In order to keep healthy and productive in the laying department, chickens need to receive the correct nutrients, vitamins and minerals in their diet.
It is important to know which feed to be using, according to the age of the hen but also what else can and cannot be fed to chickens. It is false economy trying to feed chickens on scraps or wheat when there are formulated chicken feeds available that supply everything a laying hen requires to be healthy and produce eggs.
All flocks of chickens have a well-defined order known as the pecking order. A chicken at the top of the pecking order gets to do the things she wants by 'pushing the others around' a little, giving them a short, sharp peck if they don't submit to her, allowing her to go where she wants to go or access food and drink first.
It is thought that chickens inherited a pecking order from their ancestors the Red Jungle Fowl of Thailand, who had a pecking order so that when food was available, there are no fights over food, attracting attention to the flock by predators. This way, the strongest at the top of the pecking order got to eat first, ensuring their survival and the survival of future generations.
There can be several reasons why chickens have stopped laying but with a little bit of detective work, you can normally work out why your birds aren't laying. Generally speaking, all chickens will stop laying when they go through a moult as the protein that was being used to produce eggs is diverted to feather production. This is usually in late summer / autumn although pullets and cockerels (chickens under one year old) will not normally moult in their first year.
Here are some reasons why chickens stop laying:
I often get asked whether there are laws on keeping chickens in the back garden. There are in fact a number of things to be aware of before you embark on your chicken keeping journey! This information covers regulation in the United Kingdom, other countries have their own rules and regulations that I don't know about or cover here.
First, you should check with your local Council to see whether there are any local bylaws preventing you from keeping poultry. Many allow you to keep poultry but there are a few that do not. If your Council doesn't, please leave us a comment below so we can compile a list to help others.
In order to digest their food correctly, chickens require fine (insoluble or 'flint') grit. Of course, chickens don't have teeth so they use this grit to grind down their food.
A diagram of the digestive system of a chicken shows the path food takes. Inside the proventriculus, food is mixed with acids and digestive enzymes. Grit accumulates in the gizzard, which with a strong muscular action, grinds the food down. So to digest their food correctly, chickens need insoluble grit.
If your hens are allowed to free-range then it is likely that they already get enough grit in their diet however, this is not always the case because it depends on the type of ground they are kept on. It is cheap enough to buy so it's easy to provide some in a hopper like the one shown here, just to make sure they are getting enough.
A hen may go broody and decide she wants to hatch some eggs out herself. This usually happens during the spring and summer months although hens can suddenly decide to go broody at other times of the year too.
Not all hens will go broody. Most types of hen that are good egg layers will not go broody since they have been through so much selection during their creation that genetically, they no longer possess the genes that make them want to go broody.
Red Mite are small mites that live in the chicken house and come out at night to feed. They are mites, otherwise known as 'ecto parasites' that live in cracks and crevices in your hen house, coming out at night to hop onto your birds for a blood feed. They are a real problem that needs dealing with as soon as you notice them. Hens will become anaemic, stop laying and eventually die if the coop is left untreated. Please see our Red Mite section for more information as these really are silent killers!
Poultry saddles prevent feather loss on a hens back when a cock treads her. After a short time into the breeding season (and it really doesn't take long if you have only a few hens to a cock), you may notice some of your hens start to lose feathers on their backs where the cock has been treading. Often, cocks have their favourite hens so it can be one or two hens that need a poultry saddle fitted but in smaller flocks, (or if you have a very active cock bird), you may find most of your hens will need saddles. It is best to fit a saddle as soon as you first start to notice the feather loss, before she becomes bare on her back.
No-one expects the unexpected, there are potential dangers lurking in the most unexpected of places for the chicken keeper, says Jeremy Hobson.
I think it might have been a Monty Python sketch where it was once said "no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition." Similarly, no chicken fancier can imagine all the pit-falls and problems that might occur whilst enjoying their hobby. Anticipating obvious problems and nipping them in the bud is one matter; thinking way beyond those is another subject entirely.
Amongst the most obvious is the need to shut your chickens in at night in order to prevent predation from foxes. A good wire fence will protect them during the day from wandering dogs and a regular worming programme will hopefully ensure that internal parasites are kept at bay. Periodic checks on the lice and red mite situation can be made by gently lifting one's birds from the roost every so often and checking for any signs in between the feathers – especially under the wings and around the vent area. The regular moving of small houses and pens onto fresh grass will help in preventing the area from becoming a quagmire and a breeding place for disease. Even vermin problems can be forestalled by the regular use of baiting points set in safe positions around the poultry area.
Let half a dozen adult hens have the run of the garden and they will take over completely, scratching up your best plants and making dust baths in the dahlias.
Spotting exactly where you dig and plant, they are always first in the queue for juicy morsels turned up by your trowel and selfishly snip the delicate beginnings of your seedlings before they have a chance to mature into something edible or pretty.
It may sound like a match made in hell but with some forethought, poultry can actually enhance your gardening efforts.