It can be especially frustrating to go out to your nest box to see no eggs have been laid. Whether you are a new or old chicken owner – the reasons why your hens have stopped laying can be varied. I’ve rounded up the ten most likely reasons why your hens aren’t laying eggs and what you can do to fix it.
1. Not Enough Daylight
Hens require about 12 or more hours of daylight to lay eggs and will reach peak production at 16 hours of daylight. As the days get shorter in the fall and winter, hens will typically slow down egg production and often times stop laying altogether. Some commercial egg farmers will combat this by stimulating their hens with artificial light. I prefer to let my flock take a natural break from egg laying when the days get shorter.
Once a hen reaches maturity, they will lose their feathers annually in a process that is called molting. When hens molt, their energy is diverted from egg production to feather production. The molting process can last up to 3 or 4 months and typically occurs in the fall and winter. Molting can be stressful for hens. To provide them with extra support in new feather production, it is suggested to supplement their feed with high protein treats such as grubs and mealworms. I occasionally treat my hens to Grubblies Natural Grubs for Chickens. My hens absolutely love them. Treats should not substitute a proper layer feed.
Hens can start laying eggs anywhere between 4 months and 1 year old. If your hen is still young, she might not be ready to start laying yet. On the other hand, hens stop laying eggs as they get older and typically stop laying altogether by 6 years of age. When your hen goes in to retirement she can still prove very useful as a both a companion and hard working composter.
When combined with other symptoms, another reason why your hens might not be laying eggs is due to illness. It is best to consult with your veterinarian on the best course of action.
5. Environmental Stress
Environmental stresses can also cause your hen to stop laying eggs. While a very broad term, the most common environmental stresses on hens include:
Make sure your flock has an appropriate amount of space. In your coop, you should have about 4 square feet for each chicken and 1 nest box per four hens.
Hen to Rooster Ratio
The hen-rooster dynamic can also contribute to environmental stress on your chicken. If there are too many roosters – and not enough hens – it can lead to fighting over the available hens. It is generally considered that you should have 10 hens for every 1 rooster to prevent fighting.
Hens are social creatures and the addition of new members to your flock can cause environmental stress as they establish a new pecking order. To prevent or alleviate the stress of introducing new chickens, you can gradually assimilate your flock and increase exposure over a couple weeks.
Hens will stop laying eggs if they are in constant fear of their life. Consider what predators might be terrorizing your chickens – cats, coyotes, dogs, foxes, opossums, and raccoons are all likely suspects.
Hens can stop laying eggs under extreme temperatures. Excessive cold and heat can cause your hen stress by diverting their energy either to keeping themselves warm or cool. To alleviate environmental stress caused by weather you can utilize different tools such as misters, fans, heaters, warmers and more.
6. Calcium Deficiency
Most layer feeds are formulated specifically for the ratio of nutrients and minerals most hens need for healthy egg production. Through foraging, treats, and scraps the specific ratio of the layer feed gets disrupted. When that occurs, your hen may become calcium deficient. Calcium is essential to egg production (and responsible for strong shells). Chicken owners opt for putting out a free choice (keeping it separate from feed) calcium supplement such as oyster shells.
7. Egg Eating
Your chickens could be laying eggs but they might just be eating them before you get to them! Make sure to inspect your nest box of remnant shells and yolks. To break this nasty habit, be sure to collect your eggs regularly and often. Keep an eye on when your hen enters and exits the nest box. Chickens will get in to the habit of eating their eggs typically after an egg accidentally breaks either due to overcrowding in the nest box or nutrient deficiencies causing soft eggshells. To prevent breakage, make sure there are enough nest boxes for your flock and provide free choice calcium supplements.
8. Nest Box Training
Similar to egg eating, perhaps it’s not that your chickens aren’t laying eggs, but rather, you THINK your chickens aren’t laying eggs. A common reason why you may think your chickens aren’t laying eggs is that they are not laying them in the right spot. Hens can pick up the annoying habit of laying their eggs anywhere but their nest box. They can sometimes find the most odd places such as under a bush or in the middle of the coop to lay their egg. To deter them from doing so, remove the eggs as soon as you find them. To attract them to lay in their nest box, you can utilize “fake” ceramic nest eggs. I’ve seen other flock owners utilize anything that resembles the shape of an egg – even a rock! Hens also prefer to lay their eggs in a clean spot. Make sure they have a fresh nesting pad free of poop. You can also sprinkle a mix of nesting herbs – store bought or garden grown – to get them in the mood. I’ve linked my favorite items for a clean nest box below.
When a hen goes broody she will decide to sit on her (or the flock’s) eggs and wait for them to hatch. If your hen goes broody, she will not lay eggs until they hatch or her chicks become more mature. If you don’t have a rooster in your flock, you can see why this would prove to be especially problematic. To break your hens broodiness, it is important to remove eggs as soon as you can and to encourage her to leave the nest box if she tries to sit there for extended periods of time.
Finally, the breed of your hen can determine how many eggs they lay – if at all. I recommend thoroughly researching your hen breeds. I have had 5 different breeds of hens and they are all excellent egg layers: Cuckoo Maran, Rhode Island Red, Buff Brahma, Easter-Egger (mix breed) Olive-Egger (mix breed).