Great Eggspectations

This ain’t no chick flick filled with love and romance, it’s a block-buster disaster at Crockern!  Our hens are not laying eggs.  They haven’t slowed production, they have stopped.  Even our new point-of-lay hens which I picked up about a month ago, haven’t produced a single egg.  In real terms:  No omelettes, no soft-boiled eggs, no cakes, no nothing.  Production is one big-fat-goose egg.

We have a mixed flock, not just breeds, but ages.  On average, each of our hens is capable of 250-300 eggs per year.  Our eldest hen, who is about 7 years old, may have slowed to one or two eggs a month, but she’s fed us well for over 5 years.  Our other 9 hens range in age from 7 months to 4 years.  On the low end of expected production, that is 3-5 eggs a day for a flock this size.  So where are the eggs?

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Over five years of keeping chickens, and we’ve never had this.  We have had broody hens, flighty hens, friendly hens and darn right angry hens.  We have nursed hens with coughs, bound eggs and uterine prolapse.  We have lost hens to natural causes and grisly fox, badger and dog attacks.   Our hens have laid soft eggs, weirdly shaped eggs, and the most beautiful, delicious eggs.  But we have never had weeks of no eggs.  Like any hard-boiled detective, I turn to our chicken library in search of plausible reasons for hens to stop laying.  Where is that book, bok, bok, booook?

The most common reason cited is diet.  But, we haven’t made any changes.   We are feeding the same pellets as in the past.  Our hens get plenty of bugs and worms as they free range all over the yard, including a drive-by feeding at the bird feeders.   And they have ample access to water.  For heaven sakes, we’re on Dartmoor!

We know three are busy moulting, but the others have all their feathers.  A quick examination shows all to have clear eyes, healthy coombs and behaving in chicken-y ways, indicating tip-top health.   None are sitting on the nest all day being broody.  In fact, none seem to be heading toward a nest at all.

Could it be daylight?  The experts say chickens need 14 -16 hours of natural daylight.  Okay, so in winter I appreciate the laying slows.  But this has been going on for months, beginning in the long days of summer.  We could put in some artificial light into their coop, but we won’t do that. The chickens love to roam all over the yard and I don’t want to force them into some sort of egg-laying drudgery with a light therapy box in the corner of the roost.  Being a chicken should be fun!

Two months ago, faced with a future of no eggs, I brought home six point-of-lay hens to up the egg game. When we introduced the new hens, we removed the electric fence since the rabbits had chewed through it.  The experts claim chickens love routine and a slight disruption can cause them to stop laying for a brief period. Do our hens really remember a month ago?  Two months ago?  How developed is a chicken’s memory?  Have our hens forgotten how to lay eggs?  Is this even possible?

Fed up with not having eggs, we hatched a plan and examined every inch of property.  We looked under fallen branches, up in the rafters of the barn, behind shrubs and even in the obvious nests boxes.  Searching high and low for eggs, we came up empty.  Ome-not-letting it slide and for two days, I spied on the chickens.  I watched their every move – worms eaten, dust baths taken, preening completed — to see if they have a hidden, special spot for a quiet bit of egg-laying.   Sadly, there are no secret nests filled with dozens of eggs, but their daily routines are poultry in motion.

I can hardly say I’ve cracked it, but when I mentioned to my friend Joanne that I thought they were on strike, she quipped, “Are they French?”  We are unaware of any problems with worker rights, hours or conditions, but we do seem to have la solidarité du poulet.

Roger and I are scrambling for an answer and it may be all in the timing:  Winter is coming; our point of lay hens may just not be ready yet; and, the old hens are on vacation.  If we were tougher, we’d be making chicken stew.  Instead, we’ll carry on providing food and shelter, keeping them safe from predators, looking for eggs in all areas of the yard, singing and chatting to them when we are out in the garden, and giving them a winter’s rest.  In the meantime, I’m keeping my sunny side up in hope we’ll have some eggs in the new year.

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24 comments on “Great Eggspectations

  1. pobept says:

    The three most common reasons for loss of egg laying is (1) During molt hens often slow or stop laying eggs, (2) Declining daylight hours as we approach winter, I suggest you add a light on a timer so your hen house has 15 or even 16 hours of light a day. (3) Declining temperatures as winter can sometimes cause reduced or a total stop to hens laying.

    Keeping your hen house well lighted will also help trigger and maintain egg production and may prevent hens from going through a ‘full’ egg stoppage during molting periods.
    My best guess it reason (1) followed by reason (2)

    Good luck and Happy gardening

    • Thanks for the top tips. We do know all of that, and have never had this experience in the past. Seems a real mystery as to the extended period of time.

    • Madalene says:

      Here in NZ, but hoping to relocate to Dartmoor soon! Coming home as our ancestors come from Horrabridge and Moretonhampstead respectively.

      My ‘chooks’ – kiwi for poultry – also go off the lay for seemingly no reason, but it can be when even only 1 is moulting, or clucky (broody). Sudden changes in weather, particularly if the weather is then extreme, upsets them. I keep two separate flocks – old girls who have done their bit and newer ones. That has helped. The suggestion about adding light does work though I haven’t been able to do that, due to being on solar power. And I like to keep things natural. My approach now is to freeze eggs when there is a glut – simply put two per person lightly beaten and with a large pinch of salt (to stop them coagulating or you can use sugar) into small sealable bags and freeze flat with date on. They are good for six mths tho I have found some a year old which are still ok! Love your blog folks. See my place at pukekaka.com – currently on the market.

      • Love the tips on freezing. Our girls are laying now — and we’re back into too many eggs each day, but that just means we put our little stand outside. Good luck with your move back to Dartmoor.

  2. Paul Blaney says:

    Eggs-celent punning! I especially like ‘hard-boiled detective’ and ‘scrambling for an answer.’
    Maybe we should go for omelettes when we meet on November 2nd. I’m looking forward to it! Meanwhile, maybe invest in some geese? Best not to keep all your eggs in one basket!

  3. Fiona says:

    Sure they are female and not bi!!!!!

  4. Russ Charlton says:

    Sounds like it’s time for wings, legs , thighs and breasts and then replace them in the spring

  5. Sue Merrilees says:

    I like the threats idea. Maybe a couple of KFC buckets hung about the place…

  6. valbjerke says:

    I went through something similar with our ducks one year (our chickens are on timed lights). Turns out our friendly raven flock were hanging about in the trees waiting for breakfast. Any egg that got laid – promptly got snatched up and carried off to be enjoyed elsewhere.

    • Interesting. We’ve wondered about rats, but there are no left bits behind. Our largest birds in the area are Jackdaws, and they aren’t anywhere near the nests. Keeping an eye on things, but I think we are really faced with no eggs rather than stolen ones. Watch this space….

  7. Paul Fallon says:

    Maybe they are protesting agains Breggsit

  8. Caryl Mills says:

    Hi Catherine, I have 3 bantams who produce on average 1 egg per day between them. I have found that from October to December production reduces dramatically, but when the nights start drawing out they start laying again. In fact the first egg I had from the girls was laid on 22 December!! Just in time for my Christmas Irish breakfast.
    Caryl

    • We’ve always had reduction in production this time of the year, but it started back in August and now has stopped completely
      . With ten hens, we find this unprecedented in our experience. I do like your story of the egg in time for the holiday breakfast. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

  9. Mary - d says:

    This blog cracked me up! You must have been sipping a really lovely bottle of something whilst writing. 🤣 Are you certain no one or no other critter is poaching your eggs?? Good luck!

    • Glad you enjoyed the blog. We aren’t 100% certain if others are poaching our eggs (certainly not us!), but no evidence of any shells or half eaten eggs. Hard to believe everything would be taken whole. That said, it is a fowl game.

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