How do you know if your chicken is still laying eggs? Here’s how to tell if a chicken is still laying or is a liar, and what to do with them.
With the price of feed and time spent on cleaning coops and such, it’s really important for us to know what hens are still laying eggs. We always have to check and ask ourselves, “Is this chicken still laying eggs, or are they just eating food?”
There are several ways you can tell if your chicken is still laying, without requiring a lot of fancy scientific research or analysis on your part! Here are some tips.
I *could* go outside, watch for each one to enter the nesting box, wait for her to deposit her egg, then mark her in a way that I would know she was still laying. But, since I don’t have that kind of time on my hands, there is an easier way to do it. This is the method we learned in our 4H poultry club, and has worked for us time and again.
Why Do Chickens Stop Laying Eggs?
If you’re wondering whether your chickens are still laying eggs, it might be helpful to first pinpoint why they would stop in the first place.
Most of the time, chickens are still laying – they’re just doing so very infrequently.
Once chickens hit a certain age, their production starts to decline. They’re probably still laying eggs, but doing it so infrequently it seems like they aren’t laying at all.
If age isn’t a factor, your chickens might stop or slow down laying if they’re getting fewer than 14 hours of sunlight per day. Chickens’ hormones rely on cues from the sun, so as the daylight hours get shorter, it’s common for egg production to drop, too.
Molting can cause your chickens to stop laying as well. This first occurs at around 18 months of age and almost always in the fall. In this process, which occurs every year thereafter, a hen will lose all of her old feathers and grow new ones. It takes up a lot of energy, so it often causes a hen to stop laying.
Broodiness is another natural process that – although frustrating – is quite common. It can cause a hen to stop laying because she is focusing her energy on hatching eggs rather than laying them.
A threat from a predator, disease, or parasite can also cause chickens tos stop laying. Any kind of stress can spell disaster for your daily egg collection.
Finally, if it’s very cold outside, that might be why a hen has stopped laying, too. It takes a lot of energy to maintain body heat, so a hen will spend less of her energy on producing eggs, and more on staying warm in inclement weather.
How to Tell if Your Chicken is Still Laying: 12 Tips
Check her vent, keel bone, and abdomen.
Here’s how. Gently hold your chicken and flip her over so you can see her vent. This is her “butt” or where the eggs come out of. You are looking for a moist looking vent. A dry one signals that her laying life isn’t happening.
Next, feel for her keel bone.
This is the bottom of the breastbone. Then, place your fingers from the keel bone toward the vent. 1-2 fingers mean that she is still laying. 3-4 means that she isn’t laying so well anymore.
Feel her abdomen.
If it’s nice and soft, you have a layer. Hard and firm, a liar.
2. Check the comb and leg color.
Next, check her comb and leg color.
A chicken will “lose” her color from the top down and gain it back in the same order. When she is in full egg production, her comb will begin to lose it’s deep color, on down. If her legs are a bright yellow, her laying life is pretty much over.
3. Watch for egg-laying behavior.
No, you don’t need to stake out the chicken coop in order to do this! Just casually observe your hens’ behavior to see if she is exhibiting some of the “classic” signs of laying. You could also install a motion-sensor camera or video recorded to keep track of this, too!
A productive hen will squat when you attempt to touch her, and she will repeatedly seek out dark, secluded areas. She might look restless during egg-laying time – which is usually sometime in the morning – and she may be extra talkative at this time, too.
Your hen’s first eggs might be in odd places, so keep a lookout! More on this below.
4. Look for hiding spots.
If you suspect that a hen has stopped laying because you haven’t found any of her eggs lately, consider whether she might be hiding them on you. Hens will stop laying in the nest box for a wide variety of reasons – she may have been startled out of it by another aggressive hen, a predator, or even lice or mites in the nest boxes.
Consider scoping out some of the other private, secluded areas on your property. Some hot spots to check include under porches and decks, in barns, in compost bins, or near sheds. Your hen will lay anywhere she can find a moment of peace – and it doesn’t have to be the nest box you’ve so kindly established for her.
If you think hidden eggs might be to blame – and don’t think she’s ceased laying altogether – you can try to “trick” her back into laying in the nest boxes by placing a few decoy eggs in the box. These can be wooden eggs or even golf balls – she will think they are eggs and be re-encouraged to lay there again.
If your hen is laying somewhere besides the nest box – or if laying eggs in the nest box has for whatever reason made her nervous and she is thinking about laying eggs somewhere else (even if she hasn’t started yet) – you might watch her engage in the act of preparing other nesting areas. She might rearrange “bedding” materials like straw, grass, sand, or other items. She will walk around in this area repeatedly as she prepares to lay.
5. See how she interacts with the roosters.
Roosters generally won’t try to breed pullets that aren’t at laying age yet – and they’re also less likely to breed unproductive older hens. Why? They won’t be fertile if they aren’t laying eggs. Therefore, if a rooster is showing your hen a lot of extra attention, it’s not likely that she has stopped laying altogether.
Another telltale sign? If your hen has worn feathers, particularly those on her back and neck that appear to be rumpled or pulled, there’s a strong likelihood that the rooster has been giving her attention of late.
Squatting is a behavior that is indicative of a breeding-age hen – or in other words, one who is actively laying. You can determine whether your chicken is engaging in squatting by simply placing your hand directly over the hen’s back. Don’t touch it. If she squats, with her back pressed downward and her legs and wings spread – she is still laying eggs.
This position is assumed by hens when they are mating. They’ll do it even if there aren’t any roosters around, too.
6. Look at her legs, beak, and face.
A hen who is laying will have a dull-looking beak, legs, and face. A hen who is vibrantly colored in these areas is sadly not laying.
A hen who is laying will be putting all of her energy and extra calcium into producing eggs – not into looking pretty. A productive hen won’t be the prettiest in your flock, but she’ll likely be producing the most eggs.
7. Consider trapping your hens.
You can easily trap your hens to figure out who is laying. If you have limited nest boxes and a lot of hens, you may have to do this several times to figure out who is laying and who is not.
This process is also referred to as “trap nesting.” While it’s normally done with breeding hens, you can also do it to figure out who is laying. If you have a lot of hens, you’ll probably need to keep checking back quite often.
Basically, a trap nest is a unit that you can attach to the front of a nest-box. When a hen enters the nest, the gate on the device will shut and trap her inside.
You will want to check your nests frequently, as it is cruel to leave a bird in a nest box for long periods of time- especially if it is warm. If she lays and becomes bored, there’s also a strong likelihood she will eat her egg or could even become dehydrated.
However, if you are diligent and able to check your trap every hour or so, you will be able to figure out which hens are productive. We suggest marking each hen as you remove it so you know which ones you’ve checked.
Be careful about checking the traps. If the weather is particularly warm, it’s easy for hens to become dehydrated and sick. During periods of extreme weather (either very warm or very cold) either avoid trapping or check your traps as often as possible.
If you don’t want to use a trap to figure out whether your hens are laying, a good alternative is to simply isolate your birds. If you have some that you suspect are not laying, consider moving them to a new coop or chicken tractor so that you can evaluate them on their own for a while.
If they haven’t laid an egg in a few days (or however long your specific chicken breed generally takes to produce an egg), it’s probably safe to assume they are no longer productive.
8. Use food coloring.
You can put a few drops of food coloring on a hen’s vent. This should help you see whether she is laying. When she lays an egg, you will see drops of color on the eggs. Use different colors for multiple hens. The food coloring shouldn’t harm the chickens or the eggs, either.
9. Consider the age and the season.
If your chickens have been productive layers their entire lives, don’t assume that they will continue to be productive into old age. Most egg production drops off substantially after the first two years, with an almost complete shut-off by age four or five.
This is not standard, though, and depending on the breed you may have hens that lay for what seems like forever. Age can be a helpful tool in determining whether you hen should still be laying – not necessarily whether she still is.
The time of year can also play a role in egg production. If it’s wintertime, your hens are less likely to lay, primarily because the daylight hours are shorter.
You can encourage them to lay by hanging a light in your chicken coop, or you can just ride out the storm and wait for egg production to gradually return to normal. After all, the winter season gives your girls some time to recover from an intense year of producing eggs!
10. Examine the carriage of your chicken.
A good laying hen will generally be alert and aware of her surroundings. She won’t hang listlessly about, and she definitely won’t be lazy! A laying hen will have bright, confident eyes and she will engage in general chicken behavior like scratching, running around with the other chickens, and so on. A chicken that appears lethargic might not be laying anymore.
11. Look at the skin of your chicken.
Gently coax back the feathers of your chicken and look at her skin. A laying bird should have a pale skin color that is clear, while a non-layer will tend to have darker skin. It can be hard to tell the difference in shades, so it’s a good idea to compare a hen you know is laying with one you suspect might not be productive any more.
Hens often cackle after laying eggs. This is a relatively telltale sound, and if you’re used to having laying hens around, you probably already know what it sounds like. It is a good method of determining whether your hens– or which hens specifically- are laying.
Strategies to Increase Egg Production
If you want to boost egg production so you never have to wonder who’s still laying and why (or why not), you might want to consider the following tips.
If you are obsessively monitoring your hens each day for them to lay an egg, you’re going to be disappointed. Most hens don’t lay eggs every single day. In fact, it takes up to 26 hours to create a single egg for some breeds, so it might not even be biologically possible for her to lay each day.
Plus, conditions like molting and bad weather can both cause a temporary dip in egg production.
80 to 90% egg production (for an entire flock) is a reasonable goal (100% would be each hen laying one egg each day). However, keep in mind that housing, nutrition, weather, breed, and even parasite loads can all impact how many eggs your hens lay. Be realistic when you’re trying to figure out ways to increase your egg production!
Choose the Right Breed
Some breeds of chickens are far better at lying prolific amounts of eggs than others. Some of the best for egg production, laying an egg almost everyday or every other day, include:
- Hybrids like Golden Comets
- Plymouth Barred Rocks
- White Leghorns
- Rhode Island Reds
- Blue Andalusians
- Buff Orpingtons
Add More Light
If fall has recently arrived and the daylight hours are waning, this could be the main reason behind a sudden dip in egg production.
Most hens naturally slow down in the fall and winter months. This is to be expected and nothing to worry about – it’s a natural process. However, if you really don’t want to see a decline in egg production, you can put a supplemental light in the coop to encourage them to keep laying.
Revamp the Nutrition Plan
If your chicken aren’t getting enough of vital nutrients like protein and calcium, it could cause them to temporarily stop or cut back on laying. Feed a complete layer feed with at least 17 to 18% protein. It should also contain calcium. When your hens are molting, you can increase the protein to around 20% and cut back on the calcium a bit.
As I mentioned earlier, hens will often stop laying if they are feeling stressed. Make sure your girls aren’t suffering from any diseases, pests, or parasites, and shore up the coop and run against potential predator threats.
Make sure each hen has access to a nesting box. Ideally, you should have at least one nesting box for every four hens.
Your hens also need plenty of room in the coop and run. If you suspect that your girls are feeling a little crowded, adding more space or even allowing the birds to free range might rectify some of your issues.
How Long Does a Laying Hen Last?
Most hens will lay eggs for about six or seven years, though some lay right up until the day they die at age eight to ten.
However, eggs won’t be consistent throughout this time.
Most hens lay their first eggs around 18 weeks of age (though some breeds can be as early as 15 or 16 weeks, if they’re high production lines). Some will lay daily or almost daily afterward, with the typical one-year-old hen averaging 250 eggs per year in her first year.
The first year tends to be the best in terms of egg production – things will slow down quite a bit after that.
What to Do With “Retired” Chickens
If your hen has stopped laying, you have a few options. If your hen isn’t very old, I recommend first trying some of the tips above to encourage her to resume her typical laying patterns again.
However, if she’s on the old side, you may want to consider culling her. Although the meat will likely be very tough, you can often use chickens like these in soup stocks and broths instead.
You could always donate your chicken to other farms, too – lots of people look for therapy pets and an old, friendly hen makes a great option.
Rule Out Other Factors
Make sure your hen is not molting or broody. A hen who is wrapped up in either of these behaviors will not lay eggs.
You can tell your hen is molting if she has lost feathers and it is the fall – molting helps your hens put on new feathers to keep them warm during the cold winter months. Similarly, if your hen is broody, you will know for sure that she is not laying eggs because she will be sitting on them all the time.
Otherwise, you can help figure out whether a hen is laying by cross-checking your own care for your flock. Are you giving your birds access to clean, fresh water at all times? Are you providing adequate nutrition with plenty of calcium? Do you suspect that your hen might have parasites or some kind of disease?
All of these conditions, if not met and addressed appropriately, can cause your hens to lay fewer eggs – or no eggs at all. Luckily, once you fix them, egg production should start back up relatively soon.
With all these signs, the top pictures of each group are from an obvious liar, and the bottom a layer. You have to decide if the liar is worth keeping around. In our cases, personally, they are not and we cull them from the flock. Here’s how to do that for yourself. Keeping lots of “liars” around means that you are providing feed and water, but not getting anything out of it for yourself.
How do you tell which chickens in your flock are still laying? Be sure to pin this for later on your favorite Pinterest board!
updated by Rebekah Pierce August 20th 2021
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.
Learn more about Heather and the rest of the writers on this page.