Summer was warm, the days were long, and you got used to having lots of eggs. Then your hens stopped laying. Michele Cook looks at the many different reasons your hens may (temporarily) have stopped laying eggs.
Why have my chickens stopped laying eggs? Ugh!
This is a common complaint from chicken keepers all over the globe. The truth is, sometimes otherwise healthy chickens, stop laying eggs. In some cases, there are things you can do to help bring your ladies back into egg production, in others, not so much. If your hens have gone from hero to zero in the egg-laying department, read on for some possible reasons your chickens have stopped laying eggs and what you can do about it.
Time of year
Bears hibernate, chickens sometimes stop laying eggs. The most common reason for chickens to stop laying is simply the time of year. During the winter, many hens slow down or stop laying altogether. Your hen’s egg production is partially dependent on nature’s light cycles. This means when the short days of winter come, your hen’s body says it’s time to take a break.
If your hens stopped laying around December, this is likely the culprit. The good news is they will probably start laying again in the spring. One warm spring day you will go out to find a nest full of eggs and you will once again be trying to push eggs off on your neighbors.
If you can’t wait for spring, a timed coop light will trick your girls into thinking it is spring and bring them back to their egg hero status. Hang the light in a top corner of your coop and set the timer to stretch the daylight for about 12 hours. If you have a large coop, you may need more than one light for this method to be effective.
Do your birds look a little raggedy? Like maybe they stayed out a little too late last night with Jose Cuervo? Chances are they are molting. Molting is the process of chickens shedding old feathers and replacing them with new ones, and they can look simply awful during this process. Many chickens also stop laying during this time. Your chickens’ body will transfer the use of calcium and nutrients away from the egg-laying process and into the feather producing process. Molting usually occurs in the spring or fall but can happen at any time of year.
The good news is the process only lasts a month or two. The even better news is, you can do some things to help your chickens through this time and bring them back into egg production. Here is a quick list of things you can do to help your chickens during molting season.
- Use a high protein feed, at least 16%, you might even see it labeled as a “feather fixer”
- Keep your coop clean of chicken feathers. This will keep other chickens from thinking they are toys when feathers grow back
- Feed high-protein snacks. Check out fellow Community Chickens contributor Kaylee Vaughn’s post for a good list of high-protein snacks for molting chickens.
- Provide shade for your chickens if they are molting during warm months to prevent sunburn
- Provide a good warm, draft-free coop if they start molting during the winter
Your chickens might look awful and stop laying during this phase, but they will start laying again with a little patience and some high protein snacks.
Age of Your Chickens
This is one of the ones we can’t control. As chickens age, their egg production falls off and eventually stops. For some breeds that might be as early as two years old, where others may lay well into their fourth year. Most breeds will start slowing down by age four and quit laying completely by age five.
This might not seem like a very long time, but when you consider the number of eggs a chicken might have laid by age four, its quite a lot. A good laying breed might lay 800 or more eggs by the time they quit laying at age four. That’s a lot of omelets! If your ladies are a bit more on the mature side, this is likely the reason for the lack of egg production.
Many backyard chicken owners choose to thank their old biddies by letting them live the rest of their lives out in their coop. If you prefer to process your chickens, this post from Matt Wilkinson shows not only the processing but how you can use each part of the chicken for good around your farm or homestead.
Stressed Out Birds
Stressed-out chickens don’t lay eggs. It’s really that simple. You don’t do your best when you’re stressed and your chickens don’t either. So, what stresses out a chicken? Predators, new coop mates, and aggressive roosters are at the top of the list. Overcrowding can also add stress to your hens.
If you notice a sudden drop in egg production, ask yourself what has changed recently. Have you added new birds? Has a young rooster suddenly started feeling his oats? If the answer to both of these questions is “no”, take a walk around your coop and look for signs of predators. Check for chicken wire that is pushed in, tracks or scratch marks around the coop. These can all be signs you have a hungry critter trying to get themselves a chicken dinner.
Once you figure out what is stressing out your chickens, you can fix the problem. If there is an aggressive rooster, you might pen him up separately or with just one or two tough hens. If you have recently introduced new coop mates, you might need to take a step back and give them separate runs next to each other so they can see each other, but don’t have to sleep in the same bed. No one likes sleeping with strangers.
If you have a predator problem you might need to set up a trap or lay in wait to dispatch the offender. Both of these options require knowledge of local laws. If you live in a neighborhood, firing a rifle is a bad idea, and likely, illegal. If you use a live trap to trap an animal, it may be illegal to relocate it. Check with your local wildlife office to get the best advice for your area.
If you have checked everything else on this list and your otherwise healthy chickens aren’t laying, it’s time to look at what they are eating. Chickens are omnivores and thrive on a balanced diet. What does a balanced diet look like for a chicken? Well, it is similar to ours because humans are omnivores too. Chickens need lots of vitamins and proteins and they should steer clear of sugary snacks and cereals. Sound familiar?
Most quality layer feeds will provide something close to a balanced diet, but for good egg production, you might need to supplement extra calcium and protein. A good source of calcium can be provided through oyster shell or crushed eggshells. Bagged oyster shell is available at most farm stores, sorry beach lovers, and eggshells can be crushed up and left out to dry for a few days before putting them out for chickens. To supplement protein, you can give mealworms or scrambled eggs. Chickens love both of them despite the cannibalistic quality of chickens eating scrambled eggs. If might freak you out, but they really don’t care.
One other thing chickens need is grit. You can buy this commercially or provide your chickens with coarse sand with small pebbles. Chickens accumulate grit in their gizzard and this helps them to digest food properly. You can offer this on its own in a separate feed container, or mix it with their daily pellets.
The Egg Thief
What if your chickens haven’t stopped laying? What if there is a sneaky little broody hen tucking those eggs up under her wings and carrying them off to her secret spot. It happens. Some broody hens think they need to hatch twenty or so babies instead of just their one little egg and since they can’t produce eggs fast enough, they turn to a life of crime.
This is most common in small flocks of free-range birds. The free-range part of the equation means they can find lots of places to hide their eggs and the small number of hens means they need to steal every egg they can to get to a number worth sitting on.
If you notice one of your free-range girls hanging around the nesting box more than usual, she’s not there for fun, she is casing the joint. She is waiting for the other hens to lay so she can swoop in and steal the egg. If you suspect an egg thief in your flock, you will need a little patience and a few good detective skills. Keep an eye on your chickens and if you spot one wandering off away from the flock, follow cautiously. She will lead you to her egg booty and you can retrieve your lost eggs.
Zero to Hero
Sometimes chickens take a break on their egg-laying. Most of the time this is for a natural reason like the time of year or molting season. Other times, you may have to adjust the management or nutrition of your hens. Either way, if you notice a sudden drop in egg production, evaluate your flock and see what you can do to get your girls laying again. It may mean a new meal plan is in order or it may mean breaking out some tiny handcuffs for your resident egg thief.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book. Follow her on her website.