Well, since that scary cat attacked my chickens, their behaviour has continued further down the same path. Not only do they avoid foraging in the bottom of the garden, they don’t seem keen on laying down there either.
For a few days Bronwyn and Isabel stopped laying altogether. I attributed this to moulting – it is that season and I’ve seen a few feathers about the place. But I could have been wrong. At the same time as they stopped laying, they developed a fascination for the box where we store the paper we put under their roost at night. It sits under the house and is well and truly in the safe-zone. All 3 girls started checking it out, mainly in the morning. While climbing in and around it, Bronwyn and Isabel kept making whining noises that I’ve learned to interpret as, “I’ve gotta lay, I’ve gotta lay NOW”.
Then Bronwyn spent about 1/2 hour in it one day while I was under the house. When she left the box, I was sure she’d laid an egg in there. I peeped in to see I was wrong. She hadn’t left an egg and, in fact, didn’t lay at all that day.
The next day Bronwyn laid a huge egg in her normal nest box and I thought everything was going back to normal.
Then this …
And this …
Bronwyn’s egg sat there all alone and Rosie laid back in their normal nest box. Isabel didn’t lay at all.
Then, the next day…
Clearly where Bronwyn, the head chook, goes, the other girls follow. (Frank put that straw in the box when Isabel kept hopping in and turning around and scratching at the paper. He thought she might be more relaxed if it had the straw she’s used to sitting on in her nest box. He’s a total softie when it comes to the girls. Ain’t it cute?)
All else being equal, I’d probably try to stop the girls laying here by putting something in the box. I might even consider locking Bronwyn (and Isabel & Rosie?) in the coop to reinforce proper laying. But I think the girls, Bronwyn in particular, were truly terrified by that cat and they are now uncomfortable in their coop which is in the danger zone. Perhaps they stopped laying because they didn’t feel secure where they had to lay – scary cat territory. So, as long as they lay in this one box, what do I care? I just want them to feel safe, be happy and stay healthy. Holding an egg because you’re too scared to lay has got to be a recipe for disaster.
Now my chickens have 2 nest boxes: one in their coop and one under my house. That works for me if it works for them.