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17 month old chickens stopped laying  RSS feed

 
gardener
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It's time for another of those "Why aren't my chickens laying eggs" posts.  

Our 10 hens were hatched last May and laid eggs very nicely through the winter, spring and summer until about July.  Production tailed off and now has dropped to nearly zero.  Last three days we got zero eggs.  We have one rooster.  

They have been molting over that time but not all at the same time and most are done by now.  We hatched 8 chicks under a broody hen this spring and the 4 pullets have started laying nicely (2-3 eggs per day).  The cockerels are in the freezer.  Another broody hen sat on eggs and hatched 4 chicks in Aug/Sep and they're still maturing.

We used to have two roosters and I butchered one when the cockerels started harassing the pullets.  That could have been about the time production was declining but I'm not sure.  We kept the dominant rooster.  All these birds (except this year's hatchlings) are the same age.

I changed food brands on them about a month ago and have since changed back.  They kept eating and were free range as well during that time.  We give them kitchen scraps every couple of days.  They have free choice grit, water and oyster shell.  I'll get them back onto crushed egg shells soon.

I know production should decrease during winter but this seems a bit excessive.  It's getting cold but not as cold as last winter yet (when they were still laying as young hens).  And their production had tailed off back in the late summer already so I don't think the cold is the cause.

Once it snowed and they stayed in the run I was hoping they'd lay more (if they had been putting them in secret nests in the back yard).  They didn't.

These are birds bred by local experienced homesteaders for their ability to lay year round.  

Am I missing anything or is it time to butcher them all?  I hope not...
 
pollinator
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I have only had chickens for about six years, but have had similar episodes. For whatever comparison help it is, I currently have 22 birds and have had as many as 46 in the past.

Your birds are young enough still that I wouldnt be in a hurry to butcher.  Two years ago, I had a batch that took their sweet time after molting to start laying again.  Fortunately for them, it was when we were getting my dad's house ready to sell and I didn't have time to deal with them. Took them almost three months to start laying and even then it was pretty slow for a while.  The ones of that group that are left are each still laying 4 to 5 eggs a week but have slowed down drastically the last two weeks, but they are starting to molt.  An older gentleman suggested giving them cat food after molting to speed up the return to laying.  Either it was a timing coincidence last year or he was right.  

Another issue might be the harrassment by the cockerals.  We have had past incidents of rough treatment and on some occasions it took the girls awhile to shake off the effects and get back to laying.  I have a cockeral in jail for a crockpot date for climbing on the roost in the coop and dropping on the hens' backs as they come back in at night and other offenses.

Mine get such a random diet with no effects that I wouldn't think it would be the food switch, but I definately could be wrong.  

Last year our egg production dropped all at once like someone flipped a switch.  Started saving eggs for winter use much earlier this year.

I would give them some more time, but I hope the problem resolves in your favor soon.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Tina, that's very reassuring!  I'll try the cat food (since we also have a cat).  The cockerels were only harassing the pullets and not too badly since we had two older rooster to keep them under control.  
 
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how many of daylight hrs ? as that is usually why they slow down or stop in the winter.
 
Mike Jay
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We're roughly at 10 hours of daylight now.  But back in July/August when they slowed down they had lots of daylight.  I guess it could be a combination of things...
 
pollinator
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Its probably just that time when they quit laying for a while.  I think it has more to do with daylight hours than temperature. Ive seen youtube vids where they force them back into laying by using higher protien feeds. Ive seen no evidence that it worked though. Id let them run through their natural cycle. As winter comes, i just make sure i keep more in the fridge, giving away less.

I am adding a second coop from eggs that hatched a couple of weeks ago. My current plan is to butcher after their second laying season. This seems to be when egg quality and qty go down. 2 coops allow me to butcher one coup each year without thinking which are 1 year old vs 2 years old.
 
Tina Hillel
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My two old roosters just sat there watching.🙄 They protect most of the hens but there are two 6 year old birds they dont for whatever reason.  Those two have a free pass for laying since they go broody.   If I wasn't so annoyed with this rooster he would have been replacing one of them. His brother may get to stay...

The cat food seemed to be worth it enough that I would buy it even if I didnt already have it for my two. Like I said, could be a coincidence, but then again maybe not😉

 
pollinator
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Probably a combination of several of the variables mentioned above.  Birds normally slow down dramatically in winter, as they are using more energy to keep warm, and they instinctively know that this is a bad time to raise a brood of chicks.  Most animals regulate their fertility cycles this way, as giving birth in the coldest time of year when there isn't much left to eat is a bad strategy.  They conserve their energy to get through the harsh months and then will marshal that strength when the days get longer and warmer.  Feed them well, and they'll soon return the favor when they days start to grow longer.
 
Mike Jay
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Sounds good.  Funny thing is one of the hens is broody right now.  So she didn't get the memo regarding ideal hatching weather
 
Tina Hillel
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One of my Brahmas is doing the same thing.  She is sitting in the coop with no eggs.  Since she so seldom lays its ok, except for making sure no eggs end up under her. Kinda strange that when she gets broody at the "wrong" time (maybe she knows something I dont), the other birds are more aggressive toward her.  It's like they are saying "no, not now." As soon as spring gets near, she is ready to set.  One of my favorite things to watch is a proud mom with her chicks.
 
pollinator
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haha yea chickens are like bees. They don't read the same books we humans do. Sounds like your birds are just taking a break.
 
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Hens in their second year will usually stop laying due to the short daylight hours this time of year. That is why I like adding 2-3 chicks each spring vs. starting with a "complete" flock that are all the same age. Spring chicks start laying in fall and produce all through winter their first year.

Some add supplemental lighting (in the morning, NOT in the evening so the birds aren't surprised by sudden blackout without time to roost at night). Many others prefer to let their hens rest naturally during the winter months.
 
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