Chickens can lay eggs consistently almost all year long, provided you give them the right conditions. Breeding, climate and general living conditions affect the quantity of eggs chickens lay, as do stress levels, the amount of light they get and what they eat. If you meet their needs exactingly, you can count on getting plenty of eggs from a small flock.
Right for Laying
Be sure your chickens are layer hens and not roosters; it can be hard for a novice to tell young chickens apart by gender, in some breeds. And be sure they are the right age. Hens won't begin laying before they are about 18 to 25 weeks old. Smaller, lighter birds developed for egg production typically begin to lay weeks before the bigger dual-purpose or meat breeds. Typically, egg production begins to slow down significantly when a hen reaches about 3 years; you won't get as many eggs from older birds no matter what you do.
Light Is Important
In nature, hens slow egg production during winter, often stopping altogether. When the days begin to grow longer as spring approaches, they increase their egg production. To get your chickens to continue to lay heavily, add artificial light to their henhouse. Add one 40-watt light for every 100 square feet of space in your henhouse. Turn them on before sunrise, and turn them off after sunset. Hens need at least 14 hours of light each day if you want them to lay eggs through the short days of winter.
Stress can cause chickens to stop laying eggs. Alleviate stress to maximize egg laying. Some common sources of stress include drafts and chills, moving chickens around or adding birds to the flock, and the presence of parasites. Other factors that can stress layer hens are the presence of predators and too much activity around the chicken yard. Make sure your flock is safely fenced, and keep children and dogs away from the chickens' perimeter. Minimize vehicle activity near the chickens, and avoid loud noises as much as possible.
Food and Water
Proper nutrition is essential for getting hens to lay eggs. If you feed them scratch grains or allow them to forage for themselves, they will likely lay few, if any, eggs. Buy a good commercial laying feed for your hens, one that includes everything they need. It should be 16 to 18 percent protein and should have balanced levels of calcium, salt, vitamin D3 and other essential nutrients. Hens also need a constant supply of fresh water. If they run out of food or water, they will slow or stop laying altogether.
Control the Eggs
Sometimes when you think your hens aren't laying, they're laying eggs outside of the nests in the henhouse. Depending on how much space they have to roam, they may hide eggs in places you'll never find. Before you let them run free, teach them to use the nests by keeping them inside the henhouse until after they lay their eggs each day. Gather the eggs every day, or some of your hens may go broody and sit on the nest in an effort to hatch out some chicks. Broody hens won't lay eggs.