Lot’s of Chickens But No Eggs?
Are you wondering why your chickens don’t lay eggs? Are you tired of feeding a flock that isn’t paying for their keep? Looking at your feed bill and wondering how to cut down on the cost of homesteading? I’ve been there and done that, believe me. I know what it’s like to spend more money feeding my flock than I would spend on organic eggs from free-range unicorns! (If unicorns laid eggs, I suppose.)
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Reasons that Chickens Don’t Lay Eggs
There are many reasons that chickens don’t lay eggs. Some may seem pretty hilarious, but for someone new to chicken keeping it may be a revelation to learn why their chicken isn’t producing! Let’s take a gander at some common reasons you aren’t getting eggs…
#1 – Chickens Don’t Lay Eggs if They are Roosters!
Now, this may seem pretty obvious, but some roosters don’t show off for the ladies or crow. They may even look more like a hen than a rooster. Some don’t mature as fast and could masquerade as a hen, especially if there is already a dominant rooster in the flock.
If you have more than 1 rooster for every 8 to 10 hens, you may want to get rid of some. In fact, unless you want fertile eggs for hatching or a guard for your flock, you could get rid of all of them! Hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs, the eggs just won’t be fertile for hatching.
#2 – Chickens Don’t Lay Eggs if They are Too Young or Too Old
Most breeds will start laying anywhere from 5 to 8 months of age. Some will lay as early as 4 and half months old while other breeds could take a year. Before you choose a breed, look into the average point-of-lay age so you can mark it down on the calendar.
As hens get older, their production slows down and may stop completely. If you don’t intend to keep chickens that don’t pay their keep, make sure the whole family knows in advance.
#3 – Chickens Don’t Lay Eggs When They’re Molting
Starting around 18 months old, chickens go into a molt once a year. This is the process of replacing old feathers with new ones. It takes a lot of protein and energy to grow new feathers and hens stop laying while they molt.
It may take several months before they resume laying and once they do, they will lay fewer (possibly larger) eggs. Not everyone wants to feed hens through their molt and in production flocks they are usually sent off to the slaughterhouse at 18 months.
#4 – Chickens Need 14 Hours of Light a Day to Lay Eggs
During the winter, most hens stop laying eggs unless you have a bright light on a timer in their coop. Some people choose to let their flock take the winter off while others provide light to keep them in production. Without at least 14 to 15 hours of light a day, their bodies tell them that conditions aren’t right for raising chicks.
#5 – Stressful Conditions May Halt Production
If your flock is exposed to a lot of stress, they will stop laying eggs and go into survival mode. Stressful conditions include too many roosters trying to mate with hens, predation disrupting the flock, rough handling, illness, hot temperatures, and moving to a new coop or homestead. It can take 3 or 4 months without stress before their production picks up again.
#6 – Chickens Don’t Lay Eggs Without Proper Nutrition
If your hens aren’t getting all of the vitamins and minerals they need to fuel egg production, they won’t be able to lay for you. Make sure that they have calcium, methionone, and all of the other nutrients need to thrive and produce eggs. Choose a quality layer feed with 16-18% protein that is formulated for egg production. Free-range hens may be able to find most of the nutrition they need, but it is advisable to provide a balanced layer ration too.
#7 – Chickens Need Plenty of Clean Water to Lay Eggs
Make sure that your flock has clean, fresh water at all times for the best egg production. Eggs have a high water content, so hens need extra water to keep laying. When water isn’t changed daily, they may cut back on drinking which can lead to fewer eggs. It’s best to have clean, cool water in several locations around the coop and pen for them in the heat of summer. In winter, keep the water from freezing over.
#8 – Chickens Don’t Lay Well When They are Overweight
Of course, your hens need proper nutrition to provide you with those lovely eggs. However, too many treats can cause a buildup of fatty tissue in their abdomens. This reduces egg production and may halt it altogether. In summer, avoid giving corn or sunflower seeds as they are high in fat and can raise body temperature, adding to the stress of hot weather. Try increasing their pasture size and giving them feed only in the evening if your hens start to waddle like ducks.
I’m not trying to body shame your hens, just giving you the facts!
#9 – Broody Hens Stop Laying
When a hen has the maternal instinct to set on a clutch of eggs to hatch, she’ll stop laying eggs. Hens need to put their energy into keeping the eggs warm instead of leaving the nest to eat and drink as they normally would. You can attempt to break a hen of broodiness or let her raise some chicks.
#10 – Egg Peritonitis and Egg Binding
Sometimes a hen’s body is actually in production but there is a problem with her reproductive system. Egg Peritonitis is an infection that can affect any hen of laying age. Basically, the yolk doesn’t follow the normal route and ends up in the coelomic cavity in her abdomen. This condition may cause a long slow death from infection. Here is a veterinary site with more information about symptoms and some ‘gross’ but informative photos.
Egg binding is another serious issue in laying hens, but when caught early enough you may be able to help her out. If a hen seems to be attempting to expel an egg but isn’t successful, she most likely is egg bound. Lubricating the vent with mineral oil may help the egg pass more easily. If this doesn’t help, a warm soak may help. This condition is more common in young hens when they first begin to lay. You can read more about this condition here.
#11 – Maybe Your Hens are Laying Eggs…in a Hiding Spot!
Hens don’t always use the nest box to lay their eggs. They can be sneaky! You might find a stash of eggs hidden away somewhere. My friends had chickens laying eggs under the riding lawn mower deck. Fortunately, they were found before the blades were engaged. You may have to search around, especially if you have a free-range flock.
#12 – Egg Eating Hens
If you aren’t getting any eggs from your hens, it’s possible that they are eating them. Are you finding eggy goo in their nest box or bits of broken shell? If so, someone is eating the eggs. An oppossum could be the culprit. However, hens like to eat their own eggs too once they get a taste for them.
Make sure you provide them with enough feed for proper nutrition so they don’t need the extra calories. If there isn’t enough calcium in their diets, the eggs will have thin shells. This can lead to eggs that break in the nest box and encourages egg eating. Provide free-choice oyster shell to increase the calcium if thin shells are a problem.
Watch to see who’s guilty and remove the hen from the flock. They will often learn this bad behavior from each other so you may have a whole flock of egg eaters on your hands. Try putting golf balls or wooden eggs in their nesting box to deter them. Set up a nest box with a hole in the bottom with a catch tray underneath so that they can’t get to the eggs.
Prevent this from becoming a problem by collecting eggs often so your hens don’t get bored and start pecking at their eggs.
Do You Have Hens that Have Stopped Laying Eggs?
What should you do if your hens are too old to lay eggs anymore? After 2 1/2 to 4 years of age, most hens won’t lay enough eggs to pay their keep. So what to do?
Well, of course, this is all up to you! If your chickens are pets with names like Henrietta, I completely understand that you don’t want to turn them into chicken soup or sell them to someone who will. You may want to keep your flock very small and look for ways to reduce your feed bill in that case. Free-ranging them, feeding kitchen scraps, and raising mealworms may help reduce your expenses.
There are some options for making a bit of cash off your hens that don’t involve selling eggs. This could give your flock a new job to do! Here are some ways that your hens might earn their keep:
- Start a chicken blog and monetize it (this is a long term plan, not a get rich quick scheme!)
- Raise hens with attractive feathers for sale to crafters (ie: Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, Dominiques)
- ‘Promote’ your hens – give talks at conferences, farm shows, or on local tv spots
- Petting zoo – do you live in a cute old farmhouse? Could you set up a little farm-style petting zoo?
- Keep broody hens to raise clutches of chicks for you.
- Use your imagination…write a storybook for kids, sell your chicken photos, rent your hens to someone with a big yard full of ticks!
For the Practical Homesteader, It May be the Soup Pot for Old Hens
I have no problem with pet chickens! After all, I have pet dogs who don’t earn their keep either! However, I don’t keep pet chickens on my homestead. They have up to 3 good years in my flock and then they are used for meat. Since I raise my own meat chickens anyway, this only seems natural to me. It’s the way my Grandmother did things and I prefer a nice pot of chicken soup rather than pay a big feed bill. Our family buys very little meat from the store and this is one way to help make our homestead a little bit more self-sufficient.
Learn How to Butcher a Chicken
How about you? Do you keep old hens or do they go in the stew pot?
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In addition to writing for her own websites, Lisa has contributed articles to The Prepper Project and Homestead.org.
The author lives outside of Chicago with her husband, son, 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a variety of poultry.
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