Time on pasture?
Despite doing “all the things”, at one time or another backyard flock owners may notice a precipitous decline in their prime, a suddenly drop in egg production for no particular reason. The eggsperts often like to tell us lay people the most discouraging messages from having chosen the wrong breed to your birds having aged out with their best years (two) behind them.
Before you send your girls to freezer camp, you may want to explore these two egg-boosting strategies I’ve uncovered since getting into backyard chickens. My four-year old flock is still going strong laying fluffy, deep orange eggs to this day! I hope they work for you too.
The idea here isn’t to push your girls into laying eggs forever and ever and ever. Instead, it is focusing on nutritional needs that allow a hen’s body to provide what she’s capable of, given the right set of circumstances.
MORE IS NOT BETTER
The first thing to keep in mind is that more feed does not necessarily mean more eggs. In fact, simply adding feed will likely cause egg-binding — an often fatal side effect of overfeeding. In short, it is when the eggs grow too large inside the bird for her to let it out. Instead, the egg gets bound inside of her body and may kill her, if not properly attended to in time! So please, don’t assume that a lack of feed is the problem.
While possibly difficult to do with a mixed flock, you want to know just how much feed your particular breed needs to stay in good shape and lay the requisite number of eggs. Personally we feed just shy of this amount because a hungry chicken is easier to control. LOL
My daughter lets the chickens out of their coop (This post contains affiliate links through which I may receive a small commission.) every afternoon, luring them into the chicken tractor with a small scoop of feed. Every so often there are some that go rogue. I think this mainly happens when she leaves the tractor in the same spot for too many days in a row and they know they’ve already cleared all the bugs from that area.
So now that you know what not to do, let’s get on to the meat of this post.
THIS IS THE WAY
Parasites were the first cause of no-egg syndrome to come into my consciousness. This doesn’t necessarily mean mites. Any kind of parasite can cause your hens to suddenly stop laying eggs. Luckily, for me it’s been an easy fix.
If your girls don’t get access to a fresh patch of grass every so often, no pasturing time at all, or don’t have good sunlight hitting the coop floor, they may be more prone to parasitic infection than those that do get more elbow room and healing sterilization from the sun.
There are so many foods which you probably have in your home already that will do the job quickly and effectively. You can give them mixed in their feed or spike their water with it. There are also some non-food items you may also have ready access to for various reasons.
- Papaya seeds — non-GMO only
- Coconut — fresh, flour, flakes, oil
- Garlic — a fresh clove or two smashed and infused into their water source or powdered/granulated mixed in their feed works too
- Pumpkin or other squash seeds or their oils
- Oregano and peppermint — I keep a patches of oregano and peppermint ground cover to occasionally grab a fistful of for them. A few drops of their essential oils work very well too.
- Thyme and rosemary — an infusion of one or both of these (or their essential oils) added to their water is very effective.
- Juniper berries — smashed and infused into water
- Wormwood — of absinthe fame is a powerful anti-parasitic! I grow this around the borders of my garden beds because it may deter certain pests.
- Castor oil — be careful as this can easily overwhelm your bird and is not so easy to make sure no one bird overdoses on it unless you dilute it into something like coconut oil
- Turpentine — don’t panic! Turpentine is simply the gum resin of pine trees. This is my favorite! A dropper full in their water does wonders.
- Diatomaceous Earth aka DE — good both mixed in feed, in nesting boxes and dust bath
- Wood ash and sand for a dust bath or in nesting boxes
A tablespoon of cider vinegar per liter of water given once or twice per week is sometimes recommended as a preventive, however, proceed cautiously with this one as it may also inhibit proper calcium absorption needed for shell formation.
There are certainly more things you can give, but these are some of the ones I always have available as well as what comes to mind just now.
2. ORGAN MEATS
Say it with me, “Chickens are omnivores!”
This is why it’s so important that they don’t simply get “vegetarian feed” without access to grass and/or bugs.
About six months ago, my hens stopped laying for no apparent reason other than age as the days were still long enough and they had been regularly getting a mix of anti-parasitics such as the ones mentioned above in addition to good feed that included daily grass time.
As we were deciding whether or not to exchange them with our local chicken provider, I needed to clean out my freezer. About a year prior, a butcher had given me a garbage bag of organ meats, which I had intended to divvy up for them but never got around to it. So I began to slowly thaw it in the back of the fridge, hacking off thawed bits every day or two or three until it was done.
Within 24 hours, we went from 1-2 eggs per day (from 12 hens) to 4-5 eggs per day. Over the next week, the number steadily increased until we were getting about 10 per day for a while. We don’t like to push our birds, but this confirmed to me the importance of providing adequate nutrients at every stage of life not only for humans, but for my animals as well.
Unfortunately we lost two birds since then and currently get from 6-8 each day. They barely slowed down for winter even though many of my farmer friends’ flocks have. To be fair, my property gets quite strong direct sun for 12 hours even in winter as I essentially live in a desert with few trees, while many of them live in lush, rainier, shadier areas.
I want to make sure you realize that I mean specifically organ meats and not just any meat — although that may work for you. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my chickens regularly get cooked and uncooked muscle meat from bone stock or leftovers, if we’ve eaten out or let something go slightly past its prime in the refrigerator. And as I’ve said, they get plenty of bugs each day — worms, slugs, centipedes, millipedes, roly polies, beetles, caterpillars etc. It was specifically giving them kidneys, intestines, heart and other organs that resulted in their surge in productivity.
Since then, we’ve given them some liver that a friend kept in her fridge past what she felt was an acceptable amount of time. There were perhaps some fish entrails at one point.
What I love about this is that by giving the chickens these typically discarded, but most nutritious parts of the animal, we get many of the benefits as if we had eaten them ourselves. At the same time, the girls replenish whatever deficiencies they may suffer. It also makes sure that the animal that died to provide us food is fully being appreciated by being used as completely as possible (at this time). The world would be a different place if went back to a time where waste was minimal.
Do you have a favorite go-to method for getting the egg assembly line back up and running? Let me know below!
Don’t forget to keep your ladies active and entertained, too. Here are 20 gifts for chickens to treat them.
Prior to your girls going on strike, you may notice their eggshells becoming fragile. You may even end up with some shell-less eggs in the nesting box.
Under normal conditions, our eggs need several hard taps on the side of a bowl to make the slightest chink in the shells. However, when calcium is lacking, the normally brown eggs start getting pale — almost white — over time. Then we notice the shells getting papery thin, practically crumbling from being held too tightly. It is interesting to note that the last time this was a problem was after we had started adding the typical calcium source of oyster shells to their rations.
My older daughter is unenthusiastically in charge of chickens. When I asked her whether or not she had been adding what I have dubbed “Chix Mix” to their water, the problem was clear. She was not. Ah, teenagers! sigh
Chix Mix is a preparation I learned to make in Korean Natural Farming classes. It is made by combining calcium phosphate (made from charred bones soaked in rice vinegar) and water soluble calcium (made from roasted eggshells soaked in rice vinegar). It is added to their drinking water in homeopathic amounts.
Within 2 days of adding it to their water, they slowly started laying again. For added support, I decided to repurpose my “test” goat milk (those first few squirts you take from an animal to make sure there is no mastitis present) by adding that to their water as well.*
Not sure if it is the gradual bolstering provided by the Chix Mix or the combination of it with the milk, but adding a tablespoon or two of fresh goat milk resulted in an immediate increase from 3 to 6 then 8 eggs daily — literally within 5 days. A few months have now passed since this new regimen and they are still going strong! Not bad for a flock of 11.
You may be wondering why we don’t just feed the chickens back their eggshells crushed. We do! But just as eggshell calcium takes a really long time to release for availability to plants, it seems the calcium is equally difficult to access for the hens themselves.
What I love about farming is that it’s a great opportunity to learn about the nature of life itself. Everything has a natural remedy. Sometimes we can see an obvious cause and effect such as boosting calcium for egg formation. Other times there is an intangible synergy that just works although we mortal humans don’t yet have the capacity to understand the how behind it.