Ah, December. Christmas lights, lots of good food, and chickens not laying eggs.
Whether you’re a novice farmer or a poultry aficionado, this time of year, everyone’s wondering why their birds have decreased their egg production. No matter your level of poultry knowledge, it’s always important to step back and ensure that you know exactly why your birds have stopped laying eggs. (Additionally, it’s generally good practice to find out why your birds are deviating from normal whatever the problem, but that’s another blog post) Here are a few common reasons why you may be experiencing a drop in production, and some steps to get your birds back on track:
Hate it when we “fall back” and it gets darker earlier? So do your birds. Ensuring that birds who are actively laying are getting around 14-16 hours of daylight is essential to continued egg production. Invest in a timer to place on the lights in your coop. To keep the stress level to a minimum, have the timer shut off half an hour or so before sunset and turn on again early in the morning. You may have to adjust the timing every week or so to keep up with changes in daylight. This gives the birds time to roost and “get ready for bed” with twilight as a guide. You probably don’t like it when someone shuts the lights out abruptly, and neither do your birds.
Did your birds eat bugs and grass outside during the warmer months? If so, that supplement is no longer accessible, and you need to make sure that they’re continuing to receive the nutrients necessary to lay eggs. In all animals, reproduction is the last system to consume energy. If your birds are hungry or not receiving the correct amounts of nutrients, their bodies will slow down reproduction (egg laying) to properly allocate those nutrients to more important processes. A feed for laying hens should be labeled “Layer Feed” and have around 16% protein and 4% calcium.
Additionally, make sure that your birds have unfrozen, clean water! Change waterers or buckets 2-3 times a day in cold weather to keep water drinkable.
Did you get your birds early last spring? If so, your birds may be coming up to their 1st birthday. While this is definitely a cause for celebration, the first year of a bird’s life is the most productive in terms of egg laying. Their production will steadily decrease over the next 2-3 years. There’s not much to do about getting older. If you want birds for eggs, replacing your flock every year may be the best route to go. If your birds have become your family, guiding your bird through molt may help to slightly increase egg production.
Are many of your birds losing feathers? If so, they may be molting, which is a natural replenishing of feathers. Because growing feathers takes a lot of energy, egg laying may decrease or stop entirely during this time. If this happens, provide your birds with a high protein feed to give them the nutrients necessary to grow those feathers back!
Stress or Disease
If your birds are fed properly, receiving adequate light, and are less than a year old, it may be time to think outside the box. Birds only lay eggs when they feel safe. Do your birds have access to outside? If so, birds of prey that have migrated south for the winter may be making your birds feel vulnerable. Is there a draft? Your birds may be too cold. Have you noticed anything different about your birds? Feces color, smells, or increased mortality? You may have a problem with a disease or parasite. If you suspect a disease or parasite as the problem, contact your veterinarian. If you don’t know a poultry vet, contact your local Extension office for recommendations on a vet that can guide you through getting your birds healthy!
Finally, you know your birds best! If you think there’s another problem, contact your local Extension office or animal diagnostic lab. Happy Holidays!
Author: Alyssa Kaupas – Quality Assurance Manager