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Raising Chickens 101: When Chickens Stop Laying Eggs

February 29, 2012

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Learn what to do when your chickens stop laying eggs.  The final chapter in the oval of life.

(This is the sixth and final post in our Raising Chickens 101 beginner series.)

Sooner or later, your chickens will stop laying eggs. When depends on the chicken. Most of ours went “off lay” as the days grew shorter. They laid fewer and fewer eggs until one day they simply stopped. One or two continued to lay sporadically throughout the cold, dark days of winter, although most of those eggs froze and cracked before we got out to collect them. (We gave them to the dog, usually raw and right on the spot. He had a lovely, shiny coat and produced sulfurous gas at inopportune moments.)

You can extend the laying period for your hens by putting a light hooked to a timer in the henhouse. This will give the hens a couple of extra hours of artificial daylight, but the natural pattern for most hens is to stop laying in the winter.

As the hens go off lay, you have two ways of dealing with them. One is to resign yourself to a lot of chicken stew over the winter. Year-old hens usually aren’t tender enough to roast. The other way is to give them the winter off and wait. They’ll begin laying again in the spring. (I’ve heard people say that they couldn’t keep chickens because “you have to kill them when they stop laying eggs.” Not true. We never killed a hen simply because she stopped laying.)

We found that our older hens usually produce fewer eggs, but larger ones. In a production flock, this is a problem because consistency of supply and size is important. In the home flock, who cares? (Another advantage to older hens: They’re used to you and are less flighty and panicky.)

Even if you decide to keep your laying hens until they die of old age, you will eventually have to dispose of a chicken. Maybe you’ll have a sick bird, an overaggressive rooster, a hen injured by a predator, or a chicken that eats eggs. Maybe that mixed batch of chicks will turn out to be half cockerels, and who needs six roosters for six hens? Trust me, the hens won’t thank you!

The simplest way to kill a chicken—so I’m told as I’ve never done this and I’ve never seen it done—is to wring its neck. You have to be quick and forceful to avoid causing pain. We used the traditional chop: cutting the chicken’s throat. As far as I understand, these are the two main ways to kill a chicken. Shooting is also a possibility, but it’s noisy and probably also illegal in most places.

An axe and a block (a stump or upended round of firewood will do, as long as it’s stable) are probably the simplest method for people new to this age-old practice. There are a couple of ways to hypnotize or calm the chicken. One is to place the chicken breast-down on a flat surface while holding its legs. Wave a piece of chalk in front of the chicken’s beak until you have the bird’s attention, then draw a line straight out from the beak for 12 to 18 inches. The bird will focus on the line and not move or flap.

As most chopping blocks aren’t that long, you might want to use an alternate method. Lay the bird on its side, with one wing under it. Tap your finger in front once at the point of the beak (but not touching), then about four inches in front of the beak. Repeat alternating taps until the bird calms down and holds still.

If you’re worried about your aim, you can pound two long nails into the stump, far enough apart to span the chicken’s neck but close enough together to keep its head from slipping through. Lay the chicken on the block with its neck between the nails and apply enough tension to the legs to stretch the neck and keep the bird in place. Then use the axe. If you intend to eat the chicken, hold it up by the legs to let the blood drain. There will be flapping, but rest assured that the bird is dead and doesn’t feel any pain.

Have a pot of scalding (140° to 160°F) water ready. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell that the water is hot enough if you can see your face reflected in it. Dip the bird for 20 to 30 seconds. Afterwards you can wipe the feathers off with your hand. Chop off the feet, then cut around the cloaca (anus—chickens use the same opening for excretion and egg-laying), being careful not to nick the intestines, and scoop the innards out with your hand. Rinse with cold water. If you can get all of this done in 20 minutes while the oven preheats, you can cook the bird immediately; otherwise, let it rest for 24 hours, until rigor mortis relaxes.

People who raise their own food know where it comes from, what’s gone into it, and how it’s been treated. Whether your chickens are ultimately intended for the table or killed simply to end pain or illness and then buried in the back forty, remember that this is a responsibility that comes with the job. Doing it, and doing it well, means that you’re doing your best by your birds.

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Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!

Comments

How long does it take after a

By Liz Lee on November 22

How long does it take after a hen hatches out her chicks before she starts laying again?

Please I need help.I have 60

By Oladele on November 21

Please I need help.I have 60 broiler parent stock which they are 8month old.they started laying at 24weeks old and for 2month d production is fine.and for d past 3 weeks d production drop drastically which I think is due to changing of feed.and am seeing only 6 egg now from 60 chicken for d past 3week and they they are not sick pls help me with any information to get them back please help me

Check if they are getting

By Almanac Staff on November 24

Check if they are getting enough water--too little can cause the birds to stop laying. Is the water frozen? Also, make sure that the birds are getting a balanced diet, about 16 to 18-percent protein. Make sure the feed also has enough calcium.

Are they molting? If so, that may be a sign that their bodies are just resting and recharging for another round of egg laying. Good layers will sometimes lay for about 50 or 60 weeks and then go through a rest period.

As daylight hours decrease, egg laying is sometimes affected; hens need about 14 hours of daylight to lay eggs. If daylight is below that (usually October through February), providing a little extra artificial light for those lost hours, might help. One Cooperative Extension site recommends adding one 40-watt light per 100 feet of coop; turn the lights on in the morning for those added hours, so that the birds can roost at sunset.

Stress also can cause a hen to stop laying--are there any predators or other things about that might scare them?  New routines? Changes in environment (has their area become damp or chill, or too hot)?

Age and diseases may also affect laying.

There are a lot of questions

By Laurie Higgins on November 17

There are a lot of questions about and different answers for how long hens lay.

I have 8 hens: 1 3-y.o. Langshan, 1 2-y.o. Cuckoo Marans, 2 1-y.o. Ameraucanas, 2 1-y.o. Barnevelders, and 2 11-m.o. Black Copper Marans.

The Langshan hasn't consistently laid eggs since her first winter and she hasn't laid any eggs since this last spring.

The Cuckoo Marans has also not laid any eggs this year at all.

I fully expected the others to stop laying when going through molt, but not the new young, Black Copper Marans. I expected them to start laying in July, which they did, and keep laying through the winter. No dice.

What happened to the Langshan and the Cuckoo Marans? Why are they no longer laying eggs? Why did the BCMs stop laying so soon?

They are in a very large pen (30x90) and they also get rotated into other areas in my yard with netting (50x50). They get grass, bugs, table scraps (only fresh and what they like), and organic feed. I rarely find eggs in odd places.

A fox came through 5 weeks ago and grabbed one of the Ameraucanas, but I scared him off and saved the hen. She was already molting when she went on antibiotics. I did not expect her to lay again until the new year. She is back to laying and I can't use her eggs because of the antibiotics.

I'm so confused!

Hi I live in Oak Point,

By Alana S

Hi I live in Oak Point, Manitoba. I was wondering if there is a way to find out if we are allowed to have chickens, and what guidelines we need to follow. Any help is appreciated.

hi! I am a newer chicken

By Jfrk4ever

hi! I am a newer chicken owner. We currently have 29 hens of mixed breeds that are about 18 mos old now (we got them as chicks). We have gone from 24 eggs/day down to 7-10 per day in the past 3-4 months!!! It's been a bit alarming as we thought we had another 6 months of good egg laying yet from our ladies. They all act healthy, lively and are eating good - both garden scraps and layer feed. I haven't seen a ton of feathers lately, but did notice some molting earlier this summer. Our breeds included Americauna, White Leghorns, Welsummer, Golden Laced Wyandotte, Speckled Sussex, and some other mixed breeds we can't identify. They have a large run, that is shaded with free access to water and I even have grass growing in boxes for them to get access to fresh grass when they want to, as well. No bug infestation, snakes, etc that we can find to cause stress. I do suspect that my Golden Laced Wyandottes are fighting as they're missing feathers along their heads (they actually look like Turkens!!), but haven't witnessed it myself yet. Would that be enough to stress the whole flock though? Thanks for any thoughts/ideas!

Your chickens are probably

By Vince Lalomia

Your chickens are probably molting (loosing their old feathers and growing new) while in their molt all the energy that normally goes into egg production goes into new feathers. They will start laying within 2-4 weeks, depending on the breed and age of the chicken.

Do chickens stop laying when

By Ray Chavira

Do chickens stop laying when the nest get full? We were on vacation for two weeks and returned to 3 full nests. We have not gotten any new eggs since we returned.

Are chickens still good to

By Lois Stevens

Are chickens still good to eat at 3yr old. They are black sex links which are good for laying and eating. So are they still good to butcher and sell?

my three girls have a

By Kay T

my three girls have a "recycle" set up, I use the split lidded tubs that cat litter comes in, they get shredder paper bits for their nest box, and we use inexpensive solar shed lights to give them that extra bit of light in the winter! My girls laid all winter long! They come when i call and love the fresh sprouts i give them once a week!

Why do all of my chickens

By confusedsorensen

Why do all of my chickens want to lay in the same box? We have enough boxes for all of them but they all want in one box?

I have a chicken question

By Benton Owsley

I have a chicken question that I couldn't find anywhere online. We live in Northern Idaho and the days get short quick in the late fall and winter. We have done pretty good in keeping our chickens laying, as we had a heat lamp and light in the coop. But a couple of weeks ago we lost our electricity to our coop. The egg production dropped off rapidly. They were out of the extended light for a couple of weeks almost. But we did get everything hooked up again. But it has been 10 days and still no eggs. Will we get more eggs this winter do you think or is it a lost cause until the spring?

It may be a lost cause until

By Jordan Catton

It may be a lost cause until the spring, rest assured they will lay eggs in the spring

Happy New Years to all and I

By dlm0092

Happy New Years to all and I just joined today. As other members have posted my 6 hens only produce 1 or 2 eggs a day. 4 are cochin (with one cochin rooster); 2 are silkies, and a Rhode Island red. They went through molting about 2 months ago and I live in central PA; getting colder of course but have good size pen and protection from cold. I feed them mash, corn, and provide grit; always plenty of water. Should I try a different food? I give them some scraps but not a lot. I keep straw in their nests and they like some around the ground area. Any suggestions are most appreciated. They are nice pets but I'm still buying eggs!

Please keep all comments on

By Almanac Staff

Please keep all comments on topic, folks, or they will be deleted. And many thanks to the members of our community who have helped answer questions on this page!

I recently got my hands on

By Rachel Chaney

I recently got my hands on six Rhode Island reds, The previous owner said they would lay about 3-4 a day, and at first they did. Well now they have completely stopped laying all together! I went to feed them earlier today and they didn't even want to eat! Im worried, I live in louisiana. Could it be the heat? But they have also lived in louisiana there whole lives. Could it be the move? But they were laying after the move! I need help!!

Hi we live in Florida and

By Alan L

Hi we live in Florida and have several golden comets. They molted a few months ago and a few of them are not regaining their feathers. The skin color is pink on the back and a bright red on their bottoms. Is there anything we can do to help with this process. As far as I can tell they are still laying with no problems.

When we recently moved I

By esperanza

When we recently moved I adopted two bantam hens, coop and all. They are about 5 years old. They had been using nothing but straw for their coop and nesting area all their lives. The urban farm store around here convinced me to try special, non-dusty pine shavings made specially for hens. I cleaned the coop thoroughly and replaced all the straw with the shavings. They are extremely suspicious of the new digs. They don't even want to go in there. Any suggestions?

Straw can get moldy when wet

By .Virginia Curtis

Straw can get moldy when wet and mites seem to like it because it has hollow stalks. Hay is better, however they will get used to the shavings. Try putting down some treats with the shavings, like dried mealworms. I think mine would walk through fire to get them!

Yeah, give them back their

By Knowon Special

Yeah, give them back their straw. Store owners make their money selling stuff that most of our animals don't need, don't want and won't use.

I have an old bantam we got

By Barns

I have an old bantam we got from rescue. It was in fairly bad state but is so much better now. We are almost certain we have seen it lay eggs. I say it as it is now crowing and have not had any eggs for month any where near it. Any ideas. Hen or cockerel. Thanks.

i have 21 hens. they are

By waqas ahmad

i have 21 hens. they are laying eggs about 8 months. now a days they go to lay the eggs in cage but after 15 to 20 mint they get up without laying a egg. this routine is about of 1month. only 2 of thems are laying regularly. and few of them try to lay an egg but he cannot lay egg. i dont know why. i think they have eggs production but cannot lay. i live in mountainy area. here my hens can wander here and there all the day. i think they took a long flight due which eggs get broke in there body. my hens are n0t the white colored. they are brown and red in color. ....

my hen has been sitting in

By yvonne1963

my hen has been sitting in the same coup box for 3 days - when i lifted her she was sat on 2 eggs i removed them but she wont move from her spot any suggestions?

She has gone broody.Usually

By mcruthers

She has gone broody.Usually the hen will lay on other chickens eggs.Her system shuts down and she stops laying and prepares for hatching babies.If you keep taking the eggs usually they'll stop this after awhile or you can isolate them so there won't be eggs to lay on and she should snap out of it sooner.Some hens are more broody then others mine I just let them go through it and remove the eggs.If you do let her sit on them and you have a rooster she may hatch you some chicks.

You can remove her from the

By vINCENT Kamp

You can remove her from the nest holding her for awhile away from the nesting box this I heard works some time she will complain when u remove her she is in a brooding mode I do asume you have no rooster so removing her might work or put her so she can not get back in the nest go to backyardchicken.com thats where I read it

My dad told me that when they

By Cenya

My dad told me that when they had a broody hen, they would dunk her in cold water. He said sometimes they had to do it twice, but it always broke their broodiness.

I was wondering if someone

By vINCENT Kamp

I was wondering if someone would tell me how to clip the wings I have 11 RIR they are 51/2 months old but seem to want to wonder to next yard and I have to go round them up each night even though I live on an acre fully fenced yard they seem to escape now and agan so any help for my wayward girls

Only clip one wing so their

By .Virginia Curtis

Only clip one wing so their flight will be off balance. You don't need to clip a lot off, maybe about 1 1/2 - 2 inches. If the ends of the feathers are black, that is what you want to clip off. They will grow back when the birds molten but not before unless they lose a feather for some other reason.

My broody hen sat on 11 eggs

By Carol Jacquard

My broody hen sat on 11 eggs for 21 days and only one chick hatched out. She continued to sit for two more days...nothing more hatched. On the third day she pecked one egg open and there was a fully formed chick inside but it was not alive. The remaining eggs feel heavy so expect they also have chicks. Why are they not hatching? Any help would be appreciated.

I have a 3 year old

By peggy Valiante

I have a 3 year old roadisland red that wants to go to the nesting box, but no egg, i have checked and she is not egg bound, could she just be at the end of her laying cycle at 3?

Hello Elizabeth, I have 3

By Teda

Hello Elizabeth, I have 3 Barred Rocks hens that are just over one year old. They all started laying at 6.5 months old last October with increasing regularity. As the length of day decreased, I supplemented with artificial light on a timer, and they kept laying. Then in December one pullet stopped laying. Her eggs always had a slight blood smear on the shell. She has not laid an egg since then and has gotten fat. Here it is May, she's a full-grown hen, and a nonlayer. Do you think she will ever lay again? Or, is she destined for the stewpot? Please advise, and thank you.

My 6 month old hens suddenly

By Tansey

My 6 month old hens suddenly stopped producing. I have 4 production reds. I was getting 3-4 everyday. The last week I am getting 1-2. I feed them 20% protein pellets but they free range my 1/3 acre lot and eat a very modest amount of feed. Days are getting longer not shorter. Any ideas?

I have 1 leghorn 2 sexlinks 1

By 4 ladies

I have 1 leghorn 2 sexlinks 1 barred rock. Every night i take all the left overs from the day, I call them they come running they go in the run and wait for the food they also get chicken feed. I also heard cat food has alot of protein so they eat the cat food. They will produce again be patient

I have 4 hens a year old and

By 4 ladies

I have 4 hens a year old and get 3-4 eggs everyday they are free range but they have wondered to far lately so i bought a dog run and put the coop in the run across the yard away from the pourch and kept them in the run for a week letting them out in short sperts thinking they will stay home. Now I get 1-2 eggs. Did I blow it by moving the coop.. Are they unhappy now

Sense the last time i wrote.

By 4 ladies

Sense the last time i wrote. My girls have started laying again. I spoin my chickens i also give them table scrapes being careful not to give them spicy foods.. They love cooked rice. They run to me when i come outside. I may one day get more, I heard they will pick on chicks or new chickens so I guess i will wait.

Is it possible that they are

By Almanac Staff

Is it possible that they are laying their eggs somewhere other than their Coop? Assuming their coop allows plenty of space, we would suggest that you only let them out in the early afternoon for a couple weeks. Then, do not let them out until 10 am or so--as chickens usually lay early in the day once they get established.

I live in North Florida,

By Tallymom

I live in North Florida, which is beginning to feel - temperature wise - like living in Central Florida. Which breeds of chickens do best in very hot temperatures with high humidity?

Our readers like Rhode Island

By Almanac Staff

Our readers like Rhode Island Reds for hot weather. You may find this breed chart helpful:
http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html

I live in sunny north

By Kia

I live in sunny north queensland austalia and I have 8 chooks. The chooks are not a year old and we are getting very few eggs. I thought maybe they were laying elsewhere so I have locked them up till 5 pm and have got no eggs. Why is this?

Hens need a lot of light to

By Almanac Staff

Hens need a lot of light to lay eggs and light in your area is decreasing. The usual issue is that the hens are moulting and may not lay again for a few months...but they will eventually start again.

Hi, I wonder if my hen

By lategirl

Hi, I wonder if my hen hatches her own chicks, will they be safe in the pen or ranging free with the rest of the flock or do I need to keep her in a separate area?

The baby needs to be kept

By Almanac Staff

The baby needs to be kept separate and safe from other hens who can get jealous and might kill the chick. Also: When the baby is ready to hatch do not assist!

i have 8 female chicken but

By Eyenader

i have 8 female chicken but no egg what am i doing wrong please

Hi Eyenader, If you aren't

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Eyenader,
If you aren't giving your chickens extra (timed) light in the winter, they won't lay eggs. Or, you may not be feeding them the right kind of food. Talk to the chicken expert where you buy their food.

I am thinking about raising

By Kathryn Williams

I am thinking about raising chicks! I read all your information but I was wondering if you have any advice for me? I am planning on getting my chicks from Wilco. If you have any advice it would be greatly appreciated i have never had chickens before but I think it will be a great experience!Thanks!

I have 18 hens. They are

By Dee Hipper

I have 18 hens. They are divided into three seperate coops-the way I bought the groupings. I do spoil mine, more so in these colder months. I give them all the table scraps. I have heat lamps in all three coops. I have coops wrapped with clear plastic on all the wire area's in order to let the natural light in. If day is over cast I do turn on just regular 60wtt light for them to get that "sunlight" feel. Have been getting 11-12 eggs daily. Five of my "ladies" are 2yrs plus. I will also say they do enjoyed being talked to, so if you even leave a radio on for them-could possibly help. Good luck to you.

Oh, Kim! I've never heard of

By Elizabeth Creith

Oh, Kim! I've never heard of hens being so incredibly stubborn!

A couple of things come to mind. Are you feeding a layer mash or pellet? Hens need calcium for shell production and the muscle tone to lay - you might want to give them some chicken grit (crushed oyster shell). Are they getting actual sunlight?

Are the hens suited to your climate? Some breeds want warmer weather, and some cooler.

If it's any consolation, my hens aren't laying up to expectations either this year. I have Harcos, which should be laying at 75% - nine eggs per day per twelve hens. I've had them before and got that kind of production. This year I'm getting two to four eggs from eleven hens.

If all else fails, you may want to start with new chickens.

Good luck - let me know how it goes!

Elizabeth

I've heard that sometimes

By lategirl

I've heard that sometimes hens will find a spot to lay eggs out of the pen somewhere. I wonder if this is what is happening?

I have a question, I have

By KIM Mi

I have a question, I have read your info about chickens that have stopped laying, I'm not sure if winter is my issue or not. I have 10 females ranging in age from 2 yrs to 1 yr old, they free range get plenty of feed but I only get 1 eggs every few days from my oldest 2 yr old hen the 9 others nothing, I got a couple here and there during summer but most eggs I got at any one time was 4 and that was only 1 or 2 occasions. I have 4 nest boxes in coop, 1 rooster, but after the youngest were 1 yr I just thought I'd be getting more eggs per day. All were picked as breeds that were supposed to be heavy egg layers too. Not sure what may be going on. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them! Thanks

This may not apply to your

By Nevada Di

This may not apply to your problem but I had a thought or two to share to possibly help you. First, since they are free-ranging...Are you SURE that some are not laying in a nest of their own making somewhere on the property? Chickens, like people, don't always get along so they avoid each other. Maybe there are nests or spots they are using on the land and perhaps, other critters are eating the eggs. Other than that, chicken hens may stop laying if they get yeast, fungus, and/or bacterial infections or get mite infested or sore around their vents. Any kind of stress including fear of other animals (like snakes, etc.) could stop the laying. I recommend looking for things that might be stressing them if they truly seem to not be laying or laying less.

I really like your

By Cindy A

I really like your information, Elizabeth! My parents grew up on farms but lived in a small town where I was born. We moved to a farm when I was 12. My dad had some small variations on your suggestions: he had a wide shelf with small trees on shallow wedges for the perch. That made it easy to just remove the perch and use a hoe or shovel to scrape the manure into a bucket and carry to the garden. Because of the shelf, we didn't have any flooring - the coop was built on top of concrete foundation. (Wear shoes when walking inside!) He also had a smaller coop than you recommended, but we had a larger area for the chickens to roam as well. One thing you didn't mention is that the owner might need to trim some wing feathers to keep chickens from flying over fences when chasing grasshoppers or other insects! I can say that I enjoyed the chickens as a kid -- I learned to imitate all of them -- cluck, crow, and peep, so now my kids just think I'm weird!

LOL, my kids and their

By Toni Probst

LOL, my kids and their friends think I am also, yes, I clip the wing on each bird to prevent the grass is greener on the other side issue. But yes, I lvoe my birds, watching them, the kids love them it is such a great way to teach them about life and all, we homeschool also. But beep cock and crow away, they will laugh with you remembering the good ole days soon.

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