Problem solved!

I don’t know if I’ve posted about it before, but I’ve been frustrated with the performance of the chicken tractor so far.

Not because the hens are unhappy – on the contrary they seem to love the grass and clover and bugs they get to scarf.* Not even because it really is a pain to crawl in there to get to the hanging feeder once a week or so, (but can’t be helped because it must be kept dry and, well, the roof is at the rear. I do always move the tractor to fresh, unsullied ground before I crawl inside it.)

My funny gals chowin’ down on some sliced cucumbers and broccoli.

But because until today, they just wouldn’t lay in the nest boxes. It was a royal pain to have to crawl inside the tractor every evening to fetch all the eggs from the various places they’d hidden them. The eggs were usually grass-stained and sometimes dirty. Sometimes I could barely reach them, if they’d been laid in the corner behind the roost (design flaw, that one). Only intrepid Panda the black Australorp ever laid a single egg in the nest box I’d been so proud of designing.

As you can see above and below, I thought the issue was privacy. First I put curtains on the nest boxes. Then I thought maybe they didn’t like having to jump up, and stapled cloth around the bottom in the hopes that they’d go into the dim little cabinet underneath and at least all lay the eggs where I could easily reach them.

No such luck. Not only did it not work, it looked trashy!

I tell you, I was at the end of my rope wondering what I was going to do once my belly gets big enough that I can’t bend at the middle! I had started training SofĂ­a how to get in there and get the eggs without touching anything else. And actually, she did a fabulous job! She’d carefully tuck them one by one into the nest box, where we could then access them from outside and put them in the basket. It made her really proud! (Until the newness wore off, and she whined that she couldn’t reach them. Join the club, kid.)

But guess what, no more child labor over here because I finally figured it out! See, I’d made the bottoms of the nest boxes out of wire mesh instead of wood, for lightness. I forgot that in order to get a broody hen to get off her nest, you blow air on her tush… or put her in a cage with a wire bottom so air can keep that area cool. Basically, cool-bottomed hens will not lay. So by flooring the nest boxes with mesh, I was basically saying “not here.” Whoops.

Because as soon as I started to wonder if that might be the problem and borrowed one of the linoleum box liners from the stationary chicken coop…

Yippee!!! This morning all the eggs were in there again, so I take it that means the problem is solved!

* Notes about the happiness of the hens in the tractor:

  • The hens are much happier when I move the tractor twice a day instead of just once. By the end of one day there are poops in enough places that I wouldn’t want to have to walk around in there; and you can tell they love to be moved often because of how excited they get when the tractor does move. They cluck and run over to the fresh grass and immediately start pecking and searching for bugs.
  • In factories, hens only get 1 square foot of space if they’re lucky. Guidelines for more generous backyard chicken-keeping say to allow each hen a minimum of 2 square feet. Well, this tractor is 8×8, so I should be able to fit 32 chickens in there, right? No freaking way! There are just five now, and that is about right. If I were sure to be able to move it twice or three times a day, I might put in 8 or maybe even 10 if I had to for some reason… but I’d have to keep a sharp eye out for bad behavior due to overcrowding. Even with just 5 gals in there, I feel they are too cooped up for comfort. They’ll stay in there all summer in order to fertilize and mow my lawn, but I’m sure they’ll be happiest when they go back to their 1000 sf+ winter pen. (The tradeoff being of course that there is not nearly as much to forage in the woods area, and no grass to eat).
  • Everyone seems to be over their bout with the fowl pox! No more blemishes on their combs, and egg production is up, though still not where it was. I’m getting 3 per day from my 5 gals (better than 0!). I’d be happy with 4, but 5 every once in a while is at least to be expected. I’m not sure if the low production is because this is their second year (they’d be killed already if they were factory birds) or whether they’re still recovering.

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