So you think your chooks aren’t laying well? Maybe they’re not. If it’s winter, hens have got better things to do, like planning their summer holidays and catching up on some reading. It’s no time to be raising chicks. Laying eggs is a daylight sensitive business. Commercial egg production uses artificial light to trick the chooks into laying consistently through winter. Most chooks return to laying up to a month after the shortest day. You don’t need a rooster to get your chooks to lay eggs, only if you want those eggs to be fertile.
Love you chooks. Spend time with them every day. Discover their habits and get to know their funny little ways. They’re amazing creatures and they always make me smile, particularly when I remember that their brain is about the size of a pea, and they’re only using half of it (ok, I was joking about the reading – but they are definitely looking at the pictures in the holiday brochures). Here are some things to try if you’re suffering a lack of eggs:
1 Confine* your chooks for a minimum of 72 hours
24 hours won’t do it. 48 might, but to be sure you need the full three-day treatment. If chooks are free ranging and have got used to laying somewhere other than their nest box they’ll hold on to their next egg a surprisingly long time in the hope they’ll be able to get to their favourite nesting spot. If egg numbers drop I keep the girls in their run for a week to get them reaccustomed to laying in the box and then let them out to free range daily again. I’m always surprised at the increase in egg numbers.
Don’t believe me because you can’t find the eggs? If your dog has a very glossy coat, bright eyes and fruity farts, you’ve got your number one suspect. You could try following the chooks when you let them out, as an alternative to keeping them confined. In my experience this can be a long, laborious and frustrating search. Chooks can lead you a merry dance and be very wily. You may be lucky though and find a very happy chook sitting on a pile of 20 or so eggs of indeterminate age.
* How you do this depends on your chook house set up. I’m not suggesting battery hen style confinement here. Just an arrangement where you can locate all the nesting alternatives.
2 Keep young hens
Young hens lay the most eggs. Each year a hen lays she’ll lay fewer eggs than the previous year. The drop-off rate for the most productive laying hens is the steepest. You’ll find ex-battery hens won’t lay many eggs after their second season. Heavier breeds can still be laying well after five years, but still not as well as they did in their first two years.
3 Reduce their stress
Overcrowding, young roosters fighting and insufficient places to hide (from each other or hawks) can all be stressful for a chook. Improve their environment and you’ll get more eggs.
4 Deal with broody chooks quickly
Chooks usually go broody between October and February, but some chooks seem to like sitting on the nest more than anything else in life. It’s notoriously contagious in the chook run. Once one starts, all the others want a piece of the inaction. Get some fertile eggs for her to sit on somewhere away from the rest of the flock. If you don’t want chicks, break the broodiness or lend your broody chook to someone who does want to raise them.
5 Improve nest box comfort
Damp or mouldy bedding, itchy mites or too much light make for an unattractive nest box in a chook’s eyes. Make sure you give your chooks somewhere they want to come home to lay. However many nest boxes you give them, they’ll all try to use the same one, possibly at the same time. Sometimes they’ll form a squabbly queue, with the top chook getting to lay first.
6 Supplement their diet
All those feathers can hide a multitude of sins. Pick your hens up from time to time to find out if they feel fat or skinny. Producing a 70g high-protein egg a day for a bird weighing less than 2kg is a mammoth task that can take its toll. Chooks are omnivorous and benefit from daily greens, grains and grubs. They’ll eat plenty while they’re free ranging but burn a fair amount off on their long-distance hikes foraging for provisions. Provide high quality rations and you and your chooks will reap the rewards.
7 Keep a different breed of chook
If you’ve got hi-line or red shaver chooks they may continue laying through winter without a break. Older breeds and bantams tend to take a well-earned rest, particularly when they are moulting in autumn. Each breed has a slightly different personality. Try a few to see which suits you best.