Winter is upon us and your chickens aren’t laying as much as they were in the spring and summer. You bought chickens for the eggs and are used to several a day, and are now only getting half of the normal bounty. What happened to your chickens? Why did they stop laying as much? Why are they freeloading? And why did you have to buy eggs from the grocery store?!
The main purpose of a chicken egg, obviously, is for reproduction. You may not have a rooster, but that doesn’t change a female chickens natural bodily process of egg production. She lays her egg, whether fertilized or not.
Egg making is difficult. It takes a lot of food, water, and energy to form the egg and is taxing on her body. There are a number of things that will reduce your daily egg count.
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Molting is the annual shedding of feathers, which happens to all poultry (and all birds for that matter) from their second year on. Feathers are damaged during the year, and will systematically be replaced. Fall molting ensures the birds will be covered in new feathers to protect and keep them warm for the winter ahead.
Making new feathers- which are comprised of protein- uses all of the hens extra resources. These feathers are vital for winter survival, and a priority over egg laying. Any extra protein is used for the feather production. While you might still receive a few eggs, they will be few and far between until the molt has finished.
During the summer, most parts of the world (except near the equator and poles) receive 14-15 hours of daylight. The daylight triggers hormones in the hens body that results in egg production. Summer days are long and warm, good weather to hatch babies. Winter days are short and cold, too cold for the delicate chicks. Since eggs are for reproduction, it makes sense that her body will stop producing eggs when it is too cold for chicks.
As a chicken ages, she does not lay as many eggs as when she was younger. Egg production decreases slightly every year, and will start to drop off more dramatically after her third year.
Stress & Illness
Stress and illnesses will also cause decreased egg production. However, don’t automatically assume that your birds are sick if they aren’t laying as much. Stressors can come in the form of a drafty coop, overzealous rooster, or bully hen.
Increasing Winter egg production
Add a light
As noted before, light triggers the hormones to produce eggs. It takes 14 hours of light a day for this. In the winter, days are much shorter. So, you could add a low wattage light to the coop to increase the hours of light they are exposed to. You can use this website to see how many hours you are currently receiving in your area. Use a timer on your coop light to offset the difference.
Keep them Comfortable
Cold temperatures are stressful on a chickens body, as they use extra energy staying warm. Hot temperatures are also stressful. Egg laying is optimal at 45-85 degrees F.
NOTE: Please use extreme caution when hanging lights in your coop. They are a fire danger!
Add spring chicks to your flock
Birds hatched in the spring will start laying around September, and will continue to lay throughout their first winter. An easy way to ensure winter eggs is to add a few spring chicks to your flock, and retire your older non laying birds.
Switch to high protein feed
During the spring and summer, your birds are receiving more protein than just their pellets offer. Grasses, grass seeds, bugs, kitchen scraps, etc all add to their daily protein intake. During the winter, there are no bugs or grasses, and food scraps are likely less due to the cold walk to the coop. A great way to increase protein is to switch from the 16% layer feed to a higher protein during these months. Eggs are almost entirely protein, and calcium, so the extra protein should help enable her to lay more eggs.
Water and Food
Water is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Be sure their water doesn’t freeze (more on that here), and they have access to ice free water.
Additionally, do not allow their food to become empty. They will eat more than they did in the summer (because there are no bugs and grasses, and extra food is needed to keep them warm), so expect to fill the feeders more often.
Also, most chickens do not like walking through the snow. Keeping a path to their food and water will help them consume more.
Preserve Summer eggs
You know those eggs you had during the summer? The extra eggs that you gave away or sold? Why not preserve those eggs next summer so you don’t run out in the winter?! Eggs can be stored in a number of ways, the most common being freezing. More on this to come, but in the mean time you can look up “freezing eggs for storage”.
Give ’em a break
Laying eggs is tough on a hens body. We always give them the winter off. Yes, I miss the eggs. Sometimes I even have to buy them. But if they aren’t meant to lay in the winter, I don’t want to make them. I would encourage you to also give your girls a break.