It happens to almost everyone who raises chickens.
At some point, you will notice that there are fewer eggs around. The hens all look and act OK, but they just don’t seem to be laying. You may not be getting any eggs at all. It can be perplexing, but don’t worry too much. There are all kinds of things that can stop your hens from laying, and most are not catastrophic.
Chicken physiology is very different from mammals, and none more so than the egg production system.
Mammals have few offspring and spend a great deal of time and resources taking care of their young until they are capable of taking care of themselves.
Chickens, on the other hand, produce many eggs, fertilized or not, and spend minimal time taking care of them. Chickens may seem tough, but they can be very fragile emotionally. It doesn’t take a lot to throw them off of their routines.
Before worrying about why your chickens have stopped laying, you need to understand how the process works.
One thing to keep in mind is that when a female chick is born, she already has all the ova she will ever have, usually around 15,000 to 30,000, depending on the species. These will eventually be the eggs she will lay. The ovum is the base for making an egg.
The ova are in the ovaries, but here’s the weird part. Although hens are born with 2 ovaries, only the left one is functional. In rare cases, you might get a right-handed chicken, but still, only one ovary works. You might think, “Well, the other one is a spare, in case the left one gets damaged.” Nope. Even if the left one is damaged, the right one is still non-functional. Why this is so is anyone’s guess. Apparently, at one time, this system seemed to work for them, and it just keeps going on.
When the hen reaches maturity, she will start to produce hormones that get the egg process going. The ova will start to develop into an egg, one at a time. The process is very rapid, usually completing the entire cycle in 25-30 hours. The cycle starts over as soon as the previous egg has been laid.
Another interesting factoid is that hens have a mechanism for storing sperm from a rooster for later use. So just because your hen hasn’t been with a rooster for a while doesn’t mean she is not laying fertilized eggs. Surprise…
6 Factors That Can Stop Chickens From Laying Eggs
As stated before, chickens like routines, and when that routine is interrupted, they can stop laying.
There are also physical reasons for them to stop laying. Some of the most common are:
- Poor Nutrition
- Not enough Daylight
- Injury or Disease
Most of these can be corrected, and the hens will start laying normally as soon as the problem is addressed.
Poor Nutrition Affects Egg Production
Just like all other animals, including us, proper nutrition for your hens is paramount for optimal performance and health. This is the single most effective thing you can do for anything, plants, pets, fish, your children, to keep them healthy and strong. And the amounts can be as important as the quality of feed. Nothing does as good when it is over-fed. As your hens caretaker, it is your responsibility to give them proper food in the correct amounts.
Chickens require 38 specific nutrients to be healthy. I won’t list them all here because, unless you plan to make your own food for them, it’s not necessary that you know each specific nutrient. Commercial feeds have all of the right ones if you buy the right kind of feed. But you should at least know the required components. They are:
Carbs are a source of quick energy, and every chicken cell requires carbs to function. Carbs come in 3 basic forms;
- Singly, such as glucose, fructose, and other simple, easily digested sugars.
- Paired Sugars, such as sucralose and lactose. These digest slower and provide longer-term energy for the cells.
- Large Molecule Sugars, such as cellulose. These are indigestible, but act as fiber, and are very important for your hens’ digestive health.
Carbohydrates will make up the largest part of your chickens’ diet. These will come from grains, like wheat, corn sorghum, millet, rice, etc…
You will also need indigestible carbs or Crude Fiber. This can come from things like cellulose, sea kelp, and other sources. You need a minimum of 60% grains, and 7% fiber to keep your birds properly fed. Chicks will require Growing Feed, which has a slightly higher protein content.
This is listed on the labels of bags of chicken feed as “Crude Protein”.
A protein is a chain of amino acids. 20 amino acids are required for health, but you don’t need to know all of them. The birds can make 10 of them themselves, from the other ingredients in the feed.
The 10 proteins you need to be aware of are:
Always check the ingredients on the bags of feed to make sure they contain all of these amino acids. A lot of the protein in feed comes from fish meal, which is also rich in vitamins. You can supplement your birds’ protein by giving them mealworm treats, but don’t overdo it. Too much can be as bad as too little. Laying hens need around 18% protein in their feed.
The fats chickens need for nutrition, called Dietary Fat, are triglycerides.
As the name suggests, they are a grouping of 3 fatty acids. There are two types of fatty acids:
- Omega 6
- Omega 3
Your chickens’ can do well with Omega 3s. In fact, there is only one that they really need, linoleic acid.
They need this fat to be able to store calories and fat-soluble vitamins. The fats in feed usually come from soy products, flaxseed, and fishmeal. You need around 10% for laying hens.
These are essential for all metabolic purposes. No one ingredient has all the vitamins in the correct amounts, but feeds have a good mixture to be sure your hens are getting what they need. To be extra sure, you can add a vitamin supplement mix to the feed.
- Minerals – Minerals are also vital for all biological processes. These are listed on the labels of the feed as, “Ash Content”. Few commercial feeds have the optimal amount of minerals, in my opinion, especially the main ones the chickens need: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chlorine. These are not present in enough quantities in grains, so I highly recommend adding mineral supplements to your feed.
- Water – most feeds have around 10% moisture, and chickens need more than 60% of their body weight to be healthy. Always make sure they have a plentiful supply of cool, clean water.
If you are thinking of making your own chicken food or feeding them scraps, I’d advise against it. As a supplement, maybe, but not a complete diet.
Your birds will most likely pick through it for what they want and leave the rest. Use a good brand of organic chicken feed, with pellets or mash, and always read the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to use supplements, in the proper amounts.
When your hens slow down on laying, try changing their food. It can make a big difference.
Adult chickens molt every year, usually in the fall.
At this time, their energies are devoted to feather replacement, and they will stop laying. Feather replacement can take 6 to 8 weeks to complete. It is nothing to worry about. When their feathers are replaced, they will go back to laying as normal.
You can speed this up a little by increasing the protein content of their feed slightly, to around 20%. When they start laying again, go back to their regular laying food. Your chickens will not all molt at the same time, so you’ll still get some eggs during this time.
Not much you can do about this, except make the hen as comfortable as possible and let her finish out her life in peace.
Chickens can live for a good bit once their egg-laying days are done.
Think of it as their Retirement. Be kind to them. They have earned it.
Chickens are very emotional. They can stop laying for something as innocuous as getting their feelings hurt. Constant loud noises, bullying from other chickens, fear of predators, overcrowding,… All of these can cause your hens to stop laying for a few days. Once the stress is eliminated, they will usually go back to laying. The issue is finding out what is causing the stress. I have no suggestions here. There is no telling what may be causing the stress. All I can say is be diligent, and don’t give up. Sometimes, moving the coop may be all that is required.
Chickens need 16 hours of daylight for optimal egg production.
Obviously, this can be a problem in the Fall and Winter, when the days get shorter. Many Chickeneers (my term…) just let their birds rest in the winter.
But if you want to continue getting eggs all year, all you have to do is offer supplemental light, in the form of a regular light bulb. 25 watts is plenty. You can also use 3-9 watt LED lights. Either turn them off manually or put them on a timer to maintain a regular sleep schedule for the birds.
Lack of regular sleep can cause stress, which will also keep your chickens from laying.
Injury and Disease
These are the reasons we don’t want to see.
There are a host of health conditions that can cause hens to stop laying. Injuries from fights with other chickens are easy to deal with. Take the bird to the vet, and quarantine her until she heals back up. If you have particularly aggressive hens, you may want to segregate them from the rest of the flock.
Anytime you suspect a disease, quarantine the bird immediately, and have a vet come out to look at that bird and your flock. Don’t take them to the vet. This can help spread the disease if there is one. Wash your hands after handling any birds to prevent the spread of parasites or diseases to the other birds.
Cleanliness, sanitation, and vaccinations are your best defenses against disease and parasites.
Easter Egg Hunt
Before you panic about not finding as many eggs as you expected, there is one more thing you should try, and do this first (I know, I should’ve put this first, but now I can laugh, knowing you probably went through all the other steps. The practice is good for you… LOL).
You probably won’t find this on many sites, or books. But I have been around chickens all my life, and I can tell you with complete authority that chickens can be headstrong, and have a sense of humor.
At times, they will lay eggs in other places, away from the nesting boxes. They may do it because they want to brood a clutch of eggs, and raise some chicks, and they don’t trust you to get the message. Or, they may do it just as a joke, or to irritate you.
If your egg count comes up short, check all of the nooks and crannies in the coop. Then check the run, and I mean everywhere. If you let them Free-Range, then it really gets fun.
I have found eggs in my car seats, under the seats (because I left the window down), under the hood, underneath the car, in my kayaks and canoes, in the gardens, on and under the porch, in the house under the sofa, in cabinets, in pots and pans, window sills,…try not to leave any doors or screens open. Just a suggestion…
I don’t know how she did it, but once, I had a Rhode Island Red lay eggs in the gutter, on the roof. I found them by accident while retrieving a Frisbie, because everyone knows the roof is where Frisbies go to die.