Lesson 321 – What to do when a hen stops laying eggs

***

There are a few questions about chickens that I get asked all the time. By now, most of you should know the answers.

Do you need a rooster to get eggs?

Everybody? — NO.

What do you do with your chickens in the winter?

All together now – just like what war is good for – absolutely nothing. (okay we do use a 100 watt lightbulb and a water heater but you get my drift).

Another question that seems to be popping up more and more as people ponder whether to get chickens or not and one I got recently from a Mike, a reader from York Maine is:

What do you do when the hens stop laying eggs?

There is no easy answer to this one. At least for me, who sees our chickens as family pets. Yeah and go ahead and call me soft but if we didn’t have soft people, what a dreary place this would be.

Chickens lay eggs for around 4-5 years. Then they stop, they run out. They sort of go into a chick-menopause state (hopefully minus the need for the pounds of chocolate and glasses of red wine).

There is a caveat to this, however. A normal chicken will lay for that long. Chickens that are genetically bred to lay eggs (unimaginatively called layers) will run out of their finite egg supply faster.  Chickens that lay only occasionally (bantams and exotics) might lay longer as they only squirt out an egg when they feel like it.  And finally, birds that are induced to lay through the use of artificial light during the winter months will also wear out faster. In the eternal words of all mothers “there is only so much I can do.”

The point here is that even under the very best of conditions, at some point a chicken is going to stop laying eggs. She is going to stop being productive and when that happens you’re going to have to figure out what to do with her.

I’ve always rather blithely replied to this question saying that our chickens are welcome to live out their retirement days in our backyard (after all, no one turned me into Sunday Dinner when I stopped laying eggs) but I’m afraid it’s not that easy.

When chickens stop laying eggs they don’t sit on the front porch drinking iced tea and knitting baby blankets. Retired chickens are meant to be culled. It’s part of “THE WAY”. In a wild flock of chickens (and there are such things) you would never see any retired hens. They slow down the flock, they endanger everyone else, they don’t contribute, in short, they are not wanted.  They become the decoys that save the rest of the flock.

The other thing is that nature never really intended to care for older chickens. They lose their feathers, they tend to get sick, they start having health problems. They start to endlessly repeat stories about the good old days.

We have a dog – Digger who is a Maltese rescue from Tennessee.  No one knows how old he is except that he is very old. Until our house, he had a rough life living on the streets and grabbing what little food he could find. He is without doubt, though, one of the best dogs we have ever had. (The other being a rescued Greyhound – I think there’s something about being grateful that someone cares about you).

Anyway, these days, Digger is not doing so well. Trevor and I figured out that he sleeps about 22 hours a day. He has tumors on his skin. He can’t hear anything, his eye sight along with his teeth have long disappeared. It takes a bit for him to get going and in the cold New Hampshire winter, because he can’t seem to generate enough body heat he needs to be covered with warm blankets and kept near a heater.

But he does recognize our touch and he loves nothing more than to cuddle up next to us giving us a lick or two when it moves him.

He is still part of our family. He still eats, still makes it outside to do his business and perhaps most importantly he is not in pain.

I’ve warned the kids though, that the day he is in pain (and I’m talking about the un-retractable pain that signals oncoming death)  is the day I will take him in to have him put down. I love this little dog too much to let him suffer just because we are not ready to say good-bye.

I hope that I will be able to keep to the same standards when our chickens, our birds of wonder also wear down after their life of service to us is over. Their comfort need not be sacrificed for my inability to let go.

In another post, I’ll write about ways to ethically kill a chicken (you’ll not find me cutting off the heads of any of my friends) and what you can do with the carcass.

Our lovely Morgane

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21 Comments

Filed under All things chickens, Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Crazy Chicken Lady, Life Lessons, Personal, Project Chickens before the Eggs, The Family

21 responses to “Lesson 321 – What to do when a hen stops laying eggs

  1. My chickens laid eggs all winter and now that spring is here they stopped laying…I have one dozen hens and one rooster.I was getting 10-12 a day, but it went down to 4-6…now I have one hen sitting and nothing… What to do? One lady said to worm them…what do I get?

    • Wendy Thomas

      Well that’s about as backwards as it gets. Most chickens slow down on their egg laying and then increase in the Spring (as ours have) if your chickens have decreased in the amount of eggs even though Spring is here, then something is up.

      Ways to tell if your flock needs worming:

      Inspect your birds, if they are thin or not gaining weight they might have worms Inspect the droppings, sometimes you can see worms in the poop.

      If you suspect one bird in your flock has worms, then you would be best to treat the entire flock. Some people treat their flock preventivly twice a year but in a home flock where your chickens are healthy this is not necessary.

      If you are going to treat your flock at the medication at your local feedstore and give it to your entire flock at the same time (don’t eat the eggs for a few days as the meds will pass into the eggs).

      If worms are the culprit, things should start getting better.

      Wendy

  2. April from South Georgia

    Hey there!! We recently got some laying chickens as a way to begin our 4 year old in the responsibility of helping out with our other animals (horses, cats and 2 dogs-bloodhound and choco lab). Well it all went well for a couple of days, that was until out lab Boston found a weak board into the coop…..we had 4 casualties right away, then 2 more passed on, now 2 more are acting sickly. The others seem to be resilient but have completely quit laying eggs. I am wondering (as crazy as it sounds) could the chickens be traumatized?? The chickens started out as my son’s but I have quickly became attached to them and would like for them to enjoy their time at our house.

    • Wendy Thomas

      April,

      First of all I’m sorry to hear about your chicken loss. It’s tough to lose a bird (especially when it has become a pet) and even harder when the reason is something that might have been avoided. Not to worry, I know that this will never happen again (we’ve learned a few hard lessons like this ourselves.)

      Without seeing your birds but based solely on your description, I think that yes, your birds are traumatized. This happens often in cases where there has been an attack (it even happens when a chicken is moved to a new home) their systems are shocked and it will take a while for them to “settle down.” I’ve seen some chickens that were consistent egg layers be moved to a new coop and not lay an egg for the first 3 weeks. It’s a stress thing and completely normal.

      Be patient. Keep on eye on those hens that remain (to make sure that they didn’t have a hidden injury) give them a little bit of TLC and fix that board in the coop. With time, everything will get back to normal.

      Let me know how they do.

      Wendy

      • April from South Georgia

        Ok thanks soo much. The board was fixed within minutes after we discovered him in the pen. But we may have really done a whammy on them with moving them and then the “Boston” incident. We are looking to expand again in the next day or so. In hopes that they will interact with the new ones (they are all coming from the same person). Thanks again :)

  3. miamia

    We have had are chickens for about 10 months, we have a bantum who didnt lay for the first 4 months that we had her she has layed every other day ever since. but we found that she had eaten her egg the other day, the same day we moved the coop down to the end of the garden ( she was getting very vocal unlike our other chickens ) she since this has not layed for just over a week now, is it the moving the coop, the egg eating or both?? I think she may be broody as she wants to stay in the coop all day ( i put her out just so i know she is eating ) never have any problems with my R I R’s just this pekin bantum, as much as we all love her im so glad we only have one of these

    • Wendy Thomas

      Bantums are notorious for not being consistent egg layers. Their job is to be the pretty bird in the flock and not the egg maker.

      A few thoughts came to mind. If you’ve moved the hen house there may be enough stress in the move to effect her egg laying schedule, if so things will calm down in a bit (sometimes it takes a few weeks).

      If she has eaten an egg, she might be eating them still, inspect the hen house nesting boxes carefully to see if you see any shell material.

      Lastly, our bantams are very private when it comes to laying eggs and we’ve discovered that they like to lay their eggs in the rafters of the henhouse.

      Although our bantums lay eggs, it is with such infrequency that when we do see one, we regard it as a pleasant surprise. Our bantams are beautiful and we enjoy them, eggs or not.

  4. Craig McDow

    So……how do you ‘ethically’ end the life of your chickens?

    • Wendy Thomas

      I’ve actually been called out on that before. I should have used the word humanely as in ..humanely kill a chicken. However, there are (in our case) some ethics to consider when deciding to cull a chicken (usually a rooster) from our flock. The ethics revolve around whether it is ethical to invade a neighbor’s living space (and that includes noise space) or not. Does a creature’s right to life trump a neighbor’s right to peacel? Is it reversed, or does it (should it?) even make a difference?

      So even though I didn’t use the correct word in this post, I do contend that ethics are involved when making the decision to harvest a chicken.

      Wendy

  5. My hens are getting old, and while I would like to be their sanctuary, I can’t feed something that isn’t feeding me, not in this economy. How do I cull the hens without feeling like a murder?

    • Wendy Thomas

      You cull them knowing that this is the best thing for your situation. I make no value judgement on anyone who either eats their birds or who gets rid of them after they have finished laying. It’s a personal choice. As long as you treat your hens with respect and give them good care while they are alive, that’s all I care about.

      As much as we love our hens (and there are some in my flock that I consider to be family pets) we have to remember that they are agricultural animals. They’ve been domesticated to provide us with food. When they stop providing us with food (eggs) we need to make a decision. Especially in this economy, I’m not going to ever tell you to feed a non-laying bird just to keep it alive.

      I wrote a post about how to cull a rooster. This procedure can be done with any chicken. In my chicken class this week I described how I did this and I told them that I was amazed how gentle (I know, who uses the word gentle when describing a killing) the entire process was.

      https://simplethrift.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/lesson-471-directions-on-how-to-ethically-kill-a-rooster/

      Get a cone (or borrow one if you have to) calm the bird by containing her wings (just hold her tight like a swaddled baby) talk to her, and then as quickly as you can put her in the cone, lift her neck feathers and slice one side of her neck (we needed two people for this). She’ll slowly bleed out (make sure you have that bucket there to catch the blood) at some point it will look like she is closing her eyes and going to sleep. It’s worse in your imagination than it is in reality.

      Either dispose of the carcass or pluck it and eat it. (we left ours in the woods for the big predators) it is one of my goals to eat one of our chickens someday but I’m not even close right now.

      If you have any questions, let me know,

      Good luck,

      Wendy

  6. Angela

    Our hens stopped laying eggs for about a month one time and we spoke to our food supplier for our chickens and he told us to give our chickens Mesh, Crumbles. He said to give it to them a lot and soon enough they started to lay eggs again. They can also stop from being in stress, the daylight thing, also some stop during seasons like my aunts does then starts back up in spring. We have Pullet Hens and roosters. Just thought I would let all know this is what we done for our Hens to start laying again after they have stopped.

    • Wendy Thomas

      Thanks for this information.It’s important to look at the hen’s life and environment to decide if she has stopped laying due to something like stress or if she has become too old.

      Wendy

    • I think mine are just protesting the change in the weather because they get feed crumbles and scratch, morning and evening, their feeding schedule hasn’t changed, just the weather…argh. Laugh

      • Wendy Thomas

        Our egg production goes down dramatically starting in the fall from over 2 dozen a day to 7 -9 if we are lucky. It’s the lack of light, you can force egg production with an artificial light (which I do not do) or you can just wait it out and see it as nature taking its course.

        Wendy

      • I’ve always had 3 or 4 dozen hens with at least 3 or 4 sitting around this time of the year, so I guess I’ve never noticed the drop in production. Now I only have 12, some are around 4/5 yrs old, the rest are young, and I keep threatening to turn them into dumplings, but it isn’t working, smile, they know better. I think it is the change in season, but I could never hurt my ladies. Too much love and care goes into them, so I’ll give them all the time they need. They’ve done really good this summer, so I suppose they deserve a break. :-)

  7. I had three hens in a pen next to a turkey and all four were laying. One morning I fed the birds and everything was fine. Then later that day when my husband fed them, he noticed one was dead in the corner. This was a couple months ago and since then neither the two hens left or the turkey have laid eggs. We do feed them a mixture of layena and scratch. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks

  8. Thanks alots, being i lost my husband last year on feb, as digree holder in law no job, i decided to start a small foultry which will enable me to subceed, i have 100 chiken they are 14 weeks now, so your publishing help me alot, thanks once again.

  9. sandra

    My egg production has dropped since Fall began. We have not changed their food. I did find 2 dead mice in their house that looked eaten over the last 10 day EAAAK. I’m hoping by something other then my classy ladies ate them. Do chickens eat mice? I am giving my girls a break. No artificial sunlight. And when there day comes that they cease making eggs they will live out their days here on the farm with us. I could never harm or eat them. Too much love and care have gone into this project. We enjoy them for them.Smile>

  10. I could not kill my current hens except when they are dying or very sick, if I get a much bigger flock I may keep some for the purpose of eating.

    We have had 6 brown shavers so far, beautiful girls who were top layers (one egg per hen every day) until they were 4 and a 1/2. Had some attrition since then–three hens, two from sickness (impacted crop, tumour) and one was euthanased because she became paralyzed in her legs and refused to eat.

    The other 3 that we have are doing well– my ‘bird doc’/favorite SPCA volunteer has helped me nurse them back to health numerous times, from sour crop, worms, etc. They’re turning 6 in August! Very active, beautiful feathers, and apparently are slightly overweight (I find they cope with illness better this way, and helps with the temps over winter). Raised them from day olds, so they are incredibly tame, come up and talk to me, I occasionally take them inside and they sit on my lap whilst i am reading, etc, and are spoilt rotten. Just got a new little one from the bird doc– shes recovering from a dog attack, very lame in one leg but eats well so she should be right. Not sure how old she is but we may have a layer again once shes settled enough :)

    • Wendy Thomas

      Ah, look at that – a big-hearted mama hen taking care of her flock. Thank you for taking in the injured ones.

      Wendy

      On Sun, Jul 20, 2014 at 9:23 PM, Lessons Learned from the Flock wrote:

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