I thought perhaps if I let them free range 100% that they might improve their laying, and they do, but then we run into the problems of them hiding their eggs! Ugh! So I started "baiting" nests around the barn and that helps improve our eggs laid to eggs found ratio.
What I have discovered is that they prefer LOTS of privacy, LOTS of hay, and lots of easter eggs filled with sand to tell them where to lay. Some of their favorite places to lay are:
- An old stock tank that has a bunch of old hay in it that is too moldy for the horses to eat.
- An old 55-gallon barrel full of old feed sacks, feathers, and other odds and ends. I've found more than a few clutches laid in that barrel.
- An old fruit crate that I stuffed full of old hay and baited, then moved into their chicken coop after removing all other nests.
- Random dust bathing holes. One hen will even go around the barn picking up the feathers that have been shed by the other birds and gather them up in these holes instead of plucking the feathers off her own body. After she has "feathered the nest" the other hens will follow suit and lay eggs in her nests too. These random nests are the most difficult to find because she will create them all over the barn. Once I find one, I try to mark it so I know where it is and so no one else in the family will bother it or disturb it.
One of the most challenging things about them hiding their eggs though, isn't the birds themselves but the other members of my family! Grrrr!! lol! I prefer to leave things alone and let the birds rule the barn, another person in the family likes to clean and organize, even though cleaning and organizing the barn really doesn't do much other than moving something from one spot to another and messing up the chickens laying cycles.
One last challenge to their laying, is if the roosters become a bit too "interested" in propagating their species. The hens will stop laying regularly if the roosters harass them too much.
So, all in all, would I have bought heritage breeds again? Yeah probably, but I would have bought more ISA Browns or some other sort of hybrid to balance out their weird laying habits.