Even the best laying hens eventually stop laying eggs, and sometimes egg laying even stops seemingly randomly. There can be various reasons for this. As autumn advances, days become shorter, and many hens stop laying in winter because there are not enough hours of sunlight.
A hen’s egg production is partially dependant on light cycles. Different breeds vary in the hours that they need, so when the day drops below twelve to 14 hours of light they will slow down or stop laying altogether. Smallholders who make income from supplying eggs install a timed coop light. The timer will ensure that the hens are exposed to twelve or more hours of light. The light should be hung in a top corner of your coop to ensure there is no chance of a fire.
A large coop may require more than one light. Moulting is another common cause for a drop in egg production. Most hens will moult once a year, when they lose many of their feathers. Re-growing feathers demands a high level of protein, so hens don’t have enough left to produce eggs as well. Moulting can happen at any time of the year, although it is more common in spring or autumn.
You might need to check your hens’ diet. There is a saying that fat hens don’t lay. To ensure consistent egg laying, you should feed a suitable balanced laying mash or pellets, that will contain sufficient protein and calcium. Eggs are made up of around 80% protein, so hens must also have sufficient protein in their diet to produce this.
Amino acids, vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of protein. To supplement protein you can feed meal worms or, ironically, scrambled egg. Two to four grammes of calcium are required to produce an egg shell. Calcium is stored in the skeleton (which contains between 20 and 40g depending on the breed) but this is rapidly depleted during egg production. You might need to supplement with extra calcium in the form of shell grit, which can be washed and dried ground up eggshells themselves or, better still, dried, crushed oyster shells, which one can collect from good restaurants. (The classic shellgrit of old, comprising coarsely broken seashells mixed with coarse sea sand and collected from rocky beaches, is no longer available commercially, inland at least.)
Consider the age of the hen, as hens lay fewer eggs as they get older. The number of years that they continue to lay is dependent on the breed. Some slow down as early as two years old, while others keep laying for at least four years. Make sure there is nothing that is causing stress in your coop, as a stressed bird will not lay.
If the coop is overcrowded or you have introduced new hens into your flock the production will likely be affected. Sometimes the cock is aggressive, upsetting his girls. Also check for parasites, both external and internal. Mites or worms can undermine their general health.
There is also the possibility that the fowls are laying but the eggs are being stolen. The common egg-eater is a snake that is found in a wide variety of habitats and feeds exclusively on eggs. They are nocturnal, so you will have to be on the lookout for them at night. Rats or mongooses might also be targeting your eggs. Another thief might be in the flock itself. If a hen goes broody she might be stealing eggs of other hens in order to build up a good clutch to sit on. This is more likely if the hens are free range.
Monitor the general health and well-being of the flock, as disease might lower their ability to produce eggs and might also affect the quality of the eggs. Extreme weather conditions can also be a factor. Production will drop if there are many consecutive days of rain, high winds or great heat or cold.