Seasonal turns bring many changes on the farm, both with our vegetation and with our animals. One of the most common questions we hear this time of year is, “Why have my chickens stopped laying?”
With the sophisticated nutrition and selective breeding behind today’s poultry, we’re used to very high levels of productivity. Most robust breeds lay an egg every 23 to 26 hours, so it can come as quite a surprise when the eggs abruptly stop.
There are a variety of reasons and factors that can cause your birds to close up shop for a little while. Rest assured, most of the reasons are natural and should be expected. While we don’t want to over-stress or over-work the birds, knowing the different causes can also help inform on the most healthy support and growth set up for your flock.
General Environmental Factors – to be expected, not really in our control
- Daylight: Chickens’ ovulation cycles are influenced by daylight. Most birds respond to 15 – 16 hours of stimulation for egg production. While younger birds tend to sustain higher production in their first winter, as daylight decreases into autumn and winter, it takes longer for birds to get their sunlight fix, and thus creates longer refractory times in between eggs.
How you can help: supplying chickens with an artificial light source during darker months will help augment the difference in daylight, but keep in mind that tinkering with natural cycles too much, generally, can cause other problems down the line.
Specific Environmental Factors – to be expected, but more so in our control
- Stress: We’ve all been there: bills, work, rough night’s sleep…the last thing we want to do when we’re stressed is to pop out an egg roughly the size of our head. Environmental stressors also affect production in birds.
- Predators & egg thieves: Cooling temperatures tend to bring more predators out of the woods. Raccoons and opossums, mice, even snakes looking for warmth and food can all take a toll on your flock’s productive mindset, even if you’re not losing birds.
- Environmental change: Introducing birds to a new space, or introducing new birds to a space, can cause a stutter in production for all involved. Anything that takes away from a sense of comfort and security will naturally diminish a body’s reproductive cycles – chickens or otherwise.
- Rough Roosters: Make sure you have enough ladies for your gentlemen. Too few hens, being mounted too often by zealous roos can cause them to close up shop.
- Parasites: Between mites and worms, there are plenty of parasites that can affect your birds. Some symptoms are mild irritations while others can be fatal, and all of them affect healthy egg production just like illness.
How you can help: Consistency and security are key. If your roosters are being ‘extra’, try corralling them for a couple days each week. Make sure coops and runs are secure top to bottom against intrusion, and any changes to the flock are down gradually. Keep an eye on your birds’ droppings and feed intake – any irregularities here may indicate internal parasites, just as feather loss and skin blemishes may indicate external parasites needing treatment.
Life Cycle Factors – to be expected, not really in our control
- Molt: Most chickens undergo their first molt 15 – 18 months of age, and then repeat this about once a year. The severity and length varies by breed, but their bodies typically redirect protein towards feather regrowth over egg production (and they’re also usually stressed out hot messes anyway)
- Age: Chickens hatch with a finite amount of eggs already in their bodies, and one day that number runs down to 0. Rapid layers typically reach their ‘eggspiration’ sooner, in 2 – 3 years, while slow-laying heritage breeds typically last longer.
How you can help: Make sure your birds have quality protein sources, especially those higher in methionine and lysine to get that lustrous plumage back and pull. And in the meantime, be sure to keep their morale high by telling them they are wonderful and beautiful, even if they look like a trash bag.
Dietary Factors – in our control
- Malnutrition: Too much or too little Feed, poor protein or good protein…there are many aspects to balance with your layer feeds, and imbalances on any front can harm healthy production.
- Too many snacks: It’s tempting to treat birds with snacks, treats, table scraps, etc. Just keep in mind that even healthy snacks like blueberries and greens are low in protein. If your birds are filling up other things and not on their formulated layer feeds, then they may not be getting enough of the essential protein and amino acids, calcium, etc. for sustained egg production.
- Dehydration: It’s an obvious one but can be overlooked.
- Illness: Recognizable respiratory complications, infections like bumblefoot–any manner of illness will impact normal bodily functions. Another to keep an eye out for is salpingitis, infection of the hen’s oviduct, which may present as swelling or laying of lash eggs.
How you can help: Make sure your birds are on a high-quality formulated feed for 90% of their dietary intake, with quality protein sources with guaranteed essential amino acids, calcium above 3%, and digestive aids. Keep clean, fresh, thawed water available at all times, and monitor your flock often for signs of illness–and treat accordingly.