During my many raising laying hens adventures, I found myself in a position I didn’t like. I had to do it, and I hated it. Five days before my family arrives for a holiday, there I am standing in the dairy aisle of Sprouts Farmers Market. As I reach toward the gray paper pulp carton, my hand freezes and a cold sweat covers my forehead.
Okay, so maybe I am just a tad bit over-dramatic, but it irritated me as I snatched the egg carton from the cooler shelf. Molting came early; it rarely starts until the second or third week in December. I put off buying eggs until the last-minute, hoping for fresh organic eggs to serve my guests. It wasn’t meant to be. The carton of eggs went home with me.
Molting is the most common cause for your hens stopping their egg production. But when they stop laying outside the molting season, other issues may cause your lack of eggs.
1. Improper or poor quality food
2. Low calcium
3. Lack of clean, fresh water
4. Dirty coop and nesting boxes
5. Illness and injury
7. Housing that’s not secure
8. No space to roam
Raising Laying Hens and How to Keep Them Laying
When raising laying hens, the main goal is gathering lots of delicious, organic eggs. But sometimes our flock takes a break from their regular laying schedule, leaving us to wonder what we should do.
Here are eight tips for keeping your hens in top laying condition, delivering you lots of eggs throughout the year.
1. Use Top Quality Feed
Feed is one area of raising chickens you never want to cut corners. Always feed your girls the highest quality food your budget allows.
A huge misconception is that hens need laying pellets for egg production. The truth is, once they reach their full laying rate, a higher protein ration may help with egg production better than laying food. We feed a mixture of egg pellets and game bird ration which has 28% protein. It made a big difference in the production rate and size of the eggs. Our girls like high protein better than laying pellets. We also supplement with kitchen scraps, so they get a well-balanced diet and lay amazing eggs.
Remember, when it comes to raising laying hens, each flock is different so what works for one person’s hens, may not work for another’s. The important thing is using high-quality food and adding fresh greens, mealy worms, vegetables, and other treats to their diet.
2. Add Calcium
The makeup of eggshells is 95% calcium, so it makes sense that egg laying uses up this vital element in the hen’s body. Always keep a dish of crushed oyster shell in the chicken coop. Hens know when they need calcium and will seek the oyster shell. You can find crushed oyster shell wherever you buy your poultry supplies and on Amazon.
3. Plenty of Water
Chickens need a constant supply of fresh water. Whether you have hens or roosters, water keeps your chickens healthy and the hens laying. Chickens have discriminating tastes and only like clean water, preferring to stay thirsty over drinking dirty water. Change their drinking water at least once each day.
4. Regular Nesting Box Cleaning
Regular nesting box cleaning helps encourage your hens to lay. They like the comfort of clean boxes with a thick layer of bedding. There’s a wide range of materials you can use as bedding. Our girls like straw, and we like it because it’s easy to clean and the dirty straw makes a great addition to the compost pile. Other bedding materials include non-treated sawdust, shredded paper, straw, and recycled newspaper pellets. Never use any aromatic wood, like cedar, since it’s bad for a chicken’s respiratory system.
5. Regular Chicken Inspection
Part of raising laying hens is making a regular habit of handling your chickens and getting to know the feel and look of their bodies. Check their wings, wattles, combs, beaks, and feet, looking for broken bones, wounds, signs of infection, and parasites or mites. Illness and injury affect your hen’s egg production. Whenever there’s doubt to a chicken’s health, contact a veterinarian.
6. Parasite Control
Parasites and mites, prey on your chickens and infest a coop and the run before you notice them. Make checking for these pests a part of your chicken inspection routine. Mites are tiny, reddish-brown spots running over a chicken’s body and head. Look for mites during the night when they are the most active.
When you see mites on your chickens, treat them and the coop at the same time. If you only treat the chicken and not the coop, they become infested again when they enter the coop. At the first sign of mites, clean the chicken coop and replace all bedding. Sprinkle coops, nesting boxes, roosting areas, and floors with diatomaceous earth. If you don’t mind chemical treatment, you can use seven dust which won’t harm your chickens.
7. Provide a Secure Home
Laying hens need a predator proof coop to keep animals like cats, raccoons, dogs, and opossums out. Laying hens stay on the nests for long periods, making them an easy target for predators. Coop doors and gates need sturdy latches to keep raccoons from opening them. Place small hole wire around and under your pen and coop to deter animals from squeezing through or digging under the pen. Taking these extra precautions protect your chickens from injury and death and help stop the loss of eggs by predators.
8. Let Them Free-Range
During our years of raising laying hens, we found that chickens are happiest, stay healthier, and lay more eggs while free-ranging. We understand not everyone can do this, but if possible, let the hens forage. Our girls are part-time free rangers. We let them roam while we are home, then lock them in the coop area at night to protect them from predators. Part-time free-ranging is easier than you might think. It took a few weeks, but our girls now go inside the coop by themselves when the sun sets.
We have a solution where everyone benefits: Our girls happily graze all day, but stay protected at night when predators roam. Plus, they know where their nesting boxes are. We rarely have eggs left outside the boxes unless they can’t make it in time.
Before letting your flock free-range, even part-time, check with your city and home owner’s association. While they may allow chickens, they might not allow them to run free.
We just learned that a city our small homestead borders has some strange regulations. While the city allows chickens in the backyard, they don’t allow roosters and don’t allow chickens to roam free (not unusual). What is unusual is the chicken’s feet can’t touch the ground (yes you heard me right). You must have something between the chicken and the dirt because they don’t want chicken poop going into the ground. I know, weird, right? This is a city that uses pesticides and chemicals on the ground, but they panic about chicken poop, even though it’s biodegradable.
Summing it Up
While raising laying hens you’ll find their egg production isn’t a 24/7 schedule. It’s normal for chickens to stop laying as the winter approaches. The molting time depends on what part of the country you live. Those farther south have a short molting season, starting around mid-December, give-or-take a week, and ending early spring. In Oklahoma, they stop laying in December and start again in March, depending on our wacky weather. Those in colder climates have an earlier molting season that lasts longer than the south.
If your girls stop laying at any other time, there’s a reason. First, consider the age of your hens. They have a pre-determined amount of eggs they’ll lay during their lifetime. Once gone, your hens quit laying. If your hens are still young, then look at some of the tips we listed above.
So, are your hens laying?
Want to learn more about raising chickens? Check out our e-book, Raising Chickens for Fun and Profit.