Have you noticed that your nesting boxes look a little more barren than they did last week? If so, you might be asking yourself, “why have my chickens stopped laying?”
There are a few reasons why you might be coming up empty-handed in the coop. Fortunately, most are easy to address.
From a lack of calcium to a lack of daylight, there are all sorts of culprits that could be at play. The most challenging part of addressing this issue, in fact, is determining which of the potential causes it could be!
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into all the potential reasons why your egg production has dropped – and explore some solutions to help you tackle the problem head-on.
Before we dive into common reasons as to why your chickens may have stopped laying eggs, we need to address the elephant in the room – is your chicken even having problems laying eggs, or are you just being impatient?
Under the right conditions, a chicken will lay an egg about once every 24 to 26 hours. It’s not perfect clockwork, and this variation is why you might have a different number of eggs in your nesting boxes when you go out to collect each morning.
In addition to that, hens can sometimes take breaks. They might stop laying eggs entirely (or lay fewer eggs) when they get older or when the daylight patterns shift as a result of the hanging of the seasons.
Most healthy hens will lay reliably within their first two to three years, producing an egg once every two to three days if they are sexually mature.
That said, she may go longer without laying eggs because she is broody – up to 21 days, in most cases – or for other reasons. There’s no biological or medical need for a chicken to lay eggs, so she could theoretically go her entire life without laying eggs and suffer no health consequences at all.
That’s important to understand as you go about cracking the code of why your chickens aren’t laying eggs!
There are 13 key reasons why your chickens might stop laying eggs. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at all of the common problems listed above – and tell you how you can fix them.
Chickens will stop laying eggs for many different reasons. Hens can lay fewer eggs due to stress, light conditions, bad nutrition, and many other factors.
Although some of these are natural responses that can be hard to control, there are certain steps you can take to address or prevent them.
One of the most common reasons why your hens might not be laying as well as you’d like has to do with daylight.
A hen needs sixteen hours of daylight in order to encourage and sustain good egg production. Without this light, they might naturally stop laying as the result of a hormonal response that shuts down egg production (or slows it down) as the days get shorter.
Many chicken keepers will, as a result, put a supplemental light in the coop to help provide the necessary hours of daylight during the fall, winter, and early spring months.
If you want consistent egg production year-round without this break in egg production, adding a light to the coop is the best way to keep your girls laying.
You can use an incandescent 25-watt or LED 3- to 9- watt bulb for every 100 square feet of coop space. Put the lights on timers so that they come on early in the morning to encourage regular laying.
Just make sure the timer is set so the light doesn’t stay on 24/7 – this can disrupt your chickens’ sleep cycle and cause even more hormonal problems.
Of course, if you add a light, it’s also important that you make sure there are protections in place to prevent fire.
Using a bulb that doesn’t generate heat is an option, as is covering it with a wire covering so that, if your birds knock it down onto the dry (read – flammable) bedding below, the bulb can’t touch the tinder.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with not putting a light in the coop, either. If you don’t mind not having as many eggs over the winter months (or not having eggs at all), you can leave the girls be and let them take a little break.
Some evidence suggests that this can actually prolong the laying lifespan of your hens, helping them to be more productive longer in life than those who are forced to lay all through the year.
Think about it – when you’re stressed out, how much do you actually accomplish in the day? Probably not that much.
The same goes for your hens. Stress can come in many different forms, including overcrowding, aggressive hens, loud noises, too much cold or heat, illness, poor nutrition, predators, and more.
I’ll address some of these specifically in greater detail below, but know that there are steps you can take to make your co-op a more “zen” kind of environment for your girls.
First, make sure you aren’t overcrowding the coop. Each chicken needs at least four square feet of indoor space along with five to ten square feet of outdoor space.
Note that I said “at least.” That’s the bare minimum. If you are providing this much space and still have issues, see if you can add a bit more.
The more room you girls have to roam, the better!
The pecking order can lead to stress, too. Although this is a natural behavior among chickens – and one that they have to figure out on their own – you can mitigate things, again, by maintaining a proper ratio of chickens in the coop.
Maintaining the right rooster to hen ratio can help, too, so there’s less competition. It can also help reduce overbreeding, another common reason for a drop in egg production.
Other stressors can include new additions to the flock or moving to a new coop. These should be temporary and resolved on their own.
Adding additional waterers or feeding spaces to the coop can also help. Even though you might be getting by with just one feeder and waterer, the competition may be stressing out your hens enough where they don’t want to lay.
If one hen is being a bully – or if one hen is being targeted specifically – see if you can identify the culprit and isolate them from the rest of the flock.
You can always try to isolate the victim, too, but this can lead to more problems upon reintroduction to the coop, since that hen will now be the outsider.
As far as temperature goes, make sure temperatures are kept comfortable in the coop though not drastically different from what they are outside.
Chickens can withstand winter weather without supplemental heat as long as conditions are dry, and they can handle the heat a lot better than you think, too.
More important than supplemental heat or cooling is airflow. Make sure your coop is well-ventilated so that moist, warm air can exit and cool, dry air can make its way in. This can prevent the vast majority of illnesses.
Hens also need enough nesting space. You should have at least one nesting box for every four hens. Make sure these are consistently filled with clean, dry bedding.
A common issue that people run into when egg production drops is assuming that their hens aren’t laying simply because there aren’t any eggs in the nesting box.
On the contrary, it could very well be that your hens are still laying – just not in the nesting boxes.
Look around the coop and run (as ell as the rest of your yard or anywhere else your chickens are allowed to roam) to see if you can find any egg hidey-holes. If your chickens are laying anywhere but the nesting boxes, you will need to identify why.
Often, it’s because there aren’t enough boxes for all of them. It could also be that the nesting boxes are dirty or that they aren’t dark enough. If the latter is the case, hang curtains in front of the nesting boxes so that your hens have dark, quiet places in which to do their business.
Threats from predators can lead to stress and cause your hens to not want to lay. Do a thorough inspection of your coop and run.
Can you find any tracks? Any spots in the fence where a predator may have slipped in?
Then, do your best to predator-proof the entire area. Cover it with galvanized wire and add metal screens on all windows and doors.
Make sure your chickens are going inside at night and that the door is shut and latched securely behind them. If this is a hassle, consider installing an automatic coop door opener that will open and close at daylight and sunset.
These are predator-proof and can go a long way in ensuring that your chickens feel comfortable and safe enough to lay their eggs!
When you’re predator-proofing the coop and run, don’t forget about the aerial predators. Make sure your chickens have places to dart under or into to get away from predators like hawks and owls.
Sometimes your chickens are laying perfectly fine – but you aren’t reaping the benefits of this egg-cellent production because other critters are stealing the eggs!
Rats and snakes are the most common egg thieves to watch out for. They usually won’t threaten your chickens themselves in any way but will instead sneak into the coop (often under the cover of darkness) and eat the eggs.
Make sure your coop and run are kept as clean as possible, with no spilled grain or seed, to attract rodents. Feed your chickens outside of the coop instead of inside.
Consider using natural rodent repellents like mint, the smell of which rats aren’t super fond of. You can also use an electronic rodent repellent but you should avoid snap traps and poisonous baits, both of which can harm your chickens.
Getting a barn cat can help keep all of these invaders away but of course, you’ll need to make sure it doesn’t go after our chickens.
One of the most common reasons why chickens aren’t laying that well has to do with nutrition.
It’s perfectly fine to give your chickens treats every now and then, but you need to limit these as much as possible. Make sure your chickens are getting the vast majority of their nutrition from a complete layer feed.
Otherwise, you could find yourself overdoing it on nutrient-poor treats like chicken scraps.
Chickens need more than three dozen different nutrients for consistent health and performance, with protein being one of the most important. Calcium is another vital nutrient for egg production – I’ll talk more about this below.
However, the one thing you really need to know is that, whether you are making your own complete layer feed or buying one from the store, it’s important that you make this feed the core component of your hens’ diet. These are formulated to provide everything your birds need.
At least 90% of your hen’s diet should consist of this feed and only 10% or less of treats and table scraps. And if you make your own chicken feed, be sure that you’re including everything that is necessary for proper nutrition.
Remember that your girls also need access to plenty of clean, fresh water. Use automatic waters to prevent your chickens from sullying their available water supply and remember to use heated drinkers so they don’t freeze in the winter.
In the summer, you’ll likely need to double the amount of water you are providing to your chickens. You may even want to consider adding an electrolyte powder to help maintain the proper balance when they’re drinking more in hot weather.
Of all the micronutrients out there, calcium is the most important nutrient for egg production in chickens.
Not only does a chicken need calcium to make an egg, but calcium helps make sure the shell is nice and strong. A strong shell keeps out bacteria. To make a single eggshell, a hen needs four grams of calcium each day. It takes 20 hours to make a single eggshell and calcium is needed the entire time.
Hens that don’t get enough calcium may lay eggs with brittle shells. It can also cause a hen’s body to sap calcium from her bones to produce the shells making them weak and unhealthy.
You can supplement calcium by using a pellet or crumble feed that has added calcium specifically for layers. If you’re raising a mixed flock of birds – one that contains both roosters and hens – you may want to add calcium as a separate supplement. Too much calcium can be harmful on a rooster’s organs.
By offering calcium (usually in the form of oyster shell) as a free choice supplement, only the birds that actually need the calcium will eat it.
When hens are around 18 months of age, they will go through a process known as molting. This is a period of feather loss and regrowth that is absolutely necessary for a chicken’s health.
It typically occurs in the autumn and happens every single year. It causes a drop in egg production as your chickens direct their energy from laying eggs into growing new feathers.
Depending on the environmental conditions, the nutrition, and the individual bird, the molt can last up to sixteen weeks. As soon as the feathers have regrown, e.g. production should return.
To help your chickens get through molt faster, offer a feed with more protein (you can reduce the amount of calcium you offer in the meantime).
Broodiness is another common culprit. This is when laying hens have a desire to set on their own eggs.
As you might expect, when a hen goes broody, sitting on the eggs becomes her sole focus. She’ll stop laying eggs and may exhibit other strange behaviors, too, like getting up from the nest only to eat or drink or pecking you aggressively when you approach.
If a hen is broody, you have a few options. You can let her set on the eggs until they hatch, but you won’t get any eggs for the next 21 days (at least). You can also try to break the broodiness by relocating her.
Starting with a breed that’s not likely to go broody is one of your best bets at preventing this dilemma. Breeds that have been bred specifically for egg production, like Golden Comets and Leghorns, don’t usually go broody (although they sometimes still can).
Your hens’ might not be laying yet simply because they aren’t ready! If your chicken is less than 18 weeks of age, don’t expect to see any eggs.
There are some breeds – typically those that have been hybridized specifically for the purpose of egg production – that do lay when they are younger. Even then, it’s still only around 16 weeks of age. Be patient!
On the flip side, if your hens are old, they might not lay as well. Chickens live for up to ten years but that doesn’t mean a hen’s egg production will remain consistently high during that period.
Hens are most productive in their first two years of life, producing a peak of around 280 eggs per year (on average) during the second year. After that, egg production will decline.
There are a few common diseases that can cause a drop in egg production. One of the most common is salpingitis.
Salpingitis is a technical term that simply refers to inflammation in the oviduct of a hen. Usually caused by bacteria, the most common pathogens that lead to this disease are salmonella, Pasteurella multocida, Escherichia coli, and Mycoplasma gallisepticum.
A chicken who is affected by one of these diseases will often stop laying. If she does lay, it’s usually going to be a lash egg.
A lash egg isn’t an egg at all but instead a conglomeration of pus and dead tissue that is then laid. Not pleasant to look at, but at least it will give you a good idea of what the problem is.
If you discover the infection early, you can treat it with medication from the vet. This is one you will need to act quickly on, though, since salpingitis can be fatal when left untreated.
To prevent it, make sure you’re keeping the coop clean and only bringing in new hens that have been vet-checked to be free of disease.
Chickens who are loaded to the gills with mites or lice will be uncomfortable – and stressed. As I mentioned earlier, a stressed chicken is not a productive chicken. Mites will suck blood from a bird and cause it to be anemic and weak.
As you might expect, this can cause a drop in egg production.
Treat your chickens for external parasites as needed. Providing a dust bath can help to prevent them, as can keeping a clean, tidy coop.
When the temperatures rise, there’s a good chance that your hens aren’t going to want to do a lot – including laying eggs.
Believe it or not, chickens have a much harder time dealing with the heat than with the cold. The ideal laying temperature is right around 65 to 75 degrees F (18 to 23 Celsius). If it gets more than ten degrees warmer than that, they might stop laying eggs or egg quality can drop.
Provide lots of shade and clean, fresh water when it gets warm out. You can also install fans or provide frozen treats to keep your chickens cool – and productive.
Finally, if your chickens still aren’t laying, you may need to ask yourself if your hens are meant to lay eggs at all.
There are some chickens who, despite being great egg layer breeds and having all the conditions perfectly aligned, will never lay a single egg.
Often, this is due to a genetic defect. Occasionally, health problems like these can be worsened or brought on by issues like a poor diet.
If any of your hens aren’t laying eggs at all for any reason – and you’ve ruled out all of the causes described above – contact a veterinarian. They’ll be able to identify what’s going on and whether you might be able to expect any eggs in the future.
One misconception that people have though – and one that is definitely not true – is that you have to have a rooster in order for your hens to lay any eggs.
Although a rooster is necessary if you want fertilized eggs – those that can be hatched and raised into little chicks – eggs happen whether or not there’s a rooster.
There are no chicken breeds that never lay eggs – although remember, roosters and young pullets (young hens) aren’t going to lay eggs. As long as a chicken is a sexually mature female, it should lay some eggs. That said, there are some breeds that lay very few eggs – just one or two a week, if that.
If your chickens have stopped laying eggs, there are a few things you can do to encourage them to lay again. One of the simplest is to change their diet; adding some new foods or switching up their feed can help jumpstart egg production.
You may also need to provide more light and space for your hens – remember, they should have at least 8 square feet per bird.
Finally, make sure that your chickens are healthy and free from parasites. If they’re not feeling well, it will be difficult for them to lay eggs.
Try some of these tips – and be patient! Sometimes, a drop in egg production is easy enough to remedy simply by riding it out.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).