Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Did you go out to your coop this morning only to find no eggs? Frustrating, isn’t it? It also makes us worried. So, is it serious? What can we do about it?
The answer to the question varies. Fortunately, most of the time when chickens stop laying it is because of minor things that can be easily fixed. Take heart! Your precious hen will hopefully be back to laying those delicious eggs in no time.
1. First Thing First: Was Your Hen Ever Laying?
Hens usually don’t begin to lay until around 6 months old. This can vary depending on the breed. Heavier birds may start laying later than 6 months while lighter weight breeds may start laying earlier.
Our first set of chickens were Rhode Island Reds. They didn’t begin laying until almost 8 months old. When we invested in Dominiques, they started laying at around 4-5 months.
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “I know my bird was laying!” But, really if you have multiple chickens, sometimes it is hard to keep up with who laid what.
Solution: Make sure you're not you're not worrying over nothing. If you aren’t 100% sure your hen was laying to begin with, keep a close eye over the next few weeks. If she isn’t showing any other symptoms then maybe she wasn’t really laying in the first place.
Wouldn’t that be a relief?
2. Is She Too Old to Lay?
Maybe your chicken is the polar opposite of what we've just discussed. Maybe the old girl is getting up in age, and you are noticing she just isn’t laying like she used to. That’s okay. Every year, a chicken’s egg production will lessen.
Chickens can live up to 8-10 years in age. By the time they reach this age, though, they are rarely laying. This is where it gets difficult. Some people only raise chickens for eggs. Some get rather attached to their chickens and don’t care if they quit laying because of age. You have options either way.
Solution: If you realize your beloved hen has stopped laying because of her age, then it is time to make a decision. If your chicken is more like a pet, then you might decide to keep her around until she dies naturally.
If you love her but just can’t afford to keep an animal that isn’t giving back any longer then there are chicken retirement homes. If you love your chicken but aren’t quite as emotionally attached then it might be time to butcher her.
3. Some Breeds are Better at Giving Eggs
This might seem a little obvious, but some chickens that are amazing layers while others are just so-so producers. Depending on your hen’s breed, this might explain why you aren’t getting eggs from her any longer.
Road Island Reds, Sexlinks, and White Leghorns are just a few breeds known for being excellent layers while other chickens like Dominiques and Jersey Giants are less known for their laying talents. Here's a list of 10 chicken breeds that are the best at laying eggs.
Solution: Do your research. Use sites like Google to find out what your breed of chicken usually produces. If your hen is a Road Island Red but she isn't laying as many as expected, then you’ll know that she probably has a problem.
However, if you have another breed such as a Jersey Giant, and you know that she isn’t showing any other symptoms, then maybe she just isn’t producing as many eggs because of her breed. Jersey Giants, another example, are great dual purpose birds for meat and eggs. Yet, they won’t produce as much as some other breeds of chickens.
4. Do Your Chickens Have New Friends? Or Have You Moved Them to a New Neighborhood?
Sometimes when you add new chickens to your flock, your more seasoned layers will stop laying. It throws them through a jolt adding new members to their household. This should make perfect sense to anyone that has ever gone through a similar experience.
Think of it as a blended family. Anyone that has ever blended two families or adopted a child knows how difficult it is starting out finding the new “rhythm” of the household.
Chickens really aren’t that much of a different. It takes a while for them to figure out where everyone’s space is. Once they get things figured out, they’ll go back to laying.
The same thing applies if you have recently moved your chickens. Maybe your family moved to a new neighborhood, or maybe you just moved your chickens’ coop across the yard. Either way, chickens are creatures of routine. Anything that throws off that routine can ultimately make it to where they stop laying for a few days at a time.
Solution: All you can do in these instances is practice some patience. It shouldn’t take your chickens more than a few days to get adjusted and figure everything out. During this time, if you’ve added new members to their household, they’ll need to establish a new pecking order and routine.
If you’ve moved their coop across town or across the yard, it will take your chickens a few days to figure out their new surroundings. Once they become familiarized with everything again, they’ll return to laying.
5. The Summertime Blues
Hens love daylight. It requires 16 hours of daylight for them to lay an egg, usually. So when the winter rears its head, don’t be surprised if your chickens don’t lay as many eggs.
Hens are really funny animals. The rooster usually crows as the sun is coming up (or maybe a little earlier.) Hens are not early risers, though. This was surprising to me when I first started keeping chickens. They don’t bother flying down off of the roost until the sun is up.
During the winter, this means they don’t rise nearly as early. This also means that they go to bed much earlier because of how early night falls.
If your chickens aren’t laying and it is winter time, don’t be alarmed. They aren’t awake long enough for their bodies to produce an egg. If you are lucky, you might have a few faithful layers that will give you an egg every few days. If not, you might have to buy your eggs during the winter months.
Solution: Okay, so maybe you are like me and abhor having to buy anything that you can produce in your backyard.
My hens went on a laying hiatus this past winter, and when I went to the store and had to purchase eggs, I honestly thought I was going to have a breakdown. I hadn’t realized how much the price of eggs had gone up, and I found myself a little nervous not knowing exactly what I was eating.
I quickly sought advice from all of my local chicken-keeper friends. They laughed at my hysteria over a lack of eggs and then told me to put a light in my chicken coop. They told me if I’d put a regular lamp in their coop (and you can even put the lamp on a timer like, so you don’t have to turn it off and on daily) then it would keep the hens awake, and they’d lay for me.
6. Hens Need Protein Shakes
Chickens are like us in some ways. Their bodies have to have proper nutrition to function as they should.
So you probably shouldn't start giving your chickens protein shakes, but they do need lots of protein. If your hens aren’t laying be sure they are getting enough protein. They can get a large dose of protein through layer pellets.
If you are giving them layer pellets and still aren’t seeing their production increase then try giving them high protein treats like pumpkin seeds or meal worms.
Solution: Chickens need protein. We have already stated you can achieve this through high protein treats and laying pellets. That should be enough, right? Not always. The other component to a proper diet is grit and water. Chickens need grit to help them process their food. Be sure they are getting enough.
They also need lots of fresh water. Chickens love to gulp water. I have tried the fancy chicken waterers. If your chickens are happy with them, then keep on keepin’ on. If not, switch. I have found that a 2.5-gallon bucket with fresh water makes for some happy chickens. They can gulp it and multiple chickens can drink at once. Be sure to dump it daily.
7. Chickens Like to Stare into the Fridge
I know---chickens don’t have refrigerators. But in their mind, they like to see a full cabinet. Even when they aren’t hungry. Don’t act like you don’t mosey over to the fridge around bedtime, not really hungry, but just to stare at it and to see if anything might tempt you or just for reassurance that your fridge is stocked.
It brings peace to your stomach to see that there is plenty there to stuff it full tomorrow. Well, your chickens are the same way. They want to know that they have plenty of food. Otherwise, they’ll start assuming that they might starve. They reroute nutrients in their body to keep them from starving which in turn stops them from laying eggs. That is pretty neat that they can do that, right?
Solution: Leave ample amount of food in their coop. Even if they don’t eat it all, that’s okay. It is a constant reminder to their little chicken brains that they aren’t going to starve, life is good, and to keep on laying eggs!
We keep a large automatic feeder in the middle of our chicken coop. I usually only fill it up about once a week. When I see that it is about a quarter of the way from being empty, I’m sure to fill it up. I can honestly sense the panic in the chickens. They all start gathering around it wondering if it’s going to be refilled. Those are the moments I am sure to stop what I’m doing and make their little day by refilling it.
8. Time to Call ‘Merry-Maids’
You may have someone that goes around your homestead and cleans everything up for you. If so, you are one fortunate soul! I am not so lucky. I have to clean out all of our animals’ areas as needed. If your hens aren’t laying, check your nesting material. If the nesting material is not clean, then they won’t lay in it.
Now, anyone that has had chickens for any length of time knows that a sleeping chicken is a pooping chicken. Sometimes chickens sleep in their nesting boxes. This doesn’t mean you have to go in and dump all of that nesting material every single morning. That would get expensive. So what do you do?
Solution: Be sure once or twice a week you empty out the chickens’ nesting boxes. It needs to be completely dumped and refilled with good nesting material. You can use straw, wood shavings, or even shredded paper. My new favorite nesting material is pine shavings.
It keeps their nests smelling fresh, and my girls seem to love it. It is great at absorbing all things gross and keeping their nesting boxes rather neat until the next time I come around to clean.
I am sure to keep a cleaning schedule. I have one day a week that I go through and clean out all of the animals’ areas. That way, I can do any touch-up cleaning during morning chores throughout the week.
9. Mama Hen
Chickens will not lay when they are being broody. This means that your chicken has laid a clutch (a full nest) and is ready to set her eggs. They will not lay during this time.
How do you know if your chicken is being broody?
• She will set her eggs all day and not leave the nesting box.
• She will become very protective of her eggs and not let anything or anyone near them.
• She will pull her breast feathers to give warmth to her eggs.
Solution: If your chicken has become broody be very thankful! She just saved you the cost of an incubator and is going to grow your flock for you. A broody hen is a treasure and is very rare. Out of all of the chickens we have raised, I have yet to have one that will set her eggs. This may lower the amount of fresh eggs you get for a period of time but in the long run it is a huge help.
10. I’m Molting…I’m Moooolting
Okay - so that was supposed to be a play on words from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ but anyway… Chickens molt. It is just something they do on a yearly basis. It usually happens around the same time as the seasons change. When winter hits and day light decreases, molt comes on. This means that they lose their old feathers and grow new ones. Molt is also a time when their bodies rejuvenate.
The important things to know about molting are:
• Egg laying ceases.
• The chickens are susceptible to illness during this time because their bodies are trying to rejuvenate.
• Your chickens will look crazy because they usually decide to all molt at once!
Solution: I recommend to let your chickens go through molt. It is natural and a process their bodies need. If you absolutely do not want them to go in molt you can add artificial lighting to their coop. This keeps them from molting. However, be advised that when artificial light is added and then removed, your chickens will molt at spontaneous times throughout the year.
11. Call the Doctor
If your hen is not laying, it might be time to look for signs of illness. This is difficult because where chickens are preyed upon they do not show signs of illness if at all possible.
If your hen is showing signs it is wise to seek out a veterinarian that could help her. One of the biggest concerns in keeping chickens is ‘bird flu.’ This can be spread from bird to human. If you suspect that your chicken has it, don’t delay and call the vet.
You will then need to call your county agent to have your birds tested and the proper authorities notified that there was in fact a case in your county.
Sometimes chickens get respiratory viruses that are not bird flu. We had a terrible case that wiped out a large part of our flock this year. Chickens do not get colds. They get respiratory viruses.
It looks like they have a runny nose and they begin to gurgle or snore. As soon as you hear the first snore, quarantine the chicken. Most people say that you have to cull any of the birds that catch a respiratory virus. We did not have to cull ours. The ones that made it have gone back to laying.
Solution: When your birds get sick all you can do is seek medical treatment. There are some natural ways to cure respiratory virus in chickens. The most important first step is to be sure it is just a regular virus and not ‘bird flu’. After bird flu has been ruled out then you need to quarantine the sick chickens. Feed them lots of fresh herbs, put ACV in their water with garlic, and offer them as many super foods as they will eat.
It is all about boosting their immune systems. Then you just have to wait until their bodies heal, and they return to laying. As mentioned, illness often coincides with molt. So pay extra close attention to your chickens during the early winter months.
12. There is sn Egg — It's Just Stuck
Chickens will get eggs stuck at times. This is called egg binding. What it means is that your chicken literally has an egg stuck. This happens when your chicken has a calcium deficiency, a small pelvis, or is trying to pass a large, misshapen egg.
There are ways to help your chicken when they are in this predicament. If the chicken cannot pass the egg, it can lead to death.
Solution: You can contact your vet and see if giving the chicken an injection of calcium would help. Placing your chicken in warm water and massaging her might help her muscles relax so she can release the egg.
You could also apply lubrication to make the passing of the egg a little easier for her.
13. Coop Isn’t Big Enough for All of Us
Chickens don’t require a lot of space, but they still need their space. If you have too many chickens in one coop, your hens will not lay. How much space a chicken needs depends on upon if they are free range or cooped.
You only need about 3 or 4 square feet of space for a free range chicken. They will spend most of their day out in the yard, so they only need their space for sleeping. If you have cooped birds, then they will need about 10 square feet of space per chicken.
Solution: In this instance, you will either need to build a coop with adequate space for your chickens or back down on the number of chickens you keep. Here are great coop ideas that should help in providing adequate coop space for each of your feathered friends! Your birds will be much happier if given proper living space. And everyone knows that happy hens are happy layers!
Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading. Read all of Jennifer's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.