chickens Bury Their Eggs?
Chickens use a variety of techniques to conceal their eggs from prying eyes (and owners!). Here are the main motivations I’ve witnessed over the years:
1. Shortage of Nesting Space
In my early days of chicken keeping, I didn’t provide nearly enough nesting boxes for my flock size. With 5 hens and only one box, competition was fierce for this limited real estate.
I’d frequently find eggs strewn along one wall of the coop or buried in the litter. It turns out chickens have an instinctual drive to lay their eggs in an enclosed, sheltered space. Without sufficient nesting sites, they will find alternative hidden locations.
The general recommendation is one nest box per every 4-5 hens in your flock. This ensures each chicken can regularly access a private nesting area.
When I finally got around to building more boxes to meet this ratio, it solved the shortage issue and reduced the sparring over one dominant box.
Tip: Make sure to clean boxes frequently so hens aren’t turned off by dirty conditions.
2. Feeling Exposed or Vulnerable
Another time, I decided to improve ventilation in my coop by replacing solid side walls with wire mesh. This allowed much more light and air circulation.
However, I soon noticed my hens were avoiding the exposed nesting boxes and laying eggs behind buckets or boards around the run.
Chickens are prey animals, so they prefer dim, enclosed areas to lay their eggs. Too much light or openness makes them feel unsafe and insecure.
I ended up using curtains on one side of the boxes to create more darkness and seclusion. This made the nests more attractive again.
3. Unappealing Nesting Materials
My coop came equipped with nesting boxes lined with a smooth plastic mat. While easy to clean, the slippery surface frustrated my chickens’ desire to dig, scratch, and shape the bedding into a nest.
I’d routinely find eggs laid out in the open litter instead. Once I filled the boxes with more suitable nesting material like straw and wood shavings, normal box laying resumed.
Tip: Chickens prefer fluffy substrates like hay, straw, or shavings that they can form into a nest. Avoid smooth materials like cardboard or plastic.
4. Broody Hens
Broody hens have a very strong impulse to sit on and incubate a clutch of eggs. They will occupy a nesting box for days on end, only leaving briefly to eat and drink.
With my particularly broody Buff Orpington hen Violet, the other chickens quickly got fed up with her nest monopoly. Soon, eggs started appearing on the roosts and even outside the coop.
To allow the sharing of nesting space again, I had to physically block Violet’s access to boxes until her broody spell passed.
5. Young Layers
When my pullets reached laying age, they didn’t immediately understand the purpose of nesting boxes. For the first few weeks, I’d find their eggs on the coop floor or wandering outside.
With some “training” like fake eggs in the nests or guiding them inside, they eventually made the connection that boxes are for laying!
6. Pests Like Mites
During a bout with northern fowl mites, my chickens were miserable from the itchy bites covering their skin. They stopped laying as frequently in the pest-ridden nesting boxes.
After treating the coop and chickens to eliminate the mites, normal nesting habits resumed. Keeping coops clean and pest-free is essential!
How to Get Chickens Using Nest Boxes
Now that we understand why chickens hide eggs, let’s go over some tips and tricks I’ve used to encourage proper nest box use instead:
Fix Any Nest Box Problems First
Carefully evaluate if your current nests may be deterring chickens from laying in them. Are there enough boxes for your flock size? Is the bedding material suitable? Are the boxes clean and inviting? Fix any existing issues to get your chickens back on track.
Find and Remove Alternative Nest Sites
Do some snooping in and around your coop to locate secret nests your chickens have created. Once identified, make these spots less attractive as laying areas.
For example, remove comfortable bedding, add obstructions like boards, or hang curtains to block hidden corners. This will encourage the use of the actual nests.
Keep Chickens Confined for 2-3 Days
Restrict your flock to the coop and enclosed run for a few days. This limited access helps re-establish the habit of laying in proper nesting boxes instead of wandering to find secret sites.
Just ensure they have ready access to food, fresh water, perches, and shelter during this re-training period.
Maintain Clean Nesting Areas
Chickens love laying eggs in a clean, hygienic environment. Spot clean nests daily by removing soiled bedding. Then do a full disinfecting weekly or bi-weekly. Your chickens will thank you!
Use Fake or Real Eggs to Signal “This is the Spot!”
Placing ceramic, wooden, or plastic decoy eggs in nesting boxes helps attract real layers thereby signaling “This is the right place to lay!”
You can also use a real egg from your coop as a decoy. Some owners blow out the contents first for cleanliness.
Collect Eggs Frequently
Gathering eggs from the coop multiple times a day, like morning and evening, helps reinforce the habit and prevents any egg buildup in boxes that hens find unappealing.
Transition Layers with Training
For young pullets learning to lay, try placing them in a nesting box and allowing them to feel and explore it. You can use decoy eggs as examples and offer treats for investigating the box. Gently guiding and rewarding desired behavior helps establish proper habits.
Control Pest Infestations
Nesting boxes plagued by mites, lice, or other pests will deter chickens from laying there. Maintain coop hygiene and follow treatment guidelines if you notice any pest issues. Preventing infestations keeps your chickens comfortable and laying happily.
Nesting Box Tips and Recommendations
Here are some additional pointers on providing nesting boxes aligned with natural chicken behavior:
- Build or buy enclosed boxes with a roof, 3 sides, and an entryway – this gives hens a sense of security.
- Place boxes at high height – too high or low deter use.
- Semi-darkness attracts nesting hens; avoid bright light shining directly in.
- Ensure adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup.
- Pack 3-5 inches of fluffy, organic nesting material.
- Consider decoy eggs to show hens where to lay.
- Clean boxes weekly and replace damp/soiled bedding daily.
Following these tips will make your nesting boxes as appealing as possible to your chickens!
Sample Nest Box Design
Here is an example design for a simple wooden nesting box that aligns with chicken preferences:
Table 1. Sample Nesting Box Design
|12″ H x 12″ W x 12″ D
|Wood or wire mesh
|Wood slats with ventilation gaps
|Shingled or corrugated metal roofing
|5″ depth of pine shavings
|8″ W x 12″ H opening in front
|Shaded, semi-dark area of coop
The OMLET Eglu Cube Chicken Coop
When shopping for a complete chicken coop, look for designs created with the natural habits of chickens in mind.
Products like the Eglu Cube from OMLET are purpose-built to provide secure, comfortable nesting areas that prevent chickens from laying eggs anywhere but the appropriate boxes.
Key Nesting Box Features:
- Integrated location away from the entrance
- Side divider walls create privacy
- Slatted fronts allow ventilation
- Roof overhang provides shade/darkness
- Deep litter tray for scratching/nesting
This smart layout accommodates natural laying behaviors and deters the urge to seek out secret nesting sites elsewhere in the coop or yard.
The Eglu Cube also has easy-access doors, simple cleaning, durable construction, and good ventilation. Overall an excellent option for supporting healthy and happy hens that lay eggs in the right spot!
Reader Question: Should I Separate My Chickens to Curb Egg Hiding?
Here’s a question I recently received from a reader about re-training chickens to use nesting boxes:
Hi! I’m hoping you can help me. I have 6 hens who have started randomly laying eggs all over my yard instead of in their coop nesting boxes. It’s become impossible to find all the eggs now. My friend suggested I lock each chicken in a separate cage for a few days to “re-teach” them to lay in the nests. Do you think this is a good idea? I’m worried about stressing them out too much. Thanks, Linda R.
Separating chickens for a short period can sometimes help break the habit of hiding eggs and get them back into the routine of laying in proper nests.
However, you’re right to be concerned about causing too much stress. Chickens are social creatures, and complete isolation is quite traumatic for them.
Here are some tips on separating chickens to curb egg hiding in a low-stress way:
- House chickens side-by-side in wire mesh pens so they still have visual contact with the flock. This prevents isolation stress.
- Limit separation time to just 2-3 days, then return chickens to the main coop and group.
- Monitor their well-being closely during separation and watch for signs of distress like lack of eating/drinking or droopy, lethargic appearance.
- Ensure each separated chicken has adequate individual space, access to food and water, and a shaded roosting area.
- Upon re-introducing chickens to the coop, observe nesting habits carefully over the following days. Further intervention may be needed if hiding eggs persists.
With some adjustments and precautions, separating chickens can be an effective way to get them back into a normal laying routine. But other measures like decoy eggs, keeping chickens confined to the coop, or addressing nesting box deterrents should be tried first before isolating hens.
Focus on making the existing nesting area as secure and comfortable as possible. This will encourage natural nest use without as much stress or behavior training needed. Let me know if you have any other questions!
While a chicken’s tendency to hide her eggs in strange places can seem eccentric to us owners, it stems from innate needs and behaviors that evolved over thousands of years.
By providing an environment aligned with your flock’s preferences, you can allow those natural inclinations while still collecting eggs conveniently. Paying attention to their laying habits and making adjustments is the key to balance.
I hope these insights from my own first-hand experiences have helped explain the common motivations behind egg hiding in chickens. Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips on encouraging great nest box use! I’m always looking to make egg collection easier for my flock and me.
I hope this article has provided helpful insights into the common motivations behind chickens hiding their eggs. While this behavior can seem puzzling or frustrating as a chicken owner, it’s important to remember it stems from our feathered friends’ natural instincts.
By taking the time to understand why chickens bury eggs and making a few adjustments to their environment, we can satisfy those innate needs. This allows our flock to carry out their egg-laying ritual as nature intended while still keeping the eggs conveniently accessible.
Providing inviting, secure nest boxes, maintaining clean coops, allowing natural clawing and pecking behaviors, and accommodating broody periods are all keys to a happy, productive flock. Approaching chickens with empathy, patience, and an eagerness to learn will lead to a richly rewarding experience for both you and your chickens.
If you’ve faced an egg-hiding challenge with your flock, I hope you found some useful tips in this article. Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions as you embark on your backyard chicken-keeping journey!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many nesting boxes do I need per chicken?
A: The standard recommendation is 1 nest box for every 4-5 hens. This ensures each hen has a dedicated laying space.
Q: What’s the best nesting material to use?
A: Chickens prefer fluffy, moldable materials like wood shavings, straw, hay, or hemp bedding that they can dig and scratch in. Avoid slick surfaces.
Q: How often should I clean the nesting boxes?
A: Clean boxes fully at least once per week, using gentle disinfectants. Also do spot cleaning daily to remove soiled bedding.
Q: Can roosters use nesting boxes too?
A: Roosters don’t lay eggs but may occupy nests temporarily. Ensure adequate boxes so they don’t crowd out hens.
Q: How can I discourage broody hen behaviors?
A: Block broody hens from nests, cool them with cold baths, and rearrange coop to disrupt their routine. Discourage sitting for long periods.
Q: Should I separate chickens to re-train them to use nests?
A: Short 2-3 day separation can help but take precautions against isolation stress. Fix underlying nesting problems first if possible.