How to Keep your Chickens Laying in Winter!

How keep a a steady supply of winter eggs on the homestead?

I have gotten a few questions from local newer folks that are asking, how do I get my hens to keep or start laying eggs. This is a slight rework of a post I put up before.  It covers all the big main points for you..

Most folks talk about Light and how it effects laying and it does, and its important for sure.. Darker hens have more trouble with this then lighter hens typically, they need even more light. If you have a dark colored Chicken breed at least one more hour to your planned timing.

All chickens if left to natural lighting and the shorter daylight hours that come with winter in Canada are going to slow down and in some cases stop laying eggs.

Yes, you read that right.. STOP LAYING eggs..  and if you are on a true natural cycle, you will just let them do that, they provide a glut of eggs in the spring, lay though the summer and slow down in fall and then they will after the age of two or three move from taking a 2 to 4 week slow down to a 4 to 6 week stop and break all together, my oldest hen on the farm is coming 8, she earns her way not by the eggs she lays but because she is one of the best sitters and hatchers and momma hens on the farm.

So what can you do about it?

Light: Yup, just like everyone else, I am going to say if you want your girls to lay thought the winter, you need to add light, but do not be afraid to think outside the box.. some folks are very successful at moving their hens to their unheated greenhouses during the winter, this helps you get every light bit you can, and keeps the heating (if you choose to heat) to a min and has the added bonus of them both cleaning and adding to the soil.  but I recommend that if you can, take your chicken light needs to solar

We have a solar powered light that collects during the day (when the birds have light) turns on in the evening as it gets dark and runs for about 4 to 5 hours on a winter charge, this is the best of three worlds, I use what natural light there is at all times

The light turns on by itself as it gets dark and the extra hours means that my birds get at least 12 hours of light even in the dark of winter and third, I am still on the same solar powered lights for the chickens and the big barn coming on 7 years, given that I got them on sale for 29..  that’s at power cost of 4 dollars per year to power a building.. if I was doing that at my local power costs.. it would be a lot more.

Protein:  that simple word that is just not so simple in real life.. you can go buy layer feed, it will have lots of protein in it.. mostly from GMO soybeans but its there.. or if you have a few chickens, you can pay though the nose for organic.. good for you if you can do so.. but most of us are on a budget.

So we are using a basic grain feed that is going to be a mix between 9 to 13 percent protein, it will get your birds though the winter but it will not be great that’s for sure..  and those lower protein will effect your layers.

So you can do a number of tricks, you can grow fodder, if you have a small flock, its quick and easy enough to do and it will increase the basic amounts to the need levels, you can hard boil and chop back a egg into the feed to increase the protein count, if you are doing small critter butchering on the farm in the winter ,like rabbits, you can give the leftover bits to the chickens and they will pick them clean, you can grow meal worms or red wiggers and once a week toss a handful to them, crickets are another choice I know that someone grows for her birds, I personally do fodder, meat scrapes and meal worms.  In a total pinch, I know folks that just toss them a handful of the dried cat food to give them that boost.

Age:  this is a great trick and when done correctly it works like a charm, keep the ages of your flock moving, if you have spring hatched hens that are young pullets that are coming into laying in the fall, early winter, they will start and as long as you meet their feed and protein needs they will continue to lay all winter, but be aware that they will take a spring break and first adult molt. but if you have older hens, they will have done a fall moult, a winter slow down and they will cover for your young girls in the spring..

One more reason to love ducks : LOL, no really, ducks are so good in so many ways, when the hens hit that hard winter slow down.. no I will not lay for you if they are older, the duck hens are out in crazy cold but sunny temps and she will start laying weeks before the chicken will stop looking out at the snow and giving you the eye, that says, make it stop and put another layer of fresh hay out there if you think, I am going to even think about going out of my hen house.

Farm Gal Tip of the Day – Give your girls hay once or twice a week, just a touch will do, they will use it like bedding but not before they find every bit of seed head, and good stuff in it. It will give you a bit of color in your winter eggs a well..

Do you not just love how eggs change all year long in color and texture a bit.. from pullet to spring, to summer to winter eggs, good cooks know that they are not the same 🙂

 

I have 5 new 2018 born pullets of coming up to layer age this winter

Did you raise up new chicks this year, are you heading into winter with a young flock that will lay for you, or are you heading into winter with a older flock of hens that are going to slow down a lot. If so do consider putting up some extra eggs while you have them for both eating and baking..

Beat a dozen eggs together till lighter in color, add a tsp of sugar for ones that you want to bake with a tsp (or half a tsp but please do add some) salt and beat it in and then pour into ice cube trays, freeze them hard then pop out, one cube is one egg, double bag them into ziplock freezer bags (it must be double bagged) and it will keep for three months with ease. Just take as many cubes out that you want, put them in a covered bowl in the fridge and thaw them and use.

For regular storage of eggs, just remember if you washed it, fridge, or freezer storage as above, but if you its a clean egg with natural bloom on, you can store it at cooler room temp for weeks (and per my tests, more like months) without much issue.

Question from a reader: what about if the eggs get frozen?  if you bring them in a solid state, you can thaw them in the fridge for a bit and then scramble them to be feed to your hounds, purrpots or back to the chickens once cooled down. What you can’t do is, let them thaw and then hold them for use, because once frozen, they are cracked in the shell, but you can not waste them.

When dealing with older eggs..

I highly recommend these two tests that go together..

a) float your eggs if you are suddenly using a bunch of them, or if you found a clutch in summer, that has a unknown age into a bowl or pot of water, if they sink, fresh, if they half float, older but still good typically, and if they float, they are bad..

2) always follow my grandmothers advice, never crack a egg into a dish, always crack each egg one at a time into a bowl and check it 🙂

 

 

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13 Responses to How to Keep your Chickens Laying in Winter!

  1. We do the age rotation, as well as lights to help keep us in eggs through the winter. This year I have a pretty even number of older hens that are finishing their molt up, and younger pullets that have started laying. It got a bit sparse in October before the pullets started laying but the hens were molting, getting only 2-3 eggs a day from a flock of 32. But now it has swung the other direction and with the pullets laying and the hens being done with molt I am getting 14-20 per day from a flock of 26.

  2. You say “pullet to spring, to summer to winter eggs, good cooks know that they are not the same”, while I say you’re a very lucky cook to have had access to fresh eggs of all stages…

  3. Kristi@StoneFamilyFarmstead says:

    Great information! Our hens are not doing much laying right now, maybe one every day gives me an egg. I had no idea that darker colored hens need more light! I have three that are darker (two rhode island reds, one black star), along with my two buff orpingtons. I’m willing to be it’s one of my orps that is laying. Thanks for this information, I have had chickens for years, but you shared some tidbits that I didn’t know!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Kristi, yes I was surprised when I learned that as well.. my province puts on livestock days and I took a fowl one and one of the expect speakers was talking about this. Our rare heritage group is also very active in hosting training seminars. I always learn new things each time I attend a training day!

  4. Giving more light isn’t a really possibility with me but I do like the idea of adding some extra protein into their diet. I need to check what is in the layers pellets I can buy but will also definitely add my own protein. Fingers crossed it works as I am getting far too low on fresh eggs!

    • Hi Rosie, If they are getting enough light then the odds are upping the protein will help as long its not age related slow down.. The best thing for all laying flocks is to keep a mixed age flock 🙂 Good luck on getting them to start producing better for you this winter

  5. Monetta says:

    This is great!!! We don’t have this problem in St Lucia. Also I don’t have chickens. My great grandfather fed the chickens coconut once a week. It’s really easy to find here and the chickens love it.

  6. kage2015 says:

    Warm water is our go to for the winter months. We don’t put light in the coop. Some continue to lay all winter others take a break which we feel is their rest period from laying. Just means we don’t have as many eggs to sell to neighbors.

  7. Marla says:

    Hi Valeria,
    I don’t have chickens now but I grew up on a farm and we always had lots of chicken and eggs but I do remember that in the winter how few eggs we got – we had enough for ourselves but none to sell. I never quite knew why winter caused them to laid less eggs of do I think my Mom knew either it was just an accepted fact. I find this very interested how you figures how to scientifically outsmart nature and keep them laying. The light and darkness affects people and all of nature is so way or the other. Thanks for this interesting and informative article that I will share

  8. Shawna says:

    Such insightful information, thank you! I love how you also explained how to freeze eggs for baking. My older girls are a bunch of free-loaders right now, too bad I didn’t know I needed to get pullets in the spring!

  9. Ann Marie says:

    What an awesome post! I have over 40 chickens and had an abundance of eggs regularly until the time changed. Right now we are not getting any at all. I’m ok with it because I feel it is natural for them to stop laying for a bit. I never knew about the dark vs light colored stuff. Cool information! Great and informative post!

  10. homeandharrow says:

    Great post! We go back and forth over letting the chickens stop laying, and putting in a light to get them going again. Personally, we have more eggs from the ducks than we know what to do with, so I think we’ll let them rest this year!

    • The lovely thing about a mixed flock in ages is that the older hens are not pushed to lay, they can slow down, take a break and come back at a natural pace for them.. where the new hens just coming into lay give us the late winter eggs and like you.. the spring is when the ducks flood us with eggs!

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