Before reading about reproductive system problems, it is helpful to understand how the reproductive system works, part of which includes egg laying.
A hen's reproductive system consists of two parts: the ovary and the oviduct. The ovary contains thousands of ova (see the diagram below) which can develop into the yolk and eventually an egg. A hen therefore has the ova of every egg she can ever lay inside her body.
The ovary releases eggs when stimulated by a hormone. This hormone is produced by the pituitary gland inside the eye which in turn is stimulated by light.
Chickens need around 16 hours of daylight to lay so during the darker winter months they will usually stop laying. In the U.K. they normally stop from November to February or early March. Young birds just coming into lay in early winter will sometimes lay at a reduced rate over the winter.
Egg Peritonitis is when the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen) becomes inflamed due to an infection from bacteria. Peritonitis can occur after prolapse or when yolk goes into the abdominal cavity, instead of going down the oviduct and out in the normal way.
The yolk should go into the 'ovarian pocket' (the space surrounding the ovary). This often occurs after some viral diseases like Infectious Bronchitis where the disease damages the reproductive tract. A ruptured intestine can also cause this problem.
A prolapsed oviduct is when the lower part of a hen's oviduct turns inside out and is left hanging outside of her vent. This condition is most common in young hens that have started laying too soon but can be inherited in some pure breeds, especially from exhibition lines. Prolapse is caused by the tissue that normally holds the oviduct in place being damaged.
The suprelorin implant was originally designed to induce temporary infertility in male dogs but strangely also stops chickens laying for anything up to six months.
With my two implant girls it was a three month and two month respite from egg laying demands. It is therefore ideal for prolapses or other egg issues, such as peritonitis, giving your girl a rest from laying and her body a chance to recover. Most reports of it have been very good, but be aware it is unlicensed for chickens. It costs about £60.
Tumors are quite common in an older hen's reproductive organs. This is an area that hasn't really undergone a great deal of research and because of this, there is little I can say about this, other than they do exist in all kinds of poultry and can be a common cause of death in an older bird.
Sometimes poultry can become egg bound when a large egg ‘gets stuck' in the oviduct. The bird will usually keep visiting the nest box without being able to lay the egg and will keep straining. If the abdomen of the bird is examined, the egg can often be felt.
A particularly large egg is often the cause of a bird becoming egg bound. The image to the right is an X-ray that clearly shows an egg that has become lodged and cannot pass without assistance. One way or another, the egg has to come out but thankfully there are a number of ways to assist the bird to pass the egg naturally without a trip to the vets.