Tag Archives: hens

  • Why Aren't Your Hens Laying Anymore


    Written By Lisa Steele, Fresh Eggs Daily

    A decrease in egg production this time of year is perfectly normal and most likely attributable to shorter days and molting hens, but it can also be something a bit more formidable.  Egg production naturally ebbs and flows in a backyard flock. Chickens are extremely routine-oriented and any change in routine can throw off their laying.

    I keep track of the eggs I collect using a spreadsheet and totaling the eggs by color/day/month. Often, when a hen stops laying, that is the first sign that something is wrong, so tracking production is not only fun and interesting, it can be very beneficial to monitor the health of your flock.

    Here are some of the more common reasons why a hen might stop laying, or lay at a reduced rate:

    1. Shorter Days - This time of year, egg production will slow due to the shorter days. A hen needs a minimum of 14 hours of daylight to stimulate the ovaries to release an egg. Therefore it takes longer to accumulate the 14 hours during the fall and winter months.  Action - You can add supplemental light in your coop to provide the additional light needed.  Read HERE about adding supplemental light.

    2. Molting - The fall is also the time when hens will generally molt. They usually stop laying all together during the molt. Click HERE for more information about molting. Action - You have to let the molting run its course, but added protein can help move it along and help your hen emerge faster and begin laying again.

    3. Broody - When a hen 'goes broody,' she stops laying eggs and starts sitting on the nest 'round the clock, trying to hatch some eggs. Hens will do so with fertile OR non-fertile eggs, even sitting on no eggs at all! The drive for broodiness is in some hens/breeds genes more than others. Action - Break the broody as quickly as possible; read more on how to do that HERE.

    4. Egg Eating - Obviously, egg eating by your chickens will result in a reduction in the eggs left for you to collect. Once one starts, other will follow. Evidence may be seen in the nests in the form of broken eggs or empty shells, but most likely your chickens will eat the entire egg, shell and all, so unless you catch one in the act, you might not realize what is happening.  Action - Click HERE to read more on egg eating and how to stop it.

    5. Predators - Not only will many predators steal and eat eggs, the mere presence of a predator lurking around your run area can stress the hens to the point that they stop laying. Snakes, weasels and rats can get through a space smaller than 1 inch. Other larger predators, such as foxes, opossums and skunks, will try and enter your coop as well if you don't have it securely locked at night. Action - Be sure that all vents on your coop are covered with 1/2-inch hardware cloth. Block any holes in the coop larger than an inch. Put predator proof locks on the coop and nesting box doors. NiteGuard solar predator lights will also keep predators at bay and away from your run at night.

    6. Egg Bound Hen - Young hens, hens who consume too much protein or are otherwise not in tip-top condition can become egg bound. This potentially fatal condition must be caught and treated immediately. Action - Click HERE for more on treating an egg bound hen.

    7. Overcrowding - Overcrowding in the run and coop can lead to pecking and other stresses that can cause your hens to stop laying. Action - Ensure that your coop provides a MINIMUM of 3-4 square feet per hen and your run provides a MINIMUM of 10 square feet per hen. Of course, size matters and bigger is better.

    8. Additions or Subtractions to the Flock - Any time you add or take away a hen, the entire pecking order of your flock is upset and (usually minor) adjustments are made. Often this can stress hens so they slow their laying. Action - Once the pecking order is restored, laying will resume. New hens might need some time to get used to their new surroundings before they start laying for you.

    9. A Change in the Nesting Area - Any change in her nesting area can throw off a hen's laying. Things such as changing out the nesting boxes for a different type, switching the type of nesting material, hanging curtains (although, in the long run, curtains can help increase production ... click HERE for more on that!) or moving your flock to a new coop can cause stress and break their routine to cause a decrease in production. Action - Try not to disturb the nesting area unless absolutely necessary.

    10. Illness/Disease - Often the first noticeable sign of illness in a chicken will be the cessation of laying. Chickens are masters at hiding symptoms in general, because weakness can cause pecking by other hens in the flock, as well as attention from predators. Action - Do regular checkups of your flock. Read HERE what to look for and how to treat if something is wrong.

    11. Extreme Heat - Hens lay best in temperatures between roughly 50-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Any deviation, higher OR lower, can cause a reduction in their lay rate. Action - Do your best to help your hens stay cool and comfortable during the summer months, especially if you live in a Southern climate. Read HERE for tips on beating the heat.

    12. Extreme Cold - Extremely cold temperatures can likewise cause laying to decline, as the hens are using all their energy to stay warm. Action - Use scratch as an evening wintertime treat. The act of digesting the grains helps keep the hens warm overnight and maintain their laying.

    13. Lack of Adequate Ventilation in the Coop - Ammonia fumes can build up in a coop that is not well-ventilated. That can cause irritation and respiratory illness in a hen. Action - Rule of thumb is that 1/5 of your total coop wall space should be vents/windows that can be opened or closed, weather dependent. Of course be sure all vents are covered with 1/2" hardware cloth to deter predators from gaining access.

    14. Poor Nutrition - Low-quality feed, a lack of feed, or inadequate calcium or protein can all reduce egg production. Action - Ensure your flock has access to a good-quality layer feed that isn't allowed to get moldy. Provide a dish of crushed eggshells or oyster shell free choice so each hen can eat what she needs. Limit treats to 10% of their diet and choose healthy treats such as greens, weeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, grains, insects and meal worms.

    15. Overfeeding - Overfeeding can lead to a drop in egg production. A diet low in protein will cause a hens' laying to slow. Action - Don't overfeed (a hen will eat roughly 1/2 of feed per day) and provide adequate protein in the form of meal worms, sunflower seeds, etc.

    16. Lack of Water - An egg is roughly 75% water. If a chicken goes without access to fresh, clean, cool water for even a few hours, that can lead to a reduction in egg production. Action - Be sure to keep plenty of water available in the run and change it regularly. Scrub out the waterers with a white vinegar/water mix regularly and add a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water a few times a week. The apple cider vinegar not only helps keep algae and bacteria at bay, it is thought to improve the taste of the water and make it more appealing to your chickens. On hot days, add frozen water bottles or ice cubes to the water, because chickens won't drink warm water on a hot day.

    17. Free Ranging - If you allow your flock to free range, there's a good chance that they are going off to lay their eggs and hiding them. A hen's natural instinct is to lay her eggs in a secluded, safe spot to keep them safe from predators. Action - Because most hens lay their eggs in the morning hours, try keeping your flock cooped or penned up until early afternoon so they will be forced to lay their eggs when you can find them.

    18. Hiding Eggs - Even in an enclosed run, hens will sometimes quit laying in the nesting boxes and instead start hiding their eggs in an effort to collect a 'clutch' to sit on and hatch. Last summer, our egg production went down, and I thought it was the heat until I found their 'stash' of 14 eggs behind a bush in the run! Action - Chickens like to find out-of-the-way places to lay their eggs, so check under and behind bushes, shrubs, anything else you have in your run they can use as cover. Sometimes you have to learn to choose your battles, and if I find our chickens starting to lay elsewhere than the coop, I will set up an outdoor nesting box or basket for them. As long as it's out of the way and they're happy, at least I know where to check for missing eggs.

    19. Age - A hen lays best during the first two to three years of her life. Her productivity will drop after that, but well-cared for, healthy hens can continue to lay for years after that. Action - Continuing to add new chicks or pullets to your flock each spring ensures a constant supply of hens at prime egg-laying age. (Note: While older hens don't lay as well, they are thought to make better mothers, so keeping them around to sit on fertile eggs is a wonderful way for them to 'earn their keep.')

    20. Stress - A stress-free hen is a good laying hen. Any stressor, such as a barking dog, traffic noise, being bullied by another hen, neighbors' children chasing them and trying to pick them up and hold them, etc., can cause a drop in production. Action - Remember, a hen is laying her egg with the ultimate goal of it hatching into a chick. She won't be happy laying in an environment she doesn't feel is safe for a chick to grow up. Try to reduce any outside stresses as much as possible.

    Before you despair and think that getting a hen to actually lay an egg is about as rare as a blue moon or you'll have to wait until the stars align and pigs fly, remember that she is programmed to lay an egg about once every 26 hours. She WANTS to lay that egg. So anything you can do to help her in that venture is going to boost productivity and make it easier on her.  Since the hens are not living in a light/temperature-consistent, confined and controlled environment like commercially raised hens, it's natural that they will respond to different stimuli (or the lack thereof) by ceasing egg production.

  • Of Power Outages and Baby Chicks

    Written By Don Schrider

    This summer of 2012 has turned hot and we on the east coast have been hit hard with storms that have taken the power out for many days at a time. The chickens are surviving this handsomely, needing no electricity as long as they have food, shelter, and water.
    As I try to sleep, windows open, a faint breeze stirring the hot, humid air, I reflect on just how well my chickens are taking the heat. My pens are airy, letting the air move and whisking away body heat. The roosts have plenty of airspace all around them. My chickens live in a wooded part of the yard; they love the shade the trees provide. My hanging feeders are under roof, protecting them from the rains, and holding enough food for a few days. I use plenty of water containers, providing a three or more day supply – which proved very advantageous once the power went out and the well pump had no electricity with which to operate.
    Each morning I am awakened by a chorus of crowing – each rooster being sure he is the first to sing in the new day. The chickens begin their day scratching around in search of some breakfast. The majority of the day is spent satisfying both their hunger and their curiosity – exploring, scratching, running to see what another chicken has found. The hens quietly withdraw to the privacy of their nest, and then publicly announce, with a loud BAH-KA, that they have laid an egg. During the middle of the day, even in this heat, some of the chickens take the time to sunbathe. They lay on their sides, with one leg and one wing stretched out, basking in the warm golden sunlight. As I arrive to collect eggs and feed treats, they follow me around and hungrily peck up the corn and leftovers I provide for them. As dusk arrives they begin to take their individual places upon the roosts, settling in for the night.
    Even without electricity my chickens are safe. I use a solar charger to power their electronet fence. I have a solar light in their yard to discourage predators. And my partner, Roxy, my chicken guard dog, patrols the property day and night driving away such dangerous creatures as deer, neighbors, hawks, and sneaky nighttime visitors like raccoons and possums.
    For the chickens, nothing has changed. The loss of power goes unnoticed. Life is as enjoyable today as it was yesterday. This is due to the fact that electricity is not a large part of their experience and care, and to the fact that both pens and food and water systems are designed to be safe, comfortable, and to provide days of nutrition without the need for power.
    Now is a good time for you to take a look at your pens and the care you are giving your chickens this summer. Do they have shade? And is the shaded area large enough for all the birds? Is it open enough to allow breezes to blow through. Do you have multiple waterers set out so that every chicken get a drink without being driven away by a bossy hen or rooster? Are the waterers large enough to provide several days of water if needed? Are the roosts roomy? Do you have plenty of feed stored in airtight containers? Is your fence strong and in good repair?
    Are you feeding a diet with extra vitamins and a good level of nutrition? Remember, chickens eat less in the heat, so be sure you are using a good quality feed and supplement with Omega Ultra Egg – its vitamins and nutrition helping to ensure both good eggs and healthy chickens during the summer heat.
    This summer is also a time for miracles. Each year I like to let a hen or two sit and hatch out a clutch of eggs. This year I had a Light Brown Leghorn sit on a small clutch of her own eggs – four to be exact. Twenty-one days later, she brought off a clutch of three healthy chicks. One of the interesting things about this, is that momma retained most of the redness of her comb during her broody stage. This can be credited to the extra nutrition she received from supplementing her laying mash with Omega Ultra Egg.
    Momma hen is fiercely protective of her clutch and an all around attentive mother. She clucks to her chicks, drawing them to tasty food morsels. She warms them, letting them nuzzle under her breast feathers. Sometimes a bold chick decides to leap up on momma’s back to get a better view of the world. And woe betide the foolish human that picks one of her chicks up – momma is there in an instant, attacking with wings, beak, and feet, then retreating, spinning, and returning to attack again. A broody hen seems to have the courage of an army; even roosters avoid a hen when she is protecting her young.
    If you decide to brood your own chicks, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Once a hen begins to go broody, she will spend most of the day on the nest. She will cluck and raise her feathers as she walks or if you disturb her nesting. You will notice she is missing many feathers on her breast, allowing the warmth of her body to warm the eggs, and later the chicks. She will begin to spend nights on the nesting box once she is fully committed.
    Other hens will want to join her on the nest to lay their eggs. This will cause many eggs to be broken. It will also mean that the eggs she is sitting on will be at unequal stages of growth. For best results, move the hen to a secluded nesting site at night. Take care to disturb her as little as possible. Make sure the new site is secure, can contain day-old chicks, and preferably a little dark and private. Provide momma with good food and water, even though she will consume little of each. And after twenty-one days she will turn a batch of fertile eggs into a brood of healthy chicks.
    Hens differ in their mothering ability. Some young hens will not sit the full three weeks it takes to hatch a clutch. Some hens make poor mothers – caring little for their chicks, even killing some or all of them. A fair number of hens can tell their chicks from those of other hens and may do harm to strange chicks. I have even had a hen that knew the chicks she hatched were the wrong color (were another breed) and refused them. Most hens are good to excellent mothers. A few are great mothers and will raise any chick offered to them. For the few that are bad mothers, often you can remove the chicks and raise them in a brooder.
    I like to keep the hen alone with her chicks for the first few days. Often I will decide to integrate them with the flock after a week or so. I do this by placing them in a wire pen, within the yard of the flock – so that the other hens and rooster can get used to seeing them. After about two weeks, I will let momma and brood run out in the yard with the other hens while I am around to watch – a few little squabbles may happen as momma decides another hen has gotten too close to the babies. But if everything goes well, on the second day I will let the brood join the flock.
    As the chicks grow and feather out, they will first join mom on the roost. Later, momma will decide that they no longer need her protection and they are abandoned to care for themselves as members of the flock.
    With some good planning and proper nutrition, like that found in Omega Ultra Egg, your chickens can survive summer and power outages and can even raise a brood on chicks.
    Happy chicken keeping.
    Don Schrider
    Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

  • Wild Bill, Rudolph Valentino and Mr. Fugley

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    This fellow's name is Wild Bill. He gets that name as he has quite the way with the ladies. He is a white Leghorn Rooster. He would like to think that he is top dog, but he is not. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    That honor goes to his fellow. Mr. Fugley. We don't know what he is. His mother hatched him out and his dad could have been any number of roosters we had at the time. Poor Mr, Fugly, He may not be much to look at, but the ladies love him and he is ruler of the roost. Even the dogs leave him alone.

    A few more of Wild Bill. He spends a lot of time talking the big talk but is nowhere to be seen when Mr. Fugley comes around.

    This is Rudolph Valentino, he is named after the famous Latin

    lover from Hollywood’s early years. Quite the handsome fellow don’t you think?

     He is even brave enough to take on the cats.

     

     

     

     

     

    But this is what happens when he sees Mr. Fugley.

    Now this is what the roosters spend so much time fussing over.

    Girls.  Girls.  Girls.
     

    This is one of the ladies they spend so much time fighting over. Her name is Grace. All of the speckled hens like her are named Grace.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    All of the red ones are named Ruth.

     

     All the white ones are named Gladys.
     
     And all the ducks are named Richard. Don't laugh, It just makes thing easier.

     

     

     

    And here is why we keep Mr. Bill, Rudolph Valentino and Mr. Fugley around at all. They keep the hens happy. Happy hens make more eggs and more eggs make a happy me!

     

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