Egg production is a remarkable thing. A pullet (young female chicken) begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 32 weeks, with a production rate greater than 90 percent (that’s 9 eggs in 10 days for a single hen or 9 eggs from 10 birds daily). This period of peak production lasts about 10 weeks, after which her egg production slowly begins to decline. The average commercial Single Comb White Leghorn hen lays about 300-320 eggs per year, with backyard breeds laying fewer. In most cases, the more exotic the breed, the poorer the egg production. Hens stop laying eggs for a variety of reasons. External or internal stimuli affect hormone levels, which change the condition of the ovary and oviduct, the organs responsible for egg production. The result of these changes is the reduction or cessation of egg production. The most common stimuli that affect egg production are decreasing day length, disease, broodiness, poor nutrition, and stress. However, even under ideal conditions, every hen’s egg production eventually slows down and stops.
Laying hens need proper nutrition, clean and well-ventilated housing, and protection from predators in order to continue laying. Problems with laying hens often occur because of flock mismanagement, diseases or stress. Many problems can be alleviated with some simple changes in the hens’ diet or lifestyle, but if the problem isn’t solved by these changes, it may be time to retire a laying hen and find a replacement.
1.Decreasing day length———
Days become shorter beginning June 22 and begin to lengthen again on December 22. In Oregon, day length decreases from nearly 16 hours of light at the beginning of summer to just over 8 hours at the beginning of winter. This change in day length causes hens to molt and cease egg production, a process that may take several months. Preventing production losses due to changes in natural day length requires artificial lighting. To maintain production, day length must increase or remain constant at more than 12 hours per day; a 14- to 16-hour day is typical. Light needs to be just bright enough to read a newspaper, and the type of bulb does not matter. If a lighting program is started, it must be continued. Even a 1-day lapse can have a negative impact on egg production. It is best to use an inexpensive timer to control the light schedule.
Molting is a natural process that allows the hen to replace old, worn feathers and rejuvenates her oviduct, the organ that “makes” eggs. With the molt, the hen puts the bulk of her energy into feather growth, leaving little for egg production. Natural molting is a seasonal process related to changes in day length. It usually occurs in the fall after chicks fledge, but in domestic birds it can occur at any time, especially if the hen is exposed to some stress. Rapid feather loss by the entire flock usually is the result of a serious stressful event such as lack of water and/or feed or lighting problems. Even with a lighting program, hens eventually molt. When molting during long day periods, the molt often is not complete, and hens may never be restored to full production. It is a good idea to allow hens to molt during their second winter. By turning off the lights for about 6 weeks during the winter, the birds will molt more completely and then can be placed on long days again to resume egg production.
Broodiness is the natural tendency for a hen to set on her eggs to hatch chicks. Most hens eventually go broody, some breeds more often than others, although some breeds rarely, if ever, go broody. (Cochins and Silkies are champions at going broody; broodiness is rare in Leghorns.) When a hen becomes broody, hormonal changes result in the cessation of lay. The stimulus for broodiness normally is a nest full of eggs; however, some hens will go broody without this stimulus. To reduce broodiness, collect eggs daily from nests and hiding places. If a hen shows a desire to stay on the nest for extended periods, remove her from access to the nest for several days. After a period of time, the broody behavior will cease and she will return to egg production.
4.Flock health ———–
Disease problems occur from time to time in all flocks. In many cases, a drop in egg production is the first sign of trouble. Other signs include lethargy, inactivity, lameness, coughing, dull appearance, and death. Some mortality is normal, but if several birds show similar symptoms, seek professional help.
Eventually, all hens cease egg production. Normally, chickens produce well until they are 2 to 3 years old, and then egg production declines. Molts become more frequent and prolonged, and physical problems with the ovary or oviduct may occur. After all, when a high-producing hen has laid for 3 years, she may have produced more than 30 times her body weight in eggs. In some instances, the oviduct becomes less able to expel eggs, and one or more becomes trapped in the oviduct, a condition called “egg bound.” In other cases, hens ovulate egg yolks that are not collected by the oviduct and hence remain in the body cavity. This is normal for a low percentage of yolks, and the hen simply reabsorbs them. When this “mistake” is an everyday occurrence, the hen is considered an “internal layer.” Sometimes older hens attempt to pass an extremely large egg or a double-yolk egg. In this case, the oviduct, which normally externalizes when eggs are laid, may not return to its normal position inside the hen’s body. The oviduct remains external, a condition known as prolapse, and becomes a very tempting article for other hens in the flock to pick. Remove such a hen from the flock immediately. In each of these cases, egg production ceases, and the health of the hen is in jeopardy. There is little that can be done for these hens but to remove them from the flock.
6.Poor nutrition ———-
Diet is very important to maintaining maximum egg production. Chickens require a balanced diet, and any supplementation of scratch, table scraps, garden waste, etc. serves to unbalance the diet. For maximum egg production, feed a layer ration free choice, provide free-choice oyster shell in a separate feeder, and supplement only what hens will clean up in 15 minutes or none at all.
Egg production is a hen’s reproductive activity. It is not a requirement for hens to thrive. When a hen experiences stress, even so minimal as to go unnoticed, she may respond by ceasing egg production. Moving, handling, overheating, fright, and lack of food or water are stresses that can be detrimental to egg production. Protection from the elements and predators, clean and well-maintained facilities, adequate ventilation in closed houses, constant availability of feed and water, etc. will reduce stress and help maintain high egg production. Maintaining a healthy, well-managed flock will result in high-producing hens and many high-quality eggs for the family or for sale
Any factors can affect egg production, with health (before and after lay) being one of the most significant. If your hens stop laying, you may be able to identify the source of the problem by asking the following questions:
1. Have the hens been laying for 10 months or more? Your hens may just be at the end of their laying cycle. If so, they will stop production, go through a molt (loss of feathers), take a break, and start laying again. If your hens have been laying for less than 10 months, something else may be causing their lack of production.
2. Are the hens receiving enough fresh, clean water? The hens will not eat if they cannot drink, so make sure that your watering system is functioning correctly. Keeping a watering system operational can be a challenge in the winter when the water may freeze. You can purchase waterers that have heaters attached to keep the water from freezing. Otherwise, you will have to break up any frozen water on a regular basis. Problems can occur in summer as well. Summertime high temperatures can make the water so warm that the chickens will not drink enough to meet their increased needs. For more information, refer to the related article on the water requirements of poultry.
3. Are the hens eating enough of the right feed? Feeding the wrong feed, diluting feed with scratch grains, or limiting the amount of feed available can result in your hens having a nutritional deficiency, causing them to molt and go out of production. When hens have a nutritional deficiency, it is common to see feather pecking as well as a loss of egg production.
4. Are the hens getting enough hours of light per day? Decreases in the number of hours of light per day typically will put a flock out of production. For this reason, many flocks that are not provided with supplemental light go out of production during the fall and winter months.
5. Do the hens have parasites? Various internal parasites and external parasites can infest poultry flocks and stress the hens. Heavy infestations of internal parasites can result in serious damage to the digestive tract and reduce hen performance. Heavy infestations of mites can cause anemia in the hens, also adversely affecting their performance.
6. Did any issues with eggshell quality precede the stop in egg production? Several diseases can result in abnormal eggshells.
7. Have there been any health issues within the flock? A flock that has been sick will not perform as well as a flock that has not gone through a disease challenge.