chicken laying boxes, or nest boxes – Layer Management

The condition of laying boxes:

Making the laying boxes attractive to young hens is very important. Nests must be in good repair with sound, solid bottoms, pads or fresh clean, dry bedding material. Fouled nests and dirty egg gathering belts need to be cleaned or replaced. Nest units should be stabilized and should not rock or move when hens enter or leave the unit. Perches need to be in good repair and structurally strong enough to support the potential weight of several birds at once. Nest fouling can be largely discouraged by closing the nests late in the day preventing birds from roosting in the nest holes at night, and then open them before the lights come on in the morning. Nests should be checked for stray voltage with a meter before the birds are housed and several times throughout the laying cycle.
It is important to check mechanical nest systems while the belts are running and stopped. Chickens can detect very low amounts of electricity, as low as 3 volts. Pullets looking for alternative nest sites tend to be attracted to dark or solid walls, corners, feed room walls, next to slat fronts, under bell drinkers and nests. Caretakers should try to gently pick up pullets attempting to establish nest sites and place them in nests. Disturbing birds trying to nest discourages them from using these sites. If it is apparent that hens will continue to utilize these areas, it may be necessary to fence birds from these areas with wire netting.
After being disturbed several times, pullets usually seek quieter places – hopefully, the intended proper nests. Mechanical egg gathering belts should be run several times each day, even before obtaining the first egg to acclimate pullets to the sound and vibration of the equipment. A good practice is to initially run egg gathering belts slowly in conjunction with the operation of the feeders. This should be done well before the expected arrival of the first egg. This tends to help hens adjust to the sounds and vibration of operating the system.
After several days the egg collection system should gradually be run more often, several times during the morning and afternoon. Slat height with heavy breeders is critical, especially with the yield type hens. Slat height with mechanical egg gathering systems should be no more than 50 to 56 cm. (20 to 22 inches) high, with the nests set back from the edge of the slats 30 to 36 cm. (12 to 14 inches). Nest openings should be easily approachable to hens and may require lowering into the slat surface or with properly inclined ramps/perches. Feeder lines should be no closer than 24 inches from the front of the nest so as to not interfere with entry into the nest.
The slat height of conventional manual egg gathering systems is slightly less critical and may be increased to slightly higher levels, up to 60 cm. (24 inches), to help ease back strain on egg collection workers. Litter levels should be maintained at 5-8 cm (2-3 inches) deep to discourage birds from digging deep comfortable holes and laying in them. Very deep litter encourages floor hens to lay on the floor. With floor operations, conventional nests should be constructed so as to eliminate the more attractive dark space under the nests.

Fans and fogging systems should not blow forcibly and directly into the nests. Wet breezy conditions tend to discourage hens from utilizing the offending nests except in the most extreme hot weather. Housing and nest temperatures in excess of, or below the recommended range, can cause birds to shun nests. It is a fact that the body temperature of a hen increases up to 1°C (3°F) when laying an egg. In hot temperatures, hens are reluctant to move to poorly ventilated nest spaces and prefer to remain in the more comfortable areas where the air is moving and feels cooler. Hen house temperature/ventilation is the most common condition that has the greatest influence on inducing hens to use nests. Hens will always seek the most comfortable environment. If the nest conditions are uncomfortable or perceived to be threatening, hens will locate more favorable sites.

Planning, prevention and early bird training in the first four or five weeks of the pre-production and early production cycle is easier that collecting floor and slat eggs, and less costly than the egg losses during the entire forty weeks of production. The economics and benefits of the extra work are well worth the effort. As new management techniques and equipment is developed, new methods will be developed to attract hens to become proficient nest layers, thus producing clean high-quality hatching eggs.
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