What's really normal for this time of year?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Xtina, Feb 3, 2013.

  1. Xtina

    Xtina Songster

    Jul 1, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    Hi BYC,

    I'm feeling a little frustrated with the low level of egg laying I'm experiencing out of this current batch of chickens. In the scheme of things, I'm pretty new to chicken keeping. I've raised two batches of chickens, so I wouldn't say I'm an expert on breeds and what's fair to expect. I know that what I'm going through right now isn't uncommon at all, but my neighbors aren't sharing the same experiences so it can be frustrating.

    My first batch of chickens was a RIR, BO, and Barred Rock. I still have the Barred Rock, but the BO was eaten by a raccoon and the RIR just up and died one day, with no obvious cause (and I didn't investigate too closely). A chicken expert friend told me sometimes they just are such good layers that they lay themselves to death at a young age. My Barred Rock is my favorite hen ever, so sweet and sociable, so even though she's too old to expect production from, I won't get rid of her. She's my bud. The first few years, I got eggs all through the winter. I got the suspicion that maybe that's what caused my RIR to lose steam and die so young (about 3 years old).

    My second batch is what's listed in my signature line: the same Barred Rock (mostly retired and living the good life), a Light Brahma, a Gold-Laced Wyandotte, and a Silver-Laced Wyandotte. I knew when getting them that they weren't rated to be top layers, but I wanted longevity, not necessarily high production. I was willing to sacrifice daily production through the winter to have birds who live longer. This is the same reason I don't want to put artificial light on them: I know they only have so many eggs in their body (just like I do) and that if I ramp up winter production artificially then I am shortening their production life. But I didn't expect the extremely low results I got: These hens are about 2 years old and they quit laying last year from about October till....I don't know, March or April??? I mean, they go on 100% strike.

    I get exactly zero eggs for six months! From four ladies, one of whom might still lay occasionally, I think this is abysmal. Am I over-reacting? I purposefully chose my breeds because I wanted heritage breeds that would follow a more biologically appropriate production schedule. So if this is normal, then maybe I need to reconsider my chicken strategy. If this isn't normal, then these birds are duds.

    I know that people's laying concerns have probably been covered ad nauseum on this forum. I found several threads myself. But none that really seemed to answer my questions. My neighbor who has a run of 3 first-year pullets is getting eggs. My other neighbor with 8 hens is getting a few a day. I don't remember what breeds they all have, but it's a mix. We all live in Portland and none of us puts light on our hens in the winter. We all feed layer feed and mine probably get the most free-ranging time and space of all. So what gives?

    I need to decide whether to get rid of this batch, take a break from chickens, and start up again with a new list of breeds. I don't really want to do that, given the investment I've put into them so far (not to mention feeding a bunch of duds all winter), and given the fact that I don't want to get rid of my favorite henny. And I don't want her to be lonely if I get rid of the other 3.
  2. Xtina

    Xtina Songster

    Jul 1, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    P.S. I have read the sticky thread about this question a few times - starting last year when my production really dropped. I'm beginning to feel like it's enough of a problem to ask for advice beyond those links. I'm sorry to flog this dead horse!
  3. Jarrett Dobbins

    Jarrett Dobbins In the Brooder

    Jan 25, 2013
    North Carolina
    I do believe that you are comparing results from one-year old pullets to older hens. When you have older hens that aren't the best producers, you will have to know that each year their egg production will decrease. I find this happening every year with my hens so I always have a fresh batch that just started laying at this time. The decrease in egg production should be expected, as I said, so do not over react :)
  4. Xtina

    Xtina Songster

    Jul 1, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    Maybe you're right, but I thought I was taking the whole spectrum into account. Since I've never kept records, it's hard to know if I'm remembering correctly or not. Hmm, maybe I should take records...

    Anyway, here's how I remember it, and things may be slightly off:

    Year 1: They began production in the winter
    Year 2: They laid eggs all winter
    Year 3: The year the first two died/I brooded the next batch. I don't remember if the one survivor laid much that winter.
    Year 4: No winter laying from a flock of young birds
    Year 5: No winter laying

    I'm glad I went through that memory exercise, because it looks like the current batch were duds from the start, if I'm remembering right.
  5. gamelife

    gamelife Songster

    Nov 6, 2011
    I am now a big fan of extra lighting. I wasn't getting any eggs for a while. I put a light in one of my coops, set up with a timer to turn on at three am a couple of weeks ago just to see if I could my hens to start laying. They are getting about fifteen hours of light each day.
    And wouldn't you know it six days later I got my first egg. Now all the hens in that coop are laying.
    In the other pens I have no eggs.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    I’m not sure I followed all the ages all that well, but consider this. It is not that unusual for a pullet to skip the molt and lay throughout her first winter, whether you provide extra light or not. This does not happen to all of them but it really is fairly normal for hatchery pullets to do this. Part of that depends on when they start to lay to start with, early summer or in the fall. if they are young enough, they may just wait until the folowing spring.

    The next fall, when the days get shorter, they go into molt and quit laying. All the nutrients and energy that was going into egg production is used to make new feathers. The molt can last anywhere from what seems like only a bit over a month to several months. Some are fast molters and some are slow molters. There really can be a tremendous difference in how long one hen takes versus another hen even if they are living side by side, eating the same thing, and living in the same conditions. Some hens start laying as soon as they are over the molt. Some wait until spring to start laying again.

    Every fall after that first molt, they will molt and go through this cycle again.

    Each hen is an individual so you can’t use what I am about to say for just one hen. You need enough hens for the averages to mean anything before averages mean anything. In a large flock, after the second adult molt, the flock’s average productivity drops around 15%. That means they lay about 15% fewer eggs. The eggs are generally larger, but there are fewer of them. Some hens keep laying great for several years. Some really drop off quickly.

    They are individuals and someone can always come up with anything someone says in general. They are living animals and they really are different. That's why what is normal does not always apply to one specific hen.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2013
  7. Terry80

    Terry80 Hatching

    Aug 25, 2015
    I just joined backyard chickens and was pleased to see your entry on game chickens. I am not interested in people fighting them at all. I think they are the most beautiful chickens ever! I will be eighty years old next month have ordered a chicken house to be delivered after labor day and have a half dozen game chickens. For me this is a childhood dream and I able to follow through now. It is very exciting and enjoy talking about it.

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