You’ve celebrated the arrival of your first egg and your hens are laying breakfast daily—or so you thought. Have eggs suddenly gone missing from the nesting box? Is your hen moody and taking a vacation from laying eggs? Don’t fret. There are ways to get hens back on track.
“Hens are creatures of habit and may need encouragement to lay consistently,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D. and flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “A comfortable nesting box environment and the right nutrition will help keep hens laying strong, so your family can enjoy farm fresh eggs each day.”
Check out Team Purina’s advice on three of the most commonly asked laying hen questions:
How do I teach hens to lay in nesting boxes?
Once a hen begins producing eggs, she tends to lay in the same spot.
“If you’ve ever found an egg in your flowerbeds, you know some training may be required to encourage hens to use nesting boxes,” says Biggs.
Biggs gives these tips to help teach hens where to lay eggs:
Place golf balls or decoy eggs in nesting boxes to help hens understand where to lay.
Line each box with a thick layer of straw, or other bedding, to keep eggs clean and unbroken.
Provide a 1-cubic foot nesting box for every four or five hens to help prevent competition and minimize egg breakage or eating.
Ensure all boxes are uniform and off of the floor in the darkest corner of the coop.
How do I break a broody hen?
You know you have a broody hen when she decides to sit on a clutch of eggs day and night. Hens go broody because hormones drive their instinct to hatch chicks, even when the eggs are not fertilized.
“Some flock raisers allow hens who go broody to raise baby chicks,” says Biggs. “It can be problematic if you aren’t planning on hatching chicks because broody hens stop laying eggs after they’ve made their clutch. If your broody hen is overly protective of her eggs, wear gloves when working with her since she may peck your hands as you collect eggs under her.”
Collect eggs as often as possible to get a broody hen laying again. If the hen has a favorite nesting box, close it off to limit access. At night, move the broody hen from the nesting box to the roost with the rest of the hens. She’s less likely to return to the nesting box while it’s dark.
Biggs recommends giving the hen a change of scenery when all else fails.
“Isolate the hen away from the nesting boxes in a wire cage or separate area of the coop,” says Biggs. “Provide her feed and water, and give her a vacation for 2 to 4 days. You can return her to the coop if she lays an egg. You may need to repeat this process a few times if she continues to be broody. Persistence is key to success.”
Why are my hens laying eggs with soft shells?
It usually takes 24 hours for an egg to develop. Occasionally, high-producing breeds can lay an egg in less time, resulting in a soft-shelled egg.
Unhealthy hens typically produce lower quality eggs and can even stop laying altogether. If you notice a trend with hens laying soft-shelled eggs, there could be another issue at hand. Common culprits include:
Hen age: As chickens near the end of their laying years (4 to 5 years old), they tend to lay larger eggs with thinner shells. If you have an older flock, think about introducing younger birds to collect plenty of quality eggs.
Pecking order: A bird low in the pecking order may not get enough to eat, particularly during cold weather when birds ramp up feed intake to help stay warm. Keep the peace in your flock by providing alternative places to peck.
Predators: Occasionally, a predator may investigate your flock at night. The stress of the encounter can trigger hens to lay before the shell has a chance to fully form.
Treats: Extra grains or scraps can disrupt the balanced nutrition in layer feed, which may leave birds lacking nutrients. Limit treats to less than 10% of their overall diet or provide a healthy treat. If you see a change in egg production or quality, cut back on treats for a week to see if production improves. You may need to adjust how much you are spoiling your ladies.
Nutrition: At least 90% of your layers’ total diet should be a complete layer feed. You can help hens lay strong shells by offering a layer feed with calcium. The hens need calcium to stay strong and lay strong.
“A soft-shelled egg every now and then isn’t something to ruffle your feathers,” says Biggs. “When hens lay 200 to 300 eggs a year, a dud is bound to happen. If it becomes a regular occurrence or you see multiple soft-shelled eggs in your flock, take a closer look at what is going on with the hens. There could be a larger problem lurking in the background that needs attention.”