You’ve had some good trusty hens that are providing you with some wonderful eggs and then all of the sudden the nesting boxes are empty! Here are four possible reasons your egg production may have come to a halt and some tips to try to help get your girls back to laying!!
1. Let there be light!!
The leaves are falling, the air is crisp and the holidays are here! Right about the time you need some awesome fresh eggs for that holiday egg nog your girls go on strike! I’ve always wondered why egg nog was so popular right about the time of year that the days get short and hens will typically cut down on egg production. There is controversy around substituting lighting for natural light when the days get shorter. Some feel it “wears the hens out”. When it gets darker earlier and there is less then 15 hours of daylight the hens are signaled that their prime reproductive time of the year is passed and they will slack off. The farther you are away from the equator the less daylight you have at this time of the year. I personally don’t believe it is bad to substitute a little daily light. After all the chickens living near the equator are laying year round, I don’t think it would hurt other chickens to do the same. I feel like each animal living on our homestead has a task to do and while there are some that pull on my heart strings more then others, having a whole flock that you are buying feed for and is not providing you any eggs at all quickly becomes a burden! Each animal should be providing something back at some point. Substitute lighting in the morning hours over evening so that the light doesn’t suddenly shut off before the hens have a chance to get to the roost. They are used to it gradually getting dark at night. A sixty watt bulb hung in the center of the coop on a timer should be sufficient. Be sure to dust it off once a week or the dust will cause it to not be bright enough.
2. Help I’m going bald!
At certain times of the year, usually in the Fall some chickens will go into a molting cycle which is basically the shedding of some of their feathers. This can be brought on by stress or by shorter days which would normally signal a bird to begin migration soon after new feathers appear, and also so they have new feathers in for cool weather. I have found that increasing their protein a bit tends to help them deal with the increased nutrients needed for growing the feathers out quickly and thus resuming their egg production sooner. This year I used black oil sunflower seeds to do this by adding to their regular feed. After a couple of weeks with the sunflower seeds I began to see egg production coming back on gradually.
3. Baby it’s cold outside!
With the cold comes some other challenges that could hinder egg production. Frozen water is one of them. It is imperative that your hens not become dehydrated. We may not think about that being a real problem as much as the hot summer time but the air can be VERY dry in the winter and they absolutely must have adequate water intake to lay eggs and be healthy. Also, with the cold comes the challenge of staying warm. I have found that by soaking or fermenting their feed it makes the food much more digestible and they are able to utilize the nutrients better for warmth and egg production. When I am soaking their food it is for about a 24 hour period and fermenting their feed takes me about 48 hours but either way, before I give them their feed “mush” in the morning I add some hot water so they are having a warm “cereal” breakfast after the long cold night. This alone has brought my egg production back up again. I’ve also heard that sprinkling cayenne pepper on their feed helps to warm their bodies and speed their metabolisms, which in turn causes them to start laying again. I have never tried this particular tip but would love to hear if this has worked for you!
4. There’s a bully in the house!
We all know there is a pecking order but sometimes the top hen can get pretty nasty. The “bully” may even be keeping the others away from adequate nutrition. One of the main issues though concerning this situation is an overly aggressive Roo! I watch my chickens a lot and observe their little community. If you notice the hens constantly trying to get away from an overly aggressive rooster who is constantly trying to mate, this can cause a lot of stress among the hens! Stress is one of the biggest factors for loss of egg production. I would carefully observe your coop for predators that are lurking. Even if they haven’t made it in to the coop yet it could be stressing the flock. Also observe that the rooster is not terrorizing the hens and watch for signs of excessive mounting such as bare backs and lots of feather loss. I usually let my flock work those things out among themselves for awhile but if I see that it just isn’t getting better I will rehome my Roo and find a less aggressive one. I’d rather have happy hens and lots of eggs then a Rooster that thinks he’s King of the land. After all he can’t even give me eggs for breakfast!!
There can be so many factors that could affect egg production, some that I haven’t touched on in this post such as broodiness and over crowding. Sometimes it can be a mystery. But a lot of the times with careful observation you can get some clues and turn things around. The age of your hens will also be a factor of course. After a year old their production begins to slowly drop off. Depending on how serious you are about getting eggs and spending money on feed will determine how long you will keep the hens you have in your coop. There are some poultry keepers that are only interested in keeping them for pets and egg production isn’t that important and some that financially aren’t up for that plan and will acquire new laying hens each year to be able to sell the eggs to recoup feed costs. If this is your situation, many times you can sell year and a half old hens as they still have egg production ability albeit a bit less and hatch new chicks each year that will lay on a more regular basis. We all keep chickens for different reasons, either way it can be such a rewarding and fun thing to do!