Healthy-looking hens laying nada

henhilton(8)May 25, 2009

I feel kind of stoopid even asking about this, but it's really getting to me, and what I find searching the web just doesn't seem to fit. So I hope I'll get some better ideas here.

My 10 RIR hens are 2 years old. I used to get 10 eggs a day, like clockwork. Lately on a good day I'll get 4, and 2 or 3 is more the norm. Today, I only got one, very late in the afternoon (they usually seem to lay late morn to early afternoon). All the girls look and act perfectly healthy. The thing is, I have never seen a full molt in the flock. Currently, there are lots of loose feathers everywhere, but nobody is buck naked or anything. All vents that I've examined look moist and healthy.

There is one hen who has been spending most of the day sitting on whatever eggs are in the most popular nest (but doesn't try to tear my arm off if I take them). Today, there were no eggs and she was stalking around the henhouse kicking up a fuss like I've never seen.

I suppose they are probably just molting, but after reading descriptions of bare naked molting hens, mine don't fit that picture. And in 2 years, they never have. So I just want to make sure I'm not missing some horrible disease or something. After exhaustive searches, I'm pretty certain they aren't nesting elsewhere. Do they need some kind of chicken vitamins?

They get high quality laying pellets, scratch grains, garden and kitchen scraps, finely crushed dried egg shells, clean water, and free-range for at least half the day most days. The only thing I can really think of that's different in the time they have quit producing is that we acquired sheep and a donkey. I put the manure in the compost pile where the chickens love to play and eat.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

If the new animals are a change for the chickens, and are possibly an upset for them, it can cause an interruption in lay. Chickens are creatures of habit, and any change in their routine can upset them.

Also, they could indeed be molting, and it's either just beginning or is more of a general molt, not a catastrophic one. :)

Make sure they are healthy, not losing weight, no signs of mites or worms or other illnesses. Also make sure they are getting plenty of calcium and protein with which to make eggs.

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 1:01AM
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gardendawgie(5)

If I remember correctly hens lay best when young then lay for about a year then really become too old for good production. Not sure about that however. But professional egg places do replace the hens at times. I think after a rest they will come back to laying but not as well as the first year. I never had much trouble with this. but then I let my hens free range on an acre. And I would hatch new eggs every spring. It was fun.

I like to have a rooster and then I can simply hatch some new eggs. Making an incubator is very easy. Maybe not the best but they work well enough when you have plenty of eggs. I put a number on each egg and kept a notebook.

My incubators were primitive but they worked well enough.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 11:11AM
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PaulNS(NS zone 6a)

"lay for about a year then really become too old"

- that is terrible, in my opinion, but it's exactly what our hens are doing as well. The two-year-old lays an egg a day, the three-year-olds not at all. I expected the laying to become irregular, not stop entirely. I've been wondering whether the reason is that they're factory-bred.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 2:57PM
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henhilton(8)

Well, I sure hope they haven't come to the end of their productive lives! If so, that was a mighty short run. Now what do I do? Open a resthome for Aged Hens?

I shall hope they are just molting and start giving them cat food again! They really don't seem the slightest bit upset by the new critters around here.

I've actually been hoping the nest-sitter will go broody. I would much rather let her do the job than build an incubator! I've heard that the broodiness has about been bred out of production RIRs, but I'm still hoping for a fluke.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 5:29PM
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annpatt

Are you sure you don't have an egg eater?

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 9:24PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

I've got hens that are 6-7 years old and they still lay pretty regularly...but then I give mine a natural break in winter--I don't give them any kind of artificial daylight. Heck, even my 10+ year old hen was laying this Spring, the shameless old fossil. :) Hens are born with a finite number of eggs in their bodies, just like human females--and when they are gone, they're gone. So if you've done anything to keep them in lay for winter, it could be that they are nearing the end of their reproductive cycle. Big-time egg farms do this by keeping the lights on and fooling the hen's bodies, that's why the hens there are basically used up in two years.

I still suspect the the new animals may have upset the hens and interrupted lay for a bit. ANY new thing or stress, good OR bad, can cause it. Birdies love their routines, and hate for them to be interrupted!

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 12:09PM
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keagles

I have approx. 50+ hens most of which are R.I.R. I have had most of them for 5 plus years. They do tend to taper off after the second or third year.
Although they do look pretty "mangey" I have never seen a hen go into a total bald state when molting. I still get 18 to 24 eggs per day in the warmer months. The count goes down to 6-12 during the winter WITH heat lamps and lights. Our winters get down to -10f to -20f.
As already mentioned you might want to check for egg suckers/eaters, if they really like eggs they can eat several each day. Since your hens are free range you should check for lice as they get dropped from wild birds flying/landing over where your hens are. Lice can also make your egg production drop as can lack of calcium/stress from weather or changes in their surroundings.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 7:17PM
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henhilton(8)

I'll give them a good looking over for lice tomorrow.

Also, I just found another chicken snake in their house today. I don't think the snakes have gotten any eggs without being caught in the act, because I'm constantly checking the henhouse since we got the first one (stuffed with 4 or 5 eggs already!), but I do wonder if maybe all the drama of having the snakes wrangled, hauled out and dispatched is upsetting the girls. Although one hen sat there in her nest today, calmly observing the whole routine. She didn't even flinch when I yanked the nesting boxes away from the wall to chase down the thief. After I had finished him off outside, I returned to the house in time to see her hopping off the nest, leaving a fresh egg behind!

Somebody told me today that there's some sort of rope you can get that snakes supposedly won't cross over - ??? Anybody know anything about that? If it's true, I'll gladly lay a rope all the way around my henhouse!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 11:29PM
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gourd_friends(z5/6 IL)

Those were all very interesting posts.
Two months ago, we got our first hens, (13) and we usually get about 4 eggs a day. We have discovered an egg eater in the bunch, and are in the process of finding out which one it is. We have mounted a Wildlife Cam, and got our first pictures today. Since we have three Buttercups, and that is our suspect, we are going to paint each hen's legs with a different color to catch the bad girl.

Jan
Are there any other tried and true solutions to this problem?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 12:43AM
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annpatt

I've read that putting a rock or hard wooden egg into the nest will discourage an egg eater. I was worried about getting an egg eater before I had chickens, but, while I do occasionally have a problem with someone eating eggs, it isn't every day and it isn't all the eggs. I can usually thwart it by collecting early in the day. I wonder if they do it maliciously or happen on it when an egg breaks accidentally.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2009 at 5:44PM
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gourd_friends(z5/6 IL)

We have golf balls in a few nests, but they are plastic, and we know we need ceramic, or wooden eggs. We thought these were to encourage more laying, but I guess they could help stop the hens from pecking the eggs, too.
I never thought about using rocks. We have a few around the house that might be similar in shape and size. I'll try a few of those too.
It seems that all of our hens lay late in the afternoon, so we are in the habit of collecting the eggs around 6 pm.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 12:31AM
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henhilton(8)

I have noticed that some of my hens will eat the contents, if an egg gets broken, but they won't intentionally break one, themselves. Also, they don't eat the shell.

Another way in which the fake eggs in the nest come in handy is by killing chicken snakes that eat them! My sister-in-law used to find her ceramic eggs all over the place.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 11:42AM
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