Q: One of our chickens is not laying in the nest box. Is this common and what should I do?
A: Don't worry. "Floor eggs" are relatively common, and nothing to be too concerned about.
Having your hens laying eggs on the floor rather than in the nest is more of an annoyance than anything. After all, you don't want to accidentally step on a floor egg! Plus, you want to be able to easily find all the eggs laid so you can gather them freshly. Plus, having your eggs in a dark nest out of the way means your hens will also be less likely to break one accidentally. Eggs in the nest are just preferable.
So what is causing the floor eggs and how can you fix the problem? Well, there are a few possible causes.
When young, new hens first begin laying it can sometimes take them a while to figure out where to lay. The first time my favorite hen laid an egg, she was cranky and restless all day, and walked around complaining loudly and arguing with the other girls. She couldn't seem to get comfortable anywhere, and didn't understand what her instincts were telling her. Finally, she simply dropped her first egg into a mud puddle where she was standing. Kerplop! Boy, she was put out by that annoyance, poor dear! After a week or two of being very mad every time she had to lay, she finally figured out what her instincts were telling her and how to use the nest boxes.
Some hens resist learning to lay in nest boxes, simply because they may prefer to lay in a different spot that is appealing for some reason we can't figure out. Birds are creatures of habit, so if this is the case, you will have to make your nest box very enticing. Golf balls or wooden eggs in your nests can help your birds identify the nest as a safe, attractive place to lay. If you don't have any golf balls (or if your hens can tell the difference--some can!), we sell wooden nest eggs. So, to encourage nest use, make sure your nests are in a quiet spot in your coop, and that they're lower down than your roosts (or else your hens may be tempted to sleep there). Hens typically prefer dark, quiet, out-of-the way places to lay, and if they see other eggs in the nest, they will be even more encouraged to lay there.
Last, sometimes a hen that has been laying contentedly in a nest box for a while will suddenly decide to lay her eggs elsewhere, sometimes in a "hidden nest" outside in the yard or run. This can sometimes make you think that your hen has stopped laying, but the truth is that she might just be laying elsewhere in a new, preferred spot. If that is the case, keeping your hens closed into the coop for a few days to get them used to laying inside again can be the answer. You don't usually want them laying eggs outside in a spot that you may not be able to easily access or that can attract predators of eggs, like snakes. On the other hand, if where your hen is laying is a safe easy spot, it may be fine with you. One of our hens reliably laid her eggs in the barn in a one of the mangers for a while. We just picked them up there. When the winter came, she decided that the trudge to the manger just wasn't worth it, and began laying inside on her own, again.