One day you have a flock of hens merrily clucking away, producing farm-fresh eggs to beat the band. The next day you go to the coop to find … nothing. Not an egg to be found. You wonder. Why have my chickens stopped laying? Is it something you said? Did your food offering not meet their approval? What gives?
There are many things that can cause a flock to go on strike, unfortunately it’s up to you to figure it out and fix it. Once you do fix the issue, it could take the girls months to get back on track so don’t be surprised if you wind up buying eggs for a while.
Common Causes for Chickens To Stop Laying
Loud, Sudden Sounds
Loud, sudden sounds like thunder, hail, explosions and sirens are more than enough to cause a sudden stop in production. It’s also not unheard of to see mortality because of such a stressor.
Predators chasing or stalking backyard chickens can really freak out a flock of birds, especially when prolonged or repeated. Dogs, cats, hawks, rats, foxes, raccoons and even children could be perceived as a predator to your chickens. For example, a dog barking at or chasing your birds will definitely freak them out. It’s important to learn how to protect chickens from hawks and other predators.
Did you miss a day? Did their water freeze or go dry? Did they run out of feed? An interruption in the availability of food or water is a sure-fire way to start a strike. Did you accidentally feed a different feed, or did you buy a different brand of feed? Any sudden change in nutrition will send your flock into a tizzy. If you need to change feed formulas or brands, don’t go “Cold Turkey,” blend them over to the new feed gradually over a span of a week.
Birds are extremely photosensitive. A sudden change in sunlight duration is a very common cause of problems, especially in layers. If the length of light exposure time suddenly shortens, their bodies think it’s fall so they shut down production and conserve energy to carry them through the cold months. Lengthening, or a sudden continuous exposure of light can cause birds to produce an over sized egg too large to pass. This can result in birds becoming egg bound, cause a prolapse or “blow-out” where their insides become outsides at which time they typically become cannibalized by their fellow flock mates. Avoid these problems by using a trustworthy timer and protect it from the weather and tampering.
What does a chicken coop need? Among other things, it should be designed to allow for a steady flow of fresh air. High ammonia levels caused by wet litter and/or a lack of air circulation can halt production and cause disease and serious health problems. It’s rather unpleasant for you as well, so if you have ventilation (like a window) but there is still insufficient air flow then consider adding a cheap box fan to one window while leaving another opening on the opposite side of the coop to create a cross breeze. These fans can also be put on a timer to avoid chilling the birds at night.
Sudden changes in the pecking order, reduced space per bird or a reduction in available feed and water space per bird is another sure-fire way to cause a strike. Introducing new birds to a flock upsets the pecking order, which has to be re-established. Sudden crowding increases competition for food and water resources as well as roost and floor space. Did you reduce your number of water dispensers or let a feeder stay empty? That will also reduce the feeder space or water resource space per bird. Higher ranking birds will bully lower birds out of the way, causing the lower ranking birds to simply not have the nutritional support they need.
To avoid competition, be sure you have ample floor space, nest space, feeder space and water capacity to accommodate your flock plus a margin for safety. Don’t introduce birds to your flock if it can be avoided, but if it can’t then be sure you provide ample room for birds to evade confrontation. I have the best luck by introducing new birds at night when everyone is roosting, that way they all wake up together and have a chance to acclimate better versus just dropping birds in and instantly causing a challenge to the existing flock.
A disease or parasite infection can shut down an entire flock quickly, so mind your biosecurity, keep your birds healthy and respond immediately to any evidence of illness in the flock. Seek a professional diagnosis when dealing with illness, however obvious infestations can be swiftly dealt with.
Have your hens began to sit on their eggs? Many breeds are prone to broodiness and make good mothers, which is good if you want them to hatch chicks. But if you don’t, then you need to shoo them off the nest and discourage them from loitering in the nests. Typical signs of a broody hen are a bare chest, extreme unwillingness to vacate the nest, loud angry vocalizations when you approach her nest and downright aggression to any hand that dares to come close. Also, if you find extremely large, solid and malodorous droppings, then you have a hen that’s gone broody.
There is always the classic reason for a halt in egg production; molting. After about 12 months of straight laying, your bird’s body is tired and naturally changes it’s chemistry to give it’s self a break. A molt is characterized by a halt in laying and an abundance of feathers being shed. You’ll see your birds methodically shed and re-grow their feathers tract by tract and the evidence will be all over your coop. If your entire flock starts this, then you will have to wait it out for about a month. If the molt is noticeably synchronized, you should look for the catalyst which will likely be one of the causes discussed above.
Unless you’re trying to force molt your birds, avoid exposing your chickens to these stressors. Keeping them happy, healthy, protected, properly lighted and well fed will ensure a steady supply of hen-fruit for your omelet, but if you shirk your duties as a caretaker, you may find yourself taking the walk of shame… to the grocery store… for eggs.
What advice would you give a small-flock owner with the question: why have my chickens stopped laying?