Most backyard chicken owners will agree that the single best part of keeping chickens is the walk down to the coop each morning to collect eggs.
I normally have anywhere from 8-10 fresh warm eggs waiting for me every morning and the family love eating them for breakfast!
But what do you do if your chickens aren’t laying eggs? How can you get your chickens to start laying eggs?
Unfortunately there is no way to ‘force’ your chickens to lay eggs, however there are lots of things you can do to encourage your chickens to start laying eggs.
Whether your chickens haven’t even start laying yet, or, have gone off lay, follow the steps below to get them laying eggs sooner rather than later!
The Importance of Nutrition
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If your chicken’s dietary requirements aren’t being met, then they won’t be laying any eggs for you.
Your chicken needs around 20 grams of protein to lay an egg. In addition to protein, chickens need: calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, fat and water.
In-fact, water is the single most important nutrition they require and even a few hours without water can cause them to stop laying eggs for weeks. On average chickens will drink around three times as much water by weight as they will eat.
If anyone of these nutritional requirements isn’t being met then chances are your chickens won’t be laying any eggs.
Whilst it can appear overwhelming and daunting, providing your chickens with the correct nutrition is relatively straight forward.
All you need to do is feed your chickens an approved commercial feed.
Chances are if you’re reading this your chickens are of ‘egg-laying’ age so you should be feeding them layers pellets. Layers pellets are specifically formulated to provide your chickens with the correct amount of protein and calcium so they will lay lots of eggs with thick strong shells.
Note: If your chickens haven’t started laying yet, you should be feeding them either grower or developer feed. Start feeding them layers’ pellets at 20 weeks old or when they lay their first egg if this occurs before 20 weeks.
Backyard chicken’s that most commonly don’t get the required nutrition are those which aren’t feed commercial feed.
Whilst some people think feeding chickens commercial feed takes the fun out of it, I prefer to feed them commercial feed to make sure they get their key nutrition and then I feed them scraps and snacks for a bit of variety.
Have you seen my chickens’ top 9 favourite snacks?
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Are Your Hens of Laying Age?
Unfortunately if your chickens aren’t the right age, you can feed them as much protein as you like but they still aren’t going to lay any eggs for you.
Either your chickens are too old or too young; in both cases they won’t be laying any eggs for you.
Young hens or ‘pullets’, typically start laying eggs at 18-20 weeks old and their first season of laying will be their best. Trying to encourage a pullet to lay before they are 18 weeks old is futile because their bodies haven’t developed enough to lay eggs yet.
Once a hen gets to around 4 years old the amount of eggs that they lay starts to slow down considerably and you will find they don’t lay that many eggs anymore.
If your hens aren’t between that magic time frame of 20 weeks to 3 years old then unfortunately their isn’t much you can do except let nature take its course and provide them with love and affection!
Issues with Nesting Boxes
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So you have checked your nesting boxes and there are no eggs inside, so you assume that your hens haven’t laid any eggs.
Most of the time this assumption is correct however sometimes you might just have an issue with your nesting boxes and your hens are laying elsewhere (either in the coop or outside in the run).
The main issue you will run into is simply not having enough nesting boxes for your chickens.
To make sure your nesting boxes are adequate here is a quick checklist:
- One nesting box for every four chickens.
- Nesting boxes need to be at least 18 inches above the floor.
- They should also be at least 12 inches wide to provide your hens with enough room to lay down in there.
Another common issue with nesting boxes is parasites.
If you don’t replace the bedding inside the nesting boxes often enough you will attract parasites.
These parasites will bite and nip your chickens whilst they are laying their eggs, and it can be extremely unpleasant for your hens. If this is happening your chickens will normally find somewhere else to lay their eggs instead.
I change the straw in my nesting boxes once a week during the summer and often twice a week during the winter when the straw gets wet and mucky.
Are They Getting Enough Daylight?
Making sure your chickens are getting enough daylight is crucial if you want them to lay eggs.
To lay eggs your chickens need plenty of natural daylight- at least 14 hours a day and 16 hours is even better. This is why battery hens are exposed to more than 17 hours of artificial light every day.
However, I would never use artificial lighting to force my girls to lay eggs.
As a result of this daylight paradigm, it means that during the winter your chickens will naturally lay fewer eggs.
Chickens lay more eggs in the spring and summer because their offspring will have a greater chance of survival. As chicks would struggle to survive during the cold winter weather, hens are naturally inclined to lay fewer eggs during the winter.
I tend to store lots of my eggs during the summer when they are laying well so I have a supply to last me through the winter. However if you can’t or didn’t do this and still want your hens to lay eggs, your only choice is to fit an artificial light in their coop to give them enough daylight.
If your chicken is moulting they definitely won’t be laying eggs.
For those of you who don’t know, a moult is when a chicken loses their feathers and grows back new feathers. They will lose feathers around their neck and back first; this will then spread to their tail feathers and breast bone.
A chicken will normally moult towards the end of season, in the fall. It is also normally linked to daylight hours, so in the fall you can expect your chickens to start moulting when the amount of daylight starts to reduce.
On average a moult will last around 8 weeks. If you have a young healthy chicken then this moult will be shorter- around 6 weeks. Whereas if you have an older chicken, the moult can last up to 12 weeks.
The reason chickens don’t lay during a moult is because they don’t have enough protein.
A chicken requires around 20 grams of protein to lay an egg. However a chicken also needs a lot of protein to grow feathers; feathers are approximately 80% protein. So your chicken only has enough protein to either lay eggs or moult, it doesn’t have enough protein to do them both at once.
High Stress Levels
Any chicken which has high stress levels will not lay eggs. There are four key things which can significantly raise chickens’ stress levels: predators, moulting, a change in flock dynamics and finally, being crowded.
Many things can raise a chickens’ stress level, but the worst one is predators attacking your chickens.
If you followed our advice on how to stop predators attacking your chickens, your chickens will be safe, but just the experience of an attempted attack is more than enough to stop your chickens laying eggs.
After an attack your chickens should start laying again within several days.
High stress levels can also cause your chickens to moult. And as we discussed above, whilst a chicken is moulting they will not lay eggs. This is because they need the protein in their body to grow feathers instead of making eggs.
As soon as your chicken has finished their moult they will start laying eggs again.
New Flock Dynamics
Adding or removing birds from your flock will alter the flock dynamics and cause the chickens a great deal of stress and anxiety for several weeks.
Even if you introduce new chickens to your existing flock properly, chances are your girls will still be disrupted by the new chickens and will go off lay for a few days.
Once you have introduced the new chickens, after a few days your girls should be laying again.
Size of Coop
If you have a coop which is too small for your chickens, this can disrupt their egg laying.
It isn’t so much the crowdedness which causes the chicken stress, but the crowdedness increases unwanted behaviour such as foot pecking and bullying.
All of these behaviours in turn raise the chickens stress levels which then stops them laying eggs.
Are your chickens eating their eggs?
Rule out other reasons first, but if you are wracking your brains for a reason behind the eggs disappearing, it may be because they are eating them before you can retrieve them.
If that’s the case, up their calcium intake, to prevent shell breakage, and get yourself a dummy egg for the nesting boxes. These are usually ceramic or porcelain, and once pecked a few times, hens become frustrated and stop trying altogether.
Hens usually start eating their eggs if they’ve accidentally cracked one. Curiosity gets the best of them and they test out the taste of their own eggs. Usually, they come back for more next time they lay…which may be why your eggs have disappeared suddenly.
These dummy eggs can also help encourage hens to start laying eggs if they haven’t yet. Enlisting a fake egg can spark a hen’s natural instinct to lay eggs. Plus, placing the egg where you want your hens to lay can help them learn the ins and outs of a good nesting box.
So there you have it: unfortunately you can’t force your chickens to lay eggs.
However if you follow the steps in this article you can create an environment in which your chickens are going to be very likely to lay lots of eggs for you!
The key takeaway is that when chickens stop laying eggs, this is their way of telling you something isn’t quite right. It could be their their diet, an infection, parasites or not having enough daylight. It’s your job as a backyard chicken keeper to investigate and make them happy again!
Let us know below what you do when your chickens stop laying eggs…