Chickens look fully grown by 16 weeks of age, but some may not lay their first egg until around 24 weeks old. Gently look at the vent under a chicken's tail. If the vent is small, yellow and dry, she is not yet laying. A laying hen's vent will look bigger from having passed eggs through. It also has an oval shape and glistens lightly with moisture. Even after she starts laying, a chicken may lay sporatically until she reaches her first birthday.
Chickens lay at the optimal rate for their breed when they are 1 to 2 years old. Some chickens lay two eggs about every three days, while others may lay an egg per day. As a hen surpasses about 2 years of age, her productivity will decrease to about 65 percent of her prime-years laying rate. Some hens stop laying altogether between 3 and 5 years of age; others squeak out an egg from time to time.
Hens can adapt to a wide range of temperatures, but stress caused from temperature extremes will cause a hen to stop laying. Signs of heat stress include spread wings, open-mouthed panting, diarrhea and decreased appetite. Provide your hens plenty of cool water, as well as shade and ventilation. Employing misters, adding shallow wading pools and adding commercial electrolyte formula to their water are some means of helping hens cope with summer heat.
Feed hens a balanced layer diet to ensure they're getting the nutrients they need for optimal laying. Too little calcium, too little protein and not enough calories are common dietary causes of egg cessation. Other factors that could be missing in your hen's diet that would stop her from laying include fatty acids, salt, phosphorous and vitamin D. Mycotoxins caused by moldy food can prevent proper absorption of nutrients.
Not Enough Light
Hens produce best when they receive 14 to 16 hours of light each day. From December 22 through June 21, days are getting longer, stimulating a hen's reproductive organs. As days begin to wane in length, hens tend to produce fewer and fewer eggs. Supply a light source with yellow or orange light, such as incandescent light, in the henhouse; turn it on before sunup and leave it on until after sundown to keep hens laying regularly during short-day seasons.
A hen sitting listlessly with ruffled feathers is a classic sign of illness or parasites. It is also the primary symptom of a hen going broody before she sits zombielike on a nest of eggs for days. A healthy chicken will have red or dark pink wattles and a comb with a slightly waxy texture. Pale, flaky wattles indicate potential trouble in the form of a stuck egg, parasites or disease.