Hens lay and cease laying for many different reasons, and this time of year it can be a particular struggle to get regular egg production.
There is a lot of controversy over whether or not to put a light in your coop to increase egg production in winter. It certainly helps keep the hens warm, and it will do wonders for the number of eggs you get in the winter. However, detractors say that it is altering the chickens’ natural rhythm, and that they are supposed to decrease egg production according to the seasonal light changes. I, however, do not have a dog in this particular fight as for purely practical reasons (size and cost) our hen house does not have any lighting. I encourage you to experiment and come to your own conclusions on this particular issue.
One reason chicken stop laying is if they molt, which can really happen at any time of year but is most common in the fall. Molting is a natural shedding of old feathers and the growth of new ones and is a normal process in a healthy coop. Hens do stop laying when they molt and it’s usually an annual event that takes about eight weeks to complete. There is nothing you can do to increase egg production during this time, but you should make sure that your hen is warm and well fed, and not being picked on by her flock. It’s a hen’s most delicate time and it is important for her to get enough protein when losing and growing feathers.
Hens won’t lay much if they are under stress or experienced a change in the coop recently. If you just got them, it’s probably going to be a few days or weeks before you start to see eggs. And you shouldn’t expect eggs from an immature hen until they are at least 6 months of age.
Like a molting hen, a broody chicken won’t lay. Broody hens are trying to hatch chicks of their own by sitting on existing eggs. Chickens will go broody whether or not you have a rooster in your flock. During this time a chicken won’t lay and she will resolutely sit on her nest whether there are eggs in it or not. To discourage brooding, make sure you don’t leave eggs under your hen and try to moving her to a different location. This often discourages them from brooding, and it will prevent other hens from also getting broody or from being discouraged from laying by the grumpy hen in the next box.
Chickens do stop egg production at a certain age. This is usually at least 5-7 years old and they start to decline in proficiency at 2-3 years. They can keep laying one egg every week or two for many years, but unless you have a chicken under 5 years should not expect an egg a day.
The most common reason that we lose eggs at our farm, because we have a free range flock, is egg hiding. It’s a difficult habit to break beyond locking the hens inside for the day and making your nest boxes extra appealing. Chickens like deep bedding to lay in and a quiet, dark place. Since I have never felt like locking our chickens up, the best way for me to combat egg hiding is to find the eggs. Chickens usually lay first thing in the morning, and if you have a hen who is hiding eggs she will often run out of the coop and directly to her nest when you let her out. It is usually easy enough to follow her, and when her eggs are removed she will often resort back to the nesting box.
And always make sure your chickens are healthy. Look out for mites in the coop, inspect your chickens for injuries, make sure they are getting a good, healthy supply of food and water, and watch for a lethargic hen who may be ill. A happy flock is a laying flock!