It’s that time of year when chickens suddenly go from producing an egg every day to one or two a week, or if you’re really unlucky, no eggs at all. Chickens, like any animal, have natural biological rhythms that dictate their reproduction.
During the fall there are several factors that tend to trigger chicken’s bodies to take a break from laying eggs. First we’ll go over what causes chickens to lay less eggs, and then steps you can take to improve your egg count.
Wonder how you can make your chickens lay more eggs? There are various factors that affect the production of your hens laying eggs. Each one should be considered equally important in order to get the best return on your overall feed costs.
Such factors include their age, health condition, and surroundings when considering how to help your hens lay more eggs.
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT CHICKEN BREEDS
The very first step to ensuring you get lots of eggs from your chickens is to choose the right breeds to begin with. Chickens come in many different breeds, and each has unique characteristics. Some breeds are well known for laying only a few eggs per month, while other champion breeds will lay every day. Some breeds also tend to go broody frequently, which means they’ll try to hatch the eggs that they lay. While hens are broody they don’t lay any eggs, and broodiness can last for months!
Top chicken breeds for lots of eggs:
– Production Red
– Rhode Island Red
– Golden Comet
– Plymouth Rock
2 COMMERCIAL LAYER FEED
Chickens need a balanced diet in order to lay eggs. A commercially produced layer feed is the fastest and easiest way to encourage your hens to lay regularly. These feeds are perfectly formulated to provide everything a chicken needs to lay an abundance of eggs.
3. CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT
A calcium supplement like oyster shell or dried, crushed eggshell should be offered free choice. The production of an egg shell everyday drains the hen’s system of calcium. If not supplemented, her body will begin to leach calcium from her bones.
4. CLEAN NEST BOXES
When a chicken looks to lay an egg, she is searching out a potential spot to raise young. A filthy egg box is not only unsanitary for eggs meant to be eaten, but it discourages hens from laying in them. She will not want to potentially raise her young in soiled bedding.
– To keep boxes clean, collect eggs often to prevent broken egg messes.
– Discourage chickens from sleeping in nest boxes by providing ample roosting space and by placing roosts higher than the nest boxes. Chickens will instinctively choose the highest (most protective) spot to roost.
– Clean and replace nesting material often. My system is to check the nest boxes each day. If one is soiled, I cover it with a fresh layer of pine flakes. (Four large fist-fulls of flakes is enough to cover the floor of one of our boxes) Then once a week I dump the whole nest box and start over.
5. PROVIDE ENOUGH NEST BOXES
But not too many. Providing too many nest boxes will encourage your hens to sleep in them. They will defecate in the boxes while they sleep and make a mess (see above). One nest box per 4 hens is a good ratio and will keep them from laying on the floor of the coop.
6. FRESH, CLEAN WATER AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES.
An egg is approximately 74% water, 12% protein and 11% fat. For a chicken to lay an egg she must be well hydrated. You may notice that in extreme heat, egg numbers may dwindle. Try your best to cool your chickens by providing shade, fresh water and cool treats like frozen fruits and vegetables.
7. LAY OFF THE NON-PROTEIN SNACKS AND SCRATCH GRAINS
Scratch grains and kitchen scraps are a nice treat to chickens who are bound to a grass free run. But they should remain just that…a treat. Scratch grains are not a balanced food source like a formulated feed. If your chickens fill up on scratch, they will not be getting the protein they need to lay an abundance of eggs.
8. COLLECT EGGS DAILY OR TWICE DAILY TO DISCOURAGE BROODINESS IN HENS
If too many eggs collect in the nest boxes this signals the instinct for your hen to go broody. Broody hens stop laying, and once she’s in the zone, it can be a hard behavior to break.
9. HEALTH CHECK
If all is in order and your chickens aren’t molting, broody or taking a break during the winter then you should be getting lots of beautiful eggs. If there’s still a shortage, it might be a health problem. Check for symptoms of disease. Unusual dropping consistency or color, lethargy, change in comb color etc. Check for internal parasites like worms in droppings and external parasites like mites at the base of feather shafts.
Chickens can also have internal problems like being egg bound, or problems with their reproductive tract. Always check with a veterinarian if anything seems off with your flock.
Healthy, happy chickens lay the most eggs. So give your flock the few simple things that they need, and they will thank you with healthy, delicious eggs!
10. HELP THEM THROUGH THEIR MOLT
Most chickens go through a molt in the fall/automn. Molting is where chickens release old feathers and grow new ones. Molting can be a tough process for your chickens as it can be painful and takes a lot of energy to grow new feathers. While chickens molt, they usually stop laying eggs. The energy that their body was spending on making eggs is now going to growing feathers.
While molting can be frustrating for the chicken keeper, there’s not a whole lot you can do to get your chickens laying again, except to help them through the molt as quickly and comfortably as possible. Providing a dust bath for your chickens will help them to quickly dispose of old feathers while they roll around in the dirt. Here’s a tutorial for making your own chicken dust bath. Supplying the chickens with ample protein during a molt will help them to grow new feathers more quickly, which means they can get back to laying sooner. To add more protein to your flock’s diet you can switch to a high protein chicken feed or supplement with high protein treats. We like to give our hens dried mealworms and grubs during their molt so they bounce back quickly.
11. ADD SUPPLEMENTAL LIGHT IN THE COOP
The hens laying cycle is directly affected by daylight. Most chickens will lay eggs consistently when there are 14 or more hours of light in a day. When fall begins and the daylight hours wane, chicken egg production takes a nosedive. You can combat this phenomenon by adding supplemental light in the chicken coop. This practice is highly controversial in the chicken keeping community. The benefits are that your hens will lay more eggs through the winter. There are downsides, however. Hens only have a certain number of eggs in them, and once they’ve laid them all, there are no more. Adding supplemental light in the winter will likely force the hens to use their egg reserves more quickly, which means they’ll lay for a shorter amount of time.
Many chicken keepers also believe that hens deserve a break from laying in the winter, and allowing them to follow their natural biological rhythms makes for happier, healthier birds.
12. CHECK HENS REGULARLY FOR ILLNESS, PARASITES, AND INJURY
One of the biggest reasons you’ll see a decrease in egg production is because your chickens aren’t healthy enough to lay eggs. Healthy laying hens will have clean, orderly feathers, bright eyes, red combs and wattles, and lots of energy. Sickly hens will stop laying eggs while they heal their bodies. Keep an eye out for signs of problems and help your hens to heal quickly so they can return to laying eggs.
Signs of sick hens:
– Droopy tail
– Pale comb and wattles
– Feather loss – particularly around the vent
– Discharge from the vent
– Excessive scratching and preening (sign of lice or mites)
– Hiding/isolating themselves
We suggest inspecting the whole flock at least once a month for any health issues.