Photo: Mrs eNil (flickr)
Even seasoned chicken keepers can experience frustration at the lack of eggs in their coops this time of year. While some of you may collect only a few eggs each frigid afternoon, others may not find any at all!
Here’s some advice for you.
A Light At The End Of Winter’s Tunnel
First things first: the average hen needs between fourteen and sixteen hours of sunlight to lay on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, then — unless you have an artificial source of light in your coop — from mid-October to late February is the time when most hens take a break.
You may know I’m not a big fan of using artificial light just so I can have fresh eggs every day. I like to let hens molt naturally and spend their energy growing back glossy new feathers. For my brood, winter is a time to rest up for the next year of egg-laying. Spring will be here soon enough; be patient.
Young Hen, Old Hen
That being said, there are a lot of other things that can affect egg production besides daylight. A bird’s age, for example, is one very important factor.
On average, hens lay best during their first three years of adulthood, slowly becoming less productive as they grow older. Even so, I’ve had seven-year-old chickens that still lay on an regular basis, and I’m sure there are others out there that lay beyond that.
In my own barnyard, females get to stick around for the entirety of their natural lives, whether I’m getting eggs from them or not. But if your primary goal is egg production, you can replace older birds with new ones every year or so.
Young females — especially if they’re in their first year of laying — often continue to produce eggs into the winter. They also start up earlier in the spring. While I have not done any research on this, I have noticed my egg-laying breeds start up far earlier than other breeds, so you may also want to purchase chicken strains known for egg-laying capabilities.
Photo: Moosicorn Ranch (Flickr)
Food, Water And Housing
It is also important to have adequate water for your birds, as egg production can stop if a hen is dehydrated.
Do your chickens have a constant source of fresh water, even in freezing weather? If you don’t use an electric heater of some kind to keep water in a liquid state, you will need to go out and replace frozen water with fresh water two or three times a day.
Chickens eat more in cold weather too, so its crucial to have adequate quantities of clean, dry food available for them as well. Now is the time to throw a few bonus treats and cracked corn out to them for extra calories!
During winter, it’s often cold and damp outside, but the inside of your coop should be as dry as possible. Although chickens can tolerate cold much better than heat, if their living quarters have too much moisture, they will be stressed out. Stress disrupts laying.
Lice And Mites And Worms, Oh My!
Finally, be sure to check your birds from time to time to make sure they don’t have any pesky little critters crawling around under their feathers.
You might be able to see signs of bugs around under the wings, but bugs can be present even if you can’t see them. Putting some sort of insecticide powder in the shavings can help.
Also monitor droppings for signs of worms, as reduced laying can be the result of a worm infestation. As with bugs, not all types of worm are visible in droppings, so you may want to take samples to a vet for testing. Some folks routinely worm once or twice a year.
Because you shouldn’t eat treated birds’ eggs for a time after worming, winter might be the ideal time to treat.