“Swampie!” you may say. “Why in the world would YOU be interested in increasing egg production in older hens? You have a plethora (otherwise known as a buttload) of chickens!” *sigh* Well, I’m sure everybody has their own reasons, but sometimes I get caught up in my various daily living activities and emergencies and suddenly realize that I have no replacements hatched and/or growing for various hen breeds, and their egg production has dropped to nearly nothing. What to do before it is time for the Chicken Reaper?
There are many reasons for diminished egg production besides the age of the hens, of course. They need a good quality feed with lots of calcium (the calcium is usually supplied by free choice ground oyster shells). They prefer lots of light, so a series of weeks when the weather is cloudly can adversely effect egg production. But once hens pass @ a year and half of age, their egg production falls.
If the chickens are truly free range and there are a lot of insects in the environment, the chickens can supply a lot of their feed needs themselves, but then every day would contain an egg hunt for hidden nests. I have a mixture of penned (in movable pens that get moved to fresh grass once or twice daily) hens for their protection from predators, and mixed breed game and bantam hens that run around loose until they’re snatched up by foxes, coyotes, raccoons, or hawks. My penned hens supplement their feed with spiders, grasshoppers, grubs, and other little insects that they obtain when their pens are moved. They eat various weeds, grasses, and weed seeds. In the spring, they appear to especially relish stinging nettles, but that varies by breed and the individual chickens.
I don’t bother giving supplemental light to the hens for it wouldn’t be worth the egg gain for me. For those that live in perpetually cloudy areas of the U.S. such as the Pacific northwest, additional (artificial) lighting may be helpful.
An easy solution that seems to (temporarily) boost egg laying has been to put in a new rooster. The Rhode Island Red egg production has soared since they got a new rooster (hens are two to four years old), and the White Rock hens and Aracauna/Americauna hens are about to have their roosters switched out, too. I thought I was going to have to grit my teeth and BUY some $3 and $4 each chicks but…maybe not. We’ll see in three weeks how many of those eggs are going to hatch.