Chicken Health / Chickens / Management

Why No Eggs?

I have 21 chickens at the moment.  Two are cockerels who are staying, 5 are cockerels looking for homes, and the remaining 14 are hens and pullets.  Yet, I am only getting about 2 eggs a day.  Where are my eggs?!?

Molting: Right now, most of my older hens are molting and few of the pullets have hit point of lay.  When chickens are regrowing feathers, their protein intake is diverted to making new feathers.  To help them through the molt, I make sure they have plenty of protein.

Age: The pullets will begin to lay when their bodies are ready.  At about 20 weeks, I switch them to layer feed, although sometimes I wait until the first egg is laid before switching (and I’ve never had a soft-shelled first egg.)  The layer feed contains extra calcium which can be damaging to non-laying pullets’ kidneys, so it’s best not to rush the transition.  If you have a group of mixed-aged hens and pullets, you can provide calcium free-choice in the form of oyster shells.  As hens get older, their productivity declines.  You can read more about declining egg production in the molting article.

Stress: One of my pullets, a Basque Hen, had begun laying but stopped a few weeks ago and hasn’t restarted.  She was grabbed by a hawk in the yard and somehow got away.  When we saw the feathers everywhere, we looked for her everywhere and couldn’t find her.  I thought she had been taken until my husband found her hiding as far underneath the coop as she could wedge herself.  Although she was physically unhurt, the stress of the incident halted her laying.  In time, she will begin again.  Any stressful event, such as a predator scare, move, or the introduction of new birds can halt laying.

Diet: So, hens need both protein and calcium to make an egg.  Of course, they also need other things in a good, balanced diet such as fiber and trace nutrients.  Greens are nutritionally important, not only for the hen, but for you if you want healthy eggs with bright orange yolks.  As the green season passes, you can supplement with sprouted grains, alfalfa, or cut greens.  Be sure that your chickens are on a complete laying ration and supplement as needed.  Too much scratch and treats will dilute the percentage of protein in the diet and cut into egg production.

Water: Not only are our bodies about 70% water, but eggs are 74% water.  If a hen doesn’t have enough fresh water to drink, she won’t be laying any eggs.  This time of year, the biggest challenge is keeping water unfrozen.  A heated dish works well, but I just take my waterers in at night and add warm water in the morning.  Beware of fire hazards if using a light bulb.  When it stays below freezing during the day, we just change the water frequently.

External Parasites: Last night, I did go out and check for mites, lice, and fleas.  These pests basically live off of the chicken’s blood and are very taxing.  Not only could an infestation cause a decrease or halt in laying, but could actually kill a badly infected chicken.  These pests often live in coops and on birds and can be hard to spot during the day.  The easiest way to check for pests is to go out at night with a flashlight.  Look around the base of your walls and on the underside of your roost.  You may find mites in these places.  Look at the chickens’ feet and make sure there is no swelling or flaking that would indicate scaly leg mites.  Lastly, part the feathers around the vent of each chicken.  Make sure you can see down to the base of the feathers and the skin.  Make sure there is no irritation, redness, flaking, scales, crusts, eggs, or bug excrement at the base of the feathers.  If you do find evidence of mites, lice, or fleas, take a look at this PDF to read about different pests and treatments.  Most require dusting the chicken in a powder.  Natural pest-control dusting usually utilizes wood ashes or diatomaceous earth.  Watch a video on dusting chickens here.  You can also add wood ashes or DE to their dust bath as a preventative.

Internal parasites also sap a chicken’s energy and can interrupt laying and decrease health.  Many poultry keepers deworm their flock twice a year, but I am opting not to do so.  Everyone looks bright-eyed and healthy, so I see no need to tax their systems with medicine.  As with many things, opinions on deworming vary.  A natural option is to feed plenty of raw pumpkin and pumpkin seeds which you can read more about here.

Day length: Not only are my hens molting, but here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter and shorter.  You can read about day length and latitude in my post from last winter.  Basically, sunlight stimulates laying and shorter, winter days bring fewer hours of sunlight.  Some people supplement light with light bulbs, but others believe that this stresses the hen and reduces the number of productive years she has in her.  Whatever you decide to do, beware of fire hazards.  Opting for an LED light might not provide warmth but it would reduce the risk of fire.

Brooding: Last year at this time, my EE hen Olive, then a pullet, decided it was a good time to have chicks.  She went broody in November and tried to hatch her chick in December, which did not go well.  A broody hen will stop laying and start sitting.  A fluffed-up, clucking, sitting hen is broody and will not lay eggs until she’s done.

Why no eggs?  Well, my chickens have plenty of access to fresh water and fantastic feed.  They range outside and are still getting exercise and greens.  None are brooding, and there is no evidence of internal or external parasites.  Some are too young to lay, and most are molting.  One experienced a highly stressful event.  Also, the year is winding down and there are fewer hours of sunlight to stimulate production.  I think I will just need to be patient and dream of egg-filled days ahead when I will once more be able to eat eggs any time I want!  If I had frozen my eggs or coated them with mineral oil this summer when I had plenty, maybe I wouldn’t be without them now!

Resources: Read “Why Did My Chickens Stop Laying?” for a detailed discussion of this topic.

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18 thoughts on “Why No Eggs?

  1. Good Morning Heather,

    Our little flock is going through the same thing. I had the brilliant idea to start mixing more protein into their “lunch”. My “protein boost” idea came in the form of a VERY expensive bag of fruit & nut mix bird seed. This nifty bag had sunflower hearts, sunflower seeds in the hull, peanuts, walnuts, safflower seeds, flax seeds, millet, and dried fruits of all kinds. My flock LOVES it! After 4 days of rationing it to them with their layer crumbles, we definately noticed more eggs. But that all came to an abrupt halt the day I found the girls all gathered around the EMPTY bag of fancy seed!! Those girls loved it so much, one of them sqeezed under our barely “cracked” garage door, and pulled the half full bag of that seed out!!!! Grr! And at $15 for an 8lb bag…I’m not going to just go “buy more”….LOL. so we are back to only about 3 eggs a day 😦 and though I have always been a “let nature take its course” kind of gal…I am now putting some serious thought into placing an LED light in the coop. We shall see. I am very proud of one of my EE hens though! We CONSISTENTLY get 6 eggs a week from her!! We have NEVER had a hen THAT productive & consistent. So, YAY for Ms. Piggy! LOL
    Hope your egg production picks back up a bit!
    Kelley

    • That is a brilliant idea! I am going to look around for a similar mix just to see if it can help get them back into laying condition a little sooner. It’s awesome that your EE hen is doing so well! My little Brown Leghorn pullet is laying about 6 eggs a week as well. More than half the eggs we are eating come from that little pullet!

  2. During this molt I have gone back to a higher-protein grower pellet. And, since they forage and get a lot of greens, I am thinking they might need the extra protein permanently. Of course, they always have plenty of oyster shell for calcium.

    • I’ve been mixing some of the grower into my layer ration. Maybe I’ll try a straight grower mix, too. I try to give sunflower seeds and mealworms as treats throughout the year for their higher protein content, but I think that if they are foraging, they are probably digging up some good-quality protein on their own as well. I think you could definitely do grower year-round and they will just self-regulate if they need more or less.

  3. Oh sorry to hear about the hawk. We heard one the other day and it scares me. My oldest hens look pathetic. Hope they get their tail feathers back soon. However, my Austrolorp has never stopped laying and has not molted that much. One of two of my newbies have started laying and I am geting 1-2 eggs a day. I give them shelled and unshelled sunflower seeds, as well as mealworms. I think they would eat the whole container of mealworms. They are so spoiled I tried just giving them in the winter, but they know what the container looks like. Oh well, they are just spoiled.

    • I give mealworms pretty frequently, too! I think it’s okay that they are spoiled! Well, my little pullet is still not laying. I am wondering how long she can physically go without laying for one incident. I’m going to really try to baby them all this week with a lot of supplements and see if I can’t get her laying again.

  4. Thank you for the chicken care information! And the often-said, but true, “Great blog!” 🙂

    A couple tidbits:

    The Mother Earth News egg-freshness testing did not find vaseline (that’s mineral oil, right?)-coated eggs to last much longer than untreated eggs — article here:
    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/1977-11-01/Fresh-Eggs.aspx?page=1

    And protein levels: can they be too high for chicken health? I have read that too much protein can cause kidney problems, but that source did not include evidence, nor an indication of how much is too much. I wondered if you found anything on that.

    Many thanks again!

    • Thanks for the MEN link! I think Vaseline is similar to mineral oil – both are made from petroleum at least. I’m not sure of the differences beyond that.

      Too high protein can be bad, but that is usually in industrial-type situations where their main feed ration is their only food intake. With a regular feed with protein within normal levels, like a grower mix, plus supplements which are given separately or which they can pick around, chickens can manage their own protein intake just like they do with calcium free-choice. They will eat more of one thing or another to get what they need and not more.

      Thanks so much for coming by and the great comments!

  5. I know that eggs may start to be too large if the proportion of protein is too high. But, watching my chickens forage, they seem to eat a lot of green stuff and a much smaller portion of worms, etc. I weigh every egg, so it would be obvious if that is starting to happen.

    • That would be great! Thanks, Jaelle. My pullet still hasn’t resumed laying either. I am still waiting, but I am becoming a bit exasperated. It has been more than a month since she was *almost* grabbed. I think I need to sit up by the coop and try to figure out if she has a hidden nest somewhere and is just “holding” her egg until the afternoon when they range.

    • And then around, oh, April or May, you’ll have so many eggs that you’ll be handing them out to everyone who stops by your house! I want to try to preserve or save eggs this year so that I don’t have so much of a difference between too-many-eggs all spring and summer and not-enough-eggs in fall!

  6. I’m dreaming of egg-filled days too, Heather! With 50+ chickens, four eggs a day isn’t cutting it! lol

    Thanks for linking up with the Clever Chicks this week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

    • Yes, I think it has been nearly as long for us. They began at a bit of a stagger, and at least one of the older girls is back to laying, so we’ve been lucky enough to get one or two eggs most days between the one pullet who is laying and the older girls. Up in Maine, I am sure sunlight is at a premium! Not too long until the days start getting longer rather than shorter. I remember that, last year, laying picked up in the first week of February down here in Virginia.

  7. pls my pullet of twenty weeks refuses to lay eggs . what can I do in this situation . now they stulling brownish still. what can I give them at this stage

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