The biggest reason most people choose to keep backyard chickens is to enjoy a bountiful and regular supply of fresh, nutritious eggs. But what if your hens stop laying? Understanding why this happens and how to encourage them to lay eggs again is quite important…
Reasons why My Chickens are not Laying Eggs
Ideally, your hens will each lay an egg every 24-26 hours. If they stop laying, you need to identify the reason why and address it if possible. Foremost, make sure your girls aren’t nesting and laying outside the coop, or otherwise hiding their eggs!
Naturally, chickens will stop laying for some time. There are several reasons why hens stop laying. Issues may include:
1. Poor Light Exposure –
Hens need at least 16 hours of daylight to sustain optimal egg production. During winter, there are far fewer hours of daylight and this can impact the hens’ hormone levels. As a result, your chickens may stop producing eggs.
2. Stress –
This can be in the form of loud noises, new additions to the flock, aggressive other hens, overcrowding, predators, illness, and being too hot or too cold. Summer weather conditions can be very stressful for chickens, due to heat and humidity.
3. Inadequate nutrition –
Giving too many treats and scraps can dilute the nutrition your hens receive in their diet, and this, in turn, impacts egg production. Laying hens need plenty of calcium and they need a complete layer feed. No more than 10% of the total diet should be treats or scraps. Overweight chickens do not lay well – if at all.
4. Age –
Egg production begins when your young hens are around 18-20 weeks old. The average bird will live for around eight years. During her first year of life, a hen’s egg production capacity peaks at five to six eggs per week for most breeds. This will then decline each year for the rest of her life. Older hens may retire from laying altogether.
5. Molting –
From around 18 months of age, chickens molt once per year. This means they lose old feathers and regrow new ones. This will usually happen in Autumn; egg production diminishes as your birds navigate this natural process. This is because the bird’s energy is diverted to growing new feathers.
Molting takes between two and four months. During this time, your chickens will look haggard, bedraggled, flustered, and weary. Once the new feathers have all erupted, egg production should return to its previous rate. Some chickens continue to lay despite molting.
6/ Brooding –
Broodiness means your hen feels compelled to be a mother to her own little chicks. Much as we love them, chickens are not the smartest members of the animal kingdom, and even without access to a rooster, they can become confused and even convince themselves that their eggs are fertilized. They will lay a clutch of eggs and sit on them religiously until they hatch. This is never going to happen if the eggs are not fertilized! If broodiness happens, it can affect hens for between five and ten weeks, and during this time they will not lay.
Other things which can compromise laying ability include illness, parasitic or mite infestation, and general discomfort.
How Can I Encourage my Chickens to Lay Eggs
- Let your chickens out of the coop early in the morning to enable them to get as much sunshine as possible.
- Provide supplemental light in the coop during winter to maintain laying behavior. Use a timer on lights in the coop to maintain a consistent sleeping schedule for your chickens.
Note that some chicken owners prefer to give their hens a break from laying over winter; if you elect to do this, don’t provide them with extra sources of artificial light.
- Protect your coop and run from predators.
- Provide plenty of space (at least one square meter in the coop and double that outside for each bird).
- Maintain dry and fresh nesting box bedding, with no more than four hens per nesting box.
- Keep an eye on the flock’s pecking order and separate any bullies from their victims.
- Maintain a comfortable temperature in the coop but not excessively different from that outside.
- Switch your hens to a high protein food product during the molt. Provide plenty of protein (chicken feed), calcium (eggshell grit or oyster shell) and treats like berries, organic yogurt, and scrambled eggs in moderation. Transition them back to layer feed which is high in calcium after laying resumes.
- Broody chickens will:
- Scatter their breast feathers in the nesting box
- Become aggressive if you try to collect her eggs
- Leave the nest only to eat and go to the toilet
It’s important to break this behavior so you not only get eggs again but so your hen doesn’t get sick. Collect eggs at least twice per day. A hen that’s already brooding can be moved to a wire cage in a well-lit area for up to a week.
Some breeds are simply not prolific layers – for example, the Ameraucana and Silkie only lay two eggs per week on average.
A hen’s value continues long after her peak laying capacity has passed. Even retired hens are wonderful flock members – they provide fantastic companionship for you and their flock mates, and frequently become leaders, raising younger hens.