Back through last Winter, on into the Spring and through the early part of the Summer we had a huge egg mountain. Our hens were laying like crazy and we were eating eggs in every conceivable form. I was even freezing them. Then, just when we need more to sell to gite guests, the hens went off lay. July saw numbers of daily eggs dropping and through August we limped along with just one or two eggs a day. Then NOTHING. Not one egg had been laid for a week at Eco-Gites of Lenault. It has been a long time since we have had to buy eggs and things were beginning to look serious. However 2 days ago I heard the familiar shouting of a hen who has just laid an egg, a sort of triumphant call .... or is it relief? Who knows?
Yay - an egg. Just one, but it was an egg!
Yesterday I went into the hen house, hopeful for maybe one more egg and guess what? There were FOUR!! Thank you girls. Looks like we are on the road to egg laying again and no doubt soon we will be inundated again.
Why Hens Can Go Off Lay
Declining Day LengthHens are sensitive to day length as as the days shorten after mid summer this can put them off lay. Owners of large scale commercial flocks overcome this by giving them artificial lighting so they have the same day length all year. We could do something like this to but in my view, the hens need a rest after months of regular laying.
MoultingIn the later part of Summer hens mould and they need all their energy to grow new feathers. The hen house has been full of feathers recently but now they are nearing the end of their moult they can divert their energy back into egg laying.
|Nearing the end of the moult|
BroodinessA hen who goes broody will lay eggs regularly and then stop suddenly, wanting to incubate and hatch the eggs. However that has not been a problem this year as I have only had one hen who went broody and that was weeks ago!
AgeEgg production declines as the hens get older. A few of my birds are of a "mature" age including Fluffy Chick who must be 5 years old. I am sure her egg laying days are over. (9 months on Fluffy Chick is still with us and does, very occasionally, lay a very soft shelled egg, bless her!)
Parasites and DiseasesA sick hen or one infested with parasites will go off lay. We have had some red mite in the hen house and although I have now pretty much killed all of these minute pests, it will no doubt have adversely affected the hens.
And this is the reason for the lack of eggs this year - the hen house has been home to not only the hens but also an infestation of red mite which I really should have spotted sooner. In the day these tiny creatures hide in crevices, under cobwebs and basically anywhere small and inaccessible and at night come out to infest the hens and suck their blood. It's enough to put the poor girls off lay and can even kill a young, old or otherwise weak bird. I have found the only way to get rid of them is to totally clean the hen house then blow torch into anywhere they can hide. If there are places you can't blow torch adding a smear of Vaseline can trap the blighter's. If you do this at dusk as they are emerging and over several days you will finally get on top of them. (But be vigilant - they can all too easily return.
Normally the hens do well on a diet of wheat and what they forage for but to give them a bit of a boost I have bought them a bag of layers pellets ... and already with less mites and extra rations we are back getting eggs again. Thank you girls - you do a sterling job and I am sorry I didn't spot the red mites sooner.
For more animal blog posts do head over to the Animal Tales blog linky. Hopefully the tales that are being told there will not involve blood sucking parasites!