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Hens egg laying is slowly going down

 
Steve Sherman
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We are fairly new to chicken raising. Got started by accident when a neighbor who was moving, was debating whether to eat or give away their small flock. So we built a coop in an old dog run on our property and inherited their 5 hens when they left. Things have gone fairly well, but we did have a learning curve about molting last fall and the need for axillary light over the winter. These are middle-age/older birds (between 2-3 years) now, so I don't expect them to lay like young ones can. But I have noticed that their egg laying seems to have been drifting lower as the spring/summer has progressed. It started at around 3 eggs a day back when they first came to laying after their molt. And now has gotten down to a bit under 2 a day when I average it over a week or two. The birds appear healthy, to my novice eye at least. But there are definitely fewer eggs to collect.

My main question is, is this normal as the year progresses (best egg laying in the spring and slowing down as time goes on), or is something up that I should be fixing? Any suggestions as to what might be causing a decrease in laying and what to look for? Food has not really changed for them, but the big push of bugs is still a month or so away in our climate which they love and was a big part of their diet last summer. They have free access to commercial feed and water all the time, plus kitchen scraps. I have not noticed any odd behaviors (like scratching), but not sure I know what to look for. What should I be checking?

Thoughts?
 
Alder Burns
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Older birds won't lay as many as younger ones. Most likely two or three of them are doing most of the laying and the others are freeloading. You can catch them and feel between their hip bones on either side of the vent. A good layer will have room between them for two fingers, sometimes three, whereas a nonlayer will be closer together....hard to get two fingers between. If they are of a breed with yellow legs, the good layers will have pale legs, nearly white....the yellow pigment goes to the egg yolks, while the non layers will be good and yellow. Others can probably suggest other ways to distinguish. If you have kids or others who like to watch chickens for hours, a bit of direct observation may solve it, too. I would put the nonlayers into the pot at this point, other things being equal....and it doesn't seem like there is anything in their environment that would cause them to slow down. But layers can be picky. If there's a heat wave, they may take a break. A sudden scare or predator incident or a bad storm or whatever can make them quit for a day or two. Beware of feeding them anything moldy....especially if moisture has gotten into the commercial grain feed....this will make them quit for sure.
 
Alder Burns
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Location: northern California
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Another possibility, especially if your hens are at some distance and you only check on them once or twice a day, is that something is taking the eggs. It could be one of the hens themselves, which can occasionally get in the habit of eating eggs, or it could be another critter. When I lived in GA, regularly every spring I would catch at least one big black snake in the henhouse, pilfering eggs!
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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You might try a bit more protien. I find it easiest to give them some of the cat's food, but also peanut butter sandwiches work well. It all depends on what is handy: when I had toddlers and they did not finish their sandwich I gave it to the hens, etc.

Honestly, it *IS* common for the chickens to lay best in the spring. It is not a rule, but it is not unusual either.
 
John Polk
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How certain are you about their ages?
The reason I ask, is that it can make a big difference, AND the artificial lighting in winter does 'age' them.

Typically, a hen will lay the most eggs in her first year of production.
The second year, she will lay fewer, but LARGER eggs.
After that, the size should remain the same, but the quantity will continuously decrease.

Somebody once said that chickens were not like gum ball machines, and I replied that they were indeed like gum ball machines. Each chick is born with X many eggs in her system. Once they are gone, they are gone. Using lighting in the winter months will increase the number of eggs they will lay in those months, but it will also cause her to lay those X many eggs in a shorter period of time. Artificial lighting does NOT give you more eggs. It just gives you the same number of eggs in a shorter time span. Artificial lighting is a trick used in the commercial egg business to maximize profits where a two year old bird is considered an artifact.

For 5 naturally raised hens (no artificial winter lighting), 3-4 eggs per day would be about right for 2-3 year old birds. The artificial lighting has added an extra year to their age. So, 2 eggs per day from the flock would still be about 'normal'.

Depending on the size of their yard, they may have also already diminished the bug/insect population to the point where they are no longer getting the same protein levels. It takes proteins to produce an egg.
 
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