How To Tell If A Hen Is Laying – Best Ways To Keep Flocks Healthy

Humm… Has she gone on strike? Let’s crack the “how to tell if a hen is laying” code. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic.

It’s pretty frustrating to wonder if your hen is laying… There could be several reasons why you are not getting the same number of eggs you normally would.

how to tell if a hen is laying intro image

We are all about having productive and profitable backyard farms around here so not getting eggs is more than a tad annoying.

If your egg production has dropped then its time to put on your detective hat and see if you can figure out which female chicken isn’t pulling her weight.

How Long Can You Expect A Hen To Lay

It is helpful to know the age of your chickens because you are going to know if they are starting to get past the average laying age of hens. If you got your flock from someone else or you have a mix and match style of flock you are going to have a really hard time figuring this all out.

Depending on the breed of chickens a hen should lay pretty consistently for at least 2-3 years. The maximum egg production years tend to fall between 9 ish months old to 3 years old. 

However, in the winter months due to less hours of daylight, you will have a portion of the year where some chickens lay almost nothing. More on that later.

You will start to see a pretty good drop-off after that but still get a good number. IF you have all the key elements in place.

The oldest hen I have ever had was about 7 when she died and for the last two years of her life she would lay about 1 egg a week

It’s also important to note that you likely won’t start to see eggs from chickens until they are 5-6 months of age. Especially if they are not a breed that was developed for laying eggs like the leghorn or Rhode Island reds.

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Characteristics Of A Hen That Is Laying

Below are some characteristics and features of hens that are laying. Don’t get rid of a hen because she does not have all of these features below. If you’re not familiar with a breed it would be a bummer to get rid of a hen that was perfectly fine.

The pelvic bones and vent are the most reliable ways to tell. — Put your hand under her rump with her head facing your elbow of the same arm. Her pubic bones should be 2.5-3 fingers wide if she is a standard chicken.

  • Carriage (behavior) — active and alert.
  • Eyes — Bright and shining.
  • Abdomen — deep and wide.
  • Vent — large and moist.
  • Molt — Late and Fast.
  • Skin — bleached and stretchy.
  • Her comb should be bright red and not a dull pink. 
  • Pubic bones — wide and flexible.
  • You will find her in the nest box every so often. 
a small flock of hens eating a pumpkin

Reasons Why Your Hen Might Not Be Laying

There are several reasons why a you might see a decline in egg production so make sure to rule out some of these issues.

  • The light might be less than 14hrs and that causes hens to stop laying.Here is a blog post to help with that.
  • A predator might be taking the eggs. (possums and skunks are a big cause of this, if you don’t have the chicken coop completely closed up at night this is a big issue. Getting an automatic chicken coop door will help you with the hassle of opening and closing it every night.)
  • Molting is another cause of hens not laying.
  • She is a young bird under 16 weeks of age.
  • She is hiding the eggs on you. – Do your hens free roam? She may be laying eggs somewhere else in a secret spot that you haven’t found.
  • She could be one of the breeds of chickens that is just a poor egg layer. – Check out this post to see the top laying breeds.
  • You are not feeding a complete layer feed. — Trying to cut corners with lots of kitchen scraps or scratch grains will cause your flock to slow down laying as well.

Here are the supplies you need to add a light in your coop to get the hens to think the days are longer than they are.

Woods Import 550165 Do It Brooder Heat Lamp 250W 10In Brooder Ht Lamp – See On Amazon

LED lightbulb pack – See On Amazon

24 Hour Outdoor Lights Timer Waterproof, Programmable Mechanical Timer Plug in Switch – See On Amazon

Pro tip: If your hen is in molt then she will stop laying until her feathers grow back. To speed this process up mix cat food into the feed. This will increase her protein intake and grow the feathers faster. Don’t freak out on me about that. A poultry show judge told us that trick when we showed chickens through 4-H.

Here is a blog post that will help you learn how to get your hens through a molt.

Reasons To Cull Freeloading Chickens

First off I want to make it clear that you are not a bad person for culling chickens. You are allowed to keep your flock at a healthy level. How you chose to do so is up to you.

I do think it is important to be a good steward of your animals and not be wasteful. But you also owe it to the birds you have to keep your hobby farm in working, manageable conditions.

a women holding chicken eggs in her shirt

Reasons you would want to get rid of your non-laying hens:

  • It reduces the feed usage.
  • A hen that is not producing will eat just as much as a hen that lays eggs.
  • Takes up less space in your coop.
  • Lessens the chance of disease from an overcrowded coop.
  • Keeps your coop from getting dirtier faster.

(We do have one hen that I owned before my husband and I were even an item. So we guesstimate that she is about 7 years old which is AMAZING. Normally predators take care of the old age around here. )

Related Post: Raising Chickens In Small Spaces.

You need to keep things from getting too costly.

If you are getting enough eggs to make up for the feed costs it’s not a horrible thing to keep a few old hens. Buuttttt if there are too many freeloading chickens some have to go.

a dark red hen

Options After She Has Stopped Laying

Not many people like this topic but it is a natural part of country life so it needs to be covered. If you are of the mindset to do this first idea then don’t feel like you are alone in this thought and know that it is ok.

Some people think it is terrible to process a hen that is not producing and you should just let them live out their life. A hen can live for 5+ years after she has stopped laying well and that is just too much feed to waste. Ok, rant over.

There are a few options.

1st, You can take the hens to a local processor and your hens will provide your family with a nice meal for their last hoorah! If you are not keen on doing the chickens in yourself, then taking them to the butcher is the best option.

You take them live to the butcher and they come out ready for the freezer. You don’t have to see anything happen if you don’t want to.

If you do not have one close to you I am sure you could post in a local farming or homesteading group that you are looking for someone to do this for you along with what you are willing to pay and I am sure someone will be willing to do it. It would also be a good way for kids to make some money as well.

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You can put the hens up for free or very cheap on your local classified ads like Craigslist. Just be honest when posting and say that they are not laying often or possibly not at all.

Also, there are many people who put a listing up saying they will take unwanted farm animals. You can find them on classified ad listing like Craig’s List.

3rd, If you are ok with processing them yourself but do not what to have to kill them, ask an experienced friend do them in for you. This can make the process easier. When I was new to raising chickens I was ok with possessing them but was not a fan of doing the deed myself. It gets a little easier over time.

When I don’t think the hen is worth taking to the butcher or the animal is injured my husband has an air rifle that does a nice quick job if you know where to take the shot.

As harsh as that sounds I am not one who likes to see an animal suffer unnecessarily so the fair thing to do is put them out.

Pro Tip: Prepare young children who might be living at home to see animals missing or the actual processing happening. It is a natural part of life and the young people in our life should be prepared for what is going to happen. So many parents make up stories to help it go over and this is just prolonging what you will have to tell them later and then they will put together that you didn’t tell them the truth the first time

If an animal is sick of injured still make sure the child knows the truth even if you don’t what them to see the animal being put down.

half a dozen of chicken eggs

Track The Age

Here is a tip to track a hens age more easily. 

Like I said a hen typically slows down after age 2 and drastically drops after 3 years old.

So one thing I like to do is make sure to get different breeds the years I buy replacements so I can tell the difference and know which hens were from which year. Even if you get the same breed a lot of breeds have different colors. So if you get buff orpingtons one year you could get a different color of Orpington the next time.

If you have a large flock this is especially helpful.

You could also use leg bands if you like to have a mix. These leg bands on amazing are really affordable. I would choose one color to put on each bird from one particular year. Definitely make a note of that.

small flock of chickens standing in the fall leafs

There is nothing wrong with keeping your flock trim. To have a hobby farm that doesn’t completely suck away your extra cash you have to draw a line somewhere. Decide what that is and don’t be afraid to hold to it.

Ultimately the two things you need to do to make sure your hen is laying eggs is know the physical signs of a hen not laying, mainly her pubic bones being smaller. And then knowing her age. 

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