Backyard chicken owners dread winter! Winter conditions and changes in sunlight cause a decrease in chicken’s egg production. While this can be bothersome to see your investment of egg-laying hens “close up shop” during winter, (and you’re still footing the bill for the cost of feed) there are some things you can do to help them. In a previous article, we covered how to winterize your coop for winter and touched on a few of these pointers. Today, we are going to go into more detail.
So why do hens stop producing? When the cooler days of autumn turn into the bitterly cold nights of winter, more of your chicken’s bodily resources have to go into keeping her warm rather than go toward producing eggs. As well, after the long egg production that happened during the warmer months, chickens tend to “rest” when the days get shorter. This is a normal reaction for hens, and if you allow nature to takes its course, they will stop laying completely during winter and start back up in spring. This also reduces burn out from overactive egg production. But, some of us depend on a daily amount of eggs and try to encourage them to continue laying.
Give your girls what they need to keep them laying all winter long
1. Plenty of Food and Water
Did you know that chickens need more food in winter? Typically, they require 1.5 times more food during colder months. They tend to eat more because their bodies are fighting more to stay warm. It’s alright to play around with the amount of food as chickens do not tend to overeat. If you’ve overfed them, you may notice some leftover food in their feeders in the morning. Giving them extra food will help them ensure they have adequate nutrition during winter.
In addition, pay attention to adding extra nutrients to their diet. Because they do not have as much access to fresh grasses, fruits, vegetables, and bugs, they need more carbohydrates and protein in their diet during winter. Remember, hens need protein to produce eggs! While most chicken owners will add some chicken scratch to their feed, there are some additional nutrients to keep in mind. As well, a hens’ diet shouldn’t consist of only cracked corn/scratch grains. What nutrients do they need in winter
We’ve had great success sprouting our garden seeds that we didn’t use the previous growing season and mixing those sprouts in with mealworms. This provides them with the extra protein they need in winter and they love it. A note of caution: stay away from feeding nightshade seed varieties (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, etc.) to your chickens as these contain solanine and can cause your health problems for your girls. A frugal alternative to sprouts is to supplement their diets with fodder, as well as vegetable and fruit scraps for added nutrition.
I also like to give my hens a cup of oats along with their sprouts every few days to provide them with additional carbohydrates. Moreover, a handful of grit can also help since it’s harder for them to get access to it in winter. A handful once every 2 weeks will be plenty for a small flock of 12 hens.
As well, ensure there is plenty of water for them. If chickens, particularly laying hens, are without water for a 24 hour period, they may stop laying eggs for several weeks following. Simply put, it stresses them out. As well, hydration protects them during periods of severe cold as well as extreme heat. One solution is to purchase a heated base for the water system and run a heavy-duty extension cord into the chicken coop. Another solution is to check on your chicken’s water more frequently. Bringing warm water out to replace the frozen water will be very welcomed.
According to The Happy Chicken Coop, “The amount of daylight tells your hen when to release a yolk and produce an egg. So when the daylight is reduced, chickens don’t receive this light ‘cue’ to tell them to release a yolk. This is mainly a survival mechanism as their offspring would have a very small chance of surviving during a cold winter.”
Keep in mind that young chickens will require more body heat compared to a fully grown chicken. Further, the avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. 14 hours of light is what a chicken requires to lay eggs and usually get these results during the warmer months. Having a light bulb hooked up to a timer to assist in continued egg laying. An added benefit to this is it creates added warmth to the flock. To provide some warmth, but not too much light, we use a 250-watt bulb in our coop. One heat lamp per 30 chickens will be sufficient. Light fixtures in the coop should be placed above feeders and watering container, and care should be taken to avoid having areas in the chicken house that are shaded from light.
One homesteading blog asked Extension Poultry Specialist Jesse Lyons at the University of Missouri how to convince hens to keep laying using supplemental daylight, and she said, “It takes about 12 hours of day length to get the birds stimulated to where they start laying,” Lyons says. “Up to about 16 to 17 hours or so, somewhere in there, is probably the maximum day length that will stimulate the birds.” The light has to be constant, and if you have a timer set for say, 14 hours of light and the egg production slows down, Lyons adding another half-hour so the hens think springtime is coming.
3. Be Observant
There’s a chance that with all of these suggestions, your girls still may not produce eggs until spring. So pay attention and make sure it’s just the weather and not them being sick. Chickens may get sick in the winter, so keep an eye out for symptoms of the cold or flu. If your chicken gets sick, seek out the help of an avian veterinarian.
According to Backyard Coops, some common signs of chickens not feeling well are:
- A pale, limp comb (potential symptoms of frostbite, worms)
- Coughing, wheezing, runny nose (Chronic Respiratory Disease)
- Mangy/patchy feathers (lice or mites)
- Heavy breathing, holding wings away from their body (heat stroke)
If you notice any of these signs your chicken could be ill and you may need to give her some extra care or call a vet.
Other factors that could contribute to decreasing eggs is the hens age and even molting. Molting could also be an issue with decreased egg production. This occurs in response to decreased light as summer ends and winter approaches, so it is entirely possible they are using their energy to get their new feathers in; and with that you must be patient until this process is complete.
Just in case you need more reasons why your chickens aren’t laying here are 20 more reasons!
To conclude, during the winter months the best thing you can do as a backyard chicken owner is to keep them warm, well fed and watered, and give them extra light to try to encourage more eggs. On a personal note, we have 12 chickens on our little farm and the average daytime temperatures have been in the 30s – 40s with intermittent snow storms. With this nasty weather, I am still getting a nice amount of eggs from them. All that I have done this year is give them fresh bedding, increased their feed, give them extra nutrients (as described above), and made sure they have plenty of water. They seem happy and are still laying.