Why Aren’t My Hens Laying?
The most common reason people give for becoming backyard chicken farmers is the eggs.
With growing concern of what goes into our food supply and some of the abhorrent conditions on factory farms, people are taking back control of their food production.
We put a lot of effort into building our suburban homesteads, investing time and money, with expectations of a good return for our investment. We build our chicken coops, buy all the recommended food, and patiently wait for that coveted first egg.
Four months and our hens should start laying any day. Six months come and go and still no eggs. Or after a year of regularly laying, the girls just stop—for no reason, we go from 4-6 eggs each day to zero eggs. My hens aren’t laying, what should I do is the question we get asked most often. Hopefully, this post will give you some answers and ideas for more productive hens.
Reasons Your Hens May Not be Laying
The Changing Seasons
One of the most common reasons for declining egg production is the lack of daylight. It is natural for chickens to lay eggs during the spring and summer months when food is plentiful and weather conditions are best for raising young. However, as summer draws to a close and the days grow shorter, even with breeds modified for prolific egg production nature still prevails and egg laying tapers off or stops completely.
While it’s disappointing not getting those fresh eggs every day, it’s not such a bad thing letting the girls have a rest which actually prolongs their egg laying life, in a way. Each hen is born with only a certain amount of egg producing cells. Once these cells are used up, your hens will no longer lay and enter their barren period. However, if you want your hens to continue laying during the fall and winter months, there are some things you can do to trick mother nature.
It’s an Illusion
To help give your chickens an illusion of spring time and continue egg production, most hens need at least 14-16 hours of light each day. This is accomplished with either natural light, artificial light, or a combination of both.
Most people add lighting to their chicken coops. Setting your lights to come on at the right time is important to stimulating egg production. We set our extra light time for the early morning hours, adjusting the timer to give our chickens at least 14 hours of light. In our coop, we use a brooder clamp lamp with an inexpensive timer set to come on at 3:00 in the morning and stay on until dawn, when the girls head out to the yard.
We suggest only morning hours because waking up quickly comes easily to chickens, however suddenly finding a roosting spot after a sudden blackout stresses your chickens, which is another factor in loss of egg production.
Special lighting is not needed, just an inexpensive clip light or even a hanging bulb works with a standard household fluorescent light bulb. The light doesn’t need to be bright, just light enough to be able to read. We use a 60 watt bulb which gives enough light to the entire coop.
Along with a lack of light, and depending on the type of climate you live in, you may need to add heat to the mix. Too cold temperatures can also affect egg laying. In addition to adding the standard fluorescent lighting, you might want to add a heat lamp as well.
The Girls are Naked – Molting
While you can control some things, like more light, others are nature driven, like molting. While molting can happen any time of year, it is most commonly seen in the fall and winter, triggered by the shortening days, and normally happens in the chicken’s second year. In some cases, partial molts occur, with a molting of the neck feathers earlier in the year, then the body feathers in the late summer and fall months.
A molting chicken can be quite shocking to a new backyard chicken farmer. As chickens slowly lose their feathers, preparing for new ones, they become scraggly and well—right down ugly at times. Believe me, a naked chicken, running around looking stew pot ready, is an unsettling sight.
Molting and re-growing feathers takes a lot of energy and can drain a chicken’s resources just like laying eggs which is why chickens don’t lay or lay very little while molting. On average, molting lasts 2-6 months and cannot be “helped along” like stimulating egg laying. During molting, it is best to feed your chickens a high protein food since molting is just as taxing on their bodies as egg laying.
Other Reasons Your Hens May Not Lay
While the changing seasons and molting are the most common reasons for your hens not laying there are a few other reasons that may cause or is contributing to the lack of eggs.
• Hen’s Age—Lack of egg production can be caused by hens being too young or too old. Hens normally start laying at 6 months with the first 2 years being a hen’s most productive time. When a hen reaches 5 years old, her egg production declines by half.
• Feeding Incorrectly—Hen’s need calcium. Even though hens have a reserve of calcium, if their food does not supply enough calcium to keep their reserve up plus provide enough for egg shell formation, egg laying will stop. Keep feeders full at all times with a balanced layer feed or a high quality flock feed while giving them an added calcium supplement like oyster shell. A good rule to remember when feeding laying hens is for each egg laid, a hen needs an average of 10 ounces of water and 5 ounces of food.
• Parasites or Disease—Parasites and various diseases have an effect on egg laying, causing hens to lay less eggs or stop laying eggs completely. Fleas, mites, lice, tape worms, and round worms, can cause egg production to fall or stop.
For parasite control, deworming a flock every 6 months is recommended. We deworm our flock twice a year, the first of March and then again the first of September. When deworming, all eggs should be discarded for 14 days and not allowed to incubate, due to the possibility of handicapped chicks.
Some diseases affecting egg production are bronchitis, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, respiratory infections, fowl cholera, and coccidiosis. If you have a hen showing signs of any disease, isolate and treat her as soon as possible. Most diseases are controlled with vaccinations and good coop cleaning practices.
• Egg Eating—If you believe your hens are laying but you are not getting eggs, then the problem may be with flock egg eaters. Look for broken egg shells and smeared yolk in the nesting boxes. You can help prevent eggs being eaten by providing adequate food and water with enough protein, lots of clean nesting material, and gathering eggs as soon as they are laid if possible, or at least 2 times daily.
Should We Help Nature Along?
This is a question only you can answer. If your chickens are well cared for and happy, while you won’t get a lot of eggs, you are likely to get some throughout the winter. If you are trying to raise your chickens completely natural, then obviously, adding artificial heat and light during the winter is not natural to a chicken’s environment. Our ancestor’s farms survived without these steps for generations.
There is also the health impact on your chickens. Forcing them to lay when they should be resting and recharging for the winter may not be the best for good chicken health. Since chickens are born with a set amount of eggs to be laid over a lifetime, artificially inducing laying will shorten their egg production life span, bringing on their egg laying retirement much sooner.
Another concern is where you live. It is unknown, at least for us, what it would do to a flock living in cold and stormy climates. If you are heating your coop and you experience a prolonged power outage from a winter storm, how will it affect your chickens to suddenly lose that warmth for an extended period of time?
With our Oklahoma winters being fairly mild, we don’t use heating in our coops. For areas much colder and snowier, the decision of whether to artificially induce laying becomes more complicated.
We suggest reaching out and talking to other area chicken farmers before making that decision. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to give your chickens a break for the winter.
What are your thoughts? What do you do when your girls quit laying? Are there detrimental effects to simulating ideal laying conditions?