Wondering if I can get my Australorp to start laying this time of year

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by jjdent, Nov 17, 2013.

  1. jjdent

    jjdent Out Of The Brooder

    Oct 20, 2013
    Rustburg, VA
    I've got an Australorp hen just coming into laying age (6 to 7 months old). She shares a small coop only at night with a rooster and three other medium-sized hens, and free-ranges during the day in the backyard. I don't feed them anything except a significant amount of household scraps every day, and they pick at the compost bin as well. She has not yet laid her first egg, and the other three have not laid since I introduced them a week ago (They have already begun laying - about 1 year old). Five nights ago I began putting additional light in their coop. There is only room in the coop for three roosting bars, a very small floor, and three laying boxes. I close them in the coop and they sit on the roosting bars for the 4 hours the light is on, looking like they wish they could go to sleep. I'm not sure whether I'm capturing the essence of the idea of using extra light. Is this only for large coops with a large social area? Might I be better off putting a flood light in the yard for 4 hours and not shutting them into the coop? Just wondering. One of the other hens is a red sex-link, and she has investigated the laying boxes, but not yet used them. The other two are Wyandottes. Any advice?
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Interesting question. As for the amount of light, you don’t need a lot. If you can read a newspaper in there, you have enough.

    For four hens you don’t need three nesting boxes. You could get by with one but I personally like the extra. Having extra often comes in handy for me. Since you said your coop is small, if you could easily remove one to give them more room, it might help their living conditions. Probably not a big deal but if it is easy, it won’t hurt.

    I don’t provide extra light. Last winter I had some 9 month old pullets start to lay in early December, on the shortest days of the year. Some others from that hatch waited until spring to start. Normally I would have expected them to start laying three or four months earlier. Those pullets did not read the rule book at all. Point of this is, you can’t tell what they are going to do. They lay when they lay.

    However you can trick them into thinking it is spring by adding extra light. It’s not the total length of the days that is important, just that the days are getting longer. Technically it’s that the nights are getting shorter, not the days getting longer, but it amounts to the same thing. If you do it again next year, you might be better off gradually extending the light, like 15 or 20 minutes every few days. But you are where you are. Reducing the length of light now would likely confuse them and what you have should work.

    Don’t expect instant results. It can take a month for the light to cause them to start laying. There are several things that have to happen inside the hen for her to get her internal egg laying factory ready to lay, and it takes time for those ova to get up to yolk size. You’ll see testimonials on here where people turned lights on and got immediate results. Those hens were pretty close to laying anyway, but lights certainly do help rate of lay and can help them actually get started.

    I raise my chickens for meat more than eggs. I’ve butchered a lot of pullets and looked inside. I’ve butchered pullets that had just started laying. When you look inside you can tell they are laying or ready. I’ve had others from the same hatch look like they were not even close to laying. The ova were tiny and the egg laying equipment was really undeveloped. I could easily see that it would take a long time for them to lay even if I put light on them. I don’t know which of these your pullet is.

    When you moved those hens, the disruption might have caused enough stress that put them off laying for a bit. Most chickens don’t like change and you’ve moved them to a totally new place and they probably have to reset the pecking order. It’s possible that stress could kick them into a molt, especially if they have never gone through a full-blown adult molt. Or they may start laying today. It’s really hard to say.

    You are raising them a whole lot like small farmers have raised chickens for thousands of years, letting them forage for their own food, and maybe supplementing that with table scraps if the dogs or cats didn’t get the scraps first. However, I don’t know what the quality of your forage is like. On those farms the chickens had all different kinds of grass and weeds, grass and weed seeds, and creepy crawlies to eat. Those farmers had cattle, horses, sheep, goats, some other animals where the chickens could scratch in the poop and get a lot of nutrients. Depending on how hard the winter was they probably got supplemental feed. In many backyards they don’t have a good quality forage. They have a manicured lawn of one type of grass that is not allowed to go to seed. Weeds, weed seeds, and creepy crawlies are extremely limited. Even with all those scraps and the compost bin, they may not be getting a good balanced diet with enough protein to promote laying.

    For chickens to lay, they need a certain amount of proteins and other nutrients. It’s not about the percent protein in one bite of food, it’s total amount of protein they eat on average. It’s quite possible in your situation they are just not getting enough protein to support laying. You might be better off adding a high protein snack for them.

    The light inside the coop seems to be getting them to bed. If you put a floodlight outside, what happens when it goes off? Are they stuck outside and unable to see to go to the coop? Some people do it that way and it works. As long as the flood light doesn’t bother you or your neighbors you can certainly try it and see what happens. You might be better off using a smaller wattage bulb in the coop.

    There are no hard and fast rules for your situation, just a lot of different things that might or might not work. Hopefully you can get something out of all this rambling that helps. Good luck!
  3. jjdent

    jjdent Out Of The Brooder

    Oct 20, 2013
    Rustburg, VA
    No, I really appreciate it all. That was exactly the sort of answer I was looking for. I will switch back to 40 watts. I had upped it to 60W. They've always come into the coop at dusk, before I added the light. I'm just wondering if them being awake is enough, because there's only enough room in there for them to sit up on a roosting bar at night, or if they're supposed to be able to continue carrying on with their usual activities given the extra light.

    The 3 I introduced a week ago seem to have settled into the pecking order within the first 3 days or so, and have been investigating the laying boxes on occasion.

    My backyard includes my garden area, which right now they are aggressively tearing apart foraging every day, and thickly wooded area with lots of cover, in which I've also seen them aggressively foraging. Lots of weeds and seeds and old dead wood with bugs and loose dirt and leaves and such. I'm quite country-suburban, no urban-suburban. The 3 new ones are very aggressive foragers, and were raised that way, while the two "spoiled" ones (the Australorps) I got about 2 months ago seem to always be running the fence-line facing house seeking a handout. The 2 Australorps were very well taken care of, however, while the others have feathers pulled out and seem to show signs of having lived in an over-crowded environment.

    I think I'll try adding some laying feed once per day or see how to supplement their protein intake and see what happens. Thanks so much.

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