Almost all animals that live to an older age may go through changes, but do hens go through a noticeable menopause – or, to be clever – ‘henopause’? The simple answer is, “Yes,” but there are a lot of factors to take into account when determining when the henopause will happen.
Here we’ll explore a number of those elements such as telling the difference between henopause or a temporary halt in laying, and what you can do once a chicken has stopped laying.
Determining When it Really is Henopause
To know when to keep an eye out for the symptoms of henopause it’s important to have some understanding of a hen’s general life-cycle. Upon reaching around 20 weeks of age, at young hen will begin laying eggs.
A hen can generally lay over 300 eggs in a single year, and incidentally, a rooster being present generally WILL NOT impact how many eggs a hen can lay, despite urban legends stating otherwise.
A hen will generally lay eggs extremely consistently in her first two to three years of life. After this, most hens will continue to lay somewhat less consistently until around five years of age, at which point egg production can taper off completely or be so inconsistent as to be barely notable.
A chicken that is well cared for can easily live to an age of ten to twelve years old, but for all intents and purposes you should expect them to be off-lay from about five years old.
Besides age, there are a number of other factors that can impact henopause. It is well-documented that chickens that do not get at least 12 hours of daylight will generally stop laying eggs, and temperature can impact egg-laying as well.
Therefore, chickens raised in an area that experiences a dark and dreary winter will at times stop laying eggs temporarily, and this could well result in a total cease in egg production–an early henopause, so to speak. In a tropical area on the other hand, where it is always bright, sunny, and hot, chickens can consistently lay eggs throughout the year with little stoppage.
The latter scenario has been shown to delay the onset of henopause as hens in warmer climes are never allowed to take a break that could allow henopause to ‘kick in’, rather they continue to lay until their bodies alone decide to put the breaks on.
There are also many breeds of chickens in existence, and some are simply better layers than others. Certain breeds lay a lot more eggs and enter henopause later, while others lay less eggs and stop at a younger age.
Depending on where you are in the world it pays to make sure you pick the best breed(s) for laying, and that will withstand your climate (e.g. a breed found in tropical weather that lays well is good for the summertime wherever you are, but may not lay well in a cold Minnesota winter).
Is it Henopause?
Knowing the life-cycle of chickens and taking into account the region you live you can start to better gauge whether a hen is going through henopause.
A chicken that’s nearly five years and seems to be drastically reducing their egg output, or outright stops laying after winter is likely going through henopause.
Conversely, a chicken that is only two years old and has inexplicably gone off lay without warning in the middle of the Summer is most likely a temporary issue. None the less you’ll want to look into it to determine why your chicken has stopped laying.
With this in mind, lets explore some of the reasons a hen can temporarily go off lay, and what to do about it.
When it is a Temporary Off-Lay
It Is Not Always Henopause
If you have a chicken that stops laying eggs you first concern might be whether she is experiencing henopause. Before jumping to that conclusion however you should take into account a number of factors that can result in a temporary off-lay, especially if your chicken is not near the age of henopause and it is currently a time of season (should you live in an area with cold or dark winters) when chickens should be laying abundant eggs, such as in Spring and Summer.
Possible Causes of a Temporary Off-Lay and How to Resolve Them
Daylight, Seasons, and Temperature
There are a number of possible causes to take into account if one or more chickens suddenly stop laying eggs. As discussed, the amount of daylight and the temperature are a major factor.
Besides that however, it is key to take into account the coop environment. A stressed chicken is a chicken that will struggle to lay eggs, and a coop causing unhappy chickens is a coop that will be low on eggs.
It’s necessary to ensure your coop is well-protected from predators, that your chickens have ample space (at least 4 square feet of space per chicken in the coop and 5 through 10 feet of space outdoors per chicken), and that the pecking order is not overly aggressive with any in fighting.
Should the chickens be too aggressive towards one another, separating two who are squabbling can work wonders for their egg production, as well of that of others in the flock.
Sometimes people forget that upon reaching 18 months of age, and then every year thereafter, there is a period of time when chickens will lose and regrow feathers. A molt can take anywhere from eight to sixteen weeks, and during this time the chicken redirects much of its energy towards the molt, which can heavily impact egg production.
During the time a chicken is molting it is simply a question of being patient – once the hen is done with its molt egg production should resume as normal.
Aother factor that’s so obvious it sometimes gets overlooked is the nutrition of your chickens. Chickens need 90% of their diet to be feed, so if you’re over-treating or under-feeding them, it can impact their overall diet, and as a result laying will suffer.
Sometimes if a hen is off lay the solution can be as simple as ensuring your chickens are being served a better diet, and once they do their egg-laying will resume with gusto!
What to Do With Hens Who No Longer Lay
If you have indeed confirmed your chicken has entered the stage of their life where they barely lay eggs, or have stopped altogether, the question then becomes what you should do next.
Slaughter and Eat the Chicken
On many commercial farms older hens are slaughtered for food, and should you desire you could, “Put a chicken,” in the pot as well if it has gone through henopause.
Of course for many people the idea of killing a chicken they’ve cared for over the years, and have a fondness for, isn’t an idea they would consider entertaining. Hence, other options may be preferrable.
Keep With the Other Chickens
If you are close with a chicken to want to slaughter it, or are simply morally opposed to doing so, you can still keep it as a, “Pet,” of sorts that lives with the other chickens.
Indeed, even if your hen has stopped laying it can still contribute to the flock in other ways! Older hens excel at hunting ticks and mosquitoes thanks to years of experience, can help control weeds within gardens, are pros at watching for predators, and can make great broodies if you are breeding chickens and need a helper to sit upon eggs that younger hens may feel too impatient to care for.
Re-home Your Chicken
If you do not have the space for a chicken who has gone through henopause but also are against the idea of slaughtering it, there is still the option of trying to re-home your chicken.
Numerous agencies exist that can help people who want to find a good home for a chicken that has stopped laying, and can match your chicken with another person who desires to have one as a pet, or keep with a flock of egg-layers so that it can help provide the benefits for the coop listed above.
So chickens do indeed go through menopause, or, “Henopause.” It is a process that is to be expected and often occurs by the time a chicken is five years of age (but canof course happen sooner or later).
A number of factors can impact when a chicken enters henopause and it is important to be able to spot the difference between what is a temporary period of off-lay versus the onset of henopause.
A number of options exist for what to do when a chicken has indeed gone through henopause, not all of them fatal, so it need not be seen as a looming grey cloud in the life cycle of a hen, rather a normal process to be expected.