Why Might My Chickens Lay Poorly?
There are any number of reasons a chicken might slack off in her laying. Many
factors influence the frequency of lay, and often it takes some detective work to
determine the right one.
The first reason might be age. A hen is at her most productive from about 8
months to two years, after that her rate of lay will diminish. Some commercial
layer houses rotate out their birds after the first year, but homesteaders and small
flock owners often have birds that are pets, and who stay with them until they die.
We have one old hen who is almost seven years old. She’s an Ameraucana, and
the only one left from when I was breeding them. So I know when she lays, as it’s
the only blue egg I ever get. This past summer I got about three eggs a week from
her, which amazed me. But after about four weeks of that, things tapered off, and
she stopped laying again by August. So age is definitely a factor in rate of lay.
The next thing to consider is what time of year is it. Chickens are seasonal layers,
they lay the most eggs when it would be most advantageous for them to raise
chicks, and taper off as the weather conditions worsen for raising babies. So
expect the most eggs in the spring and summer, and less as the length of daylight
Some breeders keep lights on in their coops to trick the hens into thinking it’s a
different time of year than it is, which works well to increase rate of lay. But bear
in mind if you do so, a hen will lay only a fixed amount of eggs in her lifetime, if
you boost that amount when she is younger, once she has “used them up” she
won’t lay any more. So use lights with that in mind.
The third thing to consider when a hen is laying poorly is nutrition. Chickens need
a good, quality source of food, and clean water at all times. I am a strong advocate
for feeding chickens feed that has animal protein in it, or providing a source of
animal protein in addition to the basic feed you give them. Chickens are not
vegetarians, and expecting them to thrive on vegetable sources of protein is an
unrealistic expectation. I’ve spent years researching this, and even spoken to a
nutritional specialist at one of the large national feed manufacturers. Although he
insisted that synthetic sources of Lysine and Methionine are chemically the same
as natural sources of this amino acids, my experience and that of many other
breeders, has shown otherwise.
There are many ways to supplement with animal protein if you can’t find a feed
that includes it. Fish meal is available in many areas, or can be ordered on the
Internet and shipped. Old timers used to feed their birds beef scrap, it’s possible
you may be able to get scraps from your local butcher. And if you can find a fish-
based form of dry cat food, a small amount of that given regularly can give your
birds what they need. Just be careful not to give them too much, or the eggs will
start to taste fishy!
Also, you need to provide your birds a source of calcium so that their bodies can
manufacture strong egg shells. Most feed stores carry small bags of oyster shell.
Provide this in a separate container from the feed, and let your birds eat it free-
choice. Some folks add a small amount of apple cider vinegar to the water to
enable the birds to metabolize the calcium more easily, about two tablespoons per
gallon works well.
The last thing to consider is the overall health of your bird. Birds with parasites
will not lay well, as they are using energy/calories to fight off the effects of the
bugs or worms, and don’t have it available to lay eggs. Check your chickens
regularly for mites and lice (most often seen around the vent), and worm on a
yearly or a twice a year schedule, using a product specific for chickens and
following the directions carefully. Healthy birds lay more eggs.
These are the most common reasons for chickens to lessen their rate of lay, if you’
ve addressed all these issues and you’re still not seeing a frequency that is normal
for the given breed (some breeds lay many more eggs per year than others), you
may want to look at other issues such as housing and stress levels, which can have
an effect as well.
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