MOLTING AND LOW LIGHT
The most common reason in autumn and winter is a seasonal molt or reduced light as the days get shorter. Both are a perfectly normal process in the life and raising of a chicken, and when the days begin to stay light longer, they usually start laying once again, without need for supplemental light, which is a practice of commercial growers that rotate their layers annually or at least every two years. This would be a very rare practice for most backyard chicken enthusiasts, and we do not supplement light here on the Just Fowling Around chicken farm, we allow the natural rest period, that nature dictates, which is sacrificed with a supplemental light.
If those two factors are not the issue, other reasons may include predators, either lurking or an actual predator attack, in either case, when there is a threat it may be weeks or even months before a chicken will feel confident to continue laying once again. You can help the chickens recover emotionally by providing a solution of electrolytes to help regain a balanced system more quickly. If they are injured, or have been ill, electrolytes will help with their recovery as they are being treated and healing from injuries. http://justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/1
Drastic changes in weather can have an effect on chickens, just as it has an effect on us. Storms that bring wind and loud banging noises or flying debris, can alter a chicken's desire to lay. If it's a drastic storm such as a tornado or hurricane, they may not lay for many days or weeks after the storm. Earthquakes often affect laying and behaviors. Weather extremes from very cold to very hot will alter laying habits.
Parasite infestation is another reason for low egg production. If the hen is bothered by parasites, internal or external, or sores from parasites, she will not feel well enough to lay. Always check for parasites and treat as needed. If one flock member is affected they all will be affected and all will need to be treated. A head to toe checkup will help determine external parasites, while a fecal sample will determine internal parasites. Even veterinarians that do not treat chickens can do a fecal test to determine what type of internal parasite may be a problem within your flock. There are over the counter products for treating internal and external parasites but prevention is the best cure. Chickens are prone to parasites and serve as ready hosts especially in cold or wet months when they may not be able to dust bathe as often as they do in warmer, drier months. If you're able to provide a dry dust bathing area, that will help to prevent external parasites. Plain dirt is all they need, however if you prefer you can use sand, diatomaceous earth, wood ash or a combination of dusting materials. For scale mites refer to the link: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/scale-mites
NEW LAYER OR BROODY
A new pullet may lay a small egg, and then not lay again for several days or weeks until her hormones fully kick in. Again, this is perfectly normal. Observing your chickens and their behaviors will help determine if the chicken is a young one that simply isn't fully developed enough to lay consistently. A young pullet may also lay her eggs in a hidden spot rather than a nesting box, so it is important if you see a drop in egg production or a slow start in production to check around to see if there may be a hidden nest. This is true of a broody hen as well. She may choose not to lay those eggs in the nest, but in a secluded, protected area with intention of hatching chicks. So again, be aware of behaviors to determine if this may be the case.
A chicken that is reaching her prime laying years, may stop laying all together or only lay an occasional egg. Knowing the age of your chickens will help determine if they are reaching prime or have already reached the point that they are no longer laying. An aging hen may also have a prolapsed vent, or other internal reproductive issues. Hybrid chickens, such as the red or black sex-links may only lay for a couple of years; they are bred for high production, but every female chick has a pre-determined number of eggs they will lay in their lifetime, so those that are high producers will have fewer laying years than the naturally bred breeds. Heritage chickens may tend to lay beyond the average 3 to 4 years, simply because they are not bred for high production, but rather by a natural process within those breeds.
EGG EATERS or Egg Thieves
Another reason may be that you have an egg eater or egg stealer. Snakes, and fur bearing animals (including your pet dog) will steal eggs, and in fact steal them right out from under a laying hen, so be watching for signs of a bandit. There may be an egg eater within your flock as well. Usually egg eating starts by accident. An egg may be cracked if several hens use the same nest box, which then becomes an opportunity to eat those cracked eggs. Once a chicken has eaten an egg, they will continue to seek opportunity and may even purposely crack those eggs for the contents. Observation becomes very important at this time, to see which member of the flock may be eating eggs. Sometimes you will see the evidence right on their beak, other times you may see no evidence except a broken, empty egg shell. Listening for the moment an egg is laid (the egg song), will give you opportunity to arrive before the egg is eaten or witness the culprit in an attempt to eat the egg. That member of the flock will need to be removed from the general population. You can try putting them in a holding area with no opportunity to have access to eggs, but once a chicken has been eating eggs, they are very difficult to break from the habit. Poultry suppliers do carry what is called *chicken glasses*, these are like blinders used for horses that spook easily. The glasses prevent the birds from seeing anything clearly except what is directly in front of them, so they are still able to eat and drink, but not necessarily see an egg in the nest. If you have a persistent egg eater this may be a method to try to break them from the egg eating habit. Never give your chickens raw eggs, always cook, boil or scramble the eggs before feeding the protein rich food to them, to prevent encouraging an egg eating habit.
Chickens can be very particular about the laying environment. They prefer a somewhat secluded nest box and may refuse to lay in a nest box that is exposed or in bright light. Moving the nest boxes periodically can encourage laying and offering an area that provides dim light and more seclusion may make a big difference in their laying habits. Curtains can offer the privacy hens prefer, but you may still need to move nesting boxes around periodically, so it is best to have portable nest boxes rather than fixed ones. The nesting material can affect chickens as well. Try different nesting material if you see a drop in egg production. Straw, hay, or wood shavings, can and do make a difference. We use straw or hay in our nesting boxes but would change to another material if the hens stopped laying without other more obvious reasons. A good rooster will actually encourage his ladies to lay and even choose the nesting box for them. He will first examine the nest box then chatter and tidbit to them directing them to the chosen spot.
FEED QUALITY~~overall diet
Feed, or the quality of feed plays a very important part in laying habits of the chickens. If the chickens are not allowed to free-range for various reasons, make sure you offer a high quality feed to make up for their natural foraging habits. You can supplement with vegetable and meat scraps, but this will not fully replace a good quality feed that has all the nutrients laying birds need to thrive and lay to full capacity. Offer only healthy treats and no more than 5% of their daily diet.
Illness; even a mild case will cause chickens to stop laying. Check for signs of dull comb, watery eyes, gagging, sneezing, wheezing, lethargy, fluffed feathers when weather is not related, or solitude. These are all signs that your hen may not be feeling well. Impacted crop and egg binding can all be factors without obvious indicators until advanced stages. For information on illness and disease, refer to the link: justfowlingaround.weebly.com/chicken-blog/category/chicken-illness-and-disease
Knowing the laying behaviors of your hens will be an advantage to troubleshooting possible causes for a reduction in egg production. Checking for parasites, injuries and overall wellness, as well as a clean and secure environment, will make the difference between low or non-egg production or hens laying at their full capacity. Observing new pullets for signs they are ready to lay will take the guess work out of when they will lay and having no expectation of an egg a day from every hen will put you at ease that all is well.
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