Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Why hens stop laying eggs

I'm bringing you an old post for Animal Tales this week as it's information is as pertinent now as it was when I wrote it last September, namely that our hens had gone off lay ... just as we are gearing up for our busiest time in the gite they decide to stop laying eggs!  This time I realised what the problem was, albeit not as quickly as I should have done, but hopefully things are sorted now.  Last year it was due to the hens moulting that meant no eggs - but this year, earlier in the season, it is a different reason.  Read on to find out what causes our hens to go of lay.

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 Length

Hens 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.


In 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


A 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!


Egg 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!)

Fluffy Chick


Parasites and Diseases

A 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!


  1. Very informative; one takes egg availability for granted when one just buys them off the shelf. Incredible that egg can be encouraged by just changing the hen's environment. Good you know what you can do to keep the eggs coming. :-) #AnimalTales

    1. You certainly learn a lot when you get your own animals.

  2. How lucky for you guys to have fresh eggs! I didn't know egg production declines as they get older, but hey, I guess we all do ;) #animaltales.

    1. Yes, I can tell when an older hens lays an egg also by the fact it is generally bigger and the shell is thinner.

  3. We still haven't taken the plunge but all this information will one day be very useful...#Animaltales

  4. I need to save this post as some day we really want to have some chickens - even my husband is keen. I buy every week fresh eggs from the hens at the riding stables and so learnt that some times there are less available than other times. (Although recently due to a fox!)

    1. Grrrr - foxes can be such a problem and will kill an entire flock rather than just one to eat. We have foxes locally but I think the dogs help keep them off the property itself.

  5. How do you spot the mites in the first place?
    There seem to be so many reasons things that can cause problems with hens, it makes me glad it's not something I have to worry about.

  6. I didn't know you could freeze eggs. Chicken Ruby had red mite, she thought she was a family member not a chicken anyway and let me rub vaseline in her legs and on her feet twice a day


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