It can be quite alarming when a poultry owner gets a consistent five eggs, daily, from five hens, only to find just one egg for a few days. This sudden drop in egg laying takes us all into detective mode – are they hiding the eggs? Are they sick?
Below you’ll find some of the most common reasons for decreased egg production to put your mind at ease and hopefully get your girls laying consistently again.
Molt. At 15-18 months of age, and every year thereafter, chickens will replace their feathers. Feathers will fall out to make room for new feather growth. During this time, hens will stop laying eggs.
Lighting. Chickens need about 15-16 hours of light per day to produce eggs. The first year, most laying breeds will lay through the winter without artificial lighting.
Too many goodies. Think of kids, if you unleashed your kids at a buffet, and told them they could get whatever they want, most would load up at the dessert table. Your girls will do the same thing, filling up on bread, table scraps etc. they may not be getting what they need to produce eggs. This is usually a slowdown, more than a stoppage.
Too much lovin’. One rooster can easily handle 12-18 hens. If this ratio is too low, he will over mount the girls and bare patches will appear on their backs and the backs of their heads. This stress can drop them out of production.
Dehydration. It doesn’t take much water deprivation, especially in hot weather, to take your hens right out of production. Many times alpha hens will not allow submissive hens (bottom of the pecking order) to drink. They are attempting to “vote them off the island”, but the first thing that will happen is an egg stoppage. We recommend adding water stations during warm weather.
Any undue stress. Maybe the coop is secure, but they are still being harassed by raccoons, neighbor’s dogs, or other predators.
Egg eating by the hens, or theft by 2 or 4 legged scoundrels! They may be laying, but the wrong critter is getting the eggs. Believe it or not, human egg stealing is more common than people think – I’ve even seen it on a game camera.
Change in the pecking order. Adding new hens, a new rooster or removing a hen can cause a power void and/or drama. Drama=stress=egg production drop
Similar to egg binding, Peritonitis (an indicator of internal laying), is a distressing issue that can occur with laying hens.
Internal laying is a disorder where the yolk of the egg, rather than being laid in the normal manner, is not taken up by the oviduct and instead is deposited in the abdomen. This can be a genetic issue, but often times it follows an incidence of infection or trauma to the oviduct, such as a thin shelled egg breaking inside the hen.
Internal laying by itself is not always an issue. Occasionally a hen will lay internally for no apparent reason and the yolk will simply be absorbed back into the body without complications if there is no bacteria present. The problem results when bacteria is present and when eggs build up. Egg yolk is a rich medium for bacteria growth, and a build up of eggs internally can provide a playground for infection. This infection is known as peritonitis. If your hen continually lays egg after egg internally, the yolks can not only harbor and grow bacteria, but all the yolk material puts pressure on internal organs, making it difficult for the bird to breathe and causing her to adopt a penguin-like stance.
Symptoms of an internal layer with peritonitis can include:
If an internal layer is identified early on, steps to prevent the laying process can be taken. The bird may be spayed or have a hormone implant placed that stops ovulation. Unfortunately, an internal layer is often in discomfort and pain. Sometimes it may be necessary to euthanize the bird to end her suffering.
If peritonitis is suspected, the choices for treatment are usually limited, due to the amount of time the infection has most likely been brewing before symptoms become evident. Giving antibiotics if caught early enough in the process has had some success.
If you suspect you have an internal layer, with or without peritonitis, contact your avian veterinarian for a full diagnosis and treatment options.
Chickens are one of the only pets who can also make you breakfast – about once a day they provide you with a nutritious egg that can help feed yourself and your family. But when a normally healthy hen starts to have problems laying, it can be distressing on many levels. There is an important distinction between an absence of eggs and a sick hen. Eggs may not be found for many reasons, including:
It’s the health issues that we are concerned with for this article. One of the most troubling laying issues is a hen that is egg bound.
A hen that is egg bound has an egg that has become stuck in the oviduct and cannot pass out of the body. Egg binding is a potentially fatal condition, and hens who do not pass the egg within about 24 hours will usually perish. Eggs can become stuck for a variety of reasons, including
lack of calcium in the diet (helps with muscle quality)
poor body condition (overweight)
issues with the egg itself (excessively large)
Underdeveloped reproductive tract
If your hen is egg bound, she will most likely exhibit symptoms to tell you there is an issue. These symptoms can include:
Tail pumping up and down
Loss of appetite
Change in normal behavior
If you suspect a hen is egg bound, the best course of action is to contact your avian veterinarian.
In absence of a veterinarian’s help, you can try to assist the hen yourself. It is important if you are attempting treatment yourself that you are careful to not break the egg inside the hen, as this almost always leads to infection and further issues. Separate her from the rest of the flock. Gently palpate the vent area to see if you can feel the offending egg. Use moist heat to try to help relax the vent and allow the egg to pass. Sitting the hen in a warm bath that covers the vent area is a good way to do this. Applying a lubricant to the vent area may also help the hen pass the egg. Keep the hen in a separate, dark area.
To try and prevent episodes of egg binding in the future:
Use a commercial layer feed as the main part of the diet, supplementing treats at no more than 10 – 15% of the total ration
Offer a free choice calcium supplement (like oyster shell) at all times
Do not put pullets under lights to encourage early onset of the lay cycle