Photo: mazaletel (Flickr)
It’s a bit odd to hear this complaint during the height of egg-laying season, but I have been contacted three times in the last month about the same issue — the hens aren’t laying eggs.
A hen needs about 16 hours of light a day to trigger the egg-laying response in the body. Some breeds may need a little less light to begin laying, while others may need the maximum amount.
In the middle of the summer, light should not be the issue.
There are many things that can cause a hen to stop laying. Here are the most common:
Heat And Stress
Chickens have a harder time dealing with long spells of hot and humid weather than they do the cold of winter. (After all, they are wearing down coats full time!) If they don’t have sufficient shade and cool water, it can stress their system and interrupt laying.
In fact, stress of any kind can do the same thing. An attack by a neighbor’s dog, for example, can affect the entire flock.
Lack Of Water
Along with the heat, chickens need more water during this time — just like humans. If a hen is left without water for even a short time, it can stop her from laying eggs for quite a while. Keep the water fresh and clean, which will encourage them to drink more.
Low Quality Nutrition
Laying hens need an adequate amount of protein, vitamins and minerals to make eggs. If you are feeding them too much bread or other table scraps, they won’t get the nutrients they need. Also, make sure the feed is as high-quality as you can afford. Not all feeds are created equal, and the cheaper ones may not have what it takes for your birds to lay well.
If you can, let your birds out into the yard to peck at some bugs, worms and greens.
Parasites Or Illness
Significant infestations of external parasites, such as lice or mites, can cause a hen to stop laying. This page from the Mississippi State University Extension Service offers a thorough explanation of parasites. If left untreated, any of these infestations can cause a drop in egg-laying or even death.
Internally, having worms can hurt her health as well. If you give your hens medication for worms, know that there is a period of time after treatment during which you cannot eat the eggs. I try to treat my birds in the fall, when they have stopped laying for the winter.
Many illnesses can prevent a bird from laying eggs, such as a respiratory infection.
While it’s most common for hens to molt in the early fall, some hens do lose their feathers in the summer. When hens molt, their bodies devote energy to growing new feathers instead of laying eggs. They’ll start up again as soon as their feathers finish growing out.
When Mother Nature tells a hen it’s time to sit on the eggs and try to hatch them, she will stop laying. If you notice your hen is sitting on the nest frequently and you have to pick her up to get her off, it might be time to take measures to break that cycle.
If you have explored all of these causes and none seem to be the issue, then be patient. Your hen will start laying again eventually!