Theresia Lavergne | 10/4/2004 4:25:43 AM
During the fall, many backyard flock owners ask, "Why have my hens stopped laying?" Several factors may cause the reduction in egg laying, says LSU AgCenter poultry specialist Dr. Theresia Lavergne.
The most common causes are decreasing day length, improper nutrition, disease, aging and stress. The LSU AgCenter poultry specialist says if hens reduce egg production in fall, the probable cause is the decreasing day length.
"The reproductive state of birds is regulated by the amount of light they receive each day," Lavergne says. "Hens are stimulated to lay eggs when day length increases and reduce egg laying when day length decreases."
So in a natural environment, birds lay fewer eggs during fall and winter compared to spring and summer.
If maintaining egg production throughout the year is a priority, artifical light can prove useful. Hens require at least 14 hours of light every day to maintain egg production. This light can be provided from sunlight, artificial light sources or a combination of both.
Lavergne says one 40-watt light for every 100 square feet of coop is adequate to maintain egg lay. The artificial light can be left on continuously, or can be used to provide supplemental light during the hours that sunlight is not available.
"If you are not going to leave the artificial light on continuously, but are going to use it only to supplement the sunlight, the artificial light should be added in the morning hours so the hens can roost as the sun sets and not be stranded in the dark when the artificial light is turned off," the poultry specialist says.
If you determine that the length of daylight is not the cause of reduced egg lay, you need to evaluate some of the other causes, Lavergne advises.
Improper nutrition is an alternative cause of reduced egg lay. Layers require a balanced diet and a constant source of fresh water to maintain maximum egg production. "It is important to provide a nutritionally balanced layer food to your hens to ensure that they will have adequate levels of protein, calcium and energy to maintain egg production," she says. Also, providing oyster shell to your hens will help maintain strong egg shells.
"Be careful when supplementing hen diets with whole grains, scratch feeds or table scraps, because too much of these can cause the hen’s diet to become imbalanced," Lavergne says.
Disease is another cause of reduced egg production. "If your hens have a dull and listless appearance, watery eyes, runny nostrils, coughing, lameness or mortality, contact your veterinarian to diagnose and treat the problem," the poultry expert recommends.
The effects of aging on egg production will vary from bird to bird. Many hens, however, will have decreased egg production after two to three years of age.
A decline in egg production also may be attributed to stress. Limiting the incidence of chilling, handling, changing environments, moving, parasites, fright and predators is necessary to maintain maximum egg production.
Additionally, if egg production is decreasing, you may need to consider the possibility of predators consuming the eggs, egg-eating by the hens themselves, egg breakage or hens hiding the eggs (if they are able to run free).
Lavergne recommends contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about raising poultry.Why Hens Stop Laying in Fall