If you are new to keeping chickens, it can come as a surprise when your chickens suddenly stop laying eggs and its perfectly understandable to wonder ‘why are my hens not laying eggs’.
Whilst egg production naturally ebbs and flows throughout the year and can significantly decrease in certain seasons, there are many other factors which may contribute to your chickens produces less clutches. However, hens not laying at all can – but not always – be a sign of something that requires further investigation by at vet.
Getting hens to lay will be a process of elimination by looking at and addressing the various influencing factors.
During Winter days are shorter with less natural light available. As hens require at least 14 hours of daylight to stimulate their ovaries to release an egg, it’s natural for egg production to reduce.
This break from rapid egg laying is good for your chickens and allows their bodies much needed rest bite. However, although it’s not recommended, you can of course provide simulated natural light through the winter periods to keep your hens producing all year round.
In Autumn chickens go through the natural process of moulting, which involves shedding feathers and re-growing new ones. It’s common for hens to stop laying completely during this time and to help the process along you can feed a high quality, high protein feed.
With age, chicken’s ability to lay decreases and you can expect older hens to lay significantly less clutches as the years go by – usually between 10-20% less with each year. For example, an elderly 10-year-old hen will produce around 80% less eggs than a 1-year-old hen.
Adding chicks to your flock each spring will help keep a healthy balance of egg production.
Chicken can suffer from stress which will impact egg laying. Things which may contribute to stress include noisy environments such as traffic, barking dogs, loud music. Other factors which may cause stress include overcrowding, changes to the flock through new additions, excessive handing, presence of predators or bullying by other members of the flock.
Hens will lay when they feel safe and secure, so be sure to make a suitably enriched environment where your hens can feel relaxed and at ease.
Sudden changes to your chickens’ diet, overfeeding and insufficient nutrients within the diet can all commonly result in a decreased clutch. If you’ve recently changed their brand of feed, this could be the potential cause.
Receiving an optimal diet is fundamental to your hen being able to produce eggs so where possible, provide a balanced and nutrient rich diet.
Moreover, ensure the flock have access to fresh water each day.
If you’ve recently purchased a new breed of chickens and these are the ones not producing as many eggs, its likely the cause is down to the breed. Some breeds naturally produce considerably less eggs than others.
For consistency and to meet your anticipated egg production, opt for breeds which will yield large volumes of eggs.
A broody hen will not lay as she will want to sit on the eggs to hatch them and she will even sit on an empty nest when in this hormone driven state. Some breeds are broodier than others so bare this in mind when selecting any new flock members.
Collecting eggs every day will help prevent the possibility of your hens getting broody.
As the name suggest this occurs when an egg becomes stuck in the oviduct. This usually occurs in younger hens and can be a result of too much protein and not enough calcium. If you suspect that this could be the cause, immediate veterinary treatment should be sort as is can be a fatal condition.
To prevent this from occurring feed your hens a balanced diet and space to exercise to prevent obesity and plenty of access to calcium to prevent soft shelled eggs.
Excessive heat or cold can impact on a hen’s ability to lay as they choose to conserve their energy to manage the environmental changes. The only way to avoid this is to keep hens in an enclosed space where the temperature and conditions can be kept consistent.
Illness and Disease
Often one of the first signs of ill health in a chicken can be that they stop laying. As prey animals, chickens naturally hide other symptoms and so it can be tricky to spot. However, if you’ve addressed other factors this may well be the cause.
Diseases can range from parasites to viruses and each will require a trip to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Ensure you regularly monitor each bird and take note of any behaviour changes which are unusual. Other than during their moult, the chicken’s appearance is a good indication of its overall health.