My hen has stopped laying what do I do?

A hen can stop laying for a variety of reasons, including age, stress, illness, poor nutrition, moulting and time of year. It is first important to establish the reason why your hen has stopped laying in order to be able to rectify the problem.

Age – A hen hatches with the number of eggs she will produce in her lifetime already determined by the number of ova she has in her ovary. Once these eggs have been laid she simply cannot produce any more, so many  older hens reach the end of their natural laying life but still remain healthy  and active for years to come.

Stress – Often if hens have been through a stressful situation such as low flying aircraft or a thunderstorm the first we may know about it is that they have stopped laying. Although it is impossible to control events such as the weather, the good news is that most hens will come back into lay after a short period of time. Stress within the flock such as one hen being picked on by others can affect egg laying. Try to ensure the hen house is as stress-free as possible by providing sufficient space both inside and outside, with enough feeders and waterers to ensure that even timid hens can eat and drink freely. Enriching your hens’ environment so that they can forage, dust bath, rood and explore can help to prevent stress.

Diet – Laying hens cannot be expected to produce eggs if their diet is not balanced. It is essential to feed a high quality layers feed which can supply all the nutrients needed to lay tasty, nutritious eggs with good shells. Remember that it is not only the type of feed but how it is fed that is important too. Layers pellets or crumble should be fed on an ad lib basis as the hens’ sole feed. Also ensure that rats or other sole feed. Also ensure that rats or other vermin are not stealing the food as this could greatly reduce what is available to the hens and therefore affect their ability to lay eggs. Vegetables or mixed corn can be fed as a ‘treat’ but do not be tempted to mix these in with the pellets as the hens may fill up on these and not eat enough layers feed to meet and not eat enough layers feed to meet their nutritional requirements for egg laying. Any ‘treats’ should be fed as late int he day as possible and limited to the equivalent of an egg cup full per bird to avoid unbalancing their diet.

Ill health – Many diseased can cause hens to go off lay so it goes without saying that your birds should be checked daily for any signs of ill health and treated appropriately. However, good management and hygiene will go a long way in helping to minimise the risk of disease.

Moulting – Although birds will stop laying whilst they are moulting it is important to continue feeding a layers feed as the bird will still need the protein for producing new feathers and if inadequate food is provided this may affect her future laying performance.

Time of year – Hens are seasonal layers and egg production is dependent on the amount of daylight hours, so as the days get shorter in the autumn the amount of eggs produced will also decrease, unless of course artificial lighting is provided. Once the day length increases in the spring most hens will resume a regular laying pattern.

Do I need to feed my hens during a moult?

After a long laying period, the moulting process places additional nutritional demands on birds. Both eggs and feathers are predominately protein and it is simply not possible for a hen to grow a large amount of fears and produce eggs at the same time. However, it is essential that a balanced layers feed is fed, regardless of whether the hens are in lay or not. Feeding a good quality diet such as Smallholder Range Natural Free Range Layers Pellets or Crumble will help to ensure that hens moult efficiently and will facilitate a quick return to egg laying. As most hens will moult annually in the autumn, by the time they have replenished their fathers they may not return to lay until the following spring when the daylight hours increase again.

How do I feed breeding hens?

Successful breeding places additional nutritional demands on birds, above that required for maintenance and normal egg production. Changing to a specific poultry breeder feed can help to maximise fertility and hatch-ability. Smallholder Range Specialist Poultry Breeder is a feed formulated to meet the higher energy needs of birds during the breeding season and also has a protein level higher that that of standard layers pellets. A high level of quality protein means breeding bis will be supplied with all the essential amino acids they need to lay and breed successfully. Boosted levels of essential vitamins and minerals are included to aid correct chick development and promote high rates of hatching and chick survival. Also included are prebiotics, a blend of real herbs, essential oils and natural plant extracts all known for maintaining good health. Smallholder Range Specialist Poultry Breeder should be fed to all breeding birds (both males and females), from 5 to 6 weeks prior to when eggs will be used for hatching and continued through the entire breeding season. As with all new feeds, any changes should be made gradually over a period of 7 to 10 days to ensure a smooth change over and allow the birds digestive systems time to adapt. As good feeding practice it is important to only feed treats such as corn very sparingly and only in the afternoon once the birds have had all day to fill up on the breeder pellets. The benefits of feeding a breeder pellet are quickly reduced if less nutritious feed stuffs are also fed. A source of insoluble grit should be available to all times to aid digestion.

What scraps can I feed and will they replace layers pellets?

To prevent the spread of disease it is illegal to feed any meat products or kitchen/catering waste to any livestock, including poultry. It is also important to avoid the temptation to indulge your birds in food manufactured for humans as not only are the levels of salt and sugar in some of these extremely high and potentially harmful to hens, but anything that is intended for human consumption and has come from your kitchen would be classed as catering waste and therefore illegal to feed.

Hens that are free ranging or have access to a large outside space will naturally supplement their diet whilst foraging and many fruits and vegetable can also be fed (providing they haven’t come from your kitchen), but layers pellets or crumble which have been formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of laying hens should form the basis of their diet. Supplementing the diet with excessive amounts of ‘treats’ may mean that the birds do not eat a sufficient amount of their balanced ration. This can then lead to hens becoming deficient in essential nutrients like protein and calcium which can greatly affect their health and also the quality and quantity of eggs they you add to your hens’ diet will dilute their nutritional intake which can negatively affect egg laying. It is best to keep ‘treats’ to something poultry friendly such as some mixed corn which should be limited to a late afternoon treat of just an eggcup full per bird so that they eat enough of their layers feeds to meet their nutritional needs.

What advice can you give for feeding pet birds?

Pet birds still require a balanced diet even if they are not breeding or laying eggs. Smallholder Range Ornamental Poultry Pellets are an ideal feed for a variety of poultry and waterfowl and can be fed as a complete nutritionally balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals required for your birds. They also contain good quality protein, essential for maintenance and all important feather growth and egg production should your birds still lay the occasional egg in the future. With a boosted oil content, Ornamental Poultry Pellets are also ideal for show birds where feather sheen is an important attribute. As with all poultry and waterfowl, it is important to provide a source of insoluble grit which birds will ingest to act as a digestive aid.

What should I know about feeding peafowl and guinea fowl and feeding waterfowl?

Peafowl, guinea fowl and waterfowl tend to be kept in large enclosures or free ranging, meaning they will gain significant nutrition form grass and vegetation, as well as insects and other invertebrates. Alongside this, an age appropriate compound feed should be provided to ensure that the birds receive a balanced diet.  Generally speaking young guinea fowl and peafowl require a higher protein diet than poultry chicks to facilitate healthy growth and development. For this reason, standard poultry starter crumbs and grower pellets are not ideal; instead Smallholder Range Turkey Starter Crumb and Grower Pellets are more appropriate for young guinea fowl and peafowl due to their higher protein levels. As adults, peafowl and guinea fowl can be fed Ornamental Poultry Pellets as a maintenance diet or for breeding purposes, specialist Poultry breeder Pellets would be ideal.

Young waterfowl should ideally be fed on specific waterfowl feeds such as Smallholder Range Goose and Duck Starter Crumb and then moving on to Goose and Duck Grower/ Finisher Pellets. It is not recommended that waterfowl are fed feeds intended for poultry as some poultry starter crumbs and grower pellets will contain coccidiostats (drugs to help prevent the parasitic disease, coccidiosis) which are potentially harmful to waterfowl. However, all Smallholder Range poultry feeds are drug free and therefore can safely be fed to waterfowl in the absence of specific waterfowl feeds. As adults, ducks and geese can be fed poultry layers pellets or Goose & Duck Breeder Pellets during the breeding season.