Chickens not laying eggs: what's going on?
Having our own fresh, nutritious eggs is one of the most rewarding parts of keeping hens.
But what happens when your chickens suddenly stop laying eggs?
It can come as quite a shock – you suddenly need to – gasp – buy eggs instead!
It's not just an inconvenience, though. It's important to understand why your chickens are not laying.
It can be a perfectly natural reason. Or it may be a sign of something more sinister. It's really important to unravel the reasons for not laying, and the solutions.
Because once you understand why it's happening, you can decide what to do about it.
Which keeps your hens happy and healthy, and keeps you supplied with eggs too.
Here are the ten most common reasons why hens stop laying eggs, along with actions you can take to investigate and resolve.
But first – have your chickens stopped laying eggs?
Before jumping to conclusions, bear in mind there may be other reasons why your egg supply has dried up.
Here are the three most common reasons why egg production may seem to have slowed down or stopped which don't involve hens going on strike.
1. Predators and vermin.
Some predators – raccoons and snakes, for example – and vermin such as rats and mice love a free meal. Eggs are the perfect take-away.
Check your coop and run for tell-tale signs.
2. Egg eating.
It's a difficult habit to break, and a fairly common issue in flocks.
This is my Lemon Millefleur Sablepoot rooster, Bono, who took a liking to the raw eggs the ladies kindly provided for him.
How did I deal with it?
Take a look at my article about egg-eating in the flock.
3. Free ranging.
Free ranging is an ideal many aspire to in chicken keeping. But it also gives hens free rein to lay eggs anywhere but where they're supposed to.
Make sure you comb the free ranging area for hidden stashes of eggs.
Once you've considered these possibilities and discounted them, move on to other potential explanations.
This is a long, detailed article. Use these jump links if you suspect what might be happening, or read them all if you're not sure.
1. Age: when do chickens start – and stop – laying eggs?
Are your hens too young to lay?
Hens do not start laying eggs until they're mature. When that is will depend on the breed and in part on the season.
The average starting age is about 22 weeks post-hatch, but it can be as early as 18 or as late as 28 weeks.
How to tell when a hen will start laying?
- Her comb and wattles will grow, and turn from a light pink to red.
- She'll start crouching submissively when you approach her, particularly if you place a hand over her back.
Are your hens too old to lay?
Chickens will peak in their egg production a couple of months after they start, as their systems settle into the process.
The number and quality of eggs will then slow down year on year. So they'll produce fewer eggs which may also decrease in size.
Technically, hens can continue to lay, albeit inconsistently, until they're around the ten year mark.
Data source: University of Florida, Department of Animal Science, 2017
In reality, they're likely to stop laying at about six or seven years(1).
What happens after that depends on you, the owner.
Personally, I allow my hens to live out a (hopefully) long and happy retirement, without any expectation of eggs, in gratitude for their years of service.
Chicken life cycle: what to do.
- If you have pullets (a pullet is a hen before she starts laying), all you can do is have patience.
- If you have older hens, recognise their faithful service and allow them to live out their days laying infrequently or not at all.
2. Breed: which are the best egg laying chicken breeds?
Not all breeds are equal when it comes to egg laying. Some hens are specifically bred to lay an egg a day, every day; some of the heritage breeds may lay only two or three per week.
There's no doubt about my top two best laying hens:
- the hybrid Red Star, also know as the Cinnamon Queen or Golden Comet, which is the standard commercial brown daily layer of medium sized, creamy brown eggs...
24 eggs from just four days egg laying from six of my Red Star chickens.
- Leghorn or Livorno chicken, a native of Italy and able to withstand extremes of temperature and keep laying large white eggs every day, no matter what.
I've compiled this list by looking at a number of different lists, including that of the Cackle Hatchery, and scoring the most popular egg layers from one to ten.
The ten best egg laying breeds.
Egg laying chicken breeds: what to do.
- Whether you're building or adding to a flock, choose a breed which is both a good layer and also able to deal with the environmental conditions where you live.
- Bear in mind that best egg layers might not be the most spectacular to look at. It's a question of balancing your individual requirements.
3. Diet: what is the best feed for laying hens?
Feed and water have been found to be one of the most important factors in egg laying. Studies have shown(e.g. 1, 2) that a below optimum diet will lead to hens slowing down egg laying or even stopping altogether.
And the best news about our chickens' diet – both food and drink – is that we have total control over it.
What do chickens drink?
This one's easy.
- Lots of it. Kept clean, fresh, cool, and unfrozen in winter.
- It should be in clean containers, freely available to the whole flock, all the time.
- In hot weather make sure to increase availability by placing a number of water containers around the run.
- Provide hydrating treats to boost the opportunities for water retention in summer.
Leave water containers dotted around the run.
What should chickens eat to produce the highest quality eggs?
Chickens need different nutrients at different times of their life. It's important to provide a high quality, nutritionally balanced, preferably organic and non-GMO feed right from the start if your flock is to develop a strong immune system and healthy growth.
Feeding only treats and table scraps, or expecting chickens to forage for all their food, will cause the diet to become imbalanced and inadequate to sustain egg production(1, 2, 3).
- Baby chicks need a chick feed with very high levels of protein. See my article for more details.
- After about eight weeks, all chickens need a "grower feed" with a different balance of nutrients.
- From just before they lay, the food should be changed to a good quality "layer feed". (This is an "affiliate link", which means that if you click and buy something, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you).
Fermented feed for older egg laying hens.
Fermented feed is always popular with chickens, and extremely beneficial for their immune system.
And a fascinating recent study has found that older hens in particular benefit from their feed being fermented:
"Fermented feed supplementation may be beneficial to the laying performance, egg quality, immunological function, intestinal villus growth and caecal microecological environment of laying hens at the end of the laying cycle"(4).
How to ferment chicken feed in four easy steps.
Additional requirements: oyster shell supplement.
As soon as a hen begins to lay, her need for calcium increases by at least four times(1). Almost all that calcium is used to make egg shells.
If she does not have a source of calcium as well as her ordinary feed, her egg production will reduce and the shells will be of lower quality and more prone to break.
In order to try to make up for the deficit, she will take calcium from her bones, causing brittle bones liable to break easily. In the worst cases, hens don't even have the strength in their legs to stand.
- The most effective way to provide an adequate supply of calcium to egg laying hens is by offering crushed oyster shell separately to the normal feed.
- The larger particles of oyster shell have been shown to stay in the upper digestive tract for longer, and are released more slowly over time.
- Which has been shown to be important to ensure the continuity of egg shell formation(1, 5).
Feed for laying hens: what to do.
- a constant supply of fresh water
- a high quality layer feed
- a freely available source of additional calcium, such as crushed oyster shell.
- Ferment feed during times of stress such as cold weather or after a predator attack, and in particular for older hens.
If all these needs have been met, ask yourself (and be honest)...
- has there been a change in the type of food you're providing?
- is there any possibility that the food is mouldy, or contaminated with vermin droppings?
4. Light in the chicken coop: does it help or stop egg laying?
There's a simple biological fact which may explain your lack of chicken eggs.
Chickens need fourteen hours of light to make an egg.
So when daylight hours decrease, so egg production slows down and sometimes stops altogether.
It's related to hormones: light triggers the pituitary gland, just above and behind the eye, to release a hormone which in turn triggers the ovary to produce an egg.
Less than fourteen hours means the hormone will not be triggered, and hens will produce fewer eggs.
Which is why commercial egg producing units like this keep lights on in their laying sheds. The hormone is triggered and hens produce an egg each day.
It's not quite that simple, though. Because...
- providing more than 16 hours' light leads to a decrease in egg laying(6)
- the quality and colour of light is important(7).
Light in the coop: what to do.
- You need to make a decision: do you want to continue to have regular eggs through the winter, or would you rather go with the natural flow and give your hens a well-earned rest until daylight hours increase again in the spring?
- If you decide eggs are more important, take some time to read about the optimum light time, colour and levels. Otherwise, you may be adding light to no good effect.
5. Are your chickens not laying because they're moulting?
Another biological reason why chickens slow down and stop laying eggs: late autumn and winter moulting.
- All chickens need to replenish their feathers before winter sets in, so that they have the best chance of surviving the cold, wet weather without health problems.
- So in later autumn or early winter, they will moult: that is, they will lose their feathers and replace them with new plumage.
- When you see your coop and run look as though the chickens have been having a feather pillow fight, and your hens start to look like my poor Miss Matilda, who previously had a full coat of beautiful Golden Laced Wyandotte feathers...
...your hens are in moult. And when in moult, chickens will either slow down or, more likely, not lay eggs at all.
- Feathers are made of around 90% protein.
- Protein makes up about 13% of an egg.
- Hens need all the protein they can get to help them through the moult, creating their new feathers.
- So during the moult, most of the protein they extract from food is diverted from eggs to feathers. Egg laying has to stop(9).
- Combined with fewer daylight hours, winter therefore becomes a time with very few eggs.
Moulting slows and may stop chickens laying eggs: what to do.
It's not possible – nor advisable – to try to stop your chickens moulting. But you can take steps to help them through it.
- Add extra protein to the flock's feed – but still not to excess. "Treats" should form no more than 10% of your chickens' diet.
- Take a look at my Poultry Protein Platter recipe for ideas about how to combine protein you have in your store cupboards into a healthy treat your chickens will love.
- Adding a dash of Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to their water is said to help moulting chickens, although I have not been able to find research in support of this. But ACV is generally a benefit for your chickens' health, so it's worth a try.
6. Broody hens don't lay eggs!
A third biological reason why chickens are not laying eggs: hens go broody.
- A broody hen is simply a hen who is desperate to incubate and hatch her own chicks. It's triggered by hormones and it's impossible to know when it might happen.
- She will use her own eggs but also take any others she can find.
- She will spend all day sitting on the eggs, getting off only briefly to eat and drink – and sometimes not even that! Any attempt to move her will be met with aggressive, or at least defensive, behaviour.
- It doesn't matter whether there's a male around to make the eggs fertile: if a hen wants to go broody she will sit on eggs no matter what.
- While she's incubating, she will not lay any eggs and often won't begin to lay again for up to a month after chicks have hatched.
Nevertheless, there is some evidence that hens lay at a higher rate when they finish being broody, to compensate for eggs not laid during that time(10).
Broody hens: what to do.
- If you want your hens to go broody, there's no problem. Simply accept that you won't have her eggs during that time.
- Otherwise, watch out for broody behaviour, particularly gathering eggs from other hens, and sitting in the nest boxes rather than leaving the coop each day.
- If your hen has gone broody, remove her from the nest. If she consistently returns to it, consider isolating her in a form of solitary confinement.
- Bear in mind when adding to your flock that certain breeds are more likely to go broody. Silkies, Orpingtons, Brahmas and Cochins are some breeds to avoid if you don't want broody hens.
7. Chicken health issues as a cause of not laying.
A sick chicken will put her energy into trying to regain health. As a result, egg laying is likely to slow down or stop altogether.
- It's not only extreme diseases like bird flu and Coccidiosis that create issues.
- Among the most common causes are mites, lice and fleas which can cause anaemia and have been found to cause egg production to drop by as much as 20%(1).
- Mosquito and fly infestations in the coop and run are also culprits.
Chicken health: what to do.
- Consider adding natural foods which have been proven to boost the immune system to your chickens' diet. Plants, herbs and weeds are a good start.
Dandelions are a superfood for chickens!
- Set aside regular times to spend time with your chickens, checking for illness and disease.
8. Heat stroke as a cause of chickens not laying eggs.
Chickens deal much better with cold than heat.
- In areas with humidity levels at 50% or more, chickens will suffer from mild heat stress at just 20ºC (68ºF).
- By 30ºC (86ºF) the temperature will be enough to cause heat stoke, or death.
- In areas with lower humidity, tolerance of heat is better but if temperatures reach 40ºC (104ºF), heat exhaustion followed by heat stroke are highly likely(12).
- Reduction or stopping altogether of egg laying in hot weather is one of the tell-tale signs of heat exhaustion in chickens.
Heat stroke causes chickens to stop laying eggs: what to do.
- Always provide several different sources of water through the chicken run, remembering to place them in shady areas.
- Make sure your coop has adequate ventilation. If necessary, use fans to provide air movement, placing them above the flock's heads.
- Provide a dust bath in the shade. Chickens will use the contents to keep themselves cool as well as to deal with mites.
Providing a shady dust bath helps hens deal with heat.
- Do not use either high protein foods or apple cider vinegar in the heat. Both will increase your chickens' metabolism which raises their core temperature.
9. Are your chickens not laying eggs because of stress?
Almost everything causes chickens stress – it's a natural consequence of being everyone's lunch, so needing to be acutely aware of their surroundings.
Introduce a new feature into their brooder box as baby chicks, or into their run as an adult, and you'll get the same response: panic and avoidance.
Hormones are released into their system to help them adapt to the stressor in the long term. However, if the stressor is not removed the chickens will produce excessive corticosteroids which depletes its energy.
Egg laying will then stop, as the hen tries to deal with the ongoing stress. It will continue sometimes until three or four weeks after the stressor has been removed, as the hen's body tries to re-establish its balance.
So what counts as a "stressful" situation?
- Any change of circumstances: for example, moving into a new coop.
- New features in the coop or run, for example a different feeder, unknown chickens added to the flock.
- Any unwanted intrusion into the coop which causes the hens distress, such as by mites, flies or vermin.
- Predator presence – just being aware predators are around is enough. A predator attack is likely to mean survivors stop laying for some considerable time.
- We have a pair of buzzards who fly over our valley regularly. They can't get into the run, but simply hearing their call can be enough to cause stress to some of my laying hens.
- Even stressful circumstances as a chick can impact on egg laying as an adult. Some fascinating studies (e.g. 13) have demonstrated that hens who were raised in overcrowded commercial outlets, with hundreds (or thousands) of other chicks and without the personal touch of a smaller backyard hatch, lay fewer eggs as adult hens.
Stress: what to do about it.
Chickens can deal with stress as long as they are provided with whatever they need to adapt to whatever is causing them stress.
So the first step is to identify that your chickens are stressed.
- Watch for stressed behaviour in the flock. Feather pecking, non stop feather preening even when there are no signs of parasites, open aggression and bullying, for example.
- Or the opposite: chickens looking hunched and miserable, not wanting to leave the coop, not eating or drinking, comb and wattles turning pink instead of red, for example.
- Then identify the source of the stress. Externally, look for evidence of predators and rats. Check nest boxes – do you have enough, and are they in the right place? (see #10 below).
- Finally, prevention is better than cure. So help your flock stay on top of their game. Put good biosecurity measures in place, make sure you feed them a good quality food full of the necessary vitamins and minerals, and save healthy treats as no more than 10% of their diet.
10. Chicken laying boxes: a reason for no eggs?
Nest boxes: one of a laying hen's most important influences. Hens can be pretty picky about where they lay their eggs...
Research has shown definitively that hens without access to suitable nest boxes demonstrate stressed behaviour, and higher levels of the stress hormone(14).
And, as we saw in #9, stress can cause hens to stop laying eggs, sometimes for several weeks.
What to do about nest boxes.
- Assess your nest boxes. Are there enough for the number of hens you have? (even though they mostly like to fight over the same one!).
- Are they in a quiet, private, accessible, safe place? Think of this from a hen's point of view!
- For ideas about the kind of nest boxes you can buy – or make at home – see my article about nest box design.
- And then, review my detailed article about exactly what research has found about hens and their nest boxes – and what you can do to provide the perfect place!
If you found this article helpful, you may like these.
A lot of "facts" you'll find on the internet are often people's individual views, based on inaccurate information repeated from poor quality sources.
The information I provide in this article and others is based not just on my own experience, but on evidenced facts from scientific, peer-reviewed research and books from highly respected and experienced poultry keepers such as Gail Damerow.
Some of the trusted sources I have used in this article are these.
1. Jacob, J., et al: Factors Affecting Egg Production in Backyard Chicken Flocks. Pub. University of Florida, Department of Animal Science, 1998, revised 2017.
2. Li, F., et al: Effect of daily feed intake in laying period on laying performance, egg quality and egg composition of genetically fat and lean lines of chickens. Pub. Journal of British Poultry Science, 2011.
3. Valkonen, E., et al: Effects of dietary protein on egg production of laying hens housed in furnished or conventional cages. Pub. Journal of Animal Science, 2007.
4. Guo, W., et al: The impacts of fermented feed on laying performance, egg quality, immune function, intestinal morphology and microbiota of laying hens in the late laying cycle. Pub. Science Direct: The Animal Consortium, 2022.
5. Jacob, Wilson et al : 'Factors affecting egg production in backyard chicken flocks'. University of Florida, 2013.
6. Ostrander, C and Turner, C.N.: Effect of various intensities of light on egg production of single comb white Leghorn pullets. Pub. Journal of Poultry Science, 1962.
7. Jacome, I, et al: Influence of artificial lighting on the performance and egg quality of commercial layers: a review. Pub. Brazilian Journal of Poultry Science, 2014.
8. McCowan B, et al: Effects of Induced molting on the well-being of egg-laying hens. Pub. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 2006.
9. Nasir Rajput et al: Comparative Study on the Pre-molting Performance of Different Strains of White Leghorn Layers. Pub. Poultry Industry, 2017.
10. Jiang, R. S., et al: Broodiness, egg production, and correlations between broody traits in an indigenous chicken breed. Pub. Journal of Poultry Science, 2010.
11. Chicken Breed Chart. Pub. Michigan State University.
12. Tirawattanawanich, C., et al: 'The effects of tropical environmental conditions on the stress and immune responses of commercial broilers, Thai indigenous chickens, and crossbred chickens'. Pub. Journal of Applied Poultry Research, 2011.
13. Hedlund, Louise: Effects of stress during commercial hatching on growth, egg production and feather pecking in laying hens. Pub. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2022.
14. Shi, H., et al: Effects of nest boxes in natural mating colony cages on fear, stress, and feather damage for layer breeders. Pub. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2019.