Nine Reasons Hens Stop Laying Eggs

It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?

Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.

  1. Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
  2. Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
  3. Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
  4. Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
  5. Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
  6. Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
  7. Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
  8. Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
  9. Illnesses/parasites. The reasons above may likely be the cause but parasites or illness can also cause stress on a hen. We’ve got a whole section on our blog dedicated to diseases and disorders of chickens, so take a look here to learn more: http://scoopfromthecoop.nutrenaworld.com/category/diseases-and-disorders/

 

Pecking order and water care, what do they have in common?

In any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, ALPHA on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone in between. Basic flock psychology, is the flock is only as strong as the weakest member. We see this initially with baby chicks, if there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island”, so to speak.

They may do this as adults as well, there may be a bird that they sense needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. This may be a healthy, egg producing hen. One of the ways they do this is to not allow the hen in question to drink. In hot weather they expire pretty quickly. I get phone calls from customers every summer, after the birds were posted, in most cases they died of dehydration. Adding a few extra water stations can easily prevent this, by allowing more options for birds to drink from. This simple step can be the key to keeping the entire flock healthy.

 

The importance of water for your flock

Keep fresh clean water available at all times.

Keep fresh clean water available at all times.

Like all living things, chickens need water. It’s essential for digestion, egg production, and regulating body heat. On oppressively hot summer days hens, because they lack an ability to sweat, spread their wings and pant. Water evaporating from their mouths and throats cools bodies but must be replaced by frequent drinks. Chickens don’t drink as much in winter but they still need plenty of fresh water daily.

Owners have many ways to keep clean water constantly accessible to chickens. The simplest and least expensive waterer is an old fashioned bucket. Those made of heavy duty rubber never dent and are indestructible. The downside of buckets is their relatively small capacity, the ease birds have tipping them over, and a large water surface, which allows dirt and feces to enter.

Commercially built waterers work well. Most hold three to five gallons and have a relatively small surface area, tending to keep water clean, thus reducing evaporation and spillage. Because they hold more water than buckets they need to be refilled less often.

Hauling heavy buckets from a distant tap is a time consuming chore. Rain falling on the coop’s roof and channeled through the gutters into a rain barrel puts plenty of water right where it’s needed without pipes. Typical rain barrels hold around 50 gallons and fill during a light shower. Filling buckets from a spout at the bottom of a rain barrel is easier than hauling it a distance.

Fortunate chicken owners have a hose tap near their coop. They can use automatic waterers hooked to the hose. These systems refill by themselves. There’s no chance of running out and spillage is minimal.

Winter challenges all types of waterers, but there is a simple solution. Electrically heated chicken and pet waterers can be purchased. All are thermostatically controlled to keep ice from forming. The downside is that birds can easily tip over some electric water dishes. A simple cradle made of scrap prevents the problem. Even on the coldest days the heating unit keeps the water liquid and the birds happy.

The Importance of Grit for Chickens

There’s an advantage to not having teeth. Chickens never need to visit a dentist! But they have a dilemma.

Chickens happily dine on pieces of food as hard as a stone. Somehow it must be moistened and masticated before the digestive tract can extract nutrients. Mammals have teeth to get the job done. Birds use a different strategy. Small stones, called grit, are their surrogate teeth.

 

Scratch_Hens1

Chickens fortunate enough to have daily access to an outdoor run occasionally swallow pebbles that go down the throat and end up in the gizzard, a hollow circular organ about the size of a golf ball. Grit ends up in the gizzard’s interior. As food enters the gizzard, its’ powerful muscles contract, grinding the food into pieces between the stones. Those tiny
particles then can be digested as they move through the bird’s interior.

Grit gradually wears down in the gizzard, so birds need to occasionally swallow new stones. Chickens confined to a coop where they have no access to the ground are unable to locate natural grit and so, rely on their owners to supply it.

Bags of grit are usually sold in the feed aisle. Look for the NatureWise 7-pound bag. It will be enough for a small flock for several months. It is a combination of fine and medium particles of granite, so is edible by both small and larger breeds of chickens.

A handful can be tossed onto the litter once in a while, or it can be placed in a small bowl where birds can access it. Heavy pottery bowls sold as dog dishes work perfectly because they are not easily turned over. Chickens know when they need grit and will swallow a few stones every now and then. A bowl full will last for weeks.

Chickens that are only fed a commercial pellet probably don’t need grit, but almost every owner of a backyard flock tosses the birds an occasional handful of corn or table scraps. Grit is a chicken’s teeth and to ensure good digestion they need access to it.

A good rule of thumb with both grit and oyster shell is, “if in doubt, put it out.” It is very inexpensive and will assure your flock is able to fully digest the food and other tidbits they are eating.

What’s the best breed for your space?

Almost anyone with experience rearing small flocks of chickens in suburban backyards will recommend sticking to larger breeds that lay brown eggs. These breeds tend to be calm and gentle. Large breeds are  easy to care for and their tendency toward quietness is appreciated by nearby neighbors. 

It is important to consider your space when choosing breeds for your flock.

It is important to consider your space when choosing breeds for your flock.

Although brown eggs hold no nutritional edge over their white counterpart, most backyard flock owners prefer darker ones that are harder to find and more expensive at the grocery store.

However, smaller, lighter breeds can be ideal where houses are spaced further apart and noise isn’t an issue, but predators are. Folks living on farms or acreages often let their birds roam the yard and nearby fields without confinement. Unfortunately, big spaces are also a habitat preferred by coyotes, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and free ranging dogs.       

The traits that make the smaller white-egg chicken breeds less than desirable in town render them ideal on acreages.   Brown leghorns, anconas, minorcas, and a host of other white egg layers are amazingly quick, elusive, and vocal.   Many fly as well as a wild pheasant, making them hard to catch by both humans or predators.

Chickens have amazingly keen eyesight and should a flighty leghorn spot danger it will squawk loudly, putting all its flock mates into evasive action. If a fox tries to snatch a bird, it’s likely to fly to the horizon or the top of a nearby tree.  In a similar situation a heavier breed like a barred rock or Orpington would likely become fox food.

Raising fast light breeds on large acreages poses challenges not shared by confined larger breeds. Despite their agility and speed, expect predators to catch a bird now and then. 

Smaller breeds often are outstanding egg layers, but they like to hide their clutch in unlikely places outdoors. Not all the eggs will be in the coop’s nest, and egg hunting may be necessary. The white leghorn is the most prolific layer on record and chances are if you’ve ever bought white eggs from a grocery store, they came from this type of bird.

Dozens of light breed chicks can be purchased from hatcheries, and they sport a diversity of feather patterns and colors. Some are among the most beautiful of chickens. Although heavy brown-egg breeds are best for suburbia, lighter breeds have their place in spacious yards.

The Truth About Urban Chickens

Wondering if raising chickens in your backyard is right for you?  Find answers to some of the more common questions in this video featuring Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart.

Have more questions or comments?  Leave them here in the comments section!

Providing Water for Chickens

Water is essential for the health of your chickens. Ensuring a clean, fresh, consistent source of water, no matter what season, is one of the best ways you can care for your birds.

Watch this video for a quick lesson on the importance of water for your flock, from Nutrena Consultant Twain Lockhart:

Thank you for watching, and leave a comment or question below if you have one!

Winter Lighting for Chickens

Keeping your egg cartons full can be achieved in the winter through artificial lighting in your coop.

People and chickens operate on different schedules that sometimes conflict.

As days shorten and the temperature drops people turn on furnaces and electric lights and sleep about as many hours as they do in summer. Not chickens. Their daily schedule is set by daylight. Lacking artificial light they settle into a long night’s sleep as soon as dusk arrives and don’t wake until tomorrow’s dawn. In high latitudes they often sleep 15 or 16 hours a night.

For chickens, winter is a time for rest, not reproduction. Cold temperatures don’t reduce laying, but as fall advances, decreasing daylight causes egg production to dwindle. That can create a problem for their owner.

Long dark nights and winter holidays signal baking season. Cakes, cookies, casseroles, area among the popular winter foods that require lots of eggs at the time of year when hens are taking a break.

Even during December’s darkness a healthy flock of good layers rarely completely stops laying, but production is meager. Natural late December daylight at the latitude of Chicago, New York, or Seattle is around nine hours, but chickens need 14 or 15 hours of light for high egg production. There is an easy answer for owners.

A single light bulb simulating June’s day length will boost production. Often the same light fixture used to brood chicks serves well for winter lighting. Suspend it near the coop ceiling and screw in a nine to 12 watt compact fluorescent or LED bulb. Neither type uses much electricity but LED’s work better in cold weather. The lamp should be controlled by a timer set to come on in early morning darkness and switch off after dawn. Nine hours of natural daylight augmented by several predawn hours of artificial light will keep hens laying during the winter baking season.

Chicken owners sometimes debate the ethics of tricking chickens into artificial production. There is no simple answer, and it is a matter of personal choice for the flock owner. Some prefer to let nature take its course and just plan to collect fewer eggs during the dark months. Others don’t mind tricking January hens into thinking it is May.