Hens not laying

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Hens not laying

Postby B1gL » Sun May 28, 2017 8:49 pm

Hi, this is my first post in any forum anywhere so apologies if I'm breaking any rules or posting in the wrong place.

I keep 3 hens in my back garden and just recently a few issues have arisen. These are:- soft shell eggs, egg eating and latterly, very few eggs at all.
The hens were bought around September 2015, started laying around November/December and up until the early part of this year things were fine. 3 eggs per day more or less.
The birds are kept in a proprietary run/coop about 1m by 2m but there is also a fenced off run of about 2m by 4m for them to scratch around in.
Every few days or so they also get out into the rest of the back garden.

Around February this year, in accordance with the bird flu regulations, I restricted them to the small run/coop. During this time things were more or less normal although, on reflection, I think the egg production started to drop off. Mostly 2 eggs/day, sometimes 3 or even just one.
When the restrictions were lifted, around April ish, I was able to let them out into the larger run again. It was about now that I recall that the soft shell eggs and the egg eating really got started. Egg laying has almost ceased, I suspect only one hen is laying, her egg is mostly soft shelled and invariably broken in the nest box before I can get to it in the morning. In fact, no eggs for last three days.

To get them out the coop in the morning to try and stop the egg eating, I leave the coop hatch open at night so they can get out into the small run. (The coop run is quite secure from foxes). I’ve also put a blackout curtain up at the entrance to the nest boxes as I read that might help.
To try and fix the soft shell problem, I’ve been supplying them with mixed grit in their mash. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now with no improvement in shell quality.

Throughout their life, the hens have been fed the same brand of layers mash. Treats have included corn on the cob, greens and Rich Tea biscuits (the dark chocolate digestives are too good to waste on the hens!). They only get some greens as treats just now.
I’ve managed a quick chat with a vet who confirmed I was doing all the right stuff i.e. feeding mixed grit, clearing out eggs asap etc.

The hens at the moment appear OK, good appetite, lively, eyes clear etc. I’m wondering if they’ve just finished laying and should be moved on or will they start laying again or is something more complicated going on? There's been no obvious loss of feathers and they seem to get on OK, i.e. no bird appears to be getting picked on.

Any advice/suggestions welcome.

B1gL
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Re: Hens not laying

Postby Marigold » Mon May 29, 2017 8:02 am

Hi, BigL, and welcome to the Forum. Sorry to hear about your chicken problems.
A bit more info would help us to advise you. First, what breed of hens are they? If they're brown hybrid layers, actually bred to lay more or less every day for 18 months in farmed conditions, then its possible they're coming to the end of their laying capabilities, or slowing down, even though they're only two years old. Hens are born with all their egg cells present in their ovaries, just like humans, and when they're gone, they're gone, and the 'henopause' sets in. Some breeds of hybrid hens have been developed to lay like machines for a very short time, and are then culled once some of the flock show signs of reduced production - usually at around 18+ months. At this stage, many succumb to internal problems such as prolapse or peritonitis. Some breeds of hen which are either purebred or hybridised for less intensive laying will go on for several moire years, but will moult and take a rest over the Autumn/winter, so their systems are not so strained. I've got one hen who is now 6+ years and still laying about 3-4 eggs a week. As you don't mention egg production being low in their second winter, when you might expect them to stop and moult, I think you've probably got brown hybrid layers, am I right?
Hens should certainly be in full lay at this time of year, the breeding season, and there may be other things going on. Have you been regularly worming them with Flubenvet? All hens get worms, they pick them up when out foraging and eat earthworms, which carry chicken worm eggs from the soil the earthworms eat. The worms multiply in the hens' gut, get passed out, are eaten by earthworms ...A heavy worm burden will pull hens down and reduce lay. There are other possible reasons, such as infections or infestation, but as yours seem OK this is less likely.
What brand of pellets are you giving them? any reputable brand should have sufficient calcium to support lay, but again, soft shelled eggs are more common in hybrid layers as they get older. By grit, do you mean the mixed type with oyster shell as well as little bits of flint or gravel? Or the kind without oystershell? they do need access to pure flint grit all the time, in a pot where they can take it if they need, and lack of this will cause digestive problems. Supplementing calcium is more complex, uptake depends on various other dietary factors, and the jury is out on whether oyster shell is actually helpful. If you wanted to try a mineral supplement, get some Nettex Mineral Powder, which is a combination of various minerals plus seaweed and probiotics. Add it to a feed of damp mash so the powder sticks around.
I would cut out the corn in the cob and the biscuits, both of which are fattening - hens can lay down fat round their ovaries and this causes egg laying problems. Increase the greens instead, - at the end of the day, once they've eaten their pellets.
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Re: Hens not laying

Postby rick » Mon May 29, 2017 10:45 am

Hi BigL,
Sounds so like the way things went with my brown hybrids but if they have all stopped laying now then, for them at least, they are over a dangerous hurdle and it just depends what you want to do next. Because they lay eggs pretty much constantly, right through their first winter (or two winters even if the timing is just so), then their oviducts/shell glands just get worn out. They need to go through a moult to restore things but that probably wont happen till this autumn so (if I am assuming rightly) you would be keeping them without having any eggs till next year.
When they do moult then its a bit like Aphrodite bathing in the spring! - new glossy feathers (and surprisingly a different colour!) and replenished egg production though usually a few less than before.
But its a risky time for them in spring - if all goes well they can form an egg (after a couple of misfires like when at point of lay) and carry on but if not its soft shelled or no shelled even, egg eating, vent pecking, peritonitis, etc - not nice!
By the way - when your watching them to see how egg laying is going - they lay eggs on an approximate 25 hour cycle so it wont always be in the morning. A soft shelled egg gets eaten very quickly, especially if its dropped in the run so you are not likely to be seeing every egg laid under those conditions. Often the only way to be sure of what is going on is to put one in a separate pen for 24 hours where you can watch things carefully, like you would do if one was looking under the weather.

To be fair, after laying without a pause for 2 years they deserve a break! I think not all 'hybrids' are of the heavy commercial type. I may be wrong but my Blacktail is a hybrid but doesn't seem to be quite as tuned for the egg laying sprint as my Hy-line super layer girls were. She went through a light moult in the first winter.
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Re: Hens not laying

Postby B1gL » Thu Jun 01, 2017 8:06 am

Hi rick & Marigold. Many thanks for your helpful and informative responses.

You both raised some points so I'll attempt to clarify.
Penny is a bog standard brown hen, Henrietta is a Speckledy and Bluebell is a Bluebell. According to the books I have these are all Hybrids.

I didn't notice much difference in egg production over the second winter but it did decrease a bit when I restricted them to their small run during the bird flu restrictions. A coincidence or nature taking its course?

As for worming, they have never been wormed.

The mash I use is Farmgate Super Omega Mash which I get from the lady who supplied the hens. I have tried supplying them with Oyster Shell in separate containers but I don't think they were much interested. I now feed them mixed grit, mixed in with their mash and I think they're taking a bit of this. Treats now are almost exclusively greens with just the occasional corn-on-the-cob.

Based on your responses I intend to persevere over the summer and see what happens in the Autumn. I'll try worming them as well.
If there's no moult or no improvement then I'll see if I can move them on somewhere and get a new batch. I'm enjoying keeping my hens since I retired but part of the deal is that I get my fresh eggs. I enjoy giving away my surplus eggs to friends and neighbours.

I do have one other question though, if they come back into lay, will they still be prone to egg eating?

Thanks again,
B1gL
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Re: Hens not laying

Postby rick » Thu Jun 01, 2017 9:17 am

Sounds like they have all been working hard up till now and just need a rest. They do take oyster shell quite occasionally and its easy to miss them doing it, plus kick it around, fill it with bits off the floor if its not in a mounted container so difficult to see how much is being eaten. The mixed grit will be fine and they'll take the calcium when they need it.
Trouble with restating laying is that there are usually a few soft shelled eggs that may prompt some renewed interest in egg eating. When one of my brown hybrids was going through a bad spell then her sister got particularly interested in any egg she laid. For a while I had regular eggs with pecked ends but not broken and removed them promptly. After a couple of months eggs were safe but it did take a lot of vigilance.

(missed the bit about not worming before - defiantly a good idea to do it as Marigold says below)
Last edited by rick on Thu Jun 01, 2017 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Hens not laying

Postby Marigold » Thu Jun 01, 2017 1:45 pm

It wood definitely be well worth worming them with Flubenvet, which is the only effective wormer produced for poultry which doesn't require you to stop eating the eggs during and after treatment. If they've never been done, they may well have accumulated quite a load of worms in their gut, which will be taking nutrients from them and reducing their laying abilities. You can either buy Marriages pre-treated pellets, which you feed for 7 days instead of their usual brand, or a pot of Flubenvet powder, which you add to their normal pellets at the rate of one scoop (supplied) to 2 kilos of pellets. Three girls will probably need about 3 kilos, so 1.5 scoops. Put some of the weighed pellets in a bucket and mix in enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the pellets. Then add the flubenvet powder and mix it up well, using a long spoon, not your hands. Then gradually add the rest of the pellets and mix thoroughly. Empty the feeder and replace with the treated feed. Feed NOTHING ELSE for 7 days - because they need to eat the complete dose in relation to their own size and appetite, not fill up with tastier snacks. As yours have never been wormed, there should really have a second treatment 10-14 days later, to break the cycle and clear up any residual eggs which will have hatched after the first lot were dealt with. Subsequently, worm them every 4-6 months, just the one treatment.
For very small flocks like yours and mine, the powder is the most economical, as you can mix just what they need - the smallest pre-treated bag will be 5 kilos, so some will be wasted as it will be out of date by the next time you want to use it. A pot will give 20 doses, so will do yours several times.
Have a look at the horror pics on the Poultrykeeper site, (link at the bottom of the page) for more info.
See https://poultrykeeper.com/digestive-system-problems/
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