You replace your hens every year and a half? My older hens are about that age now. I think that we'll just rock along like we are. I have noticed that their feed consumption has gone down since they quit laying much. The 4 young hens that I just put in the coop have just started laying. They are not in full swing yet.
Great observation!! Yup. A laying hen will consume alot of feed and water. She needs it. When not laying the need for nutrition and calories drop. But if they are molting this is when they need that extra protein. So less feed but up the protein.
Another cause of less feed consumption could also be the moult. When moulting, fowl go through a time when they are feverish. The new blood feathers are coming in. They are sore and hurt. Just like us, when we are feverish and sick, we don't eat much.
You can tell a fever in fowl by the heat their legs put off. You will have to compare tween one that isnt and one that is. Plus if you have the "eye" for this type of thing (and you just might) you can see a difference in their demeanor, and their countanance.
For fever. Soak their feed..even if nothing more than laying pellets. They love it soaked. And it puts moisture in their systems.
I am a vet, but my poultry treating experience is limited to splinting a broken leg on a rooster and super gluing a beak together for a duck that tried to eat a fire cracker right as it exploded...........
Dead Rabbit is absolutely correct on all her posts. I might be able to add a little bit from personal experience and research I've dug up since having my flock.
When the amount of daylight drops below 15 hours a day, that triggers a molt, or if not a molt, it decreases egg production. Basically, mother nature is telling the birds that now is not a good time to have chicks and expect them to survive, so stop laying until the days get longer in the Spring.
Artificial light can fool them, but make sure the artificial light is in the correct wavelength range. It has to be in the red end of the spectrum. I use a 9W flourescent bulb with wavelength 2700K. 60W should be good with an incandescent bulb, again, make sure it's the right wavelength.
Set a timer so you get 14-16 hours of light. More than that, and your birds won't get good sleep, and you'll have other problems.
Since your birds have already slowed down, it may be too late to give them artificial light. Usually, once the slowdown process is triggered, that's it, though I've heard of some people being able to start them back up.
I let my birds molt. It gives their systems a rest and re-boots them. But my birds are as much pets as layers, so I'm not dependent on egg-sales or anything. I just let them go natural. Some of my birds are 5 years old and still lay almost an egg a day after they start up in the Spring.
I've found that when they're molting they love extra-protein treats. As mentioned cat food is a favorite. They also go bonkers over tuna-fish (any fish) and any meat bones I have left from the kitchen. Man, can they ever pick a bone clean. Old Goldie got such a meat-craving yesterday that I saw her on the deck challenging my 100-pound lab for his beef-bone. Then some of the other chickens joined in. That poor dog! He brought his bone inside to get some peace this morning.
I've seen where the hens don't pick up laying even when adding light, IF you let them slow down initially. They don't pick up the pace till the spring when days start getting longer.
I've got mine under lights already. Couple wks ago I started. On a timer. 3 hrs in evening, 3 hrs in morning.
Some say not to have the extra hrs of light in evening cause you may catch hens off the roost when the timer cuts the lights off. But I've never had any problem. I can go in their and they are all on roosts sleeping even with the lights on. Im sure its not 100% fullproof. But I can't say its hurt mine as of yet.
Another source of good protein is floating fish food. We have a koi pond and I buy the 50lb bags of fish food from southern states. The fish never eat it all in a season so I give some to my chickens few days a wk. High protein, and they like it pretty good. I believe a bag was about $14.....course feed has skyrocketed since this spring when I bought it.