News letter 7/10 (Chooks not laying?)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello to our fellow chooken lovers

It’s been a quite a while since our last news letter, Life is busy and our coops still are rolling out the door more than ever!... Even in this crazy whether we have had. Rain rain and more rain! Bring on Spring! 
This said, we would like to answer a question many of you have written in about recently!
We have tried to keep it short, but there is no one answer to this?

Why have my chickens stopped laying???

There are so many variables to this question... Age, breed, seasons, stress and the list goes on.
First of all, let’s start with Age & Breeds
Many breeds mature at different ages... Light breeds for example, such as Leghorn, Hamburg and hybrid breeds like NZ’s Brown Shaver, tend to mature younger as many of the heavy breeds such as Sussex and Orpington’s tend to mature a lot slower.
The laying cycle also depends on when the hens were hatched?
Hens hatched around early spring are likely to start laying between 18 to 30 weeks of age. If hatched in the summer months or late in the summer are more likely to start laying in Spring?
Why? There are many variables.

The most common to these scenarios is the seasons? As the days shorten and the nights lengthen, your chickens are spending more time sleeping and less time eating!
If your hen is already mature and is/was in the full swing of laying during summer – then winter falls, it is very likely she will go off the lay or maybe if you’re lucky, only produce the occasional egg here and there? BUT WHY only the occasional egg???
A chicken requires approx 16 hours of daylight hours to produce her egg. If the hen has not reached maturity before our daylight hours reduce to a minimum, it is likely your hen will not start to lay again until early spring. In a lot of cases though, a young hen may well still produce plenty of eggs through the winter. We have found this particularly with the lighter breeds and especially the hybrid breed hens like the Brown Shaver for example.
In most cases, a chickens first season is her best. As the hen ages or as her season comes to an end, her reproductive system runs out of eggs? Each year, she will produce less and less eggs. As a rule, a decline of approx 15% per season. This said, we know of plenty of people whom have hens that constantly produce high numbers of eggs for year and years.
But what if your hen was laying well, and we still have nice long daylight hours???
BUT – she just suddenly stopped laying???
Once again – there are lots of factors that can play a part with this.
The two main reasons would be Stress or Moulting.

Let’s start with moulting – all animals do it – it’s a factor of life! We like to refer to the Moult as their annual change of clothes. Your hens have laid themselves silly and worn themselves out – They need a rest, let her body take a break. Shedding off feathers is generally the first sign – all of those beautiful feathers have done their job at keeping her warm and protected from the elements of nature. Our cloths ware out too you know, but we can take ours off and wash and dry them – chickens can’t. At the same time, her old feathers are now being reproduced, this takes a lot of time and energy. It’s stressful for the bird – therefore she deserves a rest – during this time, her body is also recouping, for her next seasons laying. It is very important that your hens get special care during their moult, their skin is often showing and in some cases your hens will be totally naked! , so it’s important you provide them with plenty of shelter from direct sun light and from the wind and rain – sunburn and wind chills are as common in animals as it is with us two legged creatures.
Feed requirements are also very important during a moult, As your hens will go off the lay during their moult, it’s important that you think about their food – feathers are made up of protein, egg shells are made up of calcium. So lay off the calcium and increase their protein! If feeding layers pellets or mash, ease back on these and get some wheat, barley, peas, Sweet corn is a great natural source of protein, so is fish and red meat (Cooked) another favourite is dog roll. This will help your hen recover faster and in turn reduce her stress
A moult can also be forced on to a hen by stress?
Stress can be caused in many ways. Have you added some new birds to your flock recently or a change in routine or the wrong feed type – have you changed their feed brand??? Have you a new four legged pet – yes, the one that barks and likes to play chasey? Maybe your kids are chasing them and/or playing football or the likes around your chooks – too much noise? Is the weather too hot! Yes – too hot! Chickens can’t just drop a few layers off to cool down? Has there been a huge storm with thunder and lightning lately??? The list just goes on.
Other common causes are either the presence of parasites or pests of the four legged variety?

Let’s touch on these for a bit.

We had a horrid experience some time ago where a large hungry Ferret got into one of our coops and killed several of our valuable hens, every chicken in that coop witnessed these attacks. We went from 30 eggs per day down to about 5 eggs per day literally overnight. Several of the hens stopped laying altogether and did not start to lay again for several weeks, the stress of what they had seen was enough to put them through a premature moult. Dog attacks will do the same.

Another scenario is when there are parasites present, Feather lice is a real common pain in the butt for your hens, if left unnoticed, the lice can drive your poor hens to madness – these pesty little critters are like fleas on cats and dogs – driving your poor animals to madness, itching and scratching and potentially forcing a premature moult, if not – at least put them off the lay.

Red Mite would probably be the worst culprit – these little blood sucking vampires won’t just put your bird off the lay – they can kill. In general, these little beggars actually live in the chickens coop – not on the chickens? They can and will reproduce so much so, that when there are enough of them, will literally suck your chickens blood until they are anaemic and in turn death. There is tell tale signs you have a mite infestation.

Firstly, Check in the nooks and crannies of your coop, especially around the ends of you perches, if you can, remove your perches to inspect – you will see the mites clearly if they are there. Another way is to go out late at night with a small, but bright torch, and check the perches whilst your chooks are sleeping – you will see the creepy crawlies clearly on their legs and around their feet.
Another tell tale sign is by checking your chicken’s legs are clean? Some mite will actually burrow underneath the scales on a chickens leg and live there. The secretions from the mite will build up and force the scales to start to lift off the leg. This is very very painful for the chickens and obviously stressful.

Regular checks like these and by keeping your coop clean will help eliminate these vampires, but that is another story.

Hopefully we have covered the most common reasons here of “Why your chooks are not laying” Just have a think about what breeds you’re keeping, are they suitable to your environment, are they getting too old? Or do you just need to add a couple of newbie’s to your existing flock?

Oh and one more thing, It’s not the cold that stops your chickens laying – it is the daylight hours!

FACT - When we get nice cool weather in the summer, we actually get our best egg production!
Think about it, why would your chickens start laying in the spring when it is commonly still freezing weather?

Thanks for taking your time to read our article, Your feedback is always appreciated.