When it comes to overseeing everything for laying hens, there will certainly be times of confusion and stress. There is a lot that needs to be done, and when a hen randomly and spontaneously stops laying their eggs, that can be pretty difficult to understand sometimes. Why is it that chickens sometimes stop laying eggs so abruptly?
A chicken may suddenly stop laying eggs because of dehydration, stress, illness, a parasite, diet, molting, age, extreme weather overbreeding, amount of daylight hours, and Salpingitis. There are a handful of other potential reasons causing the problem, but those primarily are the reasons why.
That’s a pretty brief overview that covers a lot of potential problems, and there is definitely much more to it. Let’s look more in-depth into the reasons listed above as well as some other potential reasons why chickens may stop laying when you least expect it. Don’t worry! We’ll also discuss some ways to address these issues and resolve them.
Reason #1: Daylight/Lighting
For hens to be able to regularly and sufficiently lay eggs, they need to have at least 16 or so hours of sunlight per day. That being said, while natural sunlight is best and preferred, supplemental light is incredibly useful for an alternative, especially in the winter months. That is primarily why hens don’t really lay any eggs throughout the winter months.
The plus side of the decrease of eggs being laid in the winter months is that it gives the hen a break from the heavy labor of laying eggs during that time, so she has the opportunity to rest, recover, and recuperate. Throughout the hen’s first winter after starting to lay eggs, she will likely lay a fair amount of eggs even with the lack of sunlight. However, that doesn’t usually happen after that first winter is over.
Reason #2: Parasites
Parasites can be pretty nasty and cause some irritation for the chicken inflicted with the parasite. The main parasites to be aware of in regards to chickens are worms, lice, and mites. To try to determine if a parasite may be causing the hen to not lay eggs, watch for if she is constantly itching, or if the top area of her head has turned or is turning a bleak, white color, or both.
If chickens have parasites, they will be distracted and irritated and won’t be focused on laying eggs. They could also contract diseases that would slow or halt their egg-laying.
Reason #3: Chicken Nutrition/Diet
If the chicken doesn’t have enough of the necessary nutrients, they will lay fewer eggs and have abnormal patterns for when (or if) they lay eggs. Typically speaking, there are roughly 30 nutrients that the hen needs to lay eggs, with the primary nutrient being calcium. For a handy rule of thumb, when feeding the hen, make at least 90% of the food she is eating complete feed. By sticking to that, the chickens will be getting adequate nutrients, and they won’t be having problems with laying eggs because of malnutrition.
Something else to keep in mind with a chicken’s diet and nutrition is that after changing anything with the hen’s traditional meal, even if it is just the brand, they may not lay eggs for a little while. That is partly because chickens don’t have an easy time adjusting and adapting to change. It also may be in part because of a change in the amount of protein in the new brand or feed being used, especially if there is less protein.
To say the least, protein is very critical for hens to be able to lay eggs. Mealworms, cat food, tuna, fish pellets, oats, and pumpkin seeds are fantastic options to turn to when wanting to increase the amount of protein in the hen’s diet.
Reason #4: Molting
For about 2-4 months every year (usually in the fall months) chickens go through what is called molting. Molting is when the feathers are lost and regrown. During the time the hen is going through the molting process, she will have a significant drop and may even completely stop laying eggs. The good thing is that it is pretty temporary and a normal process and occurrence, so there is nothing to worry about. Also, extra amounts of protein can help speed up the molting process somewhat.
Reason #5: Hen Age
Hens typically live for 8 to 10 years, and they can start laying eggs as early as 5 or so months in age. However, even if they are still fairly young, the number of eggs produced will decrease somewhat every year. The hen’s first year is her prime time, and the first three years typically are the years with good egg production. As for how long a chicken will lay eggs, there is some variance in that. Some chickens reach their end of laying eggs earlier than others. The older the hen is, the more likely it is that age is a factor in why she isn’t laying eggs as much or at all.
The breed also plays a factor in how long hens will lay eggs. For example, if the hen is a hand heritage breed such as the Leghorns breed, the Faverolles breed, or the Minorcas breed, it is expected that they will lay eggs for around 5 or so years. On the other hand, hybrid breeds like the Golden Comets breed or the Red Rangers breed will start to struggle with laying eggs after the first year and will probably not last more than an additional couple of years.
Reason #6: Broody Hens
When a hen is described as broody, it essentially means she doesn’t want to give up her eggs. A way to tell if she is behaving like this can be seen in the following characteristics in her behavior: first, she seldom leaves her nest box; second, she is extra protective and territorial over her nest box; lastly, there will be fewer feathers on her torso.
She will initially lay some eggs because she wants them to hatch into chickens. Once they are laid, she will be particularly watchful and possessive over the nest box, and she won’t lay more eggs until the eggs she already laid have hatched three weeks later. That also explains the fewer feathers on her torso as she does that to keep her eggs warmer with direct skin contact.
Source: Backyard Chicken Coops
Reason #7: New Additions or Changes
As we previously mentioned, hens don’t respond well to change, no matter what kind of change it is. Factors such as new hens or a new rooster added into the picture, or switching the placement of the coop, will result in a temporary pause for the laying hens.
Specifically, with new hens and/or a new rooster, several possibilities can happen. First, there can be a lot of drama and quite the spectacle. The new pecking order needs to be worked out, and the desire to reach for a more powerful position in the new pecking order can be incredibly stressful for chickens, so they won’t lay eggs briefly during that transition period.
Reason #8: Chicken Breed
Certain breeds are more likely to lay more eggs than others. For starters, the Buff Orpington breed or the Rhode Island Red breed tend to be at the top of the list for the number of eggs they lay yearly. On the other hand, other breeds such as the Silkie breed or the Ameraucanas breed don’t lay nearly as many eggs as the first two breeds mentioned.
To paint things into perspective, the comparative number of eggs goes as such: the Silkie breed or the Ameraucanas breed lay less than one egg for every 2 (or a little over 2) eggs the Buff Orpington breed or the Rhode Island Red breed lays. Obviously, all of the breeds decrease in the number of eggs being laid with an increase in age, but the first two breeds mentioned still typically lay at least double (if not more) eggs.
Source: The Happy Chicken Coop
Reason #9: Illness/Sickness
When a hen feels sick, she won’t be laying eggs until she feels better. There isn’t a whole lot that can be done for her specifically, but moving her away from the rest of the crew, for the time being, will help so none of the other hens or the rooster get sick as well.
Source: The Happy Chicken Coop
Reason #10: Stress/Coop Environment
The reality is, stress can play an immense role in hens being able to lay eggs. Things such as change, predators, and so on can result in some needed and necessary time for adaptation and adjustment. Any potential stressors, inside and outside of the coop, could result in a decrease or even a complete stop in the number of eggs being laid.
Reason #11: Extreme Weather
The impact of incredibly hot or incredibly cold weather can easily cause a chicken to stop laying eggs, especially in the heat. Luckily, there are ways to help with that. First off, you should work to keep things insulated in the winter so the chickens will stay warm enough, even if there isn’t much activity in the egg-laying department. In the summer, make sure there is plenty of water, shade to help keep things cool, and things like sprinklers or fans can help as well.
Source: Chickens and More
Reason #12: Dehydration
Naturally, hens will need to have enough water to be able to lay any eggs at all. With warmer weather, there should be even more water for the hens, maybe even additional water stations. The hens should always have fresh water available!
Something else to keep in mind regarding hens and water is the order’s hierarchy. In other words, hens who are higher up in the chain of command may prohibit those lower on the chain from having water, so those hens that are lower on the chain may stop laying eggs due to a lack of necessary amounts of water. That is another reason why it is beneficial to have multiple water stations.
Source: Scoop from the Coop
Reason #13: The Hen to Rooster Ratio/Overbreeding
There needs to a high enough number of hens for the one rooster. The rooster will have no problem with, say, 20 hens in the group. In fact, it is better for the hens if there are enough other hens in number. That helps alleviate the stress and physical toll that comes from being overbred too much. When the hen is feeling overburdened, she will pause laying eggs so she can recuperate from all of the strain she had been experiencing.
Reason #14: Salpingitis
Although illness and sickness were already mentioned, Salpingitis specifically needs to be addressed with more attention. This is when the hen has a bacterial infection in the oviduct (probably because of Escherichia coli or Salmonella) that causes inflammation.
This is never fun, especially for the hen, and she will understandably not be laying eggs for a bit, and may initially lay lash eggs (eggs full of dead tissue and other gunk) when starting back up. The lash eggs are the best evidence that the hen has Salpingitis.
Source: Chickens and More
Reason #15: Dangers/Threats/Predators
When it comes to predators or other potential harms, chickens are absolutely terrified. This will significantly affect their behavior in many ways, and one of those ways is with laying eggs. It doesn’t matter if the predator manages to sneakily avoid detection and awareness from people, the chickens will undoubtedly completely stop laying eggs.
Raccoons like to mess around with the hens, and even if the raccoon can’t get inside of the coop, it is likely a probable predator that is affecting the hens’ stress levels.
Reason #16: Egg Disappearance
There is always the possibility that eggs are being laid but are vanishing. Interestingly, there are multiple reasons why eggs may disappear. The first reason, and also the obvious reason, is that people steal eggs. While that may understandably seem unlikely and silly, the reality is that people steal eggs more often than it seems.
The second and equally plausible possibility is that another creature, maybe a predator such as a raccoon, managed to steal the eggs.
As for the third potential explanation for the disappearance of an egg, the hens themself may have eaten the egg. They sometimes do this if they are curious, hungry, or malnourished because they want to keep all the nutrients they can get.
Source: Scoop from the Coop