Chickens aren’t laying? If you’ve become accustomed to receiving a certain amount of eggs from your flock each week, it can be quite disconcerting when your usual collection routine comes up empty or produces a significantly reduced harvest. Chickens can have off days, but if subsequent egg runs also fail to deliver, many chicken owners will start to feel the panic rolling in as they let their imaginations run wild with all the possible reasons behind their suddenly unproductive flock.
Chicken raisers will react in many ways to a sudden lack of eggs; a few may consider it to be time for the chopping block, while others will agonise over what they may have done to bring on such a disaster. Before letting emotions dictate actions, it’s important that new or inexperienced chicken owners take a step back and consider the advice of those more experienced in the ways of chickens.
Just because this week’s egg hunt produced a scant few eggs, it does not mean that you will experience the same results next week, as the reasons for chickens not producing eggs are many and varied.
1. Adding a New Chicken to the Flock (and Changing the Pecking Order)
Adding a new chicken or chickens to increase the size of your flock disrupts the pecking order (Understanding the Pecking Order). As your flock take the time to figure out the new hierarchy the usual egg laying schedule can be interrupted, with promotions and demotions creating pressure and stress.
Egg production may take a hit until the birds figure out the new order of things and settle back into their usual routine. Give them a few days, and you should notice egg production returning to normal as well.
The vitality of youth will mean that young chickens are generally more productive than the older hens. As hens reach their golden years (about 72 weeks), egg production takes a back seat, and they will produce fewer and fewer eggs.
If your chicken keeping philosophy demands productive chickens, then you have a tough decision to make. Of course, the chopping block doesn’t have to be in their imminent future. Older birds could be considered to have earned their retirement and be left to enjoy whatever time they have left, or you could donate the aging bird to a family who enjoys chickens as pets, there are adoption agencies which make these situations a lot easier.
3. Brooding Hens
At some point in their lives, most chickens are going to consider motherhood. A lot of backyard chicken keepers don’t keep roosters, but this doesn’t stop a brooding hen from putting in the effort.
All logic goes out the window as confused chickens attempt to hatch eggs that they believe have become fertilised. Of course, during this time, making more eggs isn’t a high priority. If you suspect your lack of eggs is due to broodiness there are ways you can snap your hens out of their baby brain, which you will find in our article here. (Broody Hen Guide – The Best Tips and Tricks).
4. Disease and Parasite Infestation
If you’ve gone through all avenues of investigation and still can’t determine the cause for lacklustre egg laying, it might be time for a trip to the vet to check for parasites. You can start the process by ensuring your coop is free of lice and mites, and that there are no visible signs on their skin.
A thorough cleanout will be necessary if you do notice any parasites around the birds’ living area. Internal parasites such as roundworm and tapeworms could also be affecting your chickens’ health. If there is evidence of these two parasites, then your whole flock will need to be treated with whatever treatment your vet recommends.
Chickens are prone to many diseases, any of which can cause your egg gathering session to come up empty. Fowl pox, coccidiosis, and colds can all affect the stress levels of a chicken and will stop them laying. Treat whatever ails them and return them to good health, and they will soon get back to laying eggs.
Chickens will moult once a year. During the 6 – 12 weeks that it takes new feathers to grow back, the chicken will not lay eggs.
6. Too Many Goodies or a Change in Diet
Just like too many lollies aren’t good for children, chickens which have a diet rich in treats will not be at optimum health. Chickens who aren’t enjoying the best of health won’t have the metabolic resources to produce tasty eggs for you on a daily basis. Examine your chicken feed and see if you can’t make some healthy adaptations.
Of course, your chickens work hard for you so want to spoil them on occasion, we understand, but practice your treat giving in moderation and supply a balanced diet.
Changing the feed can also be a shock to a chicken’s system which will put a temporary halt on her egg laying while her body takes the time to adjust to the new range of nutrients. Changing your flock’s diet should be completed in gradual stages. Mix in a third of the new feed for the first few days, and then gradually increase the quantities over the next few weeks.
7. Lack of Sunlight
Chickens don’t just love pecking about under the sun; they need it for health. Chickens possess a gland behind their eyes which is responsible for producing hormones that trigger the process of egg production.
On average, a chicken will need 14 – 16 hours of sunlight to generate enough quantities of these hormones, which is why it’s important you let them out of the coop at the crack of dawn. If you’re not an early riser, then you will need to invest in an automatic door opener.
Of course, now that you know this, you won’t be expecting as many eggs during the winter months (Winter Chickens – What You Need to Know Before Winter Strikes) when the daylight hours are shorter. If you need the egg production to stay on track, it is possible to use artificial light to stimulate the hormone production, but many organic chicken farmers prefer to maintain a hands-off role when it comes to their chickens’ biorhythms, and let nature do her thing.
Receiving a regular supply of eggs is a good sign that your flock is healthy. However, if you have a few chickens, it can be difficult to know how many eggs you should be getting on average every week, and harder to pinpoint those times when you aren’t getting enough. You can easily use your PC and a spreadsheet to keep track of egg quantities from week to week, which will help you keep your finger on the pulse.