When you own chickens, you get used to having a certain amount of eggs every week. Even if it’s just enough fresh eggs for your family, it’s noticeable when a hen slows down. You might be wondering how to tell if a chicken has stopped laying eggs. Today we will show you some signs of a retired hen and a few tests you can do on your flock.
What Is The Average Lifespan Of A Laying Hen?
So you’ve done your tests, and now you are wondering how long a chicken’s lifespan is. Most chickens can live 8-12 years of age with proper care and no illnesses. The exception to this are hens like the Golden Comet that only live a few years. But although these hens might live that long, it doesn’t mean they will keep laying eggs. Most of the breeds we have today slow down egg production to a crawl by the fourth year. So if your hen is getting up there, it might be time for her to stop for good.
How To Tell If A Chicken Has Stopped Laying Eggs
The first year of production is always the best for all hens. If your hen is laying fewer and fewer eggs, it might be time for her to retire. But when this happens isn’t the same for every chicken. Some hens will still lay an egg every few weeks for years into their old age. But others come to an abrupt halt. So what signs should you look for? Here are the top five ways to find out who the egg layers are and who isn’t.
#1 Pale Combs
combsMost laying hens have bright red combs. The exception to this is younger birds before the first egg. But if your hen isn’t laying eggs anymore, her comb will appear dull and pale in color. If your hen isn’t sick, a pale comb is an excellent sign that your hen has stopped laying.
#2 Dry Vents
Another good indicator of stopped egg production is a dry vent. In laying hens, the vent is always open, pink, and moist. But for older hens, this area will look closed and dry.
#3 Keel Distance
Many chicken keepers also measure the distance between the end of the keel and the vent. The keel is the very end of the breast bone felt low in the abdomen. The general rule is that it should be the distance of one to two fingers for an active hen, and the area is soft. But a hen who doesn’t lay eggs, the distance is about four fingers. This area will also feel firm and stiff compared to hens that still lay.
#4 Watch The Roos
If you have roosters, you can also see who is still fertile by watching your roosters. They won’t waste their time with hens that aren’t laying anymore. If your rooster gives special attention now and then, your poor girls might still have a few eggs left in her.
#5 Food Coloring Trick
Sometimes in a larger backyard flock, it’s hard to tell who is still keeping up with egg production. One trick that many owners of backyard chickens use is painting the vents with food coloring. This trick works best if you have one color per hen. All you have to do is paint the vents early in the morning before your hens have had time to lay eggs. When they do lay, the color will come off onto the eggs. Then, poof! You have a foolproof way of finding out if your hens are still laying.
The reason most backyard chicken owners like this method is because it is stress-free. Your chickens can still go about their days without distress. And even if your chicken doesn’t lay a single egg that day, the dye will come off onto the egg when she finally does. Plus, the food coloring won’t harm your chickens or compromise the eggs. We think this method is a better idea than trapping in nesting boxes.
What To Do When Chickens Stop Laying Eggs?
Chickens that have retired from egg production don’t always have to be culled. For one, they don’t always make the best meals. The good news is that many people love keeping old hens with young hens. There are so many other great reasons to keep old hens around, and here’s why.
For one, it’s a good idea to keep an old hen as the perfect protection for the flock. She has a keen eye and has seen it all. Therefore she is more likely to sound the alarm at the first sign of trouble.
But older hens are also still great mothers. It’s not uncommon to see retired hens go broody and raise several more clutches in their final years. So you can ditch that old incubator and use an old chicken instead.
And finally, you can keep your hens around as pets. After raising them for over six years, it’s easy to see them as a part of the family.
Why Did My Hens Stop Laying Eggs?
There are plenty of reasons that a chicken’s egg production might drop that aren’t due to old age. Some of these reasons are natural and might resolve themselves. But there are a few medical reasons your hen might not be laying eggs. So let’s take a look at a few of the most common reasons for fewer eggs.
The biggest reason a chicken might stop laying is due to illness. If a chicken isn’t feeling up to par, she could be conserving energy and resources to heal. If you suspect that your chicken is getting sick, keep a close eye on other symptoms. Remember, chickens are masters of disguising weakness.
If you live in cold winter climates, a huge reason your chickens could decrease the number of eggs is the weather. If it’s cold out, your hens are using a lot of energy they can to conserve body heat. The first step to combat this is to choose chicken breeds that lay eggs all winter, like Rhode Island Reds. The next step is to winter-proof your chicken coop well. A properly ventilated and insulated coop can stay up to 40 degrees inside all winter.
Eggs are full of nutrients, protein, and vitamins. And where do you think they get this from? Eggs get it from what the hen eats. So it only makes sense that if a hen isn’t eating a well-rounded diet, she won’t be capable of laying eggs. Things like foraging for bugs and grains, high-quality chicken feed, and oyster shells are all required by your flock.
And finally, the last reason your hen could have stopped laying eggs is broodiness. If your hen is broody, she is going through the natural process of trying to hatch her clutch. That means she also won’t be giving you any more eggs, regardless of fertilized eggs or not.
What Time Of Year Do Chickens Stop Laying Eggs?
Along with a few husbandry errors, there are also times of the year that your chickens will take a natural break. The most common times are during molting and winter months. Other than this, most chicken breeds will lay eggs all year if they have the right resources.
Chickens go through molting every year to keep their feathers looking good. Your hen will shed those dull and old feathers every year to make room for durable ones. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of nutrients and protein to grow new feathers. So a hen stops egg laying until they finish.
Most hens will molt when they are 18 months of age. And then every year on that anniversary, you will find your like-aged hens molting again. So it is possible to have various hens of different ages molt at other times. But for most chickens, this is around the late summer to late fall months.
Winter seasons are also notorious for their short days. If your area gets fewer daylight hours, your hens won’t have time to lay their eggs. You can do a few tricks like installing supplemental light to increase egg production. Then your hens will be happy and lay bountiful eggs again, but this won’t work for every breed.
How Do You Increase Egg Production In Chickens?
Now that you know how to tell if a chicken has stopped laying eggs, how do you fix it? Whether your hens are going through natural cycles of egg production or recovering from illness, we all have the same questions. How can you get their egg production back to where it used to be?
The first step is to resolve any underlying issues, whether it is illnesses or weather keeping them from laying. Once you have healthy chickens, you can move on to other things like increasing the hours of light in winter. But the best way to increase egg production is to feed your chickens a balanced diet and clean water.
What Is The Best Thing To Feed Chickens For Eggs?
Protein, protein, protein! Your hens need lots of access to a complete layer feed diet. We recommend brands like Manna Pro that give your hens all they need. But it is also helpful to free range your hens. With a varied diet, your hens will lay eggs like a machine. And don’t forget those oyster shells for added calcium. All of this will help your hens lay more eggs than any other trick in the book.
Is Your Hen Retired?
Now you know how to tell if a chicken has stopped laying eggs, so what do you think? Is your chicken old, or is the individual chicken going through something else?
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!