A: You're right that you should be getting more eggs. I expect one egg per hen per day (on average) and don't put up with much less. Slackers have gotta go! Fortunately, there are several ways to determine which of your hens are good layers and which are not.
1. Check the Vent. The first thing I do is take a good look at each hen's vent (the hole where her eggs come out). Good layers usually have large, oval, moist openings. Poor layers have smaller, rounder, drier vents. I believe this is the best way to tell a good layer from a bad one (aside from separating each hen and watching her daily).
2. Check Color. For chickens that have yellow-pigmented beaks, legs, and skin, the vent of a good layer will typically look pale. If the hen is not laying, the vent should be yellow. (This is because there's a limited supply of yellow pigment in a hen's body, and if she's laying, she needs that pigment for her egg's yolks.) Good laying hens of all breeds also have bright combs and wattles. A hen who is not laying will have a paler "complexion" on those body parts.
3. Check the Abdomen. Lay each hen on her back (as if you're cradling a baby in your arm), and gently feel her abdomen. If it's pliable and soft, she's probably laying eggs. If it's not very flexible, she's probably not laying eggs. This test isn't foolproof because if the hen has an egg forming, her abdomen will feel harder.
|Comb and wattle color matter. (Courtesy of Anup Shah)|
5. Check for Appetite and Activity. Although activity levels vary from breed to breed, generally speaking, hens who are laying are usually more active than those who are not. They have an active appetite, too, and tend toward eagerness when you supply food. Hens who aren't laying, aren't nearly as eager and won't eat as much as laying hens.
* Cover image courtesy of Tamsin Cooper