If you have your own backyard chickens, you know that raising them requires a lot of love, care and attention to ensure some happy hens.
Most chicken owners spend the first four to five months caring for them so that they grow to be healthy egg-laying chickens one day. However, your hens might not always lay eggs right away, even if they are of the right age. Whether you are a new chicken owner or a seasoned veteran, your chickens may not laying eggs with consistency.
While there isn’t a magic remedy that will force your chickens to begin producing eggs, you can certainly encourage them to have a disposition for laying eggs. Here are a few questions to address if you are trying to get your chickens to lay eggs.
Are They Being Fed Correctly?
Your chickens require at least 20g of protein and 4g of calcium as well as phosphorus, vitamin D, fat and water in order to be able to lay an egg.
Hydration is actually the most important element in their nutrition, and not drinking enough water can make your chickens stop laying eggs for weeks at a time. You’ll want to find out exactly how much water and protein your specific type of chicken breed requires, but they typically need to drink water at least three times a day and need to drink the same water amount by weight as they need to eat.
The best way to feed your chickens once they are of egg-laying age is to feed them layer pellets, which are formulated to provide a nutrient-balanced meal. Even if you prefer to feed your chickens scraps or any other type of non-pellet food, those feed mixes don’t generally contain enough nutrients for your chickens. It’s best to feed them layer feed to meet their dietary requirements and use other feed as additional nutrition rather than supplemental. You can also feed your chickens high-protein snacks such as pumpkin seeds, oats or mealworms to help them lay more eggs if the layer pellets aren’t increasing their egg production.
It’s also advised to introduce new food slowly if you plan to change your hens’ diet. Even if you have been feeding your chickens layer feed, suddenly switching their food from pellet form to mash form will impact their egg production. Slowly introduce the adjustment to them.
Are Your Chickens at the Right Age?
On average, chickens begin laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks old. At this age, young chickens or “pullets” experience their first and best egg-laying season. Anytime before that age, their bodies are incapable of laying eggs as they are not developed yet.
There is a time window for a hen’s prime egg-laying years. When the hen reaches the age of about four, she experiences a slowdown in egg production, which goes on for the rest of her life. Of course, this slowdown is different for each chicken breed, but you can refer to the following chart to see the average egg-production slowdown for chickens
If your hen has unfortunately reached the age when her egg production decreases, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to restart egg production. It’s time for her to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle of providing companionship and pecking at grass. Often, when hens reach old age, they become leaders of the flock, guiding and helping younger chicks.
Are They in Happy in Their Nests?
Hens are very sensitive to environmental factors that cause stress, and there are a wide variety of factors that could be influencing your hens’ stress levels, including predators, loud noises, illness, poor nutrition, other aggressive hens, overcrowding and inconsistent climate. You want to observe and remove any stress factors that could be affecting your chickens.
This begins with the obvious, such as creating a predator-proof environment for your chickens using chicken wire, motion sensor lighting, locks for your chicken coop and anything else you see fit to protect your hens from predators.
You should separate any hens that are aggressive and make sure they have enough space. It’s also important to add heating in colder temperatures, but not too much as you want to allow your hens to regulate their temperature when they are outside.
Most importantly, however, you want to make sure your nesting boxes are in tip-top condition. This means keeping the bedding dry and clean, having no more than four hens to a box and using a large enough nesting box. Your nesting boxes should be at least 12 inches wide so that your hens have enough room. The bedding should be changed at least once a week in order to ensure that it is clean and free of parasites, which will bite your chickens while they are laying eggs and will cause them to stay away from the box. Having a clean and comfortable nesting box is paramount to your hens’ egg production.
Are Chickens Getting Enough Sunlight?
In addition to a clean and happy home, hens also require a certain amount of sunlight to lay eggs. On average, they need at least 14 to 16 hours of natural daylight combined with eight hours of darkness in order to maintain constant egg production. Of course in the winter, the number of daylight hours can decrease to nine, in which case you can add artificial light to their coop to make up for this deficiency.
However, there is a reason egg production decreases in the winter. Chickens often need this period of rest and recovery, which benefits their long-term health. So you may just want to give your hens a rest during the colder months and stock up on eggs before winter arrives. Freshly laid eggs can last up to one month at room temperature and an additional four to five weeks once you place them in the refrigerator.
Are Your Hens Broody?
Lack of sunlight can also make your chickens broody, which is another issue that can slow down your hens’ egg production. Some chicken breeds even have a tendency to regularly get broody during the winter. Broodiness is not solely triggered by reduced daylight hours and is often the result of a combination of factors, including sunlight, hormones and egg availability.
When a chicken gets broody, her maternal instincts take over and she gains a strong, even territorial, compulsion to guard her eggs at all costs so that they can hatch. The chicken will sit in the nest box all day and will even remove some of her own breast feathers to provide warmth for the eggs. If you allow the hen to hatch her eggs, she will sit on them for 21 days until they hatch, which means three weeks of zero egg production. If you want to avoid allowing your hens to become broody, it is important that you collect your eggs promptly every day. If you indulge her and allow her to sit on her eggs, you risk unregulated egg production for weeks to come.
Are They Molting?
Sometimes your hens just need a small period of rest and recovery due to changes in their plumage. When your chickens go through the process of molting, they lose all their feathers and grow new ones. This process occurs at least once a year and typically takes anywhere between six to 12 weeks to complete. During this time, your hens need rest and will not lay eggs since all of their energy will be devoted to growing their new feathers.
Hens begin to go through this process when they reach 18 months of age and will usually molt in the fall, when they see a reduction in daylight hours. While there isn’t a way to increase healthy egg production during the molting process, there are a few things you can do to speed it up. For example, you can make sure your chickens are getting even more protein during this time as well as enough calcium and water. You can also help reduce their stress levels by not making any changes, such as introducing new feed or new members to the flock.
It is normal for your hens to produce fewer eggs at certain times during the year and once they reach a certain age. So if your hen is aging or experiencing any changes, try not to worry about a lower egg production. The best you can do for your chickens is reduce stress factors as much as possible and regulate their eating and resting habits. Most importantly, remember that a happy hen will lay more eggs than a stressed hen. As long as you pay attention to the needs and moods of your chickens, you can ensure that egg production is as high as possible.