Top 6 - Why Chickens not laying
So you've been scratching your head wondering what on earth is going wrong. You wonder before asking Dr. Google, "Why Chickens not laying?" .
It is one of the most common queries we get here at Dine a Chook from our thousands of newsletter subscribers. And while your chickens may not have completely stopped laying, you have noticed your morning omelette is getting smaller in size. So let's get cracking and give you some answers.
Reasons why hens not laying eggs
There are many reasons why a chicken may stop laying eggs or why egg production might decrease. In a single hen, a decrease in egg production may be related to a diet or reproductive problem. If egg production decreases in your whole flock, it might be diet-related but could also be disease or environmental.
There are also many natural reasons why your hens might not be laying. Let's have a look.
Q. Are they moulting?
A. On average a hen will moult once each year. It is part of their natural process. During a period of moulting, a chicken sheds its older feathers to make way for new ones. How great is that. I'd love to get rid of some of my grey hairs and grown some new ones!
When a hen moults, she will take some well deserved "me time" and stop laying for a few weeks. Instead of using protein to make eggs, she is using it to make feathers. Also, older hens moult more frequently and they take a longer time to do so.
Hens usually moult in autumn, but this is much less reliable in warmer climates. Moulting is also related to reproductive cycles, so when a hen first starts laying will influence when she comes into moult. For this reason, flocks of birds that are all the same age tend to moult together.
You can tell if a hen is moulting because she will begin losing feathers and looking generally raggedy. But feather loss like that depicted in the photos is not caused by moulting. Isolated feather loss on the back is usually due to too much rooster attention. Inflamed patches of bare skin like the second photo also bear investigation.
Q. Are they getting enough sun?
A. You may not be aware of it, but sunlight is essential for a hen to lay eggs. A hen requires up to 14 hours of exposure to sunlight a day. Without sunlight for backyard chickens, you will find it hard to have good egg production.
So in months where daylight is shorter such as autumn and winter months, it is natural to see a decline in egg production. Come spring, chickens have a renewed zest for laying. This is more marked in climates with short winter days - in most of mainland Australia, many chicken breeds will continue to lay right through winter. But a decrease in the amount of eggs produced is definitely to be expected.
If you want your ladies to lay eggs during cooler months with shorter days, then you will need to provide additional lighting. However, this isn't needed in most of Australia. One option is solar-powered shed light on a timer. This will allow the hens to receive a few extra hours of light prior to sunrise. A warm spectrum fluorescent bulb works best.
Q. Are your chickens old?
A. Chickens have an average productive life of 3-7 years. On commercial egg farms, birds are culled at around 3 years of age because egg production decreases.
Highly productive modern hybrids, such as ISA Browns, will lay very well for 3 years and then eventually stop. Heritage breeds tend to lay for longer, up to 7 or 8 years, but produce less eggs per week and are more likely to stop laying over winter.
A decrease in egg laying is to be expected in older chickens. But there are ways to encourage better production in old birds. Many chicken keepers believe their old hens have done their time providing plenty of eggs, so they treat those older girls with respect!
But what if it isn't molting. What if your hens are young and have ample daylight? What if it's the middle of summer?
Q. Are your chickens hiding the eggs?
A. While this sounds crazy, it is very common. You go to all the effort of making a lovely nesting box, and your chickens have a different idea of where they want to nest. Go figure. They find their own special place. This could be a plant pot, or behind the garden shed. Some like to go under the coop if room allows. Some in a tall tuft of grass. So put on your Indiana Jones outfit and do some exploring to see if this is happening. This circumstance assumes you have free-range chickens which are not in an enclosure where there are no great hiding spots.
Sometimes chickens hide eggs because they are a Broody Hen - if you're missing a chicken and eggs, that is probably the case. But also, once one chicken has made a nice nest somewhere, all of your chooks will want to try it out, even if they aren't broody! Some chickens just don't like nesting boxes! But chickens are more likely to hide eggs if you don't have enough nesting boxes (1 box for 4 chickens is ideal) or the nesting boxes aren't as clean or cosy as they'd like.
Q. Is something eating the eggs?
A. If eggs are disappearing, something could be eating them. Most predators will take whole eggs, including snakes and goannas, as well as birds like crows. Emptying the nesting boxes regularly and ensuring the coop is secure can help.
Chickens can also develop a taste for eggs. Egg eating is a very undesirable trait in backyard chickens. If there are fragments of shell and egg in the nesting box, you will have to have a stakeout to find the guilty culprit. Egg eating can be the result of a nutritional deficiency, usually protein, but it is often just a bad habit.
Q. Is it too hot?
A. For a chicken, anything above 29 degrees Celsius is too hot. In high temperatures, especially if they don't have enough shade or water, chickens can easily develop heat stress.
It is common for egg production to decrease in hot weather. This is a way for your chickens to stay healthy when their bodies are under pressure. You can also help with these tricks to keep chickens cool. Once the weather cools down a little, your chickens should begin laying again.
Q. Is there a nutrition problem?
It's like the old saying, you are what you eat. Take a moment to consider what you feed your chickens. If you are giving them scraps as well as things like canned tuna then you really do not understand the nutritional requirements of chickens.
In the wild, chickens forage for insects, grubs and other juicy morsels which are full of protein. They will also eat certain fruits and unlike young children they love their greens. So the natural diet consumed in the wild is very high in protein, vitamins and minerals. Last time we checked, most chickens in the wild do not forage the grass or scrub for Tuna fish.
Seed or mixed seed feed mix for chickens while cheap is not healthy for chickens. We have written a number of articles on this topic.
Chicken Breeders, as well as Vets, recommend a Quality Mash or Pellet feed. These types of feed are formulated to provide laying chickens with all the nutrients they need for their health and wellbeing. Feed companies employ specialist animal nutrition experts. Also, the nutritional value of complete feeds like mash and pellet feed is lessened when chooks eat scraps and other things. Why? Because if a chook is full on other sources of food then they are not getting the nutrients from the complete feed.
Vitamin D as well as calcium deficiency can also decrease egg production or lead to egg-binding in the chicken. Learn more about egg-binding if your chicken has stopped laying.
Lastly, while on the topic of nutrition, there is no harm in helping boost your chicken's immune system to help prevent or lessen the effects of illness when it may strike the coop. You can do this by feeding your hens some dried mealworms. Also, a popular choice for backyard chicken keepers is Dine a Chook Mega Mineral Supplement. Our Mega Mineral is a seaweed based formula which can be easily administered through in the drinking water. Rich in calcium, our Vitamin and Mineral Supplement can help prevent deficiencies and increase production. To make the water a little nicer to drink, add some honey and your chickens will drink all their vitamins and minerals very happily.
Q. Is your chicken sick or suffering disease?
A. So you don't have to be Albert Eggstein to work out poor health will impact on egg output. We have outlined below the main types of sicknesses which can lower egg production in chickens. Many illnesses can be treated quickly to get egg production starting back up again. Also, many can be prevented. Simply click on visible links to go to a comprehensive article about that disease. Alternatively see our Symptom Checker to help find out way may be wrong.
Bacterial or Viral Chicken illness
- Common Causes – Fowl Pox, Newcastle disease, Mycoplasmosis, Infectious Coryza, Infectious bronchitis. Chicken Respiratory Disease
- Less Common Causes – Avian encephalomyelitis
- Rare Causes – Avian influenza, Fowl cholera
Parasites, Mice and Lice related illness
- Common Causes – Poultry mites and lice
- Less Common Causes – Coccidiosis, Heavy infestations with roundworms, threadworms or tapeworms
- Rare Causes – Fleas
Q. Are my chickens stressed?
A. Anxiety and stress can cause a decrease in egg output.. Ask yourself the following questions to work out if your chicken is suffering from these common stresses in the coop.
Common causes of stress to chickens
- Dirty or contaminated drinking water - see how to fix
- Wet or mouldy chicken feed
- Moisture or rising damp in the chicken coop
- Not enough nesting boxes
- Not enough roosting space or the coop is too cramped
- Not enough room in the chook pen or general overcrowding
- Any changes to routine or environment, e.g. new birds, new food, environmental change
- Limited access to fresh water - i.e. not enough chicken drinkers
- Too hot or too cold
- Not enough ventilation in coop
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We hope our Top 6 Reasons Why Chickens Not Laying has been of help to you. If there is a topic you would like us to write about send us an email via the Contact us page.