Monday, March 16, 2009

Why hens stop laying

One question that we are frequently asked at Farmers' Markets by small-scale chicken owners is "Why have my hens stopped laying?"
The most common causes of decreased egg production include: lack of enough daylight, improper nutrition, disease, increasing age and stress.
Decreasing day light
Hens need around 14 hours of daylight to sustain top egg production. During winter, once daylight drops below 12 hours, production can decrease and may stop altogether – depending on location. To prevent this, some farms install lights in sheds to maintain light for 12 - 14 hours a day and trick the birds into thinking its still daytime (so they keep eating). That's not a farming practice that we think is appropriate.
Improper nutrition
Laying hens require a completely balanced ration to sustain maximum egg production. Improper nutrition can easily affect the lay rate.
This is why it's so important to give laying hens a constant supply of nutritionally balanced food containing 17% - 19% protein with good levels of energy and calcium. Avoid feeding many scraps as these can create a dietary imbalance - they dilute the essential ingredients if they form a significant part of the hens' diet.
An unbalanced diet can cause problems like prolapse. Prolapse is caused when the bird is too fat or an egg is too large and the bird's reproductive tract is expelled with the egg. Prolapse is often fatal.
Having oyster shell or another source of calcium always available is also a good idea to ensure strong egg shells. It can either be mixed in with the feed or made available to the hens in separate feeders.
A common problem is not ensuring there is a constant source of fresh water. Provide adequate watering points so the birds always have fresh water and make sure it's cool on hot days.
Disease
Disease problems can occur under the best of conditions and there are many diseases which affect laying birds. Only buy hens which are fully vaccinated against the common diseases likely in your area. Things like Egg Drop Syndrome and Infectious Bronchitis can hit your flock hard. Often one of the first signs of disease is a drop in egg production. Other symptoms of disease include dull and listless appearance, watery eyes and nostrils, coughing, molting, lameness and mortality in the flock. If you suspect a disease, contact a vet for help and get an accurate diagnosis before starting treatment.
Old Hens
Most hens lay efficiently for two laying cycles. However, after two or three years, there is likely to be a decline in productivity. This varies greatly from bird to bird. Once they start, good layers will keep laying for about 60 weeks in their first cycle and then perhaps 50 weeks in the second cycle. Between those cycles they will moult for a few weeks. As they get older the hens will moult more often and the shell quality will suffer – resulting in more breakages and wrinkled shells.
Stress
The birds don't like any change, so stresses caused by things like being moved, handled roughly, changes in environmental conditions or fright can contribute to a decline in egg production. Common stresses include:
Getting too hot, or too cold. Chickens can't handle high temperatures (over 40 degrees centigrade) or damp, cold and drafty conditions.
Handling or moving. Once the laying flock is in place, limit any unnecessary moving or handling. Introducing new birds may disrupt the pecking order and cause some temporary social stress in your flock as well as possibly introducing disease.
Parasites. Make sure you have adequate controls in place for external or internal parasites there are natural things you can use if you don't want to use chemicals.
Fright.
Limit the movement of children, strange dogs, livestock and vehicles around your flock as well as loud noises which can frighten the hens.
Predators such as foxes and eagles stress the birds and create a decrease in production.
Other factors which may cause a drop in your egg numbers are:
Predators and snakes consuming the eggs.
Egg-eating by hens in the flock.
Insufficient nest boxes can cause excessive egg breakage.
Hens hiding the eggs.

There's heaps more info in my ebook which can be found at http://www.freeranger.com.au/products.html

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info. It seems to be what I needed to help with my chicks!!

Gardening Jones said...

Thanks for this! I couldn't figure out why my hens stopped laying when we moved them to a larger coop- guess that was the answer. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

i introduced 2 new hens to a flock of 3 hens, since introducing the newer girls im only getting 2 eggs which i believe is the newer hens, how can i get the older ones to lay again?

a new egg box?-as their share

seperate coops?

pls help?

freeranger said...

How old the older hens? They may just be going through a moult and will come back into lay in their own time. If there is no aggression between the new hens and the old ones, you should be OK but if tey are aggressive you may need to separate them for a while at least and provide separate nest boxes etc.

Anonymous said...

I have a RIR that layed like clockwork for about a year and a half but recently quit laying. She quit about the same time we got a new hen. Now she is starting to imitate a rooster and attempts to crow in the mornings. I have heard that some hens do this. Is there a way to make her start laying again?

freeranger said...

Hen behaviour can be a little strange when you introduce new hens. She should get back to laying after a month or so.

Anonymous said...

How long do they stop for when moulting? From 6 chooks I've only had a total of 8 eggs in over 2.5 weeks.

freeranger said...

Could be up to three months. The time at which a laying hen ceases production and goes into moult is a reliable guide about whether or not the hen is a good egg producer. Poor producing hens moult early (November-December), and take a long time to complete the process and resume laying i.e. they 'hang' in the moult and are out of production for six to seven months. Poor producers seldom cast more than a few feathers at a time and rarely show bare patches.

High-producing hens moult late and for a short period (no more than 12 weeks), and come back into production very quickly.

ks said...

hi i brought three chickens about two weeks ago, breeder said one of them wasn't laying yet anyway because he had only had her for a short time so i think her being moved around cause some stress for her. I feel sorry for her because from what I can see she is at the bottom of the pecking order. I got two eggs on the first day from having them. and then two everyday for a 1 week but on the 2nd week I only got 1 egg per day and now I'm getting none! I don't mind having no eggs the point is I'm more worried about the health of my hens because I brought them as pets so getting eggs is just a bonus really. is not laying eggs a sign of illness? I've also noticed one of them is coughing now and again they all look healthy though. I was thinking it could be all the rain were having so its not been very sunny. also i have two yorkshire terrier dogs although their chicken coop has netting around it so the dogs can't annoy them. any help would be great thank you

freeranger said...

Did you buy young birds, or older hens? The amount of eggs they lay will depend to some extent on their age (as well as other factors such as weather, fright, predators etc).
The fact that you have a Yorkshire terrier could be a problem - they love to annoy things and chooks don't like to be annoyed.
Any flock of hens, however small will have a pecking order, so there's not much can do about that except employ a rooster to take control and tell the hens whose in charge!

Anonymous said...

My four twenty-one week old pullets started laying three eggs a day. A few days later I accidentally stepped on the head of one as she came through the riser of our porch steps. Three days later we got a fourth egg. The egg never had the nice brown satin finish the other ones have typically. Then the eggs got lighter and lighter, then we found a soft egg, and now no fourth egg. Did I damage the chicken by stepping on her? She seems fine.

freeranger said...

The pullet wouldn't have liked her head being stepped on, but if she seems fine, I doubt it would have any affect on her egg laying. Are you sure she hasnt found somewhere else to lay? With four young hens you should get 3 - 4 eggs every day.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I introduced a rooster and two hens to two existing hens. all was fine for 2weeks but now both the original girls have stopped laying! seems odd for both of them to stop at the same time. no sign of illness or molting. any ideas? thanks in advance

A.Nichole - Houston, Tx said...

Thank you for all the useful information!
I am new to backyard chickens.
I got 5 chicks at 3 weeks of age (they are now almost 3 months- it was a fun experience raising them) I also got 2 that were almost laying (now been laying for about a month). The two that are older have given an egg a day each since they started production without missing a day.
However, the last two days one of the two has not been laying. I know it is the same chicken bc her eggs are a couple shades darker than the other's eggs.

The only changes in their lives:
1- I released the younger chicks from a large dog cage within the coop to full range of the coop with the older two ( egg production of the older two did not change- this was about a week ago)
2- my dog was out of town and without her protection, something (I'm guessing racoon) got in the coop and ate one younger chicks (of course it had to be my favorite baby) and left a second dead. This was about 3 days ago.

Do you think this predetor scared the eggs out of one of my girls? If so, how long before she gets going again?

freeranger said...

The two older hens wouldn't have liked two new hens being brought in, but the rooster should have been able to keep things in order! Hw old are the original hens, because it may be just time for them to stop laying for a while? They should start again reasonaby soon unless they go into a moult in which case it could be a month or so.
Hi A Nicole,

Yes A predator attack will frighten surving hens badly enough to stop them laying.
A couple of years ago a Tasmanian Devil escaped from a local wildlife park and killed about 60 of our hens over two nights. Egg production in that flock was cut by about 50% for over a month.

Anonymous said...

Hi I have 3 ex-battery hens and have had them for just over a year so they are about 2 half years old. Over this winter they never really went into a molt and there egg production never really droped and it stayed at a pretty constant 2/3eggs a day. But resently i have been getting 2/3 a week and any I do get are most often soft. I put this down to them obviously needing grit so have installed a grit pot however the chickens don't seem be fussed by it and haven't eaten any. I know we do get foxes however as of resent there has not been any in our garden and our next-door neighbours cat seems to have lost all intrest in the chooks leading to them lossing intrest in it. They also have had a lot more sunlight on average 13 to 14 hours a day! I was just wondering if you could shed any light on the situation?
Thanks a lot
Sam :)

freeranger said...

I assume you are in the northern hemisphere, as here in southern Australia, winter has hit with a vengeance and our egg production has dropped significantly. It may be a good idea to add shell grit to their feed rather than offer it separately. We usually mix it in with their feed and you can also ad lime to their water to help improve shell strength.
At two and a half years old they will be starting to reduce their egg production but it's quite possible that they will continue to lay reasonably well for another year or two.

Anonymous said...

Hi I bought 4 baby chickens and they all laid about 4 eggs each. Got them in April and now it's oct and they haven't laid not one egg for about 2 weeks now. Nothing has changed they still live in a very large kennel with laying boxes and run around the yard for at least an hour a day. I never leave them alone so I know they are not laying them outside there house. Can you please tell me what I can do to get them to lay again or do you think they just are not good laying hens? Help please we want those nice brown eggs back!!!!

freeranger said...

Hi Anonymous,
What breed of chooks and where are you - what is the season? If they are healthy young birds and you are feeding them with a balanced diet they should be giving you an egg a day (or at least 3 eggs a day from 4 hens). They would prefer to be free rangeing rather than only allowed out for an hour a day.

Anonymous said...

Hello and thanks for responding. They r red sex links. And I live in north west Indiana. We are just now coming into fall. Today was one of the chilly days we have had since summer. We have had 90 to 70 degree till today 54 degree. When I say they r in a kennel I mean they are in a dog run. With a concrete floor and a large breeder box one for each. I do understand that they should be out more but with us working during the day and live around large amount of woods I don't trust the wild life to not harm them while we r away. I have had some in the past in the same kennel and had no
problems. I got these ones local the other ones we got in Missouri. But they were the same breed. Do u think
it's because they are not getting out enough? Because
we did the same with the other ones we had a few
years ago and they never skipped laying an egg even
through out the winter. My husband wants to get rid of
them if they don't lay because the whole reason was for
the eggs. We feed them layna crumble and today I just
bought the layna pellets thinking that they would get
more out of the pellets then the crumble what do you
think about that as well and should I be giving them
something else as well? Thank u so much for your help
I greatly appreciate it. Thanks again Nikki

freeranger said...

Hi Nikki,

It's probably the cooler weather, and less daylight that's caused them them stop laying. They should start again after a few weeks.

We prefer to use a grains-based diet rather than crumbles or pellets and it would be good to give them some green feed too.

Anonymous said...
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dawn said...

I as just wondering I have had my girls for 3 and a half years and they have stop laying for the most part, This is my first flock. Wondering what do I d with the chickens now they have stop laying, In the spring I'm wanting to get a new group; Some please help a first timer... Thank you

freeranger said...

Hi Dawn, They could lay for a bit longer. Three and half years is not particularly old for a hen. But if you want to replace them with younger birds, one option is to eat them.

They will be too tough for roasting but fine for stews, curries etc.

Anonymous said...

Hey there!
I have an Lavendar Aracana that is part of a mixed flock of 10 chickens that has stopped laying. She is less than a year old and at the beginning of the year (4 months ago)she started laying the most wonderful green eggs! Within 6 weeks of laying she went broody with another chook, an Indian game bantam and hasnt laid since. Both chooks were put into another pen to break their broodiness, the bantam went into moult a short time later but is back laying. The Aracana seems fine. She dooes everything with the other chooks, appears healthy and happy - she simply doesnt lay any eggs. Since her eggs are so distinctive, Im positive she hasnt laid an egg since early Feburary. She gets the same feed as the other chooks, table scraps once a week from my hotel and a run in the paddock every afternoon for about 3 hours. At the moment, she is the only one with out an excuse for not laying! (I have other moutling or too young as well) Do you have any ideas for me?
Thanks a lot! - Kara

freeranger said...

Hi Kara,
I have no idea why your Araucana has not come back in to lay. It is common for them to go broody but normally they start laying again.
Sorry I can't help.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Two weeks ago I put two flocks of 27 birds each together for a total of 52 hens and 2 roosters. The egg production has gradually lessened until today I only got 8 eggs. They are free range only in the afternoon. Weather was a little chilly, but they have a nice big coop. Is this normal and will egg production pick up soon? Thanks for any help!

freeranger said...

Mixing two flocks together often causes problems as the hens have to sort out a new 'pecking order'. It can be stressful for them and any stress can result in a drop in egg production.
The cool weather may also have an impact.
Production should return to normal within a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

So, despite the fact that it has already been 2 weeks, I'm looking at more like a month? This is my first time raising chickens on my own so I am kind of lost. SO glad I found your site! It contains the most useful information I have found so far. Thanks!