So you think your chicken aren’t laying well? Maybe they’re not. Laying eggs is a daylight sensitive business. Commercial egg production uses artificial light to trick the chicken into laying consistently through cold seasons. You don’t need a rooster to get your chicken to lay eggs, only if you want those eggs to be fertile. Here are some things on how to get more eggs from chickens

1. Confine your chicken for a minimum of 72 hours

24 hours won’t do it. 48 might, but to be sure you need the full three-day treatment. If chicken are free ranging and have got used to laying somewhere other than their nest box they’ll hold on to their next egg a surprisingly long time in the hope they’ll be able to get to their favourite nesting spot. If egg numbers drop I keep the girls in their run for a week to get them re-accustomed to laying in the box and then let them out to free range daily again. I’m always surprised at the increase in egg numbers.

Don’t believe me because you can’t find the eggs? If your dog has a very glossy coat, bright eyes and fruity farts, you’ve got your number one suspect. You could try following the chicken when you let them out, as an alternative to keeping them confined. In my experience this can be a long, laborious and frustrating search. Chicken can lead you a merry dance and be very wily. You may be lucky though and find a very happy chicken sitting on a pile of 20 or so eggs of indeterminate age.

* How you do this depends on your chicken house set up. I’m not suggesting battery hen style confinement here. Just an arrangement where you can locate all the nesting alternatives.

2. Keep young hens

Young hens lay the most eggs. Each year a hen lays she’ll lay fewer eggs than the previous year. The drop-off rate for the most productive laying hens is the steepest. You’ll find ex-battery hens won’t lay many eggs after their second season. Heavier breeds can still be laying well after five years, but still not as well as they did in their first two years.

3. Reduce their stress

Overcrowding, young roosters fighting and insufficient places to hide (from each other or hawks) can all be stressful for a chicken. Improve their environment and you’ll get more eggs.

4. Deal with broody chicken quickly

Chicken usually go broody between October and February, but some chicken seem to like sitting on the nest more than anything else in life. It’s notoriously contagious in the chicken run. Once one starts, all the others want a piece of the inaction. Get some fertile eggs for her to sit on somewhere away from the rest of the flock. If you don’t want chicks, break the broodiness or lend your broody chicken to someone who does want to raise them.

5. Improve nest box comfort

Damp or mouldy bedding, itchy mites or too much light make for an unattractive nest box in a chicken’s eyes. Make sure you give your chicken somewhere they want to come home to lay. However many nest boxes you give them, they’ll all try to use the same one, possibly at the same time. Sometimes they’ll form a squabbly queue, with the top chicken getting to lay first.

6. Supplement their diet

All those feathers can hide a multitude of sins. Pick your hens up from time to time to find out if they feel fat or skinny. Producing a 70 g high-protein egg a day for a bird weighing less than 2 kg is a mammoth task that can take its toll. Chicken are omnivorous and benefit from daily greens, grains and grubs. They’ll eat plenty while they’re free ranging but burn a fair amount off on their long-distance hikes foraging for provisions. Provide high quality rations and you and your chickens will reap the rewards.

7. Keep a different breed of chicken

If you’ve got hi-line or red shaver chicken they may continue laying through winter without a break. Older breeds and bantams tend to take a well-earned rest, particularly when they are moulting in autumn. Each breed has a slightly different personality. Try a few to see which suits you best.

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