If you have more than a handful of chickens, and maybe even if you only have a few, you likely know that one of the challenges of maintaining a flock of laying hens is that they always seem to nest practically on top of each other! In this article, I’ll talk about the method I use to break up the “communal nest” in my flock, so eggs stay unbroken and hens stay unstressed, which both result in higher egg production.
The Problem: Shared Nests
Most of us get excited about building and outfitting our chicken coop and provide plenty of comfortable nesting boxes so our hens can spread out and lay wherever they want without it getting too crowded. Despite our best efforts, chickens are particularly prone to following a crowd – if one chicken likes a particular box and has laid an egg there – in the minds of the other hens, that nest often becomes “the good one”! Chickens may take turns laying in the same box and after weeks or months of this nest-tine-share, I’ve had chickens completely refuse to lay in any box other than their favorite, resulting in certain hens getting bullied, broken eggs, or, eventually, eggs laid outside the nests entirely.
The Solution: Decoy Eggs
A few years back, on the advice of a veteran poultry tender, I tried a novel solution for dealing with this problem. This woman who’d kept a small flock of chickens for decades advised me that I just needed to get my hands on some fake eggs.
Preferring a more environmentally sustainable option (and expecting that, if it worked, it might be handy to have on hand to deal with similar problems in the future) I went ahead and invested in a package of solid, unpainted wood eggs. Although they were intended to be used for DIY Easter crafts I’m sure, these wood eggs actually worked great in my coop to “seed” nests!
How I use Easter eggs to decentralize nesting hens
It’s crazy how well this works: I just keep one decoy Easter egg in each nesting box. Each day as I collect eggs I make sure that that one fake egg remains. Ever since I started keeping false eggs in my nesting boxes (about the same time that I replaced my nesting box liners with Astroturf) I haven’t had any problems with hens overcrowding in any particular nesting box. The “girls” have laid much more evenly throughout the provided boxes- as long as there’s that one “egg” present, signaling their little chicken brains that someone else thought it was a good enough nest to lay there.
Choosing the best type of fake egg for your chickens:
NOT RECOMMENDED: Easter egg clamshell fake eggs – Due to the bright colors these may not work, but just might be worth trying if you already have them on hand. These lightweight plastic eggs are likely to go flying if they are pushed or packed, so fill them with a few rocks before inserting them into a nest. Easter egg style clamshell eggs are not a good long-term solution, but might work for testing the method.
OKAY: Plastic decorator eggs – These hollow foam plastic eggs are visually realistic, but also share the issue of durability and being too lightweight to be a long solution.
BETTER: Unfinished wood eggs – This style of false eggs was the type I used for many years, until recently upgrading to ceramic fake eggs. The wood eggs have a nice weight that helps them stay in place, and the unfinished wood finish is “close enough” to have convinced all my chickens to regard them as actual eggs. The downside of unfinished wood eggs is that the open pores can make the eggs harder to clean when, eventually, they get soiled. I like that they were all wood and completely biodegradable, but the bit of extra weight of the wood eggs means that when I place them somewhere they tend to stay – there much harder for chickens to shove out of the way than plastic Easter eggs.
GOOD: Painted wood eggs – All the benefits of unfinished wood eggs, but with an easier to clean finish. I avoided this type because I was a bit concerned about chickens pecking these eggs and potentially toxic paint chipping off. These could work if you don’t have an egg pecker in your coop.
BEST CHOICE: Ceramic Nest Eggs – Ceramic eggs are the best choice for fake eggs if this is a long-term coop management strategy for you. Ceramic eggs look realistic, have a hefty weight to help them stay where you put them and are easy to disinfect. Ceramic eggs can be washed in the dishwasher or sterilized with high temperatures. Due to the hardness of ceramic, these eggs are also a good choice for retraining hens who have developed a habit of pecking eggs.
Using eggs to relocate nesting hens:
If you’ve ever replaced your nesting boxes or – to your chickens’ horror- dared to moved them, you know that relocating boxes can cause a total uproar among your flock of chickens. When I installed my reach-through nesting boxes my chickens threw a fit – clearly protesting by laying eggs on the ground below the boxes, on the narrow ledge above the boxes, and just about about anywhere else that they could find space. I decided to give the wooden eggs a try, and the next day, as if by magic, all of my eggs were in the new nesting boxes!
Cleaning decoy eggs
The only thing I don’t like about the wood decoy eggs is that they were really difficult to clean. As they stayed in my coop year-round, inevitably they got gross and eventually exposed to poop, which seemed to impregnate into the wood.
You’ll need to have a way to clean your eggs. Ceramic decoy eggs can go in the dishwasher once visible debris is removed. But other fake eggs will need manually washed. I ‘ve found the same egg-cleaning towelettes I use on soiled eggs work great for cleaning most smooth-surface fake eggs.