People keep chickens for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the biggest, is for the desire to have fresh eggs every day. Every 25-28 hours, a hen will lay an egg. However, there can come times when, you go to collect them, find none there.
Many may find this frustrating, and I know a fair few people who have culled the bird as a consequence. But there are many reasons why a hen may suddenly have stopped laying, and we should not be too quick to think she has suddenly come to the end of her laying life.
Reasons why your hens will stop laying eggs
Failure to collect eggs
In my experience, one of the biggest reasons why a hen has stopped laying, is laziness on our part and then blaming it on the birds. Collecting eggs every day, and then missing a day or two, will switch the hen into brood mode, where she will try and incubate those eggs which you have not collected.
This is a common problem when you go on holiday, and the people who you tasked to look after your birds, are not always as enthusiastic about collecting the eggs as you are. Fortunately, starting to collect them again will restart the laying process, although it may take a day or two for her to return back to the normal cycle.
A physiological process that can interrupt laying is molting. The process of molting requires a lot of energy and resources from the bird. These it will divert to new feather production, rather than egg-laying. It is also a stressful time for hen.
As she approaches a molt, egg-laying tapers off, stops, and then recommences again. The time between the molting cycle starting, egg-laying tapering off, ceasing and then commencing again, can be several weeks.
Stress can play a big role in egg production decline. Stress can come in many forms. Moving furnishings around, changing nesting material, introducing new birds, harassment from other birds, harassment from a cat/dog/predator, over-enthusiastic interaction from children, a change in diet, illness, or even a sudden drop in temperature can all result in a decline in production.
Try and identify the stressor, and rectify the problem. Often it can be a simple thing.
Too much junk food
Sudden changes in diet can cause reduced egg production. It is important to feed hens the right balance in energy, protein, and calcium, and this is where a good layers mash/pellet with 16%-18% protein is important.
As a commercial diet is balanced in its nutritional make up, one of the problems you can cause, is to unbalance this. And this is done by feeding “junk food”. If you begin to supplement scratch or kitchen scraps (particularly processed foods such as bread, crisps, cake, and the like), this can be counterproductive and will slowdown egg production by disrupting the nutritional balance of a commercial layers mash.
Chickens are a bit like us when it comes to feeding, they like the tasty things and will leave out the rest. This can lead to an unhealthy diet.
Because I live in an area where most households have chickens running around their plot, most feed only food scraps. In this environment, they seldom experience egg-laying difficulties, because the birds are forever scratching about in the ground for something to eat, and this will naturally balance out nutritional deficiencies.
Not enough food to go around will spark a decline in egg production, as it can lead to deficiencies in vitamins/minerals/ protein, and calcium. Squabbling over the spoils is very stressful, and a bird that does not roost at night with a full crop is not content.
It is during the evening when needs for nutrients for egg production are at their highest. Make sure there are enough feeders to go around and scatter food over the floor. That way, if a hen cannot get to a feeder, it can forage for food.
A hen requires a lot of calcium. Each eggshell contains around 2 grams of calcium, which is approximately 40% of its composition. The skeleton acts as a reserve to supply the needs for egg production. If insufficient calcium reserves are not available, one of two things will happen. The eggs will have a very thin shell or, the hen will stop laying.
To put calcium requirements in perspective. If a hen lays 200 eggs a year, she will need nearly a pound of calcium. Fortunately, a good layers mash will have sufficient calcium to serve the needs of egg production. But it can sometimes be advantageous to supplement calcium intake.
90% of an egg is made up of water. During periods of hot weather, it is possible for a hen to reduce egg production through dehydration. It is important, therefore, to ensure adequate, cool, fresh water and plenty of shade be always made available during periods of excessively warm weather.
A big factor in the decline in eggs is age. It is wrong to assume that from the time she reaches maturity to the time she dies, a hen will be pumping out eggs. With age comes a gradual decline in production. The first year or two will be the most bountiful. After that, it will slowly taper off.
As a hen can live for 8-10 years, even though the slowing down phase, she should still have a healthy production during the mid-phase, but it may have dropped to around 10%. Do not be over-enthusiastic to cull her, as she can still be a valuable member of the flock by providing ‘guidance’ to other birds.
This is a very common ailment in all birds and other egg-laying animals. Basically, the egg becomes stuck in the reproductive tract. There are many reasons for egg binding, and it is not the subject of this article, but it must be dealt with promptly, as it is a serious medical condition that can lead to infections, tissue damage, or death.
Symptoms of egg binding include; swelling around the cloaca (due to straining), visibly straining with no eggs being passed, fluffed up feathers, general lethargy, may wince in pain, becoming more vocal, and go off its food. The best course of action is to seek the advice of a veterinary surgeon.
A healthy hen is a happy hen, but any external parasites such as fowl mite, lice, ticks, fleas, etc., can severely stress a hen. As can internal parasites, such as roundworm and tapeworm.
If external pests are seen or worms seen in feces, treat the bird accordingly with a proprietary based medication. And do not ignore the coop, it should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Hot and cold
The transition from summer to winter and winter to summer can greatly influence a hen’s desire to lay. They suffer from the cold and shorter days as much we do. Ensure the coop is warm, has plenty of warm nesting boxes, and increase the daylight hours by the introduction of artificial lighting.
As I have mentioned in dehydration, some individuals just cannot cope with excessively hot temperatures. So, ensure there is adequate ventilation in the coop, plenty of water, and ample shade during the summer months.
Introducing new birds into the flock will undoubtedly upset the pecking order and disrupt laying. As individuals go through the role of re-establishing order again, and where they are in that order, they may briefly go off laying. In addition, an over assertive alpha hen who continually bullies an individual will also impact on that individuals laying routine.
Dirty nest boxes
If nest boxes are not regularly cleaned, hens will not use them. They may seek out unsuitable areas to lay, lay randomly, or stop laying altogether. Always make sure nesting material is clean and fresh. Dirty nest boxes are a breeding ground for all manner of mites, ticks, and other health-provoking issues.
There is always the temptation to ‘add one or two’ more birds to a flock, because there looks to be enough space. Ideally, a hen should have 30sq feet of space each, to ensure they have enough ‘personal’ space to feel happy.
In addition, there should be enough perches for the birds to get away from one another if necessary. Particularly if bullying is prevalent. If space is at a premium, do not add extra birds. And is bullying is witnessed, either increase the size of the coop or, decrease the flock size.
A careful eye needs to be kept of the flock if you have recently introduced a cockerel. This can be extremely stressful, particularly if the flock is small, and he is a bit over-enthusiastic, as he may harass certain individuals over others.
There are many reasons why a hen stops laying, and this article is by no means exhaustive, as a book could be written on the subject of why. It is important to remember, while it is easy to point the finger at the bird, in many cases, the problem can be of our making.
The more we interact with our birds, the more we understand an individual’s routines and habits, and changes are easy to spot. Fortunately, many problems related to egg-laying problems are easy rectified.
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