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Commercial feed and egg production

 
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Ive been hearing conspiracy theories about why people’s hens aren’t laying as many eggs as expected. Theories ranging from 5G to viruses to something in commercial feed. I admit that I do entertain these theories because, well, history has shown that many conspiracy theories are just facts before they reach mainstream acceptance.

We’re 2 1/2 years into chicken keeping. Our first hens started laying around Christmas of 2020 and laid through the winter not slowing down until a molt in the fall of 2021. From that molt until spring we barely got any eggs at all. We live in the north and dont use a light in the coop so this was to be expected. Spring and shmmert of 2022 we were getting loads of eggs and towards late summer they started a hard molt. This carried into winter and at this point, we have gotten a total of 5 eggs from October until today. We have 9 hens: 6 are 2 1/2 years old, one is 1 1/2 years old and 2 are only 4 months old. They have eaten the same feed in the same amounts for almost their entire life (nutrena all flock pellets).

I lot of people online have expressed concerns over their lack of eggs and one person had a very good point which I totally understand and agree with: many people started raising chickens for the first time during the early stages of the pandemic (my wife and I included). By now, those hens are beginning to age and slow down egg production. This is normal, but many new chicken owners dont realize this. And many of these new chicken owners are conspiracy minded (us included) which was a big reason for getting chickens during the pandemic.

Makes sense to me. Until I started hearing reports of people switching from commercial feed to mixing their own and getting a dramatic increase in egg production!

Now I’m curious… what are your experiences and opinions? Id like to hear from people who have a lot of experience raising chickens, preferably people who have been buying commercial feed for years. Have you noticed changes or anything out of the ordinary? Have any of you switched to making your own feed and gotten way more eggs?
 
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From what you described with your own chickens, it sounds like they are stopping/ slowing down in laying in the fall and winter, or when molting, which sounds totally normal. I'm guessing they laid through that first winter because they were so young and had just started laying. But my understanding is that laying through the winter is not very common with most breeds.

I'm not against conspiracy theories, but I do think that one is a bit far-fetched. As big as the homesteading movement may seem to those of us who make it our way of life, it is still actually very tiny compared to the masses of people who are still going to the grocery store for all of their needs. So a complex conspiracy simply to undermine the efforts of backyard chicken-keepers... I just don't think so.

I think this has a lot to do with inexperienced chicken-keepers not knowing that laying slows down after a few years, and in the winter. As far as folks getting more eggs when mixing their own feed, it is surely possible that the chickens like that feed better and eat more of it, and/or it has better nutrition than commercial chicken feed, so those people may be getting more eggs when switching. That does not suggest a conspiracy to me. Just basic capitalism, which is no secret. Commercial feed producers are of course going to make their feed as cheaply as possible, to make as much money as possible, while also not probably understanding (or caring) that whole foods are usually more nutritious. If you read the label of basically any commercial animal feed, a lot of those ingredients do not sound much like food. But it is all printed there in black and white for us to make our own decision about.  

Even the idea of getting more eggs when mixing your own feed; well, there are just so many variables possible in anecdotal accounts. Maybe they switched in the springtime, when the birds would have started laying more anyway. Or maybe there was some other variable. The only way to really know would be to do an experiment and raise 2 batches of chickens, side-by-side in the same conditions, except offer one group commercial feed, and one group home-mixed. I would even do a third group and feed them commercial organic feed. My chickens free-range, and I don't have those kinds of resources, but I would love to know what the results were, if anyone ever did it. I do firmly believe whole foods are better, so I would not be at all surprised if a balanced home-mix yielded more eggs, and healthier chickens that laid for longer, especially if that mix were soaked or fermented for easier digestion.
 
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It's the commercial feed. I was buying Purina's Producers Pride and my 1.5 yr old flocked molted and stopped laying. I have 55 chickens of the three breeds only and everyone of of them stopped producing eggs in October. I have had two egg till mid Jan. 2023. I have raised chickens several times in my life and know this pattern is not normal. By mid Jan. 2023 I switched to fresh veggies and safe table scraps and all three breeds have begun to lay once again. They haven't reached normalcy (even for winter) yet but their production is an improvement.
I believe this is being done in deliberation along with the supposed avian flu epidemic. All the farmers that raise chickens around me have had no problems but the state has banned the sale of birds. The local wild turkey population has exploded this past year as well. I am simply stating what is being observed to me and my local area.
 
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I'm not replying from a position of experience, but it doesn't seem at all weird to find that feeding your flock fresh veggies, sprouted grains, and table scraps puts them in better health than some bagged formula. That would have been my bet all along.

Also, the quality of the commercial formula could have decreased without any bizarre conspiracy. Every industry is experiencing supply chain disruptions. If they can't get the soy protein powder they normally use, they're going to accept milk protein, even if it's a little inferior, because they have to ship product. (I'm just pulling those feedstocks out of my butt, I have no real idea what goes into pelletized feed.)
 
Brody Ekberg
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William Attenborough wrote:It's the commercial feed. I was buying Purina's Producers Pride and my 1.5 yr old flocked molted and stopped laying. I have 55 chickens of the three breeds only and everyone of of them stopped producing eggs in October. I have had two egg till mid Jan. 2023. I have raised chickens several times in my life and know this pattern is not normal. By mid Jan. 2023 I switched to fresh veggies and safe table scraps and all three breeds have begun to lay once again. They haven't reached normalcy (even for winter) yet but their production is an improvement.
I believe this is being done in deliberation along with the supposed avian flu epidemic. All the farmers that raise chickens around me have had no problems but the state has banned the sale of birds. The local wild turkey population has exploded this past year as well. I am simply stating what is being observed to me and my local area.



Very interesting. Stories like that make me consider mixing my own feed! Are your 55 chickens all the same age?
 
Brody Ekberg
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Christopher Weeks wrote:I'm not replying from a position of experience, but it doesn't seem at all weird to find that feeding your flock fresh veggies, sprouted grains, and table scraps puts them in better health than some bagged formula. That would have been my bet all along.

Also, the quality of the commercial formula could have decreased without any bizarre conspiracy. Every industry is experiencing supply chain disruptions. If they can't get the soy protein powder they normally use, they're going to accept milk protein, even if it's a little inferior, because they have to ship product. (I'm just pulling those feedstocks out of my butt, I have no real idea what goes into pelletized feed.)



I would always assume that real food would be better for them (and any other animal) than commercial bagged food too. But I’m not trying to feed the absolute best diet possible to my chickens, I’m trying to reach a balance between convenience, cost, time and nutrition. And it’s not that the feed is just straight inadequate, it used to seem fine. Im wondering if it has changed.

But you bring up a good point that it doesn’t have to be a deliberate conspiracy to be negatively affecting the hens. The supply chain issues you mentioned are very real and I’m sure they would cut corners as much as possible to continue to make product and profit.
 
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50 hens under 4 years, plus a bunch over.  I get almost exactly half the eggs in the winter from summer.   With about two week of almost
none  near Christmas.   Mine are coming back on the lay slowly from about two weeks ago.

Commercial feed plus scraps and oyster shell.  The only thing I really do differently to other farms is sing to the hens each night.  

We didn't even get the lights repaired this winter.
 
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I bought chicken food today from a farm supply store. It appeared that there are many different types of food available from many different brands. Crude protein varied between 7.5% and 22%. Most common was 16%. Some feeds were grain only. Some included vegetables.

If something is currently wrong with the most common brand, there are plenty of other options. Like always, I chose something other than the cheapest, most common brand.

 
William Attenborough
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

William Attenborough wrote:It's the commercial feed. I was buying Purina's Producers Pride and my 1.5 yr old flocked molted and stopped laying. I have 55 chickens of the three breeds only and everyone of of them stopped producing eggs in October. I have had two egg till mid Jan. 2023. I have raised chickens several times in my life and know this pattern is not normal. By mid Jan. 2023 I switched to fresh veggies and safe table scraps and all three breeds have begun to lay once again. They haven't reached normalcy (even for winter) yet but their production is an improvement.
I believe this is being done in deliberation along with the supposed avian flu epidemic. All the farmers that raise chickens around me have had no problems but the state has banned the sale of birds. The local wild turkey population has exploded this past year as well. I am simply stating what is being observed to me and my local area.



Very interesting. Stories like that make me consider mixing my own feed! Are your 55 chickens all the same age?



Yes the hens are the same age and they all came from the same hatchery as well. I used to allow them to forage freely in a Pine/hardwood forest but were being attacked by a hawk.  So now they have a large fenced run that is moved every month.
 
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In general, people get chickens in order to make themselves less dependent on global supply chains and commercial farming. But if you are buying your chicken food from the commercial supply chain, then you really aren't accomplishing anything. Instead of buying chicken meat and eggs at the store, you are buying chicken food at the store and using it to make eggs and meat at home. All you are doing is increasing the number of steps to get your eggs and chicken meat. If you buy chicken food at the store, it really isn't much different from buying your own food at the store. The only difference is you are now creating more work for yourself to raise and care for the chickens.

If you want to be independent and get off the supply chain, you need to make your own chicken feed or find locals who can make it. Otherwise you are still in the same system you hoped to get out of.

Regarding this specific conspiracy though, I must say I do not believe it.

My understanding of chicken physiology is that they have a certain number of eggs they are going to lay in their lifetimes, and the only thing stopping them is their health and lifespan. So if your hens are otherwise healthy, they will lay eggs. Their rate may slow down, especially in diminished daylight seasons, but if the hens are healthy the eggs will come. It is hard for me to imagine a mass produced chicken feed that can sterilize a hen but not cause any other noticeable side effects. Commercial feed is not magical. There is not a magical "No more eggs!" ingredient that they can mix in there. It just doesn't work that way.

If they are past two years old, and it is winter time, you should expect a dramatic drop in production. It will pick up a little in spring, but they are past their prime, and you need some new ones.

To jump start their laying, make sure they have abundant water, and then give them tons of ground black pepper. Just mix it into all the scraps you give them. Tons of it.
 
William Attenborough
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T S Rodriguez wrote:In general, people get chickens in order to make themselves less dependent on global supply chains and commercial farming. But if you are buying your chicken food from the commercial supply chain, then you really aren't accomplishing anything. Instead of buying chicken meat and eggs at the store, you are buying chicken food at the store and using it to make eggs and meat at home. All you are doing is increasing the number of steps to get your eggs and chicken meat. If you buy chicken food at the store, it really isn't much different from buying your own food at the store. The only difference is you are now creating more work for yourself to raise and care for the chickens.

If you want to be independent and get off the supply chain, you need to make your own chicken feed or find locals who can make it. Otherwise you are still in the same system you hoped to get out of.

Regarding this specific conspiracy though, I must say I do not believe it.

My understanding of chicken physiology is that they have a certain number of eggs they are going to lay in their lifetimes, and the only thing stopping them is their health and lifespan. So if your hens are otherwise healthy, they will lay eggs. Their rate may slow down, especially in diminished daylight seasons, but if the hens are healthy the eggs will come. It is hard for me to imagine a mass produced chicken feed that can sterilize a hen but not cause any other noticeable side effects. Commercial feed is not magical. There is not a magical "No more eggs!" ingredient that they can mix in there. It just doesn't work that way.

If they are past two years old, and it is winter time, you should expect a dramatic drop in production. It will pick up a little in spring, but they are past their prime, and you need some new ones.

To jump start their laying, make sure they have abundant water, and then give them tons of ground black pepper. Just mix it into all the scraps you give them. Tons of it.



Great advice. Thank you. I am always up for learning new things especially to learning sound practices. I am curious as to what the black pepper does for the hens?
 
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William Attenborough wrote:

Great advice. Thank you. I am always up for learning new things especially to learning sound practices. I am curious as to what the black pepper does for the hens?



It keeps them spicy 😁
 
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Chris Vee wrote:

William Attenborough wrote:

Great advice. Thank you. I am always up for learning new things especially to learning sound practices. I am curious as to what the black pepper does for the hens?



It keeps them spicy 😁



😂 I'm guessing there must be some health benefits to a chicken consuming black pepper. Funny reply though, I like it.
 
Brody Ekberg
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r ranson wrote:50 hens under 4 years, plus a bunch over.  I get almost exactly half the eggs in the winter from summer.   With about two week of almost
none  near Christmas.   Mine are coming back on the lay slowly from about two weeks ago.

Commercial feed plus scraps and oyster shell.  The only thing I really do differently to other farms is sing to the hens each night.  

We didn't even get the lights repaired this winter.



So you haven’t noticed anything unusual these last few years as far as their egg laying goes? Still using the same commercial feed?
 
Brody Ekberg
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I bought chicken food today from a farm supply store. It appeared that there are many different types of food available from many different brands. Crude protein varied between 7.5% and 22%. Most common was 16%. Some feeds were grain only. Some included vegetables.

If something is currently wrong with the most common brand, there are plenty of other options. Like always, I chose something other than the cheapest, most common brand.



I dont know if there really is a “most common” brand. I mean, I live in upper Michigan and have bought feed at probably 4-5 different places and they all seem to sell different brands than eachother. And then you have brands like Prince that seem to just use the same bags for everything and slap a different label on it. Makes me wonder. Another thing to consider is how a few manufacturers make a large number of products and just put different labels on them to sell to different markets. This is the case with human food as well as animal foods. So a supply or ingredient problem could affect multiple brands due to them all being made in the same place.

I also dont choose the cheapest brand. I cant find organic here but the feed I buy has oregano, rosemary, prebiotics and probiotics so I figured thats better than the lowest quality feeds.
 
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William Attenborough wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote:

William Attenborough wrote:It's the commercial feed. I was buying Purina's Producers Pride and my 1.5 yr old flocked molted and stopped laying. I have 55 chickens of the three breeds only and everyone of of them stopped producing eggs in October. I have had two egg till mid Jan. 2023. I have raised chickens several times in my life and know this pattern is not normal. By mid Jan. 2023 I switched to fresh veggies and safe table scraps and all three breeds have begun to lay once again. They haven't reached normalcy (even for winter) yet but their production is an improvement.
I believe this is being done in deliberation along with the supposed avian flu epidemic. All the farmers that raise chickens around me have had no problems but the state has banned the sale of birds. The local wild turkey population has exploded this past year as well. I am simply stating what is being observed to me and my local area.



Very interesting. Stories like that make me consider mixing my own feed! Are your 55 chickens all the same age?



Yes the hens are the same age and they all came from the same hatchery as well. I used to allow them to forage freely in a Pine/hardwood forest but were being attacked by a hawk.  So now they have a large fenced run that is moved every month.



So do you still give them a commercial feed or just free range and kitchen scraps now?
 
Brody Ekberg
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T S Rodriguez wrote:In general, people get chickens in order to make themselves less dependent on global supply chains and commercial farming. But if you are buying your chicken food from the commercial supply chain, then you really aren't accomplishing anything. Instead of buying chicken meat and eggs at the store, you are buying chicken food at the store and using it to make eggs and meat at home. All you are doing is increasing the number of steps to get your eggs and chicken meat. If you buy chicken food at the store, it really isn't much different from buying your own food at the store. The only difference is you are now creating more work for yourself to raise and care for the chickens.

If you want to be independent and get off the supply chain, you need to make your own chicken feed or find locals who can make it. Otherwise you are still in the same system you hoped to get out of.

Regarding this specific conspiracy though, I must say I do not believe it.

My understanding of chicken physiology is that they have a certain number of eggs they are going to lay in their lifetimes, and the only thing stopping them is their health and lifespan. So if your hens are otherwise healthy, they will lay eggs. Their rate may slow down, especially in diminished daylight seasons, but if the hens are healthy the eggs will come. It is hard for me to imagine a mass produced chicken feed that can sterilize a hen but not cause any other noticeable side effects. Commercial feed is not magical. There is not a magical "No more eggs!" ingredient that they can mix in there. It just doesn't work that way.

If they are past two years old, and it is winter time, you should expect a dramatic drop in production. It will pick up a little in spring, but they are past their prime, and you need some new ones.

To jump start their laying, make sure they have abundant water, and then give them tons of ground black pepper. Just mix it into all the scraps you give them. Tons of it.



I think there’s more to it than that. I mean, I originally got chickens to be more self reliant but quickly realized that there are other benefits. They eat some of our kitchen waste. They fertilize our yard. They till our compost. They’re enjoyable to watch and interact with. They give us manure. They eat ticks.

And yes, I do buy feed and it does take away from the self reliance piece of the whole deal, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I buy feed because I’m busy and haven’t wanted to take the time to make my own. I could though. But even so, I would be buying the ingredients and would still be reliant. And unless they can survive off of a frozen compost pile and kitchen scraps throughout the winter, I will need to keep buying feed at least in winter. And sure, I could kill off the birds and use that feed money to buy eggs and chicken meat at the store. Problem with that is its all bullshit. Theres no eggs or meat worth buying around here anyway. Unless I buy from another local farm who also buys their feed at a store… or I can spend $6 on a dozen “cage free” eggs that I have to hope came from chickens who had a life worth living. And buy the “amish farms” chickens that are at least antibiotic free but that’s about all they’ve got going for them.

As far as I’m concerned, gardening is about the same. Its a massive increase in work and definitely dont save much, if any money. But thats not the point. The point is spending your life doing quality things and eating quality foods that you can feel good about and be connected to.

As far as the feed affecting their egg laying, I cant imagine what would be so hard about stopping a chicken from laying eggs. I mean, a calcium deficiency will destroy the integrity of the eggs and eventually the chickens skeletal structure. A vitamin E deficiency will straight up kill them. A little less daylight will stop egg production. A little stress will stop egg production. They’re kind of finicky if you think about it. I could easily imagine an ingredient disrupting their natural cycles (even vitamin D is a hormone which affects natural cycles) without killing them. And it even could be killing them, but so slowly that we dont know since most chickens are killed before they reach 3 years old anyway. Or what if it isn’t stopping them from laying eggs but suppressing it for as long as the feed is being given to them? I feel like chickens laying eggs is weirder than the idea that ingredients in food can have an effect on natural processes of a body.

I dont give them any black pepper though, maybe I’ll start. Does that make them lay in less daylight similar to how a light bulb would?
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

r ranson wrote:50 hens under 4 years, plus a bunch over.  I get almost exactly half the eggs in the winter from summer.   With about two week of almost
none  near Christmas.   Mine are coming back on the lay slowly from about two weeks ago.

Commercial feed plus scraps and oyster shell.  The only thing I really do differently to other farms is sing to the hens each night.  

We didn't even get the lights repaired this winter.



So you haven’t noticed anything unusual these last few years as far as their egg laying goes? Still using the same commercial feed?



Nope.  No change.   Same feed.

 
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To me, the lack of a lot of sun in the winter may affect egg laying a lot more than what kind of feed is being fed.

It is not unusual for chickens to produce fewer eggs in the winter.  I mean normal.

Maybe this also has something to do with what breed of chickens folks are raising.

I really like the idea of feeding chicken something other than buying feed that costs money.

Here are some threads that support my beliefs:

https://permies.com/t/197392/chicken-breeds-require-daylight-length

Ollie said, "If you have cold weather chickens, some may continue to lay during the winter



https://permies.com/t/19819/Chickens-snow

Matt said, " In my case I think it was stress from heading into the winter.



https://permies.com/t/180689/Barred-Rocks-produce-eggs#1421839
 
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Anne Miller wrote:To me, the lack of a lot of sun in the winter may affect egg laying a lot more than what kind of feed is being fed.

It is not unusual for chickens to produce fewer eggs in the winter.  I mean normal.

Maybe this also has something to do with what breed of chickens folks are raising.

I really like the idea of feeding chicken something other than buying feed that costs money.

Here are some threads that support my beliefs:

https://permies.com/t/197392/chicken-breeds-require-daylight-length

Ollie said, "If you have cold weather chickens, some may continue to lay during the winter



https://permies.com/t/19819/Chickens-snow

Matt said, " In my case I think it was stress from heading into the winter.



https://permies.com/t/180689/Barred-Rocks-produce-eggs#1421839



Our flock are all orpingtons, so are pretty good in cold weather aside from their combs. But they are heavily feathered and do better in cold than heat. And they normally do lay less in winter but less isn’t none. We went from 5-7 eggs a day in summer to 1-2 eggs a day in fall and since October have gotten 5 eggs total. All 5 of those eggs came within a week or two and now its back to nothing. The only change that I can think of is rooster drama. Or a change in the feed ingredients.

I like the idea of feeding chickens without spending money as well, but it seems like that would be much easier to try in summer than winter. And if I just let them free range and eat kitchen scraps and the compost pile all summer, wouldn’t that likely lead to health issues? There would be nothing balanced about that diet. I mean in my mind, chickens evolved alongside humans living near us and eating things we give them or our scraps. A modern chicken being able to free range everything it needs to live a happy healthy life seems about as likely as me being able to free range everything I need to live a happy healthy life. I know how to forage, hunt, fish and garden and I’m well aware that the first winter would likely kill me if I couldn’t buy food at a store.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:I like the idea of feeding chickens without spending money as well, but it seems like that would be much easier to try in summer than winter. And if I just let them free range and eat kitchen scraps and the compost pile all summer, wouldn’t that likely lead to health issues? There would be nothing balanced about that diet. I mean in my mind, chickens evolved alongside humans living near us and eating things we give them or our scraps. A modern chicken being able to free range everything it needs to live a happy healthy life seems about as likely as me being able to free range everything I need to live a happy healthy life. I know how to forage, hunt, fish and garden and I’m well aware that the first winter would likely kill me if I couldn’t buy food at a store.



I don't feel that would affect the health of the chickens.  Where do you get your balance diet?  From vegetable?  

There are good things you can give the chicken that will also supplement something lacking in their diet.

https://permies.com/t/153700/Organic-Astaxanthin-Algae-Poultry-Supplement

For feeding during the winter there are all kinds of suggestions such as microgreens, sprouted grains, etc.:

https://permies.com/t/33529/Feeding-sprouted-grains

https://permies.com/t/58055/Cut-carry-chicken-feed-balanced

https://permies.com/t/997/perennial-chicken-feed
 
r ranson
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A sudden decrease in laying, the first thing to look for is some subclinical (no obvious symptoms other than fewer eggs) illness in the flock.  Bird flu is bad here right now.  We've got two varieties making the rounds, one has high mortality and the other the only obvious symptom is fewer eggs and a few hens looking bedraggled - aka, like how they normally look in winter.  Parasites are another big issue.

Another issue can be the environment.  Not enough air flow is a big one.  Not enough cleaning or even too much cleaning.  

The other thing we look for is the egger.  If there's one egger in the flock (a hen that eats eggs) then culling is usually the answer.  If there are multiple hens eating eggs, then it's probably a diet issue.  Are they getting enough protein and calcium?  We usually go to the local butcher and ask for a few pounds of dog meat (meat that is too old for humans but is good to feed to dogs).  Cook it up, and feed it for a few days.  This gets them back on track.

Of course, if they are off in any way, we give vitamins in the water.  Electrovit is their favourite as it's high in vit B and electrolytes.  

If you are worried about the feed, switch brands and see.  There was an issue with one of the feed suppliers and their organic hen feed a few years back.  They had mould in their silo which got into the feed.  This affected egg production and killed a bunch of hens.  Then there was the floods in 2021 where most of our feed gets mixed.  This meant we had to get feed from further away for a few months and the hens didn't enjoy it very much at all.  

 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:
I like the idea of feeding chickens without spending money as well, but it seems like that would be much easier to try in summer than winter. And if I just let them free range and eat kitchen scraps and the compost pile all summer, wouldn’t that likely lead to health issues? There would be nothing balanced about that diet. I mean in my mind, chickens evolved alongside humans living near us and eating things we give them or our scraps. A modern chicken being able to free range everything it needs to live a happy healthy life seems about as likely as me being able to free range everything I need to live a happy healthy life. I know how to forage, hunt, fish and garden and I’m well aware that the first winter would likely kill me if I couldn’t buy food at a store.



My chickens free range in the summer here in WI.  I still put commercial food out but they don't eat it much, and by not much, I mean, hardly any.  My personal opinion is that eating all manner of bugs and vegetation, even the occasional mouse or snake, is a far more varied and better balanced diet than they are getting out of the bag of processed, not fresh, pellets I am forced to feed them in the winter.  I don't think they have any problem free ranging their diet, but as you said, that lasts until late fall here, and after that, they would all be chickensicles pretty promptly.

T S Rodriguez wrote:  
In general, people get chickens in order to make themselves less dependent on global supply chains and commercial farming. But if you are buying your chicken food from the commercial supply chain, then you really aren't accomplishing anything. Instead of buying chicken meat and eggs at the store, you are buying chicken food at the store and using it to make eggs and meat at home. All you are doing is increasing the number of steps to get your eggs and chicken meat. If you buy chicken food at the store, it really isn't much different from buying your own food at the store. The only difference is you are now creating more work for yourself to raise and care for the chickens.



I buy commercial food for my chickens in the winter, and a small amount in the summer.  I think I am accomplishing something, and I think it makes me less dependent on global supply chains and commercial farming.  I'm not sure how to come to the opposite conclusion.  I don't eat my chickens, but I get better eggs, I give my chickens a much, much better life than they would have on a commercial farm, I get lots of compost, they create garden beds for me.

I'm of the mindset that true self sufficiency is very nearly impossible, so I don't strive for that.  I strive to make myself more self sufficient, not completely self sufficient, or, as you said, less dependent on global supply changes.  I think I'm doing that, among the other things I listed.
 
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My girls went on strike for a couple months, last year, during a heat wave that coincided with a sudden uptick in predator pressure (raptors, raccoons, & coyotes, mostly - because of a massive amount of the local forest being wiped out in favor of 2 huge raceways and a couple more campgrounds). Coming back into eggs was gradual, and we're still not quite back up to normal, but we've had a lot more overcast days this winter, than normal, too. I love that about 9 months out of the year, in this climate, they don't even want the (non-gmo laying mash) feed that is offered them, preferring instead to go out and forage. Even in the winter, with snow on the ground, they love being out in it, scratching through the snow, to get under the leaves to find whatever is hiding from the weather - and when I can let them, they go through much less feed, they're MUCH happier, their production goes up, and personally, I think their eggs taste much better, and they look and feel healthier, than when all they get is feed and dehydrated bsfl supplements. Live bugs, reptiles and rodents (even hyenas ones) seem to be substantially more nutritious & satisfying to/for them. If I could, I'd simply stop buying feed, at all, in favor of things they can forage, &/or that I can grow - even when they have to stay in their run, because of our frequent predator pressure. I'm planning to start growing sprouts for them in winter, and am putting big mineral tubs by the coop/run (which I'm also expanding) for plants to help with this, as well as starting a bsfl hatchery for them.

May Lotito has some great methods for feeding that she grows and raises, for her birds, and I hope she'll chime in, here, too.
 
T S Rodriguez
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The black pepper thing is something I found on permies long ago, and I have found it to work. The main thing is tons of water and tons of pepper. The theory is that if you mix black pepper with everything, it will increase their drinking, and that will somehow cause their bodies to kick into egg laying gear. In my experience it has worked. It does not work forever though, but it can jumpstart a hen who has stopped laying, and get maybe a week out of her. It will not work forever either. Chickens are not magical.

Brody Ekberg wrote:

T S Rodriguez wrote:

I dont give them any black pepper though, maybe I’ll start. Does that make them lay in less daylight similar to how a light bulb would?



Chris Vee wrote:

William Attenborough wrote:

Great advice. Thank you. I am always up for learning new things especially to learning sound practices. I am curious as to what the black pepper does for the hens?



It keeps them spicy 😁



William Attenborough wrote:

T S Rodriguez wrote:
To jump start their laying, make sure they have abundant water, and then give them tons of ground black pepper. Just mix it into all the scraps you give them. Tons of it.



Great advice. Thank you. I am always up for learning new things especially to learning sound practices. I am curious as to what the black pepper does for the hens?

 
T S Rodriguez
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You are correct that it is relatively easy to get a chicken to stop laying through various deficiencies, but it is not easy to do it without killing the hens, or making them sick. If that were happening we would be hearing about how all the chickens are getting sick, dying, and not laying. Instead, it is a whole bunch of people who bought chicks in spring 2020 for the first time, now wondering why they have suddenly stopped or slowed down in fall/winter 2022-23. I am here to say that this is completely normal for hens of that age, and the only thing that will change it is more light, and possibly, black pepper for a week or two at most. And by next fall/winter the egg laying will be virtually over for them. This is normal hen behavior and most people who are surprised by it are people who bought chicks for the first time in spring 2020.

In my neighborhood I know at least twenty people who raise chickens for eggs, and all but one of them is buying feed from big box stores, and none of them have seen any change in egg laying. The one guy who is not buying from the supply chain makes his own, and he is getting fewer eggs than the ones who buy from Tractor Supply. So, from my perspective this phenomenon is not even happening, and is entirely an internet rumor. I don't know anyone actually experiencing this. The only ones I see on the internet are first-time owners who bought chicks in April 2020.

If I am wrong then I am wrong, but this is my experience on this point.


Brody Ekberg wrote:

T S Rodriguez wrote:
As far as the feed affecting their egg laying, I cant imagine what would be so hard about stopping a chicken from laying eggs. I mean, a calcium deficiency will destroy the integrity of the eggs and eventually the chickens skeletal structure. A vitamin E deficiency will straight up kill them. A little less daylight will stop egg production. A little stress will stop egg production. They’re kind of finicky if you think about it. I could easily imagine an ingredient disrupting their natural cycles (even vitamin D is a hormone which affects natural cycles) without killing them. And it even could be killing them, but so slowly that we dont know since most chickens are killed before they reach 3 years old anyway. Or what if it isn’t stopping them from laying eggs but suppressing it for as long as the feed is being given to them? I feel like chickens laying eggs is weirder than the idea that ingredients in food can have an effect on natural processes of a body.

I dont give them any black pepper though, maybe I’ll start. Does that make them lay in less daylight similar to how a light bulb would?

 
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I believe that there was something about the (organic Purina) feed. My mom's hens all stopped laying but one this winter, which reduction has never happened before. Two weeks ago she ran out of the Purina feed and gave them another organic feed brand (that I had bought her--high fives!) and within a week or two all the layers were laying again. It was super weird--and when I read this thread, I thought, yep...
 
William Attenborough
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Rachel Lindsay wrote:I believe that there was something about the (organic Purina) feed. My mom's hens all stopped laying but one this winter, which reduction has never happened before. Two weeks ago she ran out of the Purina feed and gave them another organic feed brand (that I had bought her--high fives!) and within a week or two all the layers were laying again. It was super weird--and when I read this thread, I thought, yep...



If you watch any of the Homestead Vloggers, you will find many of them saying a similar thing. Even main stream news has taken notice and has reported on it.

A couple people took this even further following the trail of corporations involved with this problem and it turns out that the parent company which owns the feed producer recently acquired the country's largest poultry farm as well. It's certainly interesting, especially when you have the biggest competitor of theirs burning to the ground for no apparent reason (which required twenty fire departments to extinguish the flames, resulting in over 100k birds to die in single blaze). News outlets in Australia reporting an identical issue for birds in that country too.
 
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Same experience here. I had 18 hens. 5 of them year and a half old and the rest just growing up since April. The old hens stopped laying at the beginning of October. 3 of them were killed by a bobcat and remaining two started laying just 4 days ago. I was also feeding Purina organic layers pellets plus some organic grain mix.
In my setup, where I can hardly grow anything I consider chickens to be completely unsustainable. I have them, because they are beautiful. The only animals that make sense in climates like mine are sheep and goats - happy year around eating green or dry grass.
I'm really counting on the winter wheat and rye that I planted last year - if it develops completely at least I would have 500 kg of tasty grains.
 
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I am one of the new chicken owners after covid. I had chickens raised in June 2020 started laying in Dec through the first two winters. Too bad they didn't make it into the third winter due to neighbor's dog. It's unknown to me that when the egg production declines as the hen ages, it's not dwindling evenly throughout the year but with more reduction in winter as Rodriguez said.

I did notice when the weather was cold the chickens spent more energy in maintaining body heat they laid less eggs. The past fall and winter, in MO at least, we had unusual early hard freeze and near record low temperature before Christmas. That in combination of shortening daylight/ reduced daylight intensity probably wouldn't be favourable for egg laying. So when people noticed the hen were not laying for weeks and shifted the routines and saw the hen started laying. It could be just coincidental due to the daylight and weather rather than some cause-and- effect relationship. It would be more helpful to compare chickens of the same breed, age, living condition and environment but fed with different feeds to draw a conclusion.
 
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Two friends locally (UK) switched from commercial feed after four months of no eggs at all and are now back to full production.
I am hearing from a lot of sources that you need to get your chooks outdoors and change the feed.  The producers of the commercial feed need questioning at the very least.
 
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This is old, but I'll post as I am a fairly new chicken owner and had my chickens stop laying for the first time this year.  My initial chickens will be two this spring, they had chicks last summer that will be turning one.  Last winter my initial batch of chickens laid all winter, albeit less, but still a decent amount.  This fall all the older chickens moulted at the same time, egg production ceased before winter even arrived.  Throughout the winter very few eggs from the chickens.  Like, I have 18 chickens and I was getting maybe one egg a day.  From the four ducks I was also getting one egg a day.  A month or so ago the second gen chickens started laying.  A couple of weeks ago the older ladies began getting back into action.  Collected eight eggs, plus two duck eggs today!  I feed commercial feed plus scraps in the winter, and free range plus scraps and much less feed in the summer.  Same feed this entire time.

My take, it's mostly inexperienced folks who are into their second year hens - who did pretty good the first winter but slowed down heavily the second because they just literally aren't spring chickens anymore.  There could be some credence to some suppliers' formulations changing slightly to reduce costs or because of supply issues, but I don't think it's a widespread thing or in anyway nefarious.  

Just my best guess given my experience this year as a first time second year hen owner.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I checked a different feed store today. (The one the real farmers use, and not the backyard chicken keepers). The minimum percent protein available in laying mash was 20%. The big box store's minimum was 16%.

 
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This guy gives his take here:





He says the people who seemed to lose egg production were using food made by companies owned by Nestle, which has a history of finding interesting ways of making profit, shall we say. He's not very clear to me though. It sounds as if he says Nestle just bought Purina and changed the formula, but that acquisition happened in 2001. Then he made some comments about studying the numbers and linking increases in profits recently to the change in egg production (I think) but he shows no numbers. I would think he would need some very specific numbers rather than just the overall company's performance, since it is such a large company. Just food for thought. It is an interesting case study in human personalities. It's interesting how some people seem to be very open to seeing how things appear to change, and some appear to be more geared to seeing how things are staying the same.
 
William Attenborough
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To those vloggers on YouTube commenting on the loss of egg production due to certain commercial feed products, I am 100% in agreement. I stopped feeding my flock the commercial mixed scratch and cracked corn and they started laying as per normal winter conditions (without artificial light in the coup). I am not a newbie to chickens, I have raised hens and roosters for 7 years now and am well-versed in their progressions of seasonal and age-related changes. Never have I seen anything like this before but this year I will be growing a couple of acres of Chickweed and winter wheat.
 
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I track laying in a spreadsheet, and I haven't noticed anything unusual about this year's egg production. I buy store-brand feed and selectively breed for consistent laying. My ideal hen lays a decent number of good-quality eggs every year for her entire 5-10 year life. I don't enjoy raising the commercially-favored hens bred to have 1-2 years of high productivity and then get replaced after the inevitable steep drop-off. I also select for winter laying when I can, but it's a hard trait to come by. A hen that lays in the winter over the age of 2 is a rare gem.


eggs collected from three 6-year-old hens over the past few days
 
Lila Stevens
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J. Hunch wrote:I track laying in a spreadsheet, and I haven't noticed anything unusual about this year's egg production. I buy store-brand feed and selectively breed for consistent laying. My ideal hen lays a decent number of good-quality eggs every year for her entire 5-10 year life. I don't enjoy raising the commercially-favored hens bred to have 1-2 years of high productivity and then get replaced after the inevitable steep drop-off. I also select for winter laying when I can, but it's a hard trait to come by. A hen that lays in the winter over the age of 2 is a rare gem.


eggs collected from three 6-year-old hens over the past few days



This is so interesting to me. We don't eat our chickens, and they will continue to be pets/ bug eaters/ soil builders for the rest of their natural lives, whether they are laying or not. So I would love to have chickens that keep laying at a moderate rate for most of their lives. What breeds did you start with, when you began selecting for chickens that lay this way?

Would it be accurate to say that the ones that lay more moderately tend to lay for longer? I would love to hear a lot more about your experiences with this.

 
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