You know the routine—get up, get dressed, grab your coffee and gather your morning eggs. But what happens when you walk out into the glistening morning, mug in hand, and the nesting boxes are empty?
Time for a little troubleshooting.
There are lots of reasons why your hens might be laying fewer eggs, or even none at all. Read on for things you can look for that might be slowing egg production and what you can do about it.
Stress has a huge impact on a chicken’s well-being. In fact, you could probably classify most of the reasons on this no-lay list as stress-related. Your girls love their routine, and any large changes to that routine could negatively affect their happiness and egg production.
- Changes to flock
If you have introduced or removed a hen, it can cause a disturbance to the group. It takes a few days to establish a new pecking order. Egg production will likely drop, but should pick back up again. To reduce stress, try introducing or removing the birds at night.
There are a lot of natural predators to chickens. If the flock is feeling threatened, their stress will keep them from laying. While it may be difficult for you to identify the predator, especially a nocturnal one, you can make sure your coop is safe and secure. Cover all of the coop openings with ½ inch wire mesh to make sure your birds stay in and the bad guys stay out.
From barking dogs to noisy motorcycles to screaming kids, loud sounds can stress chickens out. If you can identify and reduce the noise itself, great. If you cannot do anything about the noise, try moving your coop to a quieter place in your yard.
Have you ever had guests staying at your house that just would not leave? How was your stress level? Just like you, if your birds do not have enough personal space, it could cause a drop in their productivity.
- Lack of ventilation
Not enough fresh air can severely impact a flock. Even if you let your flock outside during the day, make sure that their coop is properly ventilated at night. A good rule of thumb is 20% of the coop should be ventilation.
You cannot control the weather, but you can ensure that your flock is as comfortable as possible year-round to keep them happy and laying.
Spring and summer are usually the peak seasons for egg production, but extreme heat can cause enough stress to slow laying. If the weather is hot, make sure your girls have access to shade, adequate ventilation, and cool, clean water.
While egg production is naturally slower in winter (we will talk about that next), extreme cold can make the situation even worse. Make sure you keep your chickens warm.
The amount of daylight your chickens get is the number one reason they do not lay in the winter. Chickens need at least 14 hours of light to stimulate their laying. If you do not mind the production drop, you can let them focus on staying warm and happy in the winter. If you would like to encourage winter laying, place a light on a timer in their coop to ensure they get their 14 hours.
Nutrition is extremely important for keeping your flock healthy and laying. If your birds are not getting the proper amount of protein and other essential nutrients, they will lay fewer eggs. The eggs they do lay could have problems. Make sure you are giving them a complete layer feed appropriate for their age.
While it is fun to give your girls a treat, if they fill up on empty calories they will effectively dilute the effectiveness of their feed. Stick to a 90/10 rule—90% complete feed, 10% treats.
Even more important than feed is water. Your chickens need to have around-the-clock access to clean water. Going just 24 hours without water can stop egg production for three weeks!
Chickens need grit to be able to digest their food properly. They do not have teeth to break down what they eat, so grit collects in their gizzard to help grind their food down. Grit does not need to be fancy, and they may get some if they are free-range, but it is always better to be safe and offer some free-choice grit to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Sometimes the problem is not that your girls are not laying eggs, but that they have formed bad habits that keep you from getting their eggs.
- Hiding eggs
If a chicken has not figured out how to use a nesting box, or she does not feel safe in the nesting box, she may be laying her eggs in a different, “safer” location. Look around for any quiet nooks or crannies that could be a temporary nest, and try placing a fake egg in the nesting box to show her that it is a safe place for her to lay.
If a hen has gone broody, she will change her focus from laying eggs to protecting eggs and allowing them to hatch (even if they are not fertilized). Try removing eggs quickly so she does not get the chance to sit on them. Block daytime access to the nesting boxes after she’s laid her eggs, and, if necessary, put her in a cage for a few days without nesting material (though still give her access to food and water).
- Eating eggs/boredom
Chickens can eat their own (or others!) eggs for a couple of reasons—one may be a calcium deficiency. If that is the case, try giving them crushed eggshells or oyster shells to increase their calcium. Another reason might be boredom. Collect eggs promptly so they are not tempting, raise nesting boxes above eye level, and make sure they get plenty of time in their runs or free-ranging to keep them occupied.
Finally, there are some things you cannot prevent that will decrease your chickens’ egg production.
Even though most chickens will live 5-8 years, their egg production will drop as they age. Most breeds will peak around 2 years, and then drop off sharply. If you have the space, introducing younger birds as the others age, will help keep overall egg production steady.
Around 18 months (and often during the fall), your birds will molt. Which means they will lose their feathers and grow new ones. For 8-16 weeks, their bodies will be focused on producing feathers, not eggs. To speed the process along, try giving them extra protein.
While a drop in egg production can be mysterious and frustrating, luckily, once the situation is solved, the flock will return to their previous happy laying selves.