Many breeds of chickens can lay an egg almost every day, sometimes even twice a day. But as a hen ages, she will begin laying fewer and fewer eggs, until she stops completely. You can use several methods to find out if your chickens are still laying eggs.
A hen will be most productive in the first two years of her life. After she reaches five years, she might stop laying or lay only a few eggs per month. Many people who raise hens keep track of the hens' ages by putting bands on their legs. Once they pass prime egg-laying age, the hens are culled from the flock.
When a hen is developing eggs, her abdomen gets larger. This in turn forces her pelvic bones apart. You can get a good indication if a hen is developing eggs by measuring the distance between the hen's pelvic bones, just above the vent where the eggs come out. On a large hen, you should be able to fit three or more fingers between the pelvic bones. If you can fit only one or two fingers, it is an indication that the chicken is not producing eggs at the time. Keep in mind that many hens stop laying during the winter, or after to coop has been upset by predators, construction or the addition of new chickens. If this is the case, the pelvic bones will widen again once the hen returns to producing eggs.
A chicken lays eggs in response to hormones. To see if your hens are producing hormones, look for: large, soft comb and wattles; soft and stretchable skin; a large and soft abdomen; and a moist and wide egg vent. Hormone production is stimulated by light, which is why many hens stop laying during the winter. You might be able to increase egg production if you add artificial lighting to your chicken coop during winter months.
If you want to be really sure a hen has stopped laying eggs, the best method is to build "trap nests." A trap nest consists of a nest box with a one-way door leading into the nest. Once a hen goes into the nest to lay an egg, she can't get out. Make a note every day of which hens get trapped, and which ones don't. You might need to attach legs bands on the trapped chickens before you release them so you can tell them apart from the others. If certain chickens never get trapped in the nests after several days, it means they haven't laid any eggs.
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- American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: "Chicken Assessment for Improving Productivity," Don Schrider
- Google Books, "The Call of the Hen, or the Science of Selecting and Breeding Poultry for Egg Production," Walter Hogan
- Egg Laying Chickens: FAQs: Chickens & Hens
- Urban Chickens: Frequently Asked Questions