Your dream of having laying hens has finally come true in the last few weeks and you are harvesting beautiful eggs from your adorable chickens. They are young and seem to be in perfect health. They are slowly acclimatizing to your environment and everything seems perfect until one of your hens suddenly stops laying. Let’s see here that they are the most frequent factors that can influence the hens’ laying.
Although your hens are new 20 week old pullets if you just bought them from a producer, hatchery or any other distributor they could suddenly stop laying. Some people will also be able to get hens of an undetermined age. Note that some species of hens have lower laying frequencies than others. These species are among those with a lower laying rate: Cornish, Japanese Bantam, Malay, Phoenix, Seebright-Bantam, Serama, Sultan, Sumatra, Yokohama.
Source: My Pet Chicken Handbook by Lissa Lucas and Traci Torres, Rodale Editions, p.20 to 26.
With the great increase in sales of laying hens over the last five years in Quebec, hatcheries are no longer sufficient because demand is greater than supply. Distributors, including coops and feed mills, may be short of new laying hens and offer you older hens. So, some people may choose cull hens, hens that have already laid 12 to 18 months, but are still excellent layers. They will more often be in a normal moulting period or under stress due to travel and sudden change of environment.
All this can be quickly resolved with good care and attention to their feed, nutrients and vitamins. Please note that a moulting hen is not always a pretty sight! It is very rewarding to take care of a hen that has lived in a cage and give it a few years of freedom.
Some people will buy various species of hens from breeders or individuals and sometimes we will take in affection a beautiful hen that is a year or two old, because they are still well able to provide us with excellent eggs. In any case, whether the hen is young or older, various factors can affect its laying.
Normal factor: The age of the hen
It’s not complicated, the older a hen gets, the more her egg-laying will decrease.
Normal factor: Moulting
Feather moulting is a natural and normal phenomenon. During the moult, the hen will need all her energy to rebuild her plumage. Some hens lose more feathers all of a sudden than others and some will look really pitiful. They don’t suffer if the feathered parts are not pecked and/or attacked by other hens. If a hen becomes very bald, isolate it or place protective face shields on it. Since feathers are made up of more than 80% protein, egg laying is stopped so that the hen can use all her energy to build new feathers. Make sure you feed her well and provide her with protein-rich snacks and vitamins. In addition, apple cider vinegar is welcome during these periods.
Ideally, hens need 14 to 16 hours of good light per day to lay eggs. I do not recommend the addition of artificial lights and I recommend leaving them free outside all year round and in winter to see their laying cycle unfold normally.
In general, new hens lay eggs all winter long even if the days are shorter, provided they can absorb enough light and vitamin D from the sun during the day. Your chickens of cold-resistant breeds, here we always talk about chickens of the 43 species of cold-resistant hens do not lay better, nor do they lay better because they are kept warm in a heated shed or garage or hen house. This has absolutely nothing to do with laying, or the quality of the eggs.
In some countries, such as England, hens aged 2 years and over stop laying from September to February and this break is normal, accepted and respected. Respecting the normal cycle of the hens and giving them a habitat as natural as possible are the recommended behaviors valued and encouraged by the defenders of animal rights and treatment. Already industries are forcing hens to lay eggs with artificial lights. We want to avoid the exploitation of our hens.
Chickens that are too fat, fed too much corn, or not enough protein will stop laying. Table scraps, snacks and treats should not exceed 10% of their total feed ration for the day.
It is important to provide grains or feed specially formulated for the needs of laying hens. Water must be adequate. Some artesian wells may have sodium deficiencies or levels that are too high. Make sure your water is well balanced. Calcium supplementation with shucked oyster shells ensures hard shells and prevents many laying problems.
A very wide range of diseases specific to hens will affect egg-laying.
Infectious coryza virus or mycoplasma are common in Quebec. Viruses affect egg laying and sometimes hens will not have any apparent symptoms, but will be carriers.
Some diseases such as avian pox, which is a viral infection, affect all birds. It is caused by a group of viruses of the Poxviridae family and the genus Avipoxvirus. This disease is widespread throughout the world. Coccidiosis is also very common. When present in the intestines, the coccidia absorb minerals and the poultry weakens rapidly.
There are also all the respiratory diseases and infectious bronchitis that can affect egg laying. It is therefore very important to have hygienic and disease prevention habits in place to ensure the good health of our hens. Do not hesitate to consult your veterinarian specialized in hens in these cases. The list of veterinarians is available on the website www.poulesenville.com in the tab Chicken
Any change in habits can stress the chickens. Moving, traveling, adding hens, congener mortality, diseases, treatment for lice, treatment for worms, feed change, etc. Chickens are extremely sensitive and nervous. Any emotional stress, such as having a sick congener can also stress a hen through empathy. This is why having only two hens is emotionally difficult when one of them is sick. Always have a minimum of 3-4 hens. Therefore, good judgement is to have a calm and secure management style. When new frightened and panicked chickens arrive, do not try to integrate them too quickly or to tame them by force. Place quiet music near them and accustom them to human voices.
Falling egg-laying syndrome:
EDS 76 is a disease caused by an avian adenovirus (BC14 strain, virus 127). The EDS virus is not part of any of the 12 avian adenoviruses (FAV) isolated. Only laying hens and breeders at the beginning or during the laying period are susceptible to the virus responsible for the clinical form of EDS. In addition, the virus is widespread in ducks, but has no particular incidence. Anemia, transient diarrhea and sometimes decreased appetite may also occur without mortality or other symptoms. This can only be confirmed by virus and serological antibody testing in isolation. Sometimes infectious bronchitis or Newcastle disease or infectious laryngotracheitis may be suspected. In cases of doubt, appropriate diagnostic tests (serology) provide confirmation.
There is no treatment for 1976 egg-laying fall syndrome. Vaccination with an inactivated virus vaccine prior to egg laying is the only effective method to control EDS 76.
The natural need to brood:
Some people who buy pedigree or older hens from individuals may end up with hens that were actually brooding hens raising chicks. These hens are used to brooding and they want to do it again, especially in spring when the daylight is longer. Some species of hens are naturally carried on the brood. Some may want to brood for 5 to 10 weeks and completely stop laying. In urban areas, with only 3-5 hens, you may have to consider replacing these hens as they will be less good layers. This period should be allowed to pass while removing eggs daily. In rural, or farming areas, when the flock of hens is larger and chick rearing is practiced, this behaviour does not cause as many problems, as there are always several other layers to compensate. Other species have lost this brooding instinct so you will waste your time believing that they will be able to brood your fertilized eggs properly and properly. The Fresheggsdaily site below explains the 10 signs of a hen having the behavior of wanting to incubate her eggs!
In conclusion, poor ventilation in the hen house, overcrowding, extreme cold conditions in winter below -25 Celcius to -30 Celcius in an inadequate, humid or windy hen house, lack of water, predators, etc.. All these reasons can influence the quality of the egg laying.
Above all, beware, because if your hens are walking around freely all day long, they can sometimes play tricks on you and decide to lay eggs on the sly!
Happy egg hunting!!