When you raise layer chickens or free-range chickens or ducks or turkeys or guinea fowls or quails or any other type of poultry, and they reach their adult age, you want them to be as productive as possible. But what if they aren’t laying as many eggs as you had anticipated? Well, that's what today's tutorial is going to talk about. While we'll primarily talk about layer chickens or laying free-range chickens, however, the aspects that affect egg production in chickens are the same that also affect egg production in ducks, turkeys and guinea fowls.
The most common reasons that chickens or ducks aren’t laying eggs is because they are too young, too old, the hours of daylight are too short, it is molting or the feeding is not of sufficient nutritional value. You might not be able to change those first points, but you can help contribute to a stress-free environment for your chickens while keeping them healthy and well.
Under ideal conditions, it takes a hen about 25 to 28 hours to produce one egg. For those new to chicken keeping, it can be astonishing how many eggs a small flock can provide and it seems like the bounty will never end. Then the weather gets colder. And the days shorter. Six eggs a day become four. Then three. Then two and eventually no eggs at all.
There are various parameters that are being used to measure the productivity of laying chickens. These include egg quantity, quality, egg size, feed utilization, mortality rates, etc. Under good management practices, a laying chicken should lay one egg in a day, and between 310 to 340 eggs per year.
There are different factors that affect egg production and we will talk about them later in this tutorial. With the best strains of layers and proper layer poultry production and management, more than 330 eggs per layer in a year is very much attainable.
Eighteen weeks is the age when laying hens are considered adults. Most excitingly, it’s the time when many chicken breeds will start laying eggs. At this key milestone, switch your hens to a complete layer feed. This feed switch is an essential step down the road to harvest fresh eggs because hens require different nutrients to produce eggs as compared to when they are growing.
To produce an egg each day, hens need high levels of calcium, vitamins and minerals. Hens transfer many of these nutrients directly into their eggs, so the nutrients in layer feed play an essential role in egg production.
When birds reach 18 weeks old or when the first egg arrives, gradually switch your laying hens to a complete layer feed. It’s important to make the transition over time to prevent digestive upset. It’s best to make chicken feed transitions over time rather than all at once. Mix the chicken grower feed and layer feed evenly for four or five days. If birds are used to crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes with pellets. The more similar the two chicken feeds are, the more smoothly the transition will go. Many hens will eat the mixed feed without noticing a difference. When laying hens are eating both feeds, you can stop feeding the chicken grower feed and make the complete switch to all layer feed.
Keep chicken feed consistent. Once the transition to layer feed is complete, it’s best to maintain a routine. Laying hens eat approximately 0.25 pounds of complete feed each day, equaling about one-half cup or roughly 115 grams per bird.
If birds are free-ranging, offer complete layer feed before they go out in the morning. This will help them consume the essential nutrients before filling up on less nutritionally balanced insects and plants.
It’s important for the complete feed to make up at least 90 percent of the hen’s diet. You should feed complete layer feeds on your farm because they are formulated to provide all the nutrients hens require at the correct levels.
A drop in egg production can be one of the first signs of a problem in your flocks and just as you pay attention to your chickens’ droppings to monitor their health, so too should you pay attention to the hens' daily egg count for signs of trouble. The following are the most common causes of a drop in egg production in backyard flocks with solutions where possible.
So what can be done to get the chickens back to resume laying eggs or to lay more eggs? Here are 13 tips a chicken farmer needs to improve or work on so as to maximize their chicken' egg production.
1. POOR NUTRITION
Feeds should be rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins. Also, clean and fresh water should be made available. Change or supplement the feed provided to your chickens. Higher protein intake will increase the core temperature of laying chickens, improving their ability to produce eggs. If hens are out of feed for several hours, a decline in egg production will probably occur. The amount of decline will be related to the time without feed. Be sure that all the birds have access to an adequate supply of a complete feed which meets all their nutritional requirements. Feed stored on the farm longer than two weeks may become moldy. Always give your chickens or ducks or any other type of poultry fermented feed as fermented feed is more healthy and nutritious than dry feed. Also note that vitamin potency decreases with prolonged storage. Egg-laying takes a lot of calcium from a hen’s body. Be sure to provide them enough calcium in their diet to keep a steady flow of eggs. A hen needs about 4 to 5 grams of calcium per day to produce a single egg and each egg contains about 2 to 2.5 grams of calcium.
2. WATER SHORTAGE
Water is often taken for granted, and yet it is probably the most essential nutrient. Water is by far the single greatest constituent of the body, and, in general, represents about 70% of total body weight. Access to water is very important, and a lack of water for several hours will probably cause a decline in egg production. Hens are more sensitive to a lack of water than a lack of feed. The amount of water needed depends on environmental temperature and relative humidity, diet composition, and rate of egg production. It has been generally assumed that birds drink approximately twice as much water as the amount of feed consumed on a weight basis, but water intake varies greatly, especially in hot weather.
The body weight of the layers should be well controlled. Their feed should contain the required energy ratio to other nutrients. The layers should weigh at least 1.6 kg and not more than 2 kg. Both underweight and overweight layers are likely going to produce a low number of eggs. From Week 18, hens start to enter their laying period, reaching peak of lay around 32 weeks of age, and typically maintaining egg production until 65 to 68 weeks of age. Feed intake will increase to a steady level of 100 to 105 grams per day and hen body weight will reach a mature level of 1.7kg to 1.8kg.
4. MOLTING PHASE
Molting Is the natural process of feather shedding and re-growth. Hens divert protein and energy away from egg production to concentrate on feather growth. Poorer layers and older hens often moult more and lay less. Supplementing a hen’s diet with extra protein during a molt can aid in feather growth and egg production.
5. BROODY HEN
Hens have a natural tendency to incubate their eggs. This trait is not found in commercial layers because it was bred out. Nonetheless, some hens still become broody occasionally. In some instances, some broody hens sit around even when there are no eggs to sit on, refusing to eat or to lay eggs. Any broody hen is always unproductive and it inconveniences other birds by sitting in the laying nest. Broody hens should be separated from the flocked and kept on a bare floor till the broodiness is lost, then they can be taken back to the laying house to continue laying eggs.
6. DECREASED DAYLIGHT
Use a low wattage light bulb in the coop. Extending the hours chickens are exposed to light is often enough to increase egg production. A timer is recommended to limit light to 16 hours per day. Extending light exposure beyond that may cause hormone production to shut down entirely, meaning spring egg production will be negatively affected. Therefore, chickens must be provided with 16 hours of light, (natural light as well as artificial light), from 18 weeks of age. The intensity of light should be sufficient to allow a person to read newsprint at bird level.
7. GOOD LAYING BREED
The breed is a very important factor since some layers usually produce high quality and a high number of eggs in their bloodline.They have been genetically modified to produce a high quantity of eggs than their peers. Some of the best chicken breeds that lay a lot of eggs are Rhode island red, Sussex, Leghorn, Lohmann brown, Australorp, Plymouth rock, Golden comet, etc. Using two to three of these breeds as your breeding stocks would be a good idea.
The age of the birds when they are laying is also important and influences the quantity and size of their eggs. A layer that just starts laying will lay eggs frequently and the size would be small. Later, she will start to lay bigger eggs and it will be regular till it reaches the peak of production. Thereafter, the quantity will decline while the size will be improved. Old hens often lay (from year to year) a little less (but mostly bigger) eggs. So, once your chickens are older than 2 and half years, it's time to replace them with younger chickens as their egg-laying period comes to an end around that age.
9. EGG EATING BEHAVIOUR
Some chickens engage in egg eating behaviour if their calcium levels are low, and there are times when they just accidentally discover the habit. A hen is tempted to peck at an emerging egg if it sees an egg coming out from the cloaca of another hen. When the egg is pecked, it breaks, and the hen starts to eat it immediately. To avoid this incidence, farmers must construct proper laying nests. Each nest should accommodate one bird at a time. The nests should be partially covered to become dark if the nests are the communal type. Also pick up eggs as often as possible, and where necessary let your hens free-range, as locking them up in a coop usually encourages the egg-eating behaviour, which is extremely difficult to eradicate.
10. TOO MUCH HEAT
High environmental temperatures pose severe problems for all types of poultry. Feed consumption, egg production, egg size and hatchability are all adversely affected under conditions of severe heat stress. Shade, ventilation, and a plentiful supply of cool water help reduce the adverse effects of heat stress.
Overcrowding of layer houses is another common reason why hens might stop laying eggs. Keeping too many chickens in a small area can cause stress in chicken which will result in reduced egg production. Overcrowding as well as underfeeding, proteins or amino acid deficiencies, and boredom are major factors that can also result in cannibalism as well as reduction in egg production. Cannibalism is a situation where a chicken pecks and injures another chicken.
Hens are extremely sensitive to stress and typically respond to it by putting the brakes on egg-laying. They particularly dislike change, which is a major cause of stress and decline in egg-laying. Any of the following processes can negatively affect egg production: change of type of feed or feed brand, changes in coop layout, relocating to a different farm or coop, adding or losing flock members, annoyance from a well-intentioned child, a fright from a predator, irritation from internal parasites (such as worms and coccidia) or external parasites (such as lice, mites, rodents), violent weather, barking dogs and high heat.
Hens, especially laying chickens, become attached to their quarters. They therefore should not be unnecessarily moved as this also affects the laying process. Changes should be done with the least possible disturbance where it is absolutely necessary. When hens must be handle or carried, this should always be done at night and the fowls should be held gently with a hand beneath their breast, never by the feet.
13. DISEASES AND PARASITES
Hens that are ill or have parasites such as worms, coccidia, mites or lice, do not perform optimally. Taken in conjunction with flock history and any other symptoms, a drop in egg production can indicate that hens are sick or suffering from a parasite infestation. For example, if a drop in egg production follows the addition of new chickens to the flock and no other physical symptoms are noted, a communicable disease or parasite should be suspected and investigated further.
Parasites love to prey on chickens. Mites are the most common and can take control of your coop without you even realizing it. Make it a habit to inspect your chickens at night when mites are most active. Mites are small, reddish-brown insect that scurry around a chicken’s head. If you do have a mite infestation, use a dose of ivermectin for each chicken.
There are numerous factors which may adversely affect egg production in backyard chicken flocks or on your commercial layer chickens. If a drop in egg production occurs, investigate the cause and this tutorial has helped you with tips on what you need to do to maximize egg production.
Good management practices can help increase egg size and and egg quantity in layers. Collecting eggs from the nest box should be done several times a day, especially if you have many chickens.
Picking eggs frequently can encourage the chickens to lay more eggs collectively. It will also help keep your eggs clean, and the eggs will unlikely brake in the fowl run. Collecting eggs regularly also discourages egg eating and brooding behavior within your flock.
Lastly, ensure your chickens have adequate ventilation. Lack of proper ventilation in a fowl-run can lead to increased levels of ammonia, and this may cause psychological changes in layer chickens. As a result, that can affect their egg laying habits. Therefore, prevent increased ammonia levels in chicken runs by adequately ventilating your coops as well as removing dirty bedding of coop floor litter regularly.