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Summer is hot, the days are long and you get used to having lots of eggs. Your hens then stop laying eggs. Michele Cook examines the many reasons why your hens may (temporarily) stop laying eggs.
By Michele Cook –Why did my hens stop laying? Ugh!
This is a common complaint from chicken farmers around the world. The truth is that sometimes healthy hens stop laying eggs. In some cases there are things you can do to help your ladies resume egg production, in others not so much. If your hens have gone from heroes to zero in the egg-laying department, read on for some possible reasons why your hens have stopped laying eggs and what you can do about it.
Period of the year
Bears hibernate, hens sometimes stop laying eggs. The most common reason chickens stop laying eggs is simply the time of year. During the winter, many hens slow down or stop laying altogether. Your hen’s egg production depends in part on nature’s light cycles. This means that when the short days of winter arrive, your hen’s body says it’s time for a break.
If your hens stopped laying around December, that’s probably the culprit. The good news is that they will probably start laying eggs again in the spring. On a warm spring day, you’ll come out to find a nest full of eggs, and you’ll try again to push the eggs back onto your neighbors.
If you can’t wait for spring, a timed co-op light will trick your girls into thinking it’s spring and bring them back to their egg hero status. Hang the light in an upper corner of your coop and set the timer to stretch daylight for about 12 hours. If you have a large chicken coop, you may need more than one light for this method to be effective.
Are your birds looking a bit raggedy? Like maybe they stayed out a little too late last night with Jose Cuervo? Chances are they will molt. Moulting is the process by which chickens shed their old feathers and replace them with new ones, and they can look downright awful during this process. Many hens also stop laying during this time. Your hens’ body will transfer the use of calcium and nutrients from the laying process to the feather production process. Moulting usually occurs in spring or fall, but can occur at any time of the year.
The good news is that the process only takes a month or two. The even better news is that there are a few things you can do to help your hens through this period and get them back to egg production. Here is a quick list of things you can do to help your hens during the moulting season.
- Use a high protein food, at least 16%, you might even see it labeled as a “feather fixer”
- Keep your coop free of chicken feathers. This will prevent other chickens from thinking they are toys when the feathers grow back.
- Give protein-rich snacks.
- Provide shade for your chickens if they moult during the hot months to prevent sunburn.
- Provide a good, warm, draft-free coop if they begin to moult during the winter
Your hens may look awful and stop laying during this phase, but they will start laying again with a little patience and some protein-rich snacks.
Age of your chickens
It’s one of those we can’t control. As chickens age, their egg production decreases and eventually stops. For some breeds that could be as young as two years old, while others can lay until their fourth year. Most breeds will start to slow down by age four and stop laying eggs altogether by age five.
That might not seem like a long time, but when you consider the number of eggs a hen can have laid by the age of four, that’s a lot. A good egg-laying breed can lay 800 eggs or more by the time it stops laying at four years of age. That’s a lot of omelets! If your ladies are a bit more mature, that’s probably the reason for the lack of egg production.
Many backyard chicken owners choose to thank their former biddies by letting them live out the rest of their lives in their coop. If you prefer to process your chickens, check out this article.
Stressed hens do not lay eggs. It really is that simple. You don’t do your best when you’re stressed and neither do your chickens. So what stresses a chicken? Predators, new co-op mates, and aggressive roosters top the list. Overcrowding can also add stress to your hens.
If you notice a sudden drop in egg production, ask yourself what has changed recently. Did you add any new birds? Has a young rooster suddenly started smelling his oats? If the answer to both of these questions is “no”, walk around your coop and look for signs of predators. Check for sunken chicken wire, nicks or scratches around the coop. All of these may be a sign that you have a hungry creature trying to get a chicken dinner.
Once you understand what is stressing your chickens, you can fix the problem. If there is an aggressive rooster, you can pen it separately or with just one or two tough hens. If you’ve recently introduced new co-op mates, you may need to take a step back and give them separate tracks next to each other so they can see each other, but don’t have to sleep in the same bed . Nobody likes sleeping with strangers.
If you have a predator problem, you may need to set a trap or wait to eliminate the offender. Both of these options require knowledge of local laws. If you live in a neighborhood, shooting a rifle is a bad idea and probably illegal. If you are using a live trap to trap an animal, it may be illegal to move it. Check with your local wildlife office for the best advice for your area.
If you’ve checked everything else on this list and your otherwise healthy hens aren’t laying eggs, it’s time to watch what they’re eating. Chickens are omnivores and thrive on a balanced diet. What does a balanced diet look like for a chicken? Well, it’s similar to ours because humans are omnivores too. Chickens need lots of vitamins and protein and should avoid sugary snacks and grains. Sound familiar?
Most quality laying hen feeds will provide something close to a balanced diet, but for good egg production you may need to add extra calcium and protein. A good source of calcium can be oyster shells or crushed eggshells. Bagged oyster shells are available at most farm shops, sorry beach lovers, and the eggshells can be crushed and left to dry for a few days before taking them out for the chickens. To supplement protein, you can give mealworms or scrambled eggs. Chickens love them both despite the cannibalistic quality of chickens that eat scrambled eggs. It might scare you, but they really don’t care.
Another thing chickens need is gravel. You can buy it commercially or provide your chickens with coarse sand with small pebbles. Chickens accumulate sand in their gizzards, which helps them digest food well. You can offer it alone in a separate feeding container or mix it with their daily pellets.
The egg thief
What if your hens kept laying eggs? What if there’s a sneaky little broody hen that hides those eggs under her wings and takes them to her secret corner? It happens. Some broody hens think they need to hatch twenty babies instead of just one tiny egg and since they can’t produce eggs fast enough, they turn to a life of crime.
This is more common in small flocks of free-ranging birds. The free part of the equation means they can find plenty of places to hide their eggs and the small number of hens means they have to steal all the eggs they can to get a number worth scavenging. Sit.
If you notice one of your loose daughters hanging around the nest box more than usual, she’s not here for fun, she’s busting the joint. She waits for the other hens to lay so she can dive in and steal the egg. If you suspect an egg thief in your flock, you’ll need a little patience and some good detective skills. Keep an eye on your hens and if you see one wandering away from the flock, follow it with caution. She will lead you to her egg loot and you can collect your lost eggs.
zero to hero
Sometimes the hens take a break from laying eggs. Most of the time it is for a natural reason like the time of year or the moulting season. Other times you may need to adjust the management or nutrition of your hens. Either way, if you notice a sudden drop in egg production, assess your flock and see what you can do to get your daughters laying again. It could mean a new meal plan is in order or it could mean breaking some tiny handcuffs for your resident egg thief.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author and communications specialist for the National Federation of Women in the Press. She raises chickens, goats and vegetables on her small farm in Virginia’s beautiful Allegheny Mountains. If she’s not outside tending to her farm, you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book. follow her on her website.