Oh, how we love the eggs our backyard hens give us! In my house, we call them butt nuggets, and I reliably gather 4 of them a day. But every once in a while, egg production drops, and sometimes, even completely stops. If you keep hens, at some point, you will ask yourself “Why are my hens not laying?” Read on for 7 causes that might be affecting your flock!
If you have never gotten an egg from your hen, it’s possible she’s too young. If she has slowed a bit, or completely stopped, it’s possible she’s old.
A hen will usually start laying at around 6 months. A good layer produces about 20 dozen eggs her first year. In the 2nd year, she will produce 16-18 dozen. And so on, with about a 20% reduction each year. A hen can live to up to 15 years old, but usually, at around age 3, you’ll notice a significant egg reduction. Commercially, hens are kept until about 2 years old.
Personally, I prefer it 55 degrees to 78 degrees. Any colder or any warmer, and there is a likely chance I’m not happy. Hen’s are similar. Most hens lay best between 45-80 degrees. Any colder or hotter, you might see your egg production drop. I’m starting to see the high 90s on my urban farm, and that temperature show- the hens don’t lay much. Which I don’t blame them- who’d want to sit in a hot box and push out an egg?!
The internal egg clock inside a hen is cued by the length of daylight hours. Once the season change and daylight hours drop below 14 hours, egg production slows, sometimes to a complete stop. I have found that younger layers seem to be less affected by daylight hours than older birds.
You can extend the daylight by lighting the coop at night, but keep in mind you are disrupting the natural cycle and period of rest. Chickens need 6-8 hours of rest a day.
Have you ever gone out to your coop and found an explosion of feathers? Once you get past the fear that a hen was attacked, you realize that your ladies are molting. This is a natural stage of a chicken’s life and is the process of growing new feathers. Molting takes lots of energy and she usually won’t lay during this time. The first molt is around 18 months old, then happens yearly or so. Some birds molt fast, just a few weeks, some take 2-3 months.
General Health & Stress
Just like when we are sick, we aren’t able to work- or at least, we aren’t very productive. The same is for animals. If a hen is sick, bullied, diseased or malnourished, her production will obviously also be affected. A predator scare, relocation, or other change can also stress them out, setting them off schedule for a few days.
A hen might be otherwise healthy, but not getting enough protein, so make sure to switch to a food meant for layers and not chicks. Good animal husbandry makes happy, healthy hens but it also makes for a higher egg production.
Going Broody or Raising Chicks
If your hen goes broody, she will stop laying; sometimes for months. This is why you may hear or read about chicken keepers trying to “break” their hens from being broody. If she does sit and hatch a clutch, egg production also stops until the chicks are adult enough to not need her, usually a few months.
I wrote a whole post on the broody process, and how to break broody hens here.
The Breed of Hen
If your hen isn’t laying and she’s healthy and fit and all that other stuff, it could be just because of her breed. Some breeds are known for being excellent layers, such as the breed kept commercial- Leghorns. Others are known for being poor, such as the fancy feathered, mop-head Polish. However, in the past, I have one Leghorn who’s just mediocre, and I had an easter-egger that only laid maybe 5 times a year. Sometimes it’s just the individual bird.
My current flock is made up of a Red Sex-Link (Scarlet) an easter-egger (Anne-Marie), an olive-egger (Bertha), and a Copper Maran mix (Althea), and they are all excellent layers.
How are your chickens laying this year? Any factors that I missed that you find contribute to how many eggs your ladies produce? Leave me a comment and let me know!