Why Have My Hens Stopped Laying?

Hello - we have 4 hens that were laying well during the summer. They stopped in the Autumn and we thought it was due to moulting. Then we realised we were infested with rats (we live next to a wood and fields). We have left poison out now since mid-December and a lot has been eaten. The feathers are now fully grown back and the hens look very healthly. They are on layers pellets, roam free most of the time and have cider vinegar in their water. They are still not laying though and the only thing we can see which we are concerned about is that underneath their perch where they roost each night (and poo) there are a lot of what looks like flaky skin. We have asked at our local shop where we buy food from and they are not sure what to think and have never heard of it before.

Please could you help us.
Many thanks

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by: brad

Thanks for the questions!

The Fall molt is one of the common reasons that hens stop laying. Many of them are growing in a whole new set of feathers, which is BIG work for their bodies. Their need for protein is hugely increased, since feathers are mostly made up of proteins.

It can be possible for a rodent infestation to cause sleeplessness & stress in the coop at night. Stress & lack of sleep can be a reason hens don't lay well or at all. Try to make your coop rodent proof so your hens can sleep peacefully. Rats & mice can come in droves when they find a good source of food, water and shelter in winter, and their droppings and urine can carry disease.

Some modern breeds of chickens, called Production Breeds, can often lay steadily through the year. Older breeds, like all the Heritage Breeds, have a more natural reproductive cycle, which includes taking a break from laying, especially when daylight hours are short through Fall & Winter.

There are a number of reasons that hens take a break, in my opinion. 1. Hatching chicks during the coldest months would make it harder for the little ones to survive. And broody hens tend not to eat enough, which can lead to illness in cold months. Chicks do much better in warm weather. 2. Between molting & keeping warm during the coldest months, chickens have demands on their bodies that would make egg production a further drain on their physical resources. 3. It's normal and natural for reproductive cycles to ebb and flow.

The Production Breeds that can lay all year, have only about 2 years of egg production and must be replaced - if you want eggs. Heritage type breeds often live much longer, healthier and productive lives - even if they don't lay as many eggs all the year long.

You can help your hens lay this time of year by providing conditioning or high protein feeds, and whole seeds like: flax, black oil sunflower, safflower. plus fresh greens.

If you want or need eggs all year you might consider artificial full-spectrum lighting that imitates the longer daylight hours of Spring & Summer. Chickens should have 8 hours of darkness, at least. You can set a timer and have a light come on early in the morning which will make your hen's brains believe it is Spring. If you leave a light on all night for two nights, then have the light come on after 8 hours of darkness, you should see eggs again very soon.

If you do choose artificial lighting, you should understand that you will shorten the reproductive lives of your hens and will need to replace them sooner - in order to get eggs.

Due to the short daylight hours, some hens may stop laying for 3 months or more. I have my hens on a break this Winter, no artificial lighting. I went from 3-5 eggs a day, to about 1 a week, now none for over a week from 5 hens eating well on organic layer pellets supplemented with seeds and greens.

I bought eggs this Winter and think I may use lighting next year or to get the girls laying a bit earlier this year.

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