Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chickens -- Suddenly No Eggs

I recently got an email from Duffy about a problem that he's suddenly seeing with his chickens. He moved them from a small coop beside his house into a large open sheep pasture about 800' back. The problem? No eggs.

Duffy did make a roofed over open walled structure to house the feed & water dishes, 6 nest boxes, and some roosts. The chickens have been eating and drinking there, but not using the roosts. And most importantly, not laying eggs in the boxes. So what is going on, I was asked? 

Based upon my own long list of mistakes, I could come up with a number of possible explanations. And keep in mind that there could be more than one thing going on at the same time, in fact, several.

...the sudden change in living quarters. Hens lay better with familiar surroundings. Changes often are greeted with a slowdown of eggs. Once when I moved my hens to a new pen that was only a couple of feet away from the old pen, some hens stopped daily laying. I had other hens never missed a day, but a few that took up to a month or more before laying again. And I learned that the time of year has a bearing. One fall I acquired a bunch of new hens. They promptly stopped laying until the next laying cycle started in January. 
...change in diet. If the hens are use to a particular feed, then any sudden changes can result in no eggs. It's a very common problem that's happened to many new hen keepers. Hens like routine, including diet. equipment. When I switched from watering bowls to water nipples, several of the hens reacted as though I installed a dangerous monster into their livingquarters. No eggs for a couple of days. colored new equipment. This didn't happen to me, but another hen keeper decided to get new feed bowls and waterers. He had done it before using black equipment with no problem. But the time he bought all new red equipment, the hens were skeptical and stopped laying for a couple of days. additions. Adding new flock members can disrupt the whole flock and routines.
...something significantly changed outside. The time I put up a Costco shed adjacent to the chicken pen resulted in low egg production for a week. 
...change in daily routine. Duffy told me that he now feeds the chickens, where before his girlfriend did it. Also, he now feeds them about 8 a.m. whereas his girlfriend put out food at 6. A change in routine like this could very well be contributing to no egg production. 
...change in lifestyle has disturbed my own hens. Duffy has changed his chickens from confinement to free range. That's a major mental leap for a chicken. When my own birds went from all day confinement in a coop/pen situation to afternoon freedom to forage, the egg laying pattern changed. 

If I had to guess, I'd say that the two most likely reason for suddenly no eggs in Duffy's situation are :
1) Hidden nests. His hens have not used the new nest boxes even once. Thus they appear not to be aware of them. My hunch is that they are laying their eggs in hidden nests out around the pasture somewhere. 
2) Egg predators. Egg eaters are common in Mother Nature. Even here in Hawaii we have egg stealing critters -- mongooses, rats, people, and even the hens themselves. Yes, chickens will eat eggs, a bad habit no hen keeper likes to see. 

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