The popularity of raising chickens at home continues to rise. What was traditionally a part of rural life has spread to the suburbs and even urban areas. There are many reasons for the increase in the number of households that keep chickens, but for anyone who keeps chickens, a steady supply of fresh eggs is one of the benefits. When that supply is interrupted, they want to know why.
Why do chickens stop laying eggs, and what can you do to help? There are many reasons why a hen’s productivity will slow down or even stop. They have to do with her life cycle, overall health, community, and environment. Fortunately, for every reason, there is either a simple fix or things you can try to help get things back to normal.
It doesn’t matter whether the eggs are your main reason for raising chickens; whether you farm eggs to supply your household or to supplement your income. When your hens stop laying, it’s a sign that something isn’t right. Figuring out why and fixing the problem is important to the well-being of your flock.
21 Reasons That Hens Stop Laying and What to Do About Them
There are plenty of factors that can cause a chicken to become less productive or stop laying entirely, but ultimately, they all stem from one of four basic issues. Some of them have easy fixes while others are part of the normal flow of a chicken’s life. Knowing how to spot the ones that you can fix can help you make sure you’re taking good care of your hens.
There are certain events in a chicken’s life that will cause them to stop laying. The various factors that influence their overall health can also be behind a slowdown or stoppage. Chickens are sensitive to the communal life of their flock and to their environment as well, and that can affect laying.
In this article, we’ll go over the specific causes related to life-cycle, environment, health, and community that can cause a chicken to stop laying. For each reason, we’ll discuss what – if anything – you can do to fix the problem or speed up the process of getting the hen back into her routine.
Sometimes Hens Stop Laying for Reasons Related to Normal Parts of a Chicken’s Life Cycle
The age when a hen starts and stops laying eggs varies widely across breeds. Age and breed are two of the primary factors to consider in relation to how much you should expect a hen to lay. In addition to age and breed, there are some normal, routine occurrences that can affect laying, and a few less common causes as well.
Before you grow concerned about a hen’s productivity, it’s important to know what to expect from the particular breed of chicken that she is. Some breeds are prolific layers, while others are less so.
Barred Plymouth Rock, Golden Comet, and Rhode Island Red are all breeds of chicken that are capable of producing more than 250 eggs per year during their peak laying years. Other high-volume producers include breeds such as Buff Orpingtons, Sexlinks, and White Leghorns.
In contrast, both Ameraucanas and Silkies can be expected to produce fewer than 100 eggs per year. Dominiques are another breed that tends to lay fewer eggs. The Jersey Giant is a hybrid breed that produces fewer eggs but grows larger—making them preferable for farmers who want eggs and meat.
There is nothing that can be done to make a Silkie as productive as a Barred Plymouth Rock. If you’re not satisfied with the output of your flock, all that you can do is add to their numbers or replace them with the hens of a breed that is more productive.
The exact age at which a chicken will begin to lay eggs, as well as the age when she’ll finish her laying career, will vary by breed and from one individual to the next. Every chicken will spend parts of her life being either too young or too old to lay.
If your hen is less than a year old, you might want to consider whether she ever started laying before you get too concerned with the possibility that she has stopped laying. If you keep multiple hens, it can be hard to track who lays what. It’s easy enough to mistakenly attribute somebody else’s work to one of the youngsters who isn’t quite there yet.
As hens age, their productivity will fall off on a relatively predictable curve. The first year of a hen’s laying career will be her most productive. Each year after that, her numbers will decline by 10-15% until by age 10 she’ll be laying less than 20% of what she did when she was a young chicken. There’s not much that you can do to combat the decline in a hen’s productivity.
Taking good care of her will keep her doing her best over a long life, but you’ll never restore her productivity. If you think of your chickens as pets then at some point, each of them will be ready for the chicken retirement home. If your flock is a resource then you’ll have to decide when a hen goes from a producer to meat for the freezer.
At a point somewhere between 15 and 18 months of age, a hen will go into her first molting phase. Her feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. This will be an annual occurrence for the rest of her life. Hens do not lay eggs while they are molting. There’s nothing that you can do to change this; it’s just a fact of life with chickens.
The good news is that most chickens go into their molting phase at the beginning of the winter. This corresponds with a time of year when their productivity would normally fall off due to other factors. Unless you plan to boost your hens’ productivity with artificial light, the fall off from molting and the fall off for winter are likely to occur simultaneously.
A broody hen is one that is in “mama mode.” If you’re open to growing your flock by raising chicks, then a broody hen is a blessing and a worthwhile trade for a few weeks’ worth of eggs. If you don’t want to add to your flock there are steps you can take to prevent, and even interrupt brooding.
Signs that a hen is broody include spending all day in the nesting box, laying or gathering a clutch of eggs, becoming territorial, and even pulling out breast feathers to transfer more body heat to the incubating eggs. There’s no guaranteed way to make a hen “set her eggs,” and there’s no sure-fire way to prevent one from becoming broody.
One of the best ways to prevent a hen from becoming broody is to collect eggs regularly so that she can’t gather or lay a clutch. Sometimes hens get broody despite your best efforts. You can trick them out of it by lowering their body temperature. One way to accomplish this is to substitute a bag of frozen vegetables for their clutch of eggs.
Hens don’t lay while they’re broody. If you don’t want to grow your flock, then you will probably want to prevent or interrupt this behavior so that they get back to laying regularly. If you do let a hen set her eggs, expect her to be too preoccupied with being a mama for the three weeks that it takes to incubate the eggs and an additional five to ten weeks of nurturing her young.
Sometimes Hens Quit Laying for Health Reasons
A hen’s diet, hydration, and overall health can all have a great deal of influence on her productivity. If you want your flock to be productive layers, you need to feed them plenty of quality food, give them access to plenty of water, and keep an eye out for illnesses and pests.
One of the most common reasons that a hen will quit laying is something wrong with her diet. If you’ve recently changed your flock’s diet – even the brand of feed can make a difference – then there’s a good chance this is what’s behind a drop-off in laying.
A hen needs 20 grams of protein each day to continue laying eggs. Feeding your flock “layers pellets” is the best way to ensure that everybody is getting the protein that they need to be productive. If you’re feeding layers pellets and still getting low numbers, you should consider whether other factors might be behind the drop-off.
One way to supplement the protein that your girls get from layers pellets is to give them high-quality snacks like pumpkins seeds, oats, or mealworms.
Sometimes the line between being hydrated enough to lay normally and dehydrated enough to stop laying completely can be very fine. This is especially true when the temperatures are high during peak summer months.
Even if you’re providing your flock with plenty of fresh, clean drinking water, it’s possible that a hen can suffer from dehydration. It’s not unheard of for an alpha hen to prevent a submissive hen from access to water. This is her way of enforcing the pecking order and maybe even an attempt to vote the submissive hen out of the flock.
Adding additional water sources is one way to make sure that chicken bullying doesn’t interrupt normal egg production.
Too Many Treats
If you supplement your flock’s feed with bread, table scraps, or other treats, they might be filling up on those treats and not eating enough of the high-quality, protein-rich feed that you give them in their feeder.
When this is the case, you’re more likely to see a slow-down in egg production than a complete stoppage. If you do, simply make sure that the girls clean their plates before you give them any dessert.
The normal flow of a chicken’s year sees them at their most productive during the summer months. This is also the time of year when high temperatures take a toll on their energy and when dehydration is most likely to occur.
When you consider all of these factors, it’s not surprising to find that many hens go through a period of laying fatigue at the end of summer or beginning of fall. A period of rest is essential to their ability to return to peak health and energy.
Of course, this time of year might coincide with or overlap a hen’s molting phase. It can also lead into the normal downturn in productivity that comes with the shorter days of the winter months.
Everyone who keeps chickens has to decide for themselves how to best maintain their flock throughout the year.
It’s not very common, but one reason that a hen stops laying can be that she actually has an egg stuck. This can occur because the egg is irregularly shaped because the hen’s hips are too narrow, or because of a calcium deficiency. If the hen cannot lay the egg, this can be fatal. When it happens, you have to act quickly.
Sometimes lubricant is all it takes to give the hen the helping hand that she needs. It can also be helpful to place the hen in warm water to help her muscles relax. If neither of these solutions does the trick, you will need a vet to help. A vet can also administer a calcium shot to prevent any more bound eggs.
Illnesses and Parasites
There are many potential illnesses that can affect your flock. Bird flu is the biggest concern because it can easily wipe out the entire flock and it can be transmitted to humans. There are also a number of pests that can stress your flock. The most common are lice and mites.
Unfortunately, either illnesses or pests can cause your flock to stop laying. The best way to avoid a loss of productivity for either cause is to pay close attention to your flock.
Look and listen for signs of respiratory illnesses so that you catch them early. Closely inspect each bird for signs of pests and parasites so that you can treat them before they cause the birds distress.
If your flock is affected by a respiratory illness, it may be necessary to cull some of the flock to prevent the illness from spreading. If you catch it early, quarantine might be an option.
When it comes to pests, you will need to eliminate them from the coop and remove them from individual birds.
Sometimes Hens Quit Laying for Reasons Related to the Flock
Chickens are social birds. A flock will establish its own hierarchy—that’s where we get the phrase “pecking order” from! Flocks like to settle into a routine, and sometimes disruptions to that routine can interrupt productive laying. Sometimes aspects of the routine itself are the reason that an individual hen stops laying.
A single rooster can take care of a flock of 12-18 hens. If your flock is smaller than that, your rooster might pay too much attention to your hens. This can actually interfere with their laying productivity.
If some or all of your hens are missing feathers on their backs and the backs of their necks, it’s a sure sign that your rooster is over-mounting them. If those hens stop laying, you’ll have to do something about the issue to return things to normal.
The easiest way to solve the problem is to increase the numbers in your flock. If you’re not able to do that or you would prefer not to, you’ll have to consider either getting rid of the rooster or keeping him separate from the flock. Either of these alternatives can be a disruption to the flock’s normal routine that can lead to stress and more problems with productivity.
Moves, Big Changes, and Other Disruptions
Any big change to the flock’s routine can lead to a major fall-off in laying activity. One of the most common sources of disruption is relocating the coop, the pen, or changing some other key element of the flock’s environment.
If you have to make changes to the flock’s environment that are going to disrupt their routine, you should do everything you can to minimize the impact of those changes. The only thing that can get things back to normal is time. Once the chickens adjust to their “new normal,” laying activity should return.
A Change in the Pecking Order
Sometimes it doesn’t take a big change like a move. Something as simple as a change in the pecking order can disrupt the entire flock’s laying routine.
The pecking order might be disrupted when you add or remove members. Sometimes the pecking order shifts for reasons that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with the flock’s own social interactions.
Much as it is with moves or other big changes imposed on the flock from outside, internal changes that cause disruptions in egg-laying can only be solved with time. When the flock adjusts, they’ll go back to laying normally.
We touched on bullying briefly in relation to our discussion of dehydration. One of the most common forms of bullying in a flock occurs when the alpha hen decides not to allow a subordinate hen to access a water station, a feeder, the rooster, or something else that she can use to demonstrate her dominance.
Chickens are social birds that establish a hierarchy. This is true of all chickens. But chickens are also intelligent birds, and each individual has a unique personality. It’s entirely possible to wind up with an alpha hen who is just plain mean. If the alpha hen in your flock is a bully, she can make the rest of the hens miserable. This can definitely have a negative impact on egg production.
Sometimes Hens Quit Laying for Reasons Related to Their Environment
The last area where we need to look for things that can cause a chicken or an entire flock to stop laying is environmental factors. Extreme heat or cold, predators, and other stressors, even the amount of daylight, are environmental factors can have a major impact on laying activity.
Chickens need as much as 16 hours of daylight to maintain their peak laying productivity. When the seasons change and days get shorter, hens naturally go into a pattern that emphasizes resting and recharging. This transition sees them go from peak productivity through molting and into a period of decreased laying activity.
Some farmers choose to let their flocks follow their natural rhythms. Others choose to use artificial light inside the coop to simulate 16-hour days and stimulate levels of laying activity that are closer to spring and summer.
If a neighbor’s dog or a wild predator is spending too much time too close to the coop, it can stress the hens. We’ve already discussed pests as a source of stress. Whether the source is physical or psychological, chickens don’t handle stress well. When they’re having trouble dealing with stress, you’ll be able to tell by the drop-off in your egg count.
If you need any more proof that chickens stress out over minor issues, let your flock’s feeder run low. Chickens like to know they have plenty of food for tomorrow, even when they’ve just finished eating. It’s one of the sillier sources of stress that can affect a coop, but it applies equally to almost every flock.
Dirty Nesting Boxes
If you don’t clean your nesting boxes regularly, your flock will voice their displeasure with you by refusing to use them. They may hide their eggs, they may lay them in random spots around the pen, or they may stop laying entirely. The one thing that you can count on is that they won’t be laying anything in the nesting boxes!
Chickens don’t require huge amounts of space, but they do need enough to be comfortable or their laying productivity will suffer.
For free-range birds, you need to make sure they have 3 or 4 square feet of space in the coop. Since they spend most of their day in the yard, they’ll only need enough space to allow them to sleep comfortably.
For cooped birds, you need to provide them with about 10 square feet of space per bird in order to ensure that everybody in the flock has enough personal space to be comfortable and productive.
If space is an issue for your flock, you will need to either increase the amount of space by adding onto your coop or building a new one, or reduce the number of chickens in your flock.
We touched on high temperatures in our discussion of dehydration. In addition to making sure the flock has plenty of water, you also need to make sure that the coop has adequate ventilation.
When the temperatures get high, you’ll have to do what you can to keep the flock comfortable. Sometimes everything you do still won’t be enough, and you’ll just have to wait it out until the temperatures drop and things get back to normal.
One thing you can do to keep your flock happy when temperatures are high is give them treats of frozen fruit that will help cool them off. This might not make much of a difference in whether they lay or don’t, but it will definitely help keep them in a better mood.
Winter is already a less productive time of year for egg laying. When the temperatures dip to extreme lows, it can bring laying to a complete halt.
If you live in a part of the country where temperatures dive during the winter, it’s important that you insulate your coop during the coldest times.
If you’re already using an artificial light to simulate additional hours of daylight for the coop, this can be a source of some additional heat. If the coop is insulated, it will hold in more of the flock’s body heat.
Much like the frozen fruit treats for extreme heat, you can help your flock by giving them warm treats during extreme cold spells. Warm oatmeal is one option that almost always goes over well.
Well, there you have it. This list might not be exhaustive, but these 21 issues are certainly the most common causes for decreased egg production that you’re likely to encounter.
If you know to consider each of these causes, you’ll likely be able to identify the specific reason that a hen or the flock has stopped laying. If you follow the advice on what to do about it, you’ll get them back to laying as quickly as possible.
The more time that you spend with your flock, the more you will get to know their habits and routines. You’ll also get to know individual birds by their idiosyncrasies. The more familiar you are with your flock, the better you’ll be able to spot trouble and determine the cause. If you can do this, then you’ll also be able to successfully implement a solution whenever possible.