29th Sep 2009
May I firstly thank you for such an enjoyable and comprehensive website. I have learnt many new things and as a person wishing to keep chickens in the garden for the first time, it has been perfect.
My Chicken isn't Laying
There are a number of reasons why a hen is not laying. I will run through them in chronological order according to age of the chicken.
The first place to start is with a point of lay pullet as in the picture on the left. She is a hybrid and is 16 weeks old and is therefore defined as point of lay. The term ‘point of lay’ has probably been around for many years and was used in the poultry world when that world comprised poultry fanciers who specialised in poultry and knew what the phrase ‘point of lay’ meant to them. It essentially means that a pullet as fully grown and the next stage will be coming into lay. That process may take anything up to 6 weeks and a poultry fancier would not be too concerned about when she actually started to lay. When laying does start it can be a bit erratic at first, but will soon settle down into a routine. First eggs may be small, but each egg laid will be a bit bigger until they reach the size for that breed.
However, the term ‘point of lay’ is now more widely used as chicken keeping has become so popular and the phrase is being met by people who have no experience or knowledge of chickens. If you take the phrase literally it means that the pullet is on the point of laying an egg and you almost feel that she is going to lay an egg in the box on the way home. That, sadly, is not the case. I feel that a more appropriate term is ‘prior to lay’ as this gives a better sense of the time it may take. Going back to the pullet in the picture, you can see that she has a small comb and that it is only slightly pink. Her comb needs to grow and then to go from pale pink to bright pink to red. The size of the comb will depend on the breed, but a larger comb grows quicker, so that a large comb will be ready and red at the same time as a naturally smaller one.
When it is red then she will start to lay. The red comb is actually meant as a signal to the cockerel that she is now ready to lay him fertile eggs as there was no point in him wasting his attentions earlier. The red comb now works as a good signal for us!
Another way of telling how far a pullet is off laying is to find her pelvic bones. You need to locate her vent (bottom) in all the fluffy feathers at the back and then feel either side and just below the vent with your index and middle fingers. You will feel 2 bones sticking out. You then need to judge the distance between the bones and this will give you an indication of time to go before an egg pops out. One finger upright between the bones indicates that an eggs is at least 4 weeks off, one and a half fingers is a bit nearer at 2/3 weeks and two fingers means that she is a maximum away from laying an egg, if she is not already laying.
Pullets will not always oblige by laying eggs in the nest box, so another answer to ‘my chicken isn’t laying’ is that yes she is, just not where you want her to. If her comb is red and there is a two finger gap between the bones, then start hunting for those eggs! If they have free range of the garden watch them as they come out of the house in the morning and chances are that one of them will head straight off to the nest. This leads to my husband’s theory that the expense of free range eggs is due to high labour costs in finding the eggs!
I will add here a couple of definitions as I you may wonder about the term ‘pullet’. A pullet is a chicken in the first year of lay. A hen is a chicken who has completed one year of laying.
Another reason for not laying is broodiness. A broody will stay in a nest box and flatly refuse to leave, squawking and spitting if you try to move her. She will lose all the feathers on her chest to get a better contact with the eggs to keep them warm, and her comb will go from red to pink, although remain the same size. Again, this change of comb colour is a signal to the cockerel to tell him that she is busy for the next few weeks and out of action. This signal tells us the same thing. A broody is a nuisance as she will not lay during the time that she sits, but broodiness is another answer to ‘my chicken’s not laying. ‘
It takes as many resources for a chicken to grow feathers as it does to lay an egg, so during the time of moult a chicken will not lay. A pullet will not moult in the first year, so it will be a hen which moults during her second winter and every winter thereafter. A hen can look extremely tatty when moulting, but will soon regain her splendour as her new feathers grow. She will not lay while she is moulting and so this is another answer to ‘my chicken isn’t laying.’
Yet another reason can be her weight! Fat chickens don’t lay. Too much corn and too many scraps can lead to a drop in eggs, so don’t overdo the kindness as it will not help.
Diet plays an important role in the production of eggs. Chances are that you have hybrid chickens and these are the finely tuned racing cars of the chicken world. They have been selectively bred over many years to lay around 300 eggs a year. That means pumping out an egg a day for most of the year. Hybrids were designed for battery farms where egg production is the name of the game. The popularity of chicken keeping has gone hand in hand with the desire for a regular supply of fresh eggs and so the market of hybrids has expanded from the battery farm to the back garden. As a result the range of hybrids has expanded and there are now many types to choose from, but the brown and white chicken still bred for the battery farms is still the best at consistent egg laying.
It therefore follows that the fuel you put into these hybrids is important. Jenson Button would not be World Champion if his car was fuelled with normal high street petrol and your hybrids will not be at peak performance fed on scraps and corn. Good quality layers pellets will provide the rocket fuel your hens need and is all they need. Chickens fill up their crop first thing in the morning and then graze on pellets for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. They then let the crop run down for a final fill up just before bedtime. The reason they put themselves to bed with a full crop is that, while they are asleep, their system uses their resources to lay down the egg shells. If they have a full crop of layers pellets they will have the ready resources in the limestone (calcium) contained in the pellets to lay down the egg shells.
Traditionally hens have been given a handful of corn to fill up their crops for bedtime. Traditional breeds do not lay as many eggs as the hybrids and were not so reliant on a ready supply of calcium. If a hybrid does not get the calcium and proteins she needs she will use up her internal resources and then egg laying stops because she cannot continue making eggs.
So, there are many reasons why a pullet or hen is not laying. All of them have an explanation and you will be able to work out which one is applicable. A hen is hatched with the eggs that she is going to lay already predetermined for her. This means that if a pullet takes a little longer to come into lay no eggs have been lost, she will just lay for a bit longer at the end. Frustrating as it is, that first egg is well worth the wait!