VET’S VIEW: Various reasons why hens go off lay

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PET chickens are becoming more popular and part of the attraction is to have your own delicious, home-produced eggs.

So it is perhaps not surprising that one of the common problems we see is when a hen goes off lay.

Of course, hens will naturally go off lay in the winter due to shortening day length but at other times it is usually an indication that something is wrong.

Stress from predators may disrupt egg laying, as can illness, especially respiratory conditions, so be alert to signs such as laboured breathing or watery eyes and consult your vet for advice.

Another, potentially serious problem occurs when an egg fails to make its way into the oviduct and instead lodges in the bird’s abdomen. The odd one will probably simply be reabsorbed without you being aware of it, but when hens are producing eggs on a regular basis, they can build up and the bird is called a ‘blind layer’. This is especially true of ex-battery hens where internal damage may have occurred over a prolific laying life. Affected birds may experience discomfort as their abdomen swells up and adopt an upright, penguin-like posture to relieve the pressure.

Unfortunately, blind layers are at risk of developing peritonitis: the swollen abdomen will feel hot and tender and the bird becomes listless and stops eating. Although this can respond to antibiotics, it often returns with fatal consequences for the bird.

It is possible for affected hens to have a hormone implant to stop them producing further eggs, or even spayed to surgically remove the oviduct, but you will need to bear in mind the cost of the surgery and the potential risk of an anaesthetic. The important thing, though, is to be alert and consult your vet at the first sign of any problem.