I often get questions about why chickens are are not laying eggs, such as this one received today.
I would just like to ask you some advice about one of my chickens. I have bought my coop of you this year and buy food and supplies of you guys regularly. I have three hens, all just under a year old. Two of them lay on a daily basis but the third hen has only ever laid around 10 eggs then stopped altogether about 4 months ago. She hasn’t laid one since.
She goes up to the nesting box for an hour each day and displays the same signs as the other two hens in regards to laying yet never lays any eggs. They eat organic laying pellets, are provided with oyster shell grit and receive a mix of scratching feed as a treat once per day. Do you have any idea why this hen isn’t laying and do you think she ever will? She is a rhode island red sourced from a reputable breeder. Any information on this would be truly appreciated
Well, it sure sounds as if you are doing all of the right things and yes, I think she will lay eggs. If a chicken is not producing eggs there are generally five possible common causes in my experience, that is excluding some underlying health issue, which of course can’t be ruled out without an examination (by a vet etc.) of the hen.
1. The chicken’s age
Different chickens stop laying at different ages. It depends on the breed, but a hybrid laying hen should be a pretty good egg layer up until about three of four years of age, maybe more. In this scenario it is unlikely age is the cause as you mentioned you purchased from a reputable breeder and you that all of your hens are under 1 year old.
Young age can also be the cause. It’s not the case here, as the hen has already laid some eggs. But for other readers it is important to note that the hen needs to be old enough to lay eggs. A hybrid hen typically needs to be about 20 – 22 weeks old in a garden environment. Pure breed usually need to be around 28 weeks old or so.
2. The chicken’s diet
If you know that the hen is young and of laying age, then diet can cause a hen not to lay eggs. A normal sized laying hen should eat about 150gr of layers pellets per day. What can happen is if some scraps or scratch feed is fed at some point in the day, an individual chicken can wait for these and maybe not eat any of the pellets at all. A good way to judge is to do the maths and make sure they are eating in or around the required amount of layers pellets mentioned above, i.e. 150 gr per day per hen. Chickens can become fussy eaters, ignoring pellets for treats if available.
Chickens love treats, but my advice would be to cut them out for a period of two weeks. In fact, cut our everything apart from layers pellets. Foraging in the garden is fine, but make sure they eat the right amount of layers pellets. Normal diet can usually be resumed after the two weeks, but note that egg numbers can fall as a result of too little layers pellets.
One final point on diet, is that many times I have seen that hens can gradually slow down on laying and then stop altogether, over a period of 2-3 weeks. This is a classic sign of them loosing nutrition over time. This can be usually be remedied as detailed with the 150 gr of pellets per for 2 weeks detailed above.
3. Eggs are disappearing
Eggs can simply disappear. This solution to the disappearance is invariably that something eats them. Crows, magpies, a pet dog and even the chicken themselves have all been outed as culprits. This scenario needs to be ruled out and placing an egg in the nesting box and checking to see that it remains there can be a way of ruling this out. If it disappears, the investigation should begin and suspects narrowed until the culprit is found.
It’s also worth checking if she is laying her eggs somewhere else also. There have been many cases of a nest of a dozen eggs or more found under a bush somewhere in the garden.
4. Time of Year
Some hens, such as rhode island red hybrids will lay all year around almost regardless of short days, that is if she has a good diet of layers pellets as previously mentioned. Some pure breeds will stop when the days are shorter in wintertime and this is a breed specific characteristic. Research your breed of hen or discuss with the supplier to find out if this could be the issue.
A further point on this, is that it is important to have a hen that is laying eggs by the end of October, as if she hasn’t started by then she may not start laying until the following spring. The reason for this is the days are too short for her to begin laying eggs. Once she has started laying, she will typically keep laying through winter, but if the days are too short to get started she may not start until spring.
5. Moulting or Broodiness
Both of these causes are completely natural. Firstly, a hen will typically moult feathers in the autumn of her second year, and then yearly after that. Hens won’t lay when they are moulting as all nutrition is going in to producing new feathers.
If a hen is broody, she wants to hatch some chicks and will sit on a nest. During this time she may stop laying.
I hope this helps. As mentioned there could be an underlying health issue and a vet check may be required, but in my experience it usually turns out to be one of the five causes listed above.