Ah…the age-old philosophical question: “What came first? The chicken or the egg?” Yet, it turns into a quandary when we ask “If the chicken came first, what would happen if she had trouble laying eggs? Or where would we be if the egg came first, yet that egg never existed due to a delivery issue?” Such existential conundrums can keep one up at night covered in a cold sweat.
Fortunately, we have chickens and…well, no eggs! What happened? There are many reasons why your chickens stopped laying such as the amount of daylight they receive through to stress. Here we are going to look at the factors that affect your chickens with their egg production and how you can overcome them.
So, if you have recently gone out to collect your morning take of eggs only to find that your lovely brood has withheld the white jewels from you, don’t worry by the end of this post you’ll know how to get those eggs popping out again.
Why your chickens stop laying eggs
As a breeder, if chickens you are going to come across a time when, for some reason, a chicken or more will stop laying eggs. The detective work lies in what caused the situation and how you can overcome it. Here are the most common causes of your birds not laying.
Lack of daylight
You may find that in the winter months the number of eggs your chickens are producing drops. That leaves you wondering if it’s because they are cold and you consider making small blankets for them. But before you begin to put your starting skills to the test, the real reason your chickens have reduced their egg-laying capacity is because of the reduced amount of daylight they receive in the winter.
Chickens need at least 14 hours (ideally 16 hours) of daily for optimum laying. In the winter the amount of daylight is reduced to 9 hours. Less light means little to no eggs for you. It all comes down to your chicken’s endocrine system which is affected by light. When there is a reduction in light it affects the endocrine system and the result is this system switching off your chicken’s egg production.
To overcome the lack of light you can install artificial lighting in your chicken coop. This tricks the endocrine system into thinking it’s still daytime and you will have chickens giving you eggs.
When it comes to installing artificial lighting the rule of thumb is to have a 40-watt bulb for every 100 square feet of coop space or a 60-watt bulb for every 200 square feet. Use either LED lights or energy saver lights to keep your power costs down. Have the lights raised (so your chickens don’t peck at them) and away from hay or anything else that can potentially cause a fire hazard.
You want to have your brood exposed to at least 14 hours of light but no more than 16 hours (any longer can cause your bird to be stressed), Use a timer to control the lights and have the lights operate in the morning rather than at night because if your chickens suddenly find themselves plunged into darkness means it’s going to be tricky for them to find their way back to their roosts.
Some people prefer not to use artificial lighting and allow the egg production of their birds to drop as they treat winter as a time of rest and recuperation for the chickens. It’s entirely up to you if you want your birds to keep laying through the winter or if you want them to have a wee break.
What are you feeding your chickens?
If your chickens start to diminish in their egg production it could be a result of their diet. Have you changed their feed recently? The number of nutrients that your birds are receiving can influence their laying capabilities.
When it comes to maximising your chickens’ egg-laying you have to ensure that they are having access to the full range of nutrients:
The feed requirements for your bird is determined by the age and the bodyweight of the chicken. A mature chicken will need 100 to 105 grams/day of feed (based on a bodyweight of 1500 – 1540 grams) and 20 grams of protein.
If you want eggs that pass the quality test you need to ensure that your birds are getting their fill of calcium. An eggshell is 40% calcium and so if you want to have eggs that are strong you need to supply your chicken with 4 grams of calcium each day.
Additionally, make sure that you are mixing vitamin D3 into the feed which speeds up the rate at which the calcium is passed into the bloodstream.
When it comes to chicken feed, not all feeds are created equal. Don’t be afraid to ask about the nutrients contained in the feed you are purchasing. Also, make sure that the feed contains the necessary amounts of calcium and Vitamin D3. It’s all about providing your chickens with what they need to provide you with strong eggs.
You need to give your chickens freshwater, too. An egg is 75% water and so, if your chickens don’t have access to clean, fresh water you will find that your eggs are going to suffer as well as your chickens refuse to lay. In the wintertime, there is a possibility of your water freezing which will result in your birds being dehydrated so make sure that you take appropriate measures to deliver water constantly to your brood. The amount of water that your birds need is simply 2 times the amount of their daily feed.
Your chicken is losing its feathers
Each year your chickens will start to moult, that is they lose their feathers. It occurs around during autumn. It’s nothing to be concerned about, it’s just a part of nature. Chickens start to experience moulting when they are around 18 months old and will continue to moult every year. It is a process which allows your chickens to restore their nutrient levels and, as a consequence, they stop laying eggs. What is happening is that your chicken’s body is redirecting the nutrients from egg production to feather regrowth.
During moulting season it’s important that you pay extra attention to the diets of your chickens as they require extra protein for the regrowth of the feathers (which are made of 80% – 85% protein).. Give them high-quality feed with lots of protein. Limit that amount of scratch to 10% of the feed component so that it doesn’t affect the protein levels.
Moulting season lasts from 8 to 16 weeks depending on the chicken. As well as adjusting the dietary regime of your chickens, it’s also important that you reduce any stress that they may face. Make sure that their coop is a place of comfort and relaxation so that your birds can take time out in a stress-free environment. Also, minimise the amount of handling of your birds as their skin is sensitive.
At the end of the moulting season, transition the diet back to a complete chicken feed (remember to include calcium and vitamin D3)
Reduce the stress
When your chickens are stressed it can cause a shut-down in egg production. So, as a chicken farmer, you need to figure out if your birds are stressed and what is causing them to not relax.
The first step is to have a look at your coop. Do your chickens suffer from overcrowding? That can lead to squabbles and fights as chickens. The minimum space requirements for your chickens is 4 square feet per chicken within the coop (that, is free space unobstructed by any equipment such as feeders, etc) and 10 square feet per chicken in the run. Isolate any aggressive birds.
How warm are your chickens? During the winter and those days when the weather is wet and miserable means that your chickens are going to be cold and unhappy. You can keep your chickens warm by eliminating any drafts in your coop. Insulate your coop through adding a decent amount of litter onto the floor of the coop. Another option is the use of a heater to keep your birds warm (but make sure that the heater isn’t going to become a fire hazard).
Predators are another source of stress for your chickens. Have a good look at the construction of your coop and run and see how “predator-proof” it is. Protect your birds and they will feel safe and give you the eggs you desire.
My chicken is reaching retirement age
As chickens get older they start to produce fewer eggs. You may read online that a chicken starts to lose productivity after two or three years, but this is a myth. You can expect your birds to provide you with eggs for at least five to seven years.
Here is how you can tell if your older birds have reached that time in their life when they have stopped laying:
- The comb and wattles will have a bleached red appearance and shrunken.
- Have a look at the chicken’s vent (which is a small opening near the chicken’s butt). If the vent is small and pale, then your bird isn’t giving you any eggs.
Though these signs can be used to determine if chickens of any age are laying or not, they are a good indicator that your older birds have passed their laying time.
You have a moody, broody hen
Chickens can get into a bit of a tantrum and you have to know how to deal with it as it will mean that a broody chicken stops laying. But how do you recognise a broody hen?
Broody hens are those chickens that will start to hatch their own eggs. They will lay a bunch of eggs and sit on them for around 21 days until the eggs start to hatch. During this period your broody hen will not produce any more eggs for you and will become fiercely defensive of her nest which can be found placed in a dark spot within the coop or hidden in a secluded area of the run. She will start to shriek and attack any bird or person that gets near her nest.
The broodiness affects your chicken physically due to her refusing to eat, drink water and she will pluck feathers off herself to line her nest with. Also, broodiness can become contagious to other chickens.
If you find that you are dealing with a broody hen, you can try and break the “broodiness”. Physically pick up the chicken and place her with the rest of the brood and collect the eggs that she has laid Just remember that you could be facing a chicken that is ready to defend her nest, so use caution). Also, you can block off her nesting box so that she can’t have access to the eggs. Another option you can is to isolate her in a wire cage (kind of like you are placing the broody hen in a “time out” jail.
Introducing new chickens
Chickens can be birds of habit and any change in their routine can cause them to stress out. If you move your birds to a new location or you bring new chickens into the brood will disrupt the routine of your birds and they could stop laying.
The situation is only temporary as the new chickens and existing birds re-establish the brood hierarchy. Give it a few days and you will find eggs flowing again.
Your chicken is sick
When you are ill you don’t feel like doing much. It’s the same with your chickens. When the are feeling under the weather they won’t provide you with the same amount of eggs as they do when they are healthy.
It could be that your bird has caught a cold (look out for those birds that are wandering around with their beaks open to help them breathe as their noses are blocked). Your chicken may have lice or mites (is your chicken always scratching itself?).
Diseases such as fowlpox, coccidiosis or infectious bronchitis can also affect the egg production of your chicken. Fowlpox can be detected by sores and scabs appearing on your chicken. Unfortunately, you will have to replace birds infected with fowlpox and make sure that your replacement birds are vaccinated against this disease. If you notice that your bird is having diarrhoea it could be an indication that your chicken has coccidiosis. Treat coccidiosis by adding Amprolium into their drinking water. Infectious bronchitis is indicated by your younger chickens coughing, sneezing or gasping as though they have trouble breathing and can be treated using disinfectants and vaccinating your laying chickens.
By keeping a strong health and wellness program you can minimise the impact that illnesses and diseases have on your brood and their egg production.
Are there any other reasons as to why my chickens have stopped laying?
Though we have covered the most common issue around why your chickens have stopped or reduced the number of eggs they are producing, there are still other factors to consider.
We mentioned the importance of making sure your chicken coop is predator-proof. Predators can sneak into your coop and steal the eggs that your chickens are laying. Do a double-check of your coop and the chicken run to ensure that it’s as secure as possible.
Your chickens are eating the eggs. This can happen when your birds are suffering from a calcium deficiency or if they accidentally break an egg, eat the yolk and then suddenly grow an appetite for eggs. You can prevent these issues by ensuring that your chickens are getting enough calcium in their diet and checking to see if the coop is overcrowded causing chickens to inadvertently step on an egg and break it.
The chickens are hiding their eggs. Your birds may hide their eggs due to you not having enough nesting boxes for the amount of laying chickens or the nesting boxes are an uncomfortable environment for the hen. Make sure that your nesting boxes are warm and clean.
Let the laying begin…again
Now you are aware of what causes your chickens to withhold or minimise their egg production you can take measures to prevent the issues that affect egg production. However, one thing you can’t control is that of moulting which is a seasonal event where your hens will stop laying for a period of time.
Making sure that your birds have the right diet, a comfortable environment and are healthy means that you are doing all you can to reduce the possibility of your chickens not giving you eggs.
What a great chicken raiser you are turning out to be!