Collecting eggs from the nest boxes is one of the great joys of backyard chicken keeping and when the yield from the nest boxes isn’t what we expect, it can be disappointing, and at times, cause for concern. The following are the most common causes of a drop in egg production in backyard flocks with solutions where possible.
Decreased lighting conditions, Molting, Stress or or change, Broodiness, Disease, illness or parasites, Egg hiding, Egg eating chickens, Age, Predator theft, Nutrition imbalance, Water deprivation.
Fluctuations in egg production can be caused by a myriad of physical, behavioral, environmental and emotional triggers, some requiring remedial action and others, no cause for alarm.
Decreased lighting conditionsLight triggers a hen’s pituitary gland to produce eggs. Regular egg-laying requires 14 to 16 hours of light and decreased daylight hours in autumn and winter can cause a drop in or stop to egg production. Supplemental light can be added to the coop to encourage egg-laying with no detrimental effects to the hen despite myths to the contrary.
MoltingMolting is the natural process of feather shedding and re-growth. Hens divert protein and energy away from egg production to concentrate on feather growth. Supplementing a hen’s diet with extra protein during a molt can aid in feather growth and egg production.
Stress and ChangeHens are extremely sensitive to stress and typically respond to it by putting the brakes on egg-laying. They particularly dislike change, which is a major cause of stress and decline in egg-laying. Any one of the following can adversely affect egg production: changes in feed, changes in coop layout, moving to a different farm or coop, adding or losing flock members, annoyance from a well-intentioned child, a fright from a predator, irritation from internal parasites (worms, coccidia) or external parasites,(lice, mites, rodents) violent weather, barking dogs and high heat.
Broodiness:A broody hen in the coop can affect a flock’s egg production. Not only does she stop laying eggs; the mere sight of her sitting on a nest can inspire a chain reaction of hens to brood, resulting in fewer eggs overall. Broodies should be broken properly or permitted to hatch eggs in a location away from the nest boxes to ensure a prompt return to egg-laying and to preserve their health.
Disease-Illness-Parasites:Hens that are ill or have parasites such as worms, mites or lice, do not perform optimally. Taken in conjunction with flock history and any other symptoms, a drop in egg production can indicate that hens are sick or suffering from a parasite infestation. For example: if a drop in egg production follows the addition of new chickens to the flock and no other physical symptoms are noted, a communicable disease or parasite should be suspected and investigated further.
Egg HidingFree-range or pasture-raised hens may fall into the unwelcome habit of laying eggs outside the coop in secluded locations. Hens have been known to disappear for weeks, secretly brood eggs and return to the flock with baby chicks in tow! Coop training ordinarily eliminates the problem of egg-hiding.
Egg-eating chickensEveryone loves fresh eggs, and chickens are no exception. Hens often start eating eggs when they discover a broken egg in a nest box. Once a chicken gets the taste of this high-protein, nutritious snack, it becomes difficult to deter intentional egg breaking and eating. Much more on addressing this problem behavior here.
AgeAfter two years, a hen’s production naturally declines. An aging flock will naturally produce fewer eggs after its first two years. Nothing can reverse this process.
Various predators can be responsible for egg theft including: rats, opossums and ferrets. Coops should be secured to ensure that nocturnal predators cannot gain access to the birds at night when they are most vulnerable.
Nutrition ImbalanceThe wrong feed, too many snacks/treats, overcrowding, mixing commercial layer feed with scratch/cracked corn/oats, etc. & being physically prevented from getting to the feeders by another flock member can all lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can result in a drop in egg production.
Access to clean, fresh, cool water at all times is imperative to the formation of eggs. Egg production will suffer if a hen’s access is limited physically (frozen or too far away) restricted (prevented from reaching it by another chicken) or unpalatable (dirty/medicated/warm). The installation of a poultry nipple waterer can solve most water-related problems.