They should be treasured!

The restrictions on keeping chickens inside have been eased, and immediately my chickens have taken the opportunity to misbehave. During their reluctant incarceration, my hens had no choice but to lay in the nestboxes provided. There really wasn’t anywhere else. Now, however….

Many of our hens are sneaky layers who will sidle off when they are let out each morning, and vanish insouciantly, whistling under their breath. ‘Nothing to see here, just off to find some worms….’

Why do chickens hide their eggs like this? Contrary to popular belief, they don’t do it just to annoy you. In fact, you would be wise to make a note of your worst offenders, as these hens often make the best mothers. Sneaky laying is actually a very useful piece of chicken behaviour.

Most hens will lay eggs in the nest site picked by the boss hen. This makes sense, because when a hen decides to go broody she will be sitting on eggs from several hens and will therefore have a better chance of hatching success. But the boss hen usually chooses the nest site for ease and comfort of laying. It will be close by, it will be easy to get into and out of and it will therefore be vulnerable to predators and egg thieves.

This is where your sneaky layer come in. She chooses her nest site purely on the basis of secrecy. It is usually difficult to access, very well hidden and you could walk past it every day and not know it’s there (and I often do). When the time is right and your sneaky hen has a good pile of eggs she can go broody, safe in the knowledge that she is safe from rats and birds (because if they had found the nest there would not be any eggs in it). Should the nest be discovered and plundered before she is ready to go broody, your sneaky hen will immediately abandon that nest and choose a new, more hidden one.

So, even though the sneaky layers are annoying, and I miss out on a lot of eggs, and frequently end up with a clutch of chicks I had not planned for, I treasure these sneaky hens. They are wily and crafty, just what a flock needs for a free-range lifestyle with all its dangers and pitfalls.

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