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Chickens not Laying Eggs? Don't be too Quick to Blame their Feed

There are lots of reasons why chickens don't lay eggs. What you're feeding them could be one reason, but it's not the only one. And not for the reason you think.

If you raise your own chickens and haven't heard the latest chicken feed conspiracy theories swirling around social media (and tiktok specifically) about flocks of perfectly healthy chickens suddenly not laying eggs, you're likely living under a rock. 

Or in the woods of Maine. 

Oh no wait, that's where we live - and I keep hearing murmurings.

In fact, I have been bombarded with messages and email from panicked chicken keepers over the last week or so asking if I have heard that a certain big box farm supply store is in collusion with one of the largest egg producers in America and has added something to the chicken feed to prevent backyard hens from laying.

Usually I just disregard this type of conspiracy theory and move on, but the number of chicken keepers across the board complaining that their hens weren't laying for the first time ever gave me pause. 

So I have decided to address it.

Chickens not Laying Eggs? Don't be too Quick to Blame their Feed (at least for the reason you think)

So if you have been living under a rock, this is the gist of the Tiktok videos that are going viral. 

The Chicken Feed Conspiracy Theory: 

Those chicken keepers feeding Tractor Supply feeds (Purina, Producer's Pride, and Dumor, specifically) haven't seen eggs in months.  The feed brands are all owned by Purina.

And guess who owns Purina feeds??? Land-o-Lakes.  And Land-o-Lakes produces their own eggs!  In fact,they are apparently the largest egg producer in the country: Cal-Maine foods. So the theory is that they're adding a substance called RNA to the feed to prevent backyard hens from laying so everyone will have to buy their eggs. A little crazy, right?

There are lots of reasons why chickens will stop laying, but intentionally tainted feed likely isn't one of them as confirmed by The Washington Post. Instead, I would point a finger at the season, the proliferation of very inexperienced chicken keepers and rising costs across the board.

Hens Need Light in Order to Lay Eggs

First and foremost, hens need 14-16 hours of daylight to stimulate their ovaries to lay an egg, and during the winter, they're not getting that. 

So egg production usually slows or stops during the shortest days of the year unless artificial light is added to the chicken coop.  That's been happening on farms and in backyards for as long as they've been raising chickens.

The First Year Layer Exception

The exception to the rule is first year layers. A spring chicken will lay eggs through her first winter.

So all of those families who started raising chickens in the spring of 2021 during Covid started seeing eggs in late summer and that egg production stayed constant right through until fall of 2022. 

Then boom!

All their hens stopped laying. Perfectly normal. Not any type of conspiracy.

I personally have ready so many comments on Facebook pages and on Instagram reels made by people saying, "My chickens are a year and a half old! They should be in their prime laying years! It has to be the feed!" 

Well actually, yes, they're at their prime laying age, but they won't lay through the winter without added light.

Hens are Most Productive during  Year Two 

Another reason why chickens might not be laying eggs this winter is that they are most productive during the second year of laying. After that, production usually slows way down, especially in the winter, dropping by 20% annually.

So baby chicks that were purchased during the early days Covid in 2020 have already passed their peak laying days. It's natural for their egg production to slow down during their third and future laying seasons.

Hens Need a Balanced Diet to Lay Eggs

Because laying eggs takes so much energy and nutrients from a hen's body, she needs a well-balanced diet in order to be productive. 

Because the cost of grains and other ingredients that go into chicken layer feed have gone up in price over the last few months, it is possible that some of the feed companies have switched to lower quality ingredients in an effort to save money. This could lead to lower egg production. 

Also choosing a cheaper feed (which I'm sure many people have done to try and keep their costs down during this recent recession), could definitely contribute to a reduction in lay rates.

Another factor that could be contributing to lower egg production could be the feeding of scratch grains (or cracked corn) instead of balanced layer feed. 

Scratch Grains 

Scratch grains are a popular winter chicken treat among backyard chicken keepers because they provide energy and fat to keep the chickens warm, but since they're not nutritionally balanced, should be limited to no more than 10% of a hen's diet. 

Overfeeding scratch grains could also contribute to lower egg production. Without adequate levels of protein and calcium, hens aren't going to be very good layers.

Relating back to the conspiracy theories, people are claiming that they have switched feeds and now their chickens are laying again.  There could be two reasons for this: 1) the feed they switched to could be better quality, thereby giving their hens the things they need or 2) days are getting longer. 

Here in Maine, we have already gained over an hour since the shortest day of the year and coincidentally I just collected our first chicken egg of the season!

Hens Need Water to Lay Eggs

In the winter it can be a challenge to keep a flock's water from freezing. But hens need constant access to fresh, drinkable water to lay eggs. 

An egg is made up of about 75% water, so even going without water for a few hours can almost immediately lead to a drop in egg production.

Other Factors that Can Lead to a Reduction in Egg Production

Honestly, chickens are very finicky. They love routine, they hate change.  There are lots of other things that can cause hens to stop laying this time of year including:

  • Extreme cold
  • Predators lurking, dogs barking or other environmental stressors
  • Overcrowding in the coop due to the inability to spend as much time outside
  • Build up of ammonia fumes in the coop
  • Old moldy or otherwise contaminated feed

Bottom line, I've been raising chickens for 14 years. Every winter my older hens slow down or stop laying completely.  

I'm used to it and okay with it. I let them take their winter break, knowing that as soon as the days get longer, they're going to start up again. 

So no, I don't believe that there's a conspiracy afoot to keep hens from laying.  Chickens are just doing what they're programmed to do. 

They will stop production on their own if they're not provided with the things they need to produce eggs. The first and foremost of those things being light. 

So nothing to see there. Keep moving along.

** I would like to note that none of the companies mentioned above pay me in any way, shape or form and I don't work with them in any capacity. This is my unbiased opinion.

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