Why are my hens not laying?

Why are my hens not laying? Some common causes.
By sumi · Dec 9, 2012 · Updated Mar 24, 2014 · ·
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  1. sumi

    Why are my hens not laying? Some common causes.
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    Many of us raise chickens, wait patiently for the first egg, months pass and... nothing. Or our hens suddenly stop laying for no apparently reason. Why are we not getting any eggs? Here are a few reasons:

    Daylight and the seasons

    In nature chickens only laid eggs in Spring and into the middle of Summer. The reason for this is because chickens lay eggs to reproduce and during the Spring and Summer months the weather is good and there is more food available, so conditions are perfect for raising chicks. When the days get shorter the hens' bodies sense the change of season and egg production slows down and stops. Humans have been modifying this behaviour and have been breeding the most prolific layers to ensure year round egg production, but given the chance most hens will still do what nature tell them to. Most hens need a minimum 14-16 hours of light per day to fool their bodies into thinking it's Spring and keep them in production. This could be either natural or electric light or a combination of both. Adding electric light to the coop will help keep your hens in production, but keep in mind that this could shorten the hen's egg laying lifespan. Hens are born with a limited amount of egg cells and once those are spent she'll lay no more eggs. If you do decide to add a light have it on in the mornings, so you don't disrupt the hens' natural roosting behaviour. You do not need a bright light, just enough to read a newspaper by.

    Stress

    Stressed hens either lay very strange eggs or no eggs at all. A fright, running out of food and water, disruptions of the pecking order (for example adding a rooster to the flock) and getting moved to a new coop/run all causes stress. When you buy hens and bring them home to a new coop it could take up to 6 weeks before they start laying again. Adding unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) will help your chickens deal better with stress. The ratio is 4-5 tablespoons to a gallon water.



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    This egg was laid by one of my hens the day after she got a really big fright

    Incorrect Feeding

    The average laying hen's skeleton contains 20g calcium and one egg represents 10% of that. Hens do have calcium reserves stored up in their bodies, but if they do not get enough calcium from their food for their egg shells the stores will get depleted very quickly and they will stop laying. It's important that laying hens get fed either a proper, balanced layer feed (mash or pellets) or a good quality all flock feed with a calcium supplement like oyster shell offered free choice. It is best to offer layer food "free choice" i.e. have the feeders full at all times, to ensure hens get enough food. Keep in mind that the average hen needs 5 ounces of food and 10 ounces of water to produce 1 egg. Feeding too much treats, table scraps and scratch means the hens will eat less of the food they need, so only feed limited amounts of those. Overfeeding scraps and scratch can also cause the hens to get too fat. Overweight hens don't lay eggs.

    Molting

    Molting is a natural process which allows hens to replace old, worn feather by shedding them and growing new ones. It is usually triggered by day length (shorter days), but it can happen any time of the year. A stressful event can trigger it too. Most hens molt once a year, usually over winter in their second year and it is advisable to let to let your hens molt in their second year. Regrowing feathers takes us much of the body's resources as egg laying does, so during a molt most hens won't lay. A molt usually takes between 2 and 6 months to complete and unfortunately this process cannot be rushed. Some extra protein in their feed will help the hens a lot during this time.

    Disease and/or Parasites

    Diseases and parasite infestations will cause hens to either lay less or stop laying completely. Good parasite control is important and if a hen shows any sign of disease she should be isolated and treated asap. Some of the most common parasites that can cause a drop in egg production are mites, lice and fleas, which can be controlled by regularly dusting the hens, their coop and run with a good quality poultry dust. Internal parasites to look out for are round worms and tape worms. Deworm the flock every 6 months as a precaution. The withdrawal period for most dewormers are 14 days and the eggs laid during that period should be discarded and should not be incubated. The residue in the eggs causes severely handicapped chicks and most die shortly after hatching.
    Diseases that influence egg production are fowl pox, coccidiosis, infectious bronchitis, Newcastle disease, Avian influenza, chronic respiratory infection, fowl cholera and infectious coryza. Most of these diseases can be controlled by vaccinating the flock and maintaining good hygiene practices.

    Temperature Extremes

    Too high or low temperatures also affect egg laying. In winter aim to keep the temperature in your coop above 55*F and in summer make sure they have plenty water and shade to help them stay cool. Feed treats like watermelon, make sure the hens have plenty fresh, cool water to drink and put a fan in the coop if possible.


    Broodiness

    When hens go broody their hormones tell them to stop laying eggs and incubate and hatch them instead. They will sit in the nest box all day and night, refuse to get up and steal other hens' eggs if given the opportunity. Unwanted broodiness a nuisance, but there are techniques to "break" them and get them back into production.

    The hen's age

    Hens that won't lay can either be too young or too old.
    The average age of a hen when she starts laying is 6 months. Some smaller breeds like Leghorns, Stars and Australorps lay sooner and larger breeds like Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks and Orpingtons start later. The first 2 years of a hen's life is her most productive. By the time she's 5 years old she will only lay half as frequently as she did during her first 2 years. Good egg laying hens have 2 egg laying cycles of 50-60 weeks each. After that there will be a sharp decline in egg production.

    A good sign of a pullet approaching lay is the colour of her comb. If her comb turns a bright red colour she's ready. The reason for the colour change is to show the rooster that she is ready to start laying fertile eggs. Her pelvis will be wider and if you look at her vent it will be moist and pink.
    There is also a simple test you can do to check if your hen is laying/ready. Hold the hen firmly and turn her on her back. Put your fingers on her breast bone and work your way down to her vent area. You should feel 2 bones sticking up. These are her pelvic bones. If you can fit only 1 finger upright between her pelvic bones she's still roughly 4 weeks off laying, 1 and 1/2 fingers means she's a little closer, 2/3 weeks and 2 or more fingers means she's either close to or laying already.


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    This hen is laying. I could fit 2 fingers comfortably between her pelvic bones and note the colour of her vent.

    Predators

    Another reason you are not getting any eggs may be predators. Mice, rats, snakes and some other animals steal eggs, so make sure your coop and run is predator proof.

    Free ranging

    Free ranging hens sometimes lay their eggs in secrets nests. So your hens may be laying after all, but not where you want them too! If this is the case keep them cooped up for a few days so they will learn to use the nest boxes. Fake eggs or golf balls in the nest boxes will make them more attractive for hens too.

    Egg eating

    If you are not getting any eggs, but are sure your hens are laying, you might have an egg eater or two in your flock. Look for signs like yolk smeared on the nest box materials. Here are some good tips for breaking egg eating habits: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/six-tips-on-breaking-your-egg-eater

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Recent User Reviews

  1. Off island chickens
    "Helped with my stress problem."
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 29, 2018
    Great advice on stress and egg production.
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  2. ronott1
    "Excellant article"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 27, 2018
    Very Helpful resource!
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  3. mrs_organized_chaos
    "Good troubleshooting article"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 26, 2018
    This is a good place to start when trying to figure out why your hens are not laying.
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Comments

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  1. Corys chickens
    Thanks i learned alot
      sumi likes this.
  2. Nikki A
    Any ideas why started pullets that were supposed to be between 16-22 weeks of age when I got them (July 11, 2017) STILL have not started laying? I got them from Murray McMurray. They are fed layer crumbles (they won't eat pellets), have oyster shell free choice, and I give them one serving of a treat (mealworms, scratch, etc) per day. Plenty of water, space, TOYS for entertainment, everything. These are the most spoiled chickens you will even see - they want for nothing! I even put in a light on a timer to 16 hours/day of light to see if that was the problem but still NO EGGS.

    There are four different breeds: New Hampshire Red, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Delaware, and Black Autralorp. Not a one is laying. Obviously it must be ME that is the problem but I don't know what I'm doing wrong.
      BirdieChickenLady likes this.
    1. sumi
      Depending on when you got them and their true ages, they may need a few weeks to get going. The average hens starts to lay aged 20-25 weeks.
    2. Nikki A
      They arrived July 11, 2017 and were supposed to be between 16-22 weeks of age. Even if they were just 16 weeks then (which I doubt because three were just shy of full size upon arrival), they would be 26+ weeks now. All four are larger than my Cream Legbar adults now and their combs and wattles are fairly well developed.
    3. norain
      Try uping the protein a layer feed and also we found when we let them out to feed on the fresh grass the eggs count went from 6 to 19 eggs per morning . I'm no exspert but its worth a try worked for us . i've also been told to try alpha cubes in the run during winter when there is no grass to range . Our chicken friend across the valley says she does this and it works .
  3. Fluttering-about
    Thanks for the great article! I am a new chicken momma and am still getting used chicken "language"
    When you say "get a fright, what do you consider a "fright"?
    When trying to "catch" one of my girls I feel traumatized!!! She just does not want to be handled.
    The other two won't saunter over, but once I have them and have taken a minute to soothe them the are fine. "Soup", my sweetheart, and the lowest on the pecking order, LOVES for me to "groom" her, (once I've managed to catch her). I'll pick through her feathers removing dirt etc. or I'll just sit quietly stroking her and telling her stories. I swear she coo's almost like she's talking back, or purring.. :love

    Anyhow! Back to my original question. What do you guys consider a fright, or a trauma?
      Ni62 and Abriana like this.
    1. sumi
      With "fright" I mean anything that startles or scares the hens, i.e. cause them stress.
    2. norain
      You know if you set that scared chicken on your lap with a bowl of rice and let it eat it will become your best friend and will lose the fear . we do this with plain yogurt and a little rice if you have bird with sour crop .
      Ni62, BirdieChickenLady and Abriana like this.
  4. kie4
    I have 7 hens and 3 pullets. 6 of the hens lay eggs for us but the Ayam Cemani diva no longer lays for us. She started laying eggs in December 2016 and then laid through the Winter until about April. Then she just stopped. She never laid every day, more like every 3 days.

    - I've checked her over for parasites, nothing
    - I've checked her poop, looks beautiful
    - She is lively, chases insects, loves to forage and hang out with the others.
    - She is has the nastiest temperament of all our hens and pecks a lot at roost time
    - Once I found an egg of hers next to the garage. I've scoured the yard and cannot find any 'secret stash'.
    - I've tried keeping all in the coop for a few days to make sure there's no secret stash
    - She's not moulting
    - She's 11 months old

    Any ideas?
      BirdieChickenLady and FKellogg like this.
  5. dunnmom
    This article is really well put together. Mine are definitely temperature sensitive. They're Orpingtons, so they have thick feathering. They also have stopped while molting before. No biggie, they lay so many eggs they deserve a break sometimes. Haven't had the pleasure of having to deal with broody yet.
      BirdieChickenLady and sumi like this.
  6. Gibbie
    Live this article. Thank you for posting!
      sumi likes this.
  7. guinealeghorn
    Great job on the article!
      sumi likes this.
  8. Abriana
    great article
      sumi likes this.
  9. 3riverschick
    One thing you can do to help bring your hens into lay is to feed them one cubic inch per bird per day of 4 to 7 Day old sprouted forage oats . that would be Green Feed. it is known historically to help bring the hens in to lay and help the Cocks produce more robust sperm. The description of the oats is precise here's why:
    1 cubic inch should be within bowel tolerance. if you feed more it will not hurt them. If the bowels get soft, back off a bit with the amount until they firm up again. Sprouted oats from one to three days old are known as grain feed and fed as a part of the daily ration .on the fourth day a nutritional change takes place within the oat sprout. then it becomes Green Feed and is fed as a supplement to the Daily ration. older than 7 days is no Advantage. however the older sprouts court the Peril of spoiled oats and we don't want to go there. Sprouted oats should always smell fresh and feel crisp. if they smell foul or feel slimy, they are not good, do not feed .
    We use forage oats. the kind Farmers plant in their fields and pastures and deer plots for animals to graze on. instead of feed oats which are fed to the animals in the barn. this is because feed oats used to have chemical coatings on them to prevent mold and they didn't Sprout they just molded instead . forage oats are very nutritious . I buy mine from Plotspike. Plotspike Forage Oats. I get mine at Tractor Supply . See the Plotspike website.
    Best,
    Karen
  10. Nikki Raney
    I gave the girls a double whammy last year, in May. New bigger coop and run, and added 3 new littles. Two of my girls quit laying all together. They were only 3 yo. I thought they would settle in. Otherwise they are healthy.
  11. TwoCrows
    Great article! :)
      3riverschick and sumi like this.
  12. N F C
    Good information Sumi!
  13. Lucy Lou
    Our girls are off the lay and have been for a week. I live in the sub tropics and we have had an unusual cold snap for a few weeks. 4 degrees celcius is cold for us. Thanks so much Sumi
      3riverschick likes this.
  14. evagay
    thank you. Are chickens have not been laying well but it has been unusually hot for us. In the high 90s and even 100 degrees. We will put the apple cider in their water.. Been watering their pen down. They seem to like that. Also giving them cool water during the day... i thought the heat could be the problem...
  15. Lucy Lou
    So eaglegreen, what does adding apple cider vinegar to the water do for chickens, and in what ratio do you recommend? Thank you
  16. Kiwi Amy
    Great article and timely - Henrietta hasn't given us an egg for two days now...first world problems! I catastrophised a bit (we've never had hens before) but she's acting perfectly normally and seems healthy as anything. I'll take the emergency services off speed-dial!

    And they free-range for at least a couple of hours a day. She might be leaving little eggy treats in our garden...might be time to bring out the pretend eggs again.
  17. eaglegreen
    By adding Apple Cider Vinegar to their drinking water as you do, and by dusting their sleeping and laying areas with diatomaceous earth, and occasionally mixing a tablespoon or so in with their dry food, and putting a liberal amount in their dust bath area, I have never had problems with either mites, lice, nor internal parasites. For those unfamiliar with diatomaceous earth, I strongly urge you to read online. It's one of the great discoveries for all sorts of help in all sorts of areas. It is totally non-toxic to critters, easy to obtain online, and great (food grade) to keep weevils out of grain, flour, etc. I have two old girls (Americaunas), 3 Red Rock Partridge (never heard of them before, but that's what the feed store that sold them to me said), and 2 Welsummer Bantams. And 4 ducks which have their own separate area because they are SO messy!
      Phoebus and BirdieChickenLady like this.
    1. norain
      diatomaceous earth is the greatest insecticide there is . Every shed chicken coop , even blew it up in the attic of our house with the leaf blower .well we don't have any bugs or spiders in our 15 yr old house .no bugs in our coops or on our chickens also sheds ive built don't get flys in them .its safe and is whats added to grain bins to kill weavils your pets can lick it we all eat it in cereal
      https://richsoil.com/diatomaceous-earth.jsp
      BirdieChickenLady likes this.
  18. farmlady1
    Great article. It is very informative and straight forward. Thanks.
      3riverschick likes this.
  19. Lucy Lou
    Thank you Sumi, very informative
  20. BobsChickens
    Great article! This info will come in useful; my hens aren't laying too much.
  21. DDRanch
    Excellent and informative article. Thank you.
  22. Mountain Peeps
    Great and very helpful article!!!!!!!!
  23. arkansas55
    wow! this is great,now i can check my hen''s in october and see if they are ready if they aren't laying by then,very helpful information,well written.thank you
  24. Peplers chicks
    Excellent article, thanks Sumi.
  25. Deerling
    Very informative article, and very easy to read and refer to. Thanks!
  26. humphrey farms
    Good article!
  27. sumi
    Those are recommended temperatures. Some breeds handle colder temperatures better than others. Same with light hours. Some breeds get affected more than others :)
  28. billrey
    I disagree with one point... 55 degree and above in the winter! My hens lay just fine down past twenty below. My hens are mainly Barred Rocks and Orphingtons.
  29. dr1939
    A very informative article. Thank you for the information.
  30. chickenpooplady
    Great article!
  31. willowbranchfarm
    Great Article sumi.
  32. cluckcluckgirl
    Great article with a lot of explanations!
  33. redsoxs
    On the mark as always, sumi. The focus of your article is a common question on BYC. You know your stuff and it shows!!
  34. Sally Sunshine
    Great work Sumi
  35. seminolewind
    Nice article. Alot of people panic when their hen isn't laying. This clears alot up.
    1. 3riverschick
      If the problem with your egg-laying is because your birds are molting you can put them on Nutrena Feather Fixer chicken feed .it's an excellent food for molting birds. will bring in a beautiful set of new feathers . I tried Feather Fixer on the advice of another BYCer and was astonished at the results. I did get eggs from some of my hens through the molt and their new feathers were just gorgeous .
      Best ,
      Karen

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