Are you getting fewer eggs now than in the past? Is an empty nest box causing you to worry? Do you think you must be doing something wrong?
The good news is you’re probably not. Humans want to get the most bang for our chickens’ cluck, so it’s natural to want as many eggs from our hens as we can get. But our hens’ natural rhythms throughout the year are mostly out of our control. (Humans hate that!) Even when we do it all right, we’re stuck relying on chicken biology for egg production. Consider these seven things if your flock’s egg production is in decline.
Chicken feed is formulated to provide everything a flock needs. Crumble and pellets assume your flock is confined, which doesn’t require supplemental grit or calcium. Free-ranging flocks have access to more nutrition sources, but they require grit to grind up insects and grasses inside their crops. Feed can be cheap or expensive, highly processed, or cut grain. Whatever you feed your flock, make sure they’re not getting too many carbohydrates—from your kitchen or from chicken scratch. In fact, scratch grains are equivalent to junk food for your hens—they don’t need it.
2. Nest Boxes
Most hens enjoy private nest boxes, but some others will be annoyed with you for stealing eggs. Production might not be down—you just might not know where the eggs are. Look for hiding places under bushes or for a nest inside tall grasses and weeds. Look for small spaces you’d never consider. When it comes to protecting eggs, hens can get crafty.
Happy, healthy hens lay more eggs. Whether your chickens free-range or live in confinement, provide them opportunities to satisfy their instincts. Dust-bathing and foraging are necessary to dull boredom, reduce bullying and promote general sanity. Hunting for fresh greens or high-protein treats boosts morale in the flock. Dust-bathing will help keep mites and lice off the skin and reduce the risk or severity of infestations.
Old hens slow down, and beyond providing basic health care, a clean environment, and high-quality feed, there’s nothing you can do to stop an aging hen from what I call ‘henopause.’ A nurturing environment will keep her ovulating for as long as she’s biologically programmed to, but there will be a gradual reduction with an eventual end.
Moderate mite and lice infestations can thrive unseen in your flock causing unnecessary stress. Mites, for example, feed on your chickens’ blood, which can cause anemia and eventual death. When a hen is sick or injured, it will divert its energy for laying eggs to survival and healing. Other possible health problems include but aren’t limited to: viral and bacterial infections, respiratory infections, reproductive ailments (like egg drop syndrome) and even ovarian cancer.
6. Annual Molt
Chickens molt once a year, but when they molt depends on the breed. When old feathers begin to shed, chickens divert protein energy from producing eggs to building new feathers. The molt can be a stressful time for some chickens. Offering extra protein sources during this time can get them through the molt a little healthier and back to laying eggs in no time.
Consider that chickens don’t lay eggs for our benefit. Egg laying is ovulation, and hens are only doing what their biology dictates in order to make babies. Whether or not there’s a rooster on the premises doesn’t matter—your girls will lay eggs and sometimes go broody (sitting on and protecting eggs) regardless.
Many chicken breeds were developed to lay an egg every 25 hours or so. An Australorp holds the world record for laying some 350 eggs in one year. While your Australorp probably won’t break her record, she’s a dependable breed, but many breeds don’t lay eggs that prolifically—breeds that humans call “unreliable layers”. Unreliable layers, like the Polish, lay just one or two clutches of eggs each year. They don’t care about feeding you; they just hope to reproduce.
Optimal backyard care will keep your hens laying as many eggs as they can for as long as they can. Sometimes hens take breaks. Sometimes hens get sick. And, sometimes, hens just get old. As long as you’re providing your best care, your chickens will continue to do their best for you.