When chicken keepers are suddenly unable to find any eggs or they’re finding a lot less than normal, they usually start to worry. Are the hens sick? Or if they realize it is only one hen, is she egg bound? What can you do? First thing I want to say is that egg binding is not that common. We’ve only had one hen have that problem in 15 years, and we usually have 50 or more hens. That means we’ve had less than one percent that have been egg bound. However, there are a few reasons why your hens may suddenly be giving you fewer eggs.
Are your hens hiding their eggs?
If your hens are free range, they could be hiding them, regardless of whether or not they are broody. Broodiness is most likely in the spring and summer, although every now and then a very confused hen may think about starting a family in the fall. (In most parts of the country, that’s a bad idea because it’s too cold for chicks.) One reason we love our henmobile is that the chicken yard is now bordered by poultry netting, which means no more hens wandering into the barn and laying eggs behind the hay bales.
Are your hens getting enough protein?
We’ve tried a couple of different times to feed our hens only cracked corn rather than layer feed, but every time we did that, their egg production would plummet! It’s very obvious that they need plenty of protein in their diet to lay lots of eggs. If you are giving them too many treats, they may not have enough room left over for their layer feed, which is usually around 16% protein.
Are they consuming enough water?
Eggs are mostly water, which means that your hens may lay less if they’re dehydrated. If your waterer is always empty when you check on it, maybe it’s not sitting perfectly flat. If it is sitting at an angle, the water can wind up pouring out fairly quickly.
Could one of the hens be eating the eggs?
Do you see any watery residue in the nest box? Seeing yolk on the beak of one of the hens is a dead giveaway, but you may not always see that. They’re pretty good at cleaning their beaks as soon as they’re done eating. Sometimes they eat the shell but not always.
Is it fall?
As the days get shorter in the fall, it’s natural for hens to slow down their egg laying. Some people light their chicken coop so they can continue to get eggs year round, but we don’t do this. If Mother Nature thinks the girls need a break, who am I to argue? If you do decide to light your coop, you should have a timer that turns on the light before sunrise. If a light suddenly turns off at night, the hens will be stuck wherever they are because their night vision is extremely poor.
How old are your hens?
The older hens get, the less they lay. We usually butcher our hens at age 3 because we learned that when they’re four or five, they are only laying an egg or two a per week. I have a friend who is a vegetarian, so her hens get to grow old at her place, and she said that she’s had some continue to lay an egg every now and then until age 9 or so. On the flip side, if your hens are too young, they may simply not be mature yet. Although some of the catalogs claim they have hens that start laying by 4 months, most don’t start until closer to 6 months. I even had one breed that didn’t start until closer to a year.
Has anything recently stressed out your hens?
A visit from a raccoon or fox can shut down production in the whole henhouse for a week or two. If it’s in the fall, that may just shut them down until spring. Moving to a new home or having a cramped coop may also stress out hens.
How hot is it?
Even though hens need the long days of summer to produce eggs, if it gets too hot, they may slow down considerably. This is one reason I really love heritage breeds. They are much hardier than modern breeds that are bred for high production. Our girls are still laying decently through the summer heat, while I often hear people with modern egg laying hybrids complain about their hens slowing down and sometimes even dying when it gets too hot.
Are they molting?
If your hens are missing a lot of feathers, they’re probably molting. Laying slows down or stops at that time because they’re putting all of their energy into growing new feathers.
What if I think my chicken is sick?
If your chicken is hanging out in the nest box and fluffing up her feathers when you try to touch her, she’s probably broody. If she really seems ill, however, she should be isolated from the rest of the flock immediately, just in case she has something contagious. I’ve seen a lot of people online think they had an egg-bound chicken, often shortly after someone else in an online group thinks they had an egg-bound chicken. Some of these maladies appear to run through social media groups as people start to worry and stare at their chickens too much.
If you really think you have an egg bound chicken, and turning her into dinner is out of the question, I’d recommend calling a vet. It’s challenging to find a vet that sees chickens, and if you find one, they tend to be very expensive. But I’ve never seen a suggestion for handling an egg-bound chicken that seemed like it would work without risking bigger problems (like a broken egg shell inside the chicken). The most common suggestion seems most illogical to me — put the chicken in a tub of warm water to relax her. I don’t think any of these people have ever bathed a chicken. We did back when my daughters showed them at fairs, and they hated it! They are definitely not relaxed. If any chicken ever passed an egg while in a tub of warm water, it was because she was mad and pushing like crazy, not because she was relaxed. Ever heard the cliche, “madder than a wet hen?” I’ve never heard anyone say they were “as relaxed as a wet hen.” That’s not a thing.
The good news is that it’s perfectly normal for chickens to lay more or less during different times of the year or based upon the weather and other normal phenomenon. So, if your hens slow down or stop laying, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
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