You have chickens, but minimal eggs – why is that? What’s happening? It could be the environmental, nutritional, seasonal or just a particular breed of bird.
Sometimes you aren’t even sure which hens are laying – or not.
Today we are going to look at how you can check to see which of your hens are laying and not laying eggs. I mean you could just sit all day and watch your hens but we’ve got some quicker ways to check instead.
The two main ways to check which hens are laying is: physical examination and nest trapping.
Let’s start with physical examinations…
How to Tell If Pullets Are Laying
Pullets younger than sixteen weeks are not yet ready to lay. The point of lay (POL) can vary greatly from breed to breed.
A sex link pullet is likely to start laying around sixteen weeks while Orpingtons, Marans and several other breeds may not start laying until twenty weeks or so- some even longer. So be sure to find out the usual POL for your breeds.
How can you tell when a pullet is approaching her POL?
- Her comb and wattles will get larger and redder
- She may be restless and move from nest to nest looking for the ‘right spot’
- A rooster will start to show her some attention
- She will start squatting when you attempt to touch her
- She will seek out dark, quiet areas
She will be active, with bright, alert eyes. She doesn’t understand what’s happening so she may be extra talkative and distracted right before she lays.
Her first eggs may be in odd places, so keep a look-out for them.
You can encourage her to lay in the nest-box by using fake eggs or golf balls. Her initial eggs may be a bit oddly shaped, erratic in timing, but once she gets the hang of it, she will be a good layer for you. She will not be up to ‘full speed’ until around thirty weeks or so.
If this is your first batch of hens, you may need to confine them to the coop for a couple of weeks to get them used to laying in the nest boxes.
If they are additions to an existing flock, they should get the idea pretty quickly, although if you have a dominant, older hen guarding the boxes, you may need to add some more boxes in a different place for the new girls.
How To Tell If Older Hens Are Laying
Hens older than one year should continue laying for at least another six months to a couple of years, depending on the breed. You can tell if she is still laying by a quick physical examination and observation.
In observing your hen, she will likely have some worn feathers, especially if there is a rooster around. Feathers on her back may be broken or rumpled.
This should tell you that the calcium in her body is being diverted to egg-making not feather making. Her comb and wattles should appear red- if they are dull and shrunken, this hen is likely not laying.
The physical exam should give you a little more information. Pick her up gently and tuck her through your arm facing backwards (the hen not you).
Now you can get a clear look at her vent. A laying hen will have a clean, pink, moist vent about an inch in diameter for large breeds. If the vent is small, dry and pale – she’s not laying.
Next is feeling for the space between the pubic bones and the vent then the keel and the vent. The pubic bones of a hen lie either side of the vent at about 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. You should feel two pointy bones either side at a distance of about three finger breadths apart. If the gap is smaller, she is most likely not laying.
The distance between the vent and the keel bone should be around four finger breadths. Position of fingers should be 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock.
If all signs point towards your hens’ laying but you have few eggs make sure she doesn’t have a secret stash somewhere. If they are free range watch them carefully to see if any disappear for a while and then return to the flock.
Without a doubt some birds are more secretive about their eggs than others, considering it a challenge to hide them from you! More than a few keepers have thought they had lost a hen only to have them return with chicks in tow.
When your hens start laying again after the molt, take notice of their legs, beaks and face. A hen that is laying well will start to lose some of the coloring in all of these areas. Areas that were initially yellow or quite highly colored such as legs and face, will slowly bleach out to look much paler. If your hen still looks spiffy halfway through the season, she’s not laying for you!
Trap nesting is usually done with breeding hens, but can be used to check and see who is laying.
If you have a large number of hens and limited nest boxes, you may have to spend some time checking regularly to see who has laid.
The trap nest is a device that can be fitted to the front of a standard nest-box fairly easily. Once the hen enters the nest, the gate shuts behind her, trapping her.
Hens should not be left in the traps for excessive periods of time, especially in warm weather. If she does lay and becomes bored, she may well eat her egg – not something you want to happen. Also, if the weather is particularly warm she can dehydrate quickly.
If left to her own devices, your hen will become bored, scared, and will most likely attempt to escape.
I don’t recommend trap nesting because hens can accidentally break their eggs, and out of boredom begin eating them. This is a bad habit that’s hard to break, and unfortunately, it’s quite “contagious.”
Additionally, trap nesting can scare hens so badly that they may not want to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes for fear of entrapment.
If you need to separate your hens to determine who is laying, I recommend simply relocating the hen(s) in question for a while. At first, she may be upset due to the separation, but eventually, her egg factory will start running, and you will know whether she’s a layer or not.
Egg Color Detection
This method of determining which hen is laying eggs depends solely on your knowledge of your chickens (and the breeds they represent). If you have blue egg layers, it’s easy to tell which is laying. Most hens also have trademarks to their eggs…it can be size, color, location they prefer to lay, or anything else you may have observed.
If you know your hens well, you may know which eggs belong to who. Keep in mind, however, that egg color may lighten or darken with age so be careful in your assumptions if you go this route.
One last word on egg laying.
With egg laying though you must remember that certain breeds lay more than others.
If you have what are considered ‘ornamental’ breeds the egg output may be significantly less than a utility breed.
What are ‘ornamentals’?
Breeds such as Barbu D’Uccle, Campines, Sultans and Sebrights are considered ornamental. Although they do lay eggs, they are not renowned for the output of eggs.
It’s great to have a selection of different breeds, but check carefully to see who lays well and who doesn’t.
On a personal note – I keep D’Uccles’ and although they aren’t as prolific as a utility hen, they do a respectable job of laying, but it took them several months to start up.
Lastly, remember the laying cycle – it runs around twenty five/six hours to make one egg. The time of lay will get later each day until she ‘drops’ a day.
You now have at least three different ways to check which of your hens are laying.
Once you’ve figured out which hens aren’t laying you can start figuring out why.
Sometimes you need to be a detective to find out why your ladies aren’t laying!
You may have to go through each and every likely scenario before you discover why. If it is simply because your hen is old, there really isn’t much to be done about it except buy some new pullets if your zoning allows.
Many of the other reasons for a decrease in laying can be put right quickly and get the girls back on track.
While chickens can’t verbally communicate with us, things such as not laying are a signal to you that something is wrong or bothering them and you need to fix it.
Let me know in the comments below, how do you check which of your hens are laying eggs?