Keeping a small flock of backyard chickens has numerous benefits. These feathered friends make lively pets, are endlessly entertaining for children, and provide garden fertilizer.
Having laying hens is an excellent way to boost local food production and is possible in both urban and rural settings. Ideally, hens produce a steady supply of fresh, nutritious eggs and decrease our reliance on factory farms. But what happens if your hens won’t lay eggs? Here’s how to increase your backyard egg yield and make your chickens healthier and happier.
If you are reading this before getting chickens, be careful when selecting your birds. Do some research before selecting the breed to find ones that work for your climate, household, and desired purpose.
There are numerous chicken breeds to choose from and each one has different attributes. In fact, the breed can impact or determine cold or heat tolerance, mature size, appearance, egg size and color, and even temperament. Some breeds known for egg production include White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Ameraucana, New Hampshire Red, Golden Comet, Barred Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, and Speckled Sussex.
Your Hens’ Egg Production
Most hens start laying eggs at around five months of age and produce one egg a day at the very most. Some breeds will lay almost daily, especially if they have the ideal conditions for egg production. Most chickens will gradually lay fewer eggs as they age, but steps can be taken to minimize this decline.
A hen’s egg production naturally ebbs and flows. If your hens stop laying suddenly, however, there could be a culprit. Hens need a relatively calm, clean, and quiet place to lay eggs, so examine the environment for stressors. Producing eggs requires a lot of nutrients, thus adequate nourishment could be a factor. Also, hens molt periodically, shedding and renewing their feathers, and will lay fewer eggs in the process.
One common issue for backyard chicken enthusiasts is that the hens start producing fewer eggs. If you’re in this boat, let’s look at some steps you can take to help your hens lay more eggs.
Provide Quality Feed
A balanced diet is essential for optimum health and egg production. In particular, protein is crucial for egg production. Some chicken keepers recommend supplementing a hen’s diet with animal protein, black oil sunflower seeds, or mealworms and other grubs. Some highly recommend fermenting chicken feed to improve overall hen health and possibly even egg production.
Supplement With Calcium
It takes a lot of calcium to lay an egg. If your chickens don’t have enough calcium in their diet, your hens will not lay as many eggs, or the shells could be paper-thin. Crushed oyster shells are an excellent way to enrich their diet and are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Another option is to feed your chickens ground eggshells. Rinse and crush them first to make them unrecognizable to the hens as you don’t want them to start feasting on their own eggs.
Provide Fresh Water
Although this sounds obvious, proper hydration is essential. If you live in a cold climate, it is critical to provide water a couple of times a day when it’s below freezing outside. Proper hydration is crucial in hot water, especially and will have a significant impact on egg production. Some chicken enthusiasts recommend adding a tiny bit of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to the hen’s water for overall health.
Give Hens Granite Grit
If you are a new chicken keeper, it sounds weird to learn that your hens need to eat rocks. Granite grit is said to boost egg production while reducing overall food consumption. This is because hens don’t have teeth and digestion starts in their gizzard, when food grinds down. Most hens can’t find enough grit in the soil to suffice so give your hens free access to granite grit as needed.
Keep in mind that oyster shells are soluble grit and do not serve the same purpose as granite grit, which is insoluble. This means that the granite is tougher and will grind food for much longer whereas oyster shells will quickly dissolve leaving the gizzard.
Keep the Coop Clean
Chickens, like many humans, prefer things clean and tidy. If the coop is too dirty or lacks ventilation, ammonia fumes can build up, irritating the hens. Clean the coop periodically and consider putting a sprinkle of wood ash or lime on the coop floor to minimize odors.
Supplement Light in the Winter Months
Our feathered friends lay more eggs when the days are longer and fewer when the days are shorter. Chickens need approximately 14 to 16 hours of light to stimulate egg production. As a result, many backyard chicken keepers have a light on a timer in the coop. Set the timer to go off in the early morning, extending the hours of light.
Keep in mind that producing eggs demands a lot from a hen. Some chicken keepers don’t recommend supplemental light because they want their hens to regenerate during the winter. Also, beware that heat lamps and extension cords combined with coop bedding can be a fire hazard and might not be worth the risk. Always inspect the extension cord for signs of damage and use an energy-efficient LED light bulb.
Provide Open Space
As a general rule, hens need 2 to 3 square feet of coop space and 8 to 10 square feet of outdoor area per bird. Unfortunately, this can be a difficult feat for some urban homesteaders. When space is too cramped, the hens are more likely to fight and even become ill. When space is limited, keep the flock small.
Many backyard chickens have issues with worms and other parasites. Although this is somewhat inevitable, you can minimize the risk and severity. Some chicken keepers give their hens diatomaceous earth to deworm them periodically. Simply mix a small amount of the powder into their feed but beware of inhaling it yourself as it is a lung irritant.