Friday, January 4, 2013

Question: Winter Egg Laying


This photo was taken on the first day of winter. 

What is so exciting about a bowl of eight eggs? Because these were the eggs laid on the first day of winter. Eight eggs - and we only have eight chickens. On the shortest day of the year, each chicken laid one egg. 

And it wasn't a fluke that happened only one day. The day before and the day after we also gathered eight eggs. Occasionally we'll get only seven eggs, but most often eight. 

This year we have the general sex link hens who are bred for maximum egg laying. Other years when we had heritage breed chickens, they laid fewer eggs per chicken but still did well at egg laying in the winter.
Now you are wondering what is the big deal?

Well, I've been told repeatedly that hens will slow their egg laying when the days shorten unless they receive supplemental lighting. But we don't have current to our hen house. Our hens receive no extra light or heat. Our weather the past two weeks has been cold enough to freeze their water overnight. One morning it was 11 degrees, but still these hens faithfully give us eight eggs a day. Typically we let our hens outdoors for part of each day but our hens are not excited about walking in snow! Our rooster won't even go out at all!

We did cut large windows in the chicken coop. The windows are low enough to shed light right into the hens. 


My husband read in one of Gene Logsdon's books that the whole theory of hens needing supplemental lighting to lay eggs in the winter was made up by the electrical companies in the early 1900's. According to him, farmers in rural America didn't think they needed electricity. In desperation for more customers, farmers were told that they would get more eggs if they supplied their hens with light in the winter months. Logsdon says that extra light is not needed.

I'd like to hear what you have experienced. Do you give your hens light?  Do you consider it necessary?  Do you agree with Logsdo's view of that the need for extra light is a legend?

53 comments :

  1. Wow! Our Orpingtons always slowed down to just about nothing on the shortest days of the year. I'd break down & buy some eggs at the store just before the solstice & then they'd start laying again as soon as the days started getting longer. We didn't have windows in the coop, though.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm... I've heard the same thing, and my friends here with chickens say that their hens have slowed down tremendously. We're hopefully building our coop this coming summer, and I was thinking of running a light out to it for the winter.

    I wonder if weather has anything to do with it; here in the Pacific Northwest, we get a lot of winter gloom and not much sunshine during the winter months. Looks like you have a lot of sunshine coming in those windows...

    -dep31-
    www.domesticendeavors.net

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Area may make a difference. We often have bright sunny days in the winter.
      Gina

      Delete
    2. Hey Gina,
      Just a couple of thoughts. I'm an old Iowa farm boy, well really not a farm boy we just lived on an acreage, but the chicken thing we did do.
      I saw earlier in one of your posts you are only keeping one rooster and wanted him to be docile. May I suggest you bring that up to two or three roosters. Here is my reasoning. If you are living out on a homestead and let your chickens range you NEED a tough dominate rooster. You really don't need to worry about the kids and the rooster, they have had a little opportunity to get used to the birds and a big stick really helps :-)! Back to the basic idea, one rooster,and a mild one at that, has a number of drawbacks. In NATURE what is the rooster there for? Breeding and defense of the flock, that's it!! Why two or three roosters. For the same reason the Good Lord put it together that way. The DOMINATE rooster will end up the primary breeder in the flock sending his stronger geans downline. Why two or three extra roosters in the flock? How are they going to learn to defend the flock if they have no where to learn the basic art of fighting and defense? Keep an eye out for your dominate rooster, keep him as your breeding rooster. As he gets older and is not able to fend off the advances of the stronger younger males sorry but it's his time to go, but, what a great service he as given to you and the flock. He as protected and bred the hens and has taught the young roosters how to do the same. Works quite well.

      I need to share with you one quick story. When my children were young we lived out in Calif. we had chickens, rabbits and goats. Great for the kids! We had maybe 10-30 hens at any one time. Sometime up to 30-40 rabbits. The chickens ranged free, we fed them very little "commercial feed", all our table scraps, and any bugs and weeds they could find. Our dominate rooster for a few years was a big old Road Island Red. He had to be 12# if an ounce. He stood maybe 15-18",awesome bird. We also had a big old Rex rabbit buck that had been running loose for years. They both felt they were the bosses of the estate! They would fight light cats and dogs with each other, BUT, don't let any cat or dog get on the property because they would both jump them "literally" I personally have seen them chase off cats and dogs! That's why you want a dominate rooster! When we moved to Las Vegas, when my oldest daughter was 13-14, we couldn't take our flock and rabbits with us. One of the first nights we were in our new home, after dinner, Stephanie cleared the table put the scraps on a plate and walked out the back sliding patio door, she just stood there for a few minutes, it was really funny to see, it was like she was trapped in a time warp. She was so conditioned to feeding the chickens the scraps she had to stop and realize what was happening. Then she learned about a garbage disposal, which to tell you the truth we all hated! Well I hope my meanderings did drive you crazy.

      Old Viet Nam Vet(Da Nange 67"), Retired Gemologist/Metalurgical Consultant, Prepper before it was ever popular! Ed eamennig@yahoo.com

      Delete
    3. I enjoy your stories! I should write about our rooster experience sometime.

      Now we only have a rooster for fun, not breeding, so I want a docile one. In past years we have had roosters that attacked our children (and me.) None of the children would go anywhere near the chicken house and would burst into tears if asked to get the eggs. He didn't last long here. We gave him to a friend who wanted to breed chickens and needed a dominate rooster of his breed.

      And they didn't have children!

      We have animals and a garden for a good place to raise children. Getting scratched up by the rooster doesn't qualify as a good growing up experience, though they may have stories to tell their children. So our goals may be different than others.
      Gina

      Delete
  3. Except for this year we have never had an issue with hens laying in the winter. If we got 10 eggs in the summer then we got 10 eggs in the winter. This year they aren't laying but this is because we accidentally let them molt and a couple of them are too young. Sadly i just purchased eggs at Walmart for th e first time in a long while.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Friend,
      I am also an avid chicken caretaker and have been for a number years. I was a bit bamboozled by your mention of "accidentally letting your chickens molt". . . My thought is that molting is a general natural occurrence in nature just as a buck looses its rack or an eagle gains its new feathers, wolves shed their coat and gain a new pelt etc. I am curious how you PREVENT chickens from molting?? I live in the south where we experience triple digits in the summer time and believe loosing feathers is Gods way of cooling off and renewing them. . . but I am open to learning more! :) P.H. South Carolina

      Delete
    2. Howdy from the great state of Texas! We have been chicken 'farmers' for a few.years and sell a variety of laying hens & eggs. If you fail to water Chickens for an extended period of time you can send them into molt. This was an "accident" due to a miscommunication between me & my husband. Generally, chickens do not need to cool down in the winter even in Texas. Accordingly, molting is generally a warm weather event.
      God Bless you, my friend!
      Kyle

      Delete
  4. Hmmmmm. That's food for thought.

    Just like people started eating organ meats (liver, stomach, tripe, etc.) during WWII when all the normal meat was being given to the soldiers. The government actually ran ad campaigns telling housewives to use the "weird" meat and how to cook it. Or, at least, that's what I read in a book called "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg. Interesting book.

    Anyway. Maybe we'll give solar power a try! *L*

    ReplyDelete
  5. My hens lay all year round too and I don't give them any extra light. I have four hens and I usually get at least 2 eggs a day.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think having the sex-links helps a lot. I think having new blood come in or hatching chicks every year helps a lot too. That said, we've always had a light on in the winter... that's just what you do and I've never questioned it, but now that you mentioned it, when those two aforementioned criteria aren't met, it has made about zero difference. Thanks for something to think about!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I forgot to mention that our chickens are young. They just started laying in September - so they are in their prime!

      In the past, when we had heritage breed chickens, they laid well the first winter, but didn't do as well the second winter.

      Maybe age of chicken is key.
      Gina

      Delete
    2. By the way, I have a chicken question for you.... I was just cooking a freezer meal, doing some sampling, and then making an idiot out of myself while loving the flavor of our broiler chickens. Then I started wondering what you thought of the ranger broilers you raised this summer. I can't remember reading your opinion (sorry if I missed it!) So what did you think?

      Delete
    3. I guess I'm not sure on my opinion. We loved raising the Freedom Rangers but I can't really tell a difference in the meat flavor.

      Maybe I just don't have discriminating taste buds! So the jury is still out on what breed of meat bird we raise!
      Gina

      Delete
    4. Well if you can't tell, that's an easy decision... cornish are quicker & cheaper! :) Thanks for answering ♥

      Delete
    5. But the Freedom Rangers were more fun to raise. Cornish look so dopey with their heads in the feed trough!
      Gina

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Our 3 ladies are laying about a dozen eggs a week. We set up a light for heat but it was too bright and they would go outside to sleep. We switched the bulb to a black light bulb and they are back in the coop. I make sure they have plenty of water, ours freezes at night too, and plenty of variety in their diet - scratch grains, kitchen scraps, oyster shells in addition to lay pellets.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I've been thinking about getting some chickens but folks around here have chickens and half the time they don't seem to lay. I didn't want to feed chickens grain 24-7 and not get many eggs. Where did you get these chickens? I might need to get some of these kind.
    I have a very huge pen already made that I used to have ducks in. Part of it is covered so they'll have cover and then part of it is just wire all the way around. We live in the deep south so hopefully that would be ok for this breed to. I would also like to let mine out to free range every day because they make the best eggs doing this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We got these hens from a neighbor who has 100 or so chickens and sells eggs. I don't know where they bought the hens, or even was specific breed they are.
      Gina

      Delete
  10. Have you ever heard of putting warm water in for them or a little red pepper in their feed? Some old-timers gave some pointers like that. I can't say if they work or not... It's been about a year since we have had hens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I take out some warm water for them sometimes when it is very cold. But I never heard of red pepper.
      Gina

      Delete
  11. I have been hearing that from several people, about the extra light. I don't do it. I did have alot of Barred Rock and Americana and Red Star pullets this past year. All under a year old. I had 4 Red Stars. 2 of them always got out of the coop and laid eggs in the ram's hay rack, so I know it was them. I was giving them all laying feed too. No eggs from any of the others. So I sold all but the Red Star. I am not giving them any feed at all. Only scraps. And I am getting 4 eggs a day now! It's been in the low 20's at night here. I am very pleased with these hens. I love Buff Orpington and Barred Rock, but when I get more, I will be getting the Red Stars. I just love having my own eggs and do not like buying from a store.

    Gena, your hens are doing great! Are you feeding any laying feed?

    ReplyDelete
  12. No hen lights & our egg production drops drastically in winter even though it doesn't snow. One thing though ~ when hens come to maturity they have to lay so I was wondering how old your hens are? I always try to purchase chicks that are going to mature at the start of winter to ensure eggs throughout.
    Enjoy your eggs & I hope it continues all year long!!
    Blessings
    Renata:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our hens just started to lay in September so they are young. Maybe that is key.
      Gina

      Delete
  13. Right now, I have 6 hens and am only getting 2-3 eggs per day. I do have a light that comes on from 3am to 7am too. So, I wonder if it doesn't matter. My coop has windows too. I also have a cross breed. What cross are yours?
    ~mamabeanof4

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't even know since we bought them from a neighbor.
      Gina

      Delete
  14. We have the sex-link chickens as well, but they are on their second year of laying. They went into a complete molt about 2 months ago, and are coming out of that and laying, yesterday we got 10 eggs from our 19 chickens.

    ReplyDelete
  15. We have raised chickens for 20 plus years and I personally have always noticed a decrease in egg production during the winter months. When we have a large flock of hens, and we are selling the eggs, I keep a light on in the evening and I keep the feeder full of grain. If our flock is small, and we are not selling eggs, then I don’t bother with a light because we tend to get enough eggs just for the family.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I think you are extremely blessed. We have 35 hens and l rooster. On a good day we are getting 10-12. Some days only 6-8. We do not have electricity in our coop. We do have one window but it doesn't let in near as much light as yours does. I have been thinking of putting a post on my blog similar to yours only mine would be asking if anyone had any suggestions to improve laying. I have not been a light out there mostly because I believe in doing things simple. I am still feeding them the same amount of layer(they have not slowed down on their eating!) I would appreciate any advice you have. I might mention 12 of the hens are 1 1/2 yrs old and 23 of them are this years chickens. Thanks and God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  17. My ladies don't lay in winter. I thought it was because of the cold. They have a cozy coop but it's still very cold out and dark. I've always been told that chickens won't lay when stressed, and so I thought the change in weather must be a stress factor for them! I don't mind giving them a break, anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  18. The windows look like a perfect answer and I'd love to include them if and when I build a coop but I have question or two. Do you open them for circulation in the summer? And do you have to worry about predators with them being so low to the ground if they are open in the summer?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We do open the windows for circulation. Combined with shade from nearby trees, it keeps the coop comfortable in the summer heat. We have heavy wire over the windows and so far it has kept out predators. When we had predator problems it was when we forgot to shut the door!
      Gina

      Delete
  19. We used to sell a variety of chickens, but right now just have chickens for our own enjoyment. Anyway, after reviewing the responses and giving it a little more thought (while my hubby hands a quilt rack) I think Quinn has a good point the kind of chickens you have makes a big difference. If you have a heritage breed like Buff , Rhode Island Red or Black Austrulorp you may face traditional issues like deceased production in the winter. But if you have a cross breed chicken like sex links or production reds (which we usually have)they are breed for maximum egg production. Anyways those are just a few of my thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Our 1 1/2 year old chickens moulted in October and haven't laid since. The new girls who are only about 8 months old are laying. The older girls laid last winter too. We did give them a heat lamp last year and I thought that helped but decided against that unless it gets single digits this year. I think God wants their bodies to rest a little too. My chickens are all pets with names but I realize not everyone feels that same way. I'd rather have the hens lay fewer eggs for a longer time period than many eggs in a shorter span of time.

    ReplyDelete
  21. We have Barred Rocks who were chicks the spring of 2012. Even in the dark days of winter they are laying 1 egg a day per chicken. They wander around on the coldest days but return to their coop at night which has screen covered windows that we open only in warm weather.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I have had six chickens since the beginning of August. I got them as pullets and in three to four weeks they all were laying. Ever since then I have had six eggs. Then I got six more in the beginning of November. They took a little longer to get started, but are now laying six eggs as well. My sister got six hens at the same time that I got my second batch, but she is only getting three to four eggs. I have lights, and I also am feeding organic feed. My sister does not do either of these. Maybe it is the feed. They are also Road Island Red. My coop is only a calf hutch with no windows, and it is not all that warm.

    My first and second batch of hens do not get along. The older hens really pick on the younger ones. I now have two pens. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to help them get along? I would love to have one pen to cut down on the work.

    Jerusha McGlothin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jerusha-
      I really don't know. Any of you have any hints?
      Gina

      Delete
    2. Introduce them together at night. They tend to "wake up" and be a bit more accepting. It may take a few days but they will establish their order of big boss and on down. Sometimes if a hen insists on being mean, the stew pot is a good place for her.

      Delete
  23. This is old news. The research has been done. The answers are in. To lay well over the winter chickens need no shortening of daylength, hence 14 hrs of light.

    Also, http://proverbsthirtyonewoman.blogspot.com/2013/01/8-reasons-chickens-stop-laying-eggs.html

    Winston

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link! I'm still wondering if the light theory is actually based on research or hearsay.
      Gina

      Delete
    2. My Grandpa who is no longer living and was a hatchery/chicken man most of his life will tell you that is not a theory. With the big windows, your hens might be alright but the next batch might not be. It is just one of those things but generally speaking, they need light.

      Delete
  24. we live in central MO and right around the time change our eggs STOPPED! just like that. wish we had winter eggs. maybe we will get a different kind.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Here is an explanation.

    http://blog.mcmurrayhatchery.com/2010/10/27/why-arent-my-chickens-laying/

    they say that hens need light but it doesn't have to be bright light. With big windows like you have, Gina, I would suspect that they are getting mostly enough light to keep laying.

    ReplyDelete
  26. We have had chickens for over a dozen years and they consistently drop off dramatically in the winter. We have been able to boost their laying a little in the winter by giving feed that is higher in protein.
    So...I think they need the longer daylight hours in order to continue to lay at the rate that they do during the longer days. I also think that God designed them this way and who am I to try to circumvent His design in order to make the deal better for me? So...we eat fewer eggs in the winter. There's my $.02.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found adding cayenne pepper to their feed in winter warms them up sufficiently that they just keep right on a-layin'.

      Delete
  27. Gina,
    I finally gave in and added extra light to the chicken coop. I have heritage chickens of whatever breed suits my fancy. My chickens molted earlier late this fall and into early winter and I was only getting one egg every other day or so. So I added the extra light on a timer for early morning and for a few hours after dark. Within a week the hens started laying again. I also started letting them out more during the day to free range. I have my coop set up so they can get out into their pen any time of day they choose, but only let them free range for a few hours in the afternoon (to protect my perennials from extensive damage). We've had cold days for about a month now and that hasn't effected their egg laying. I use an electric dog watering pan with a clay pot and some webbing over it to keep the water from freezing and the chickens from getting too much debris in the water.

    The other thing that I've done this winter is add a little straw on top of the snow in their pen so they can be outdoors in their pen without the cold snow feet. That has given them something to scratch and keep them entertained too.

    When I added the light their appetite increased too. They seem happier and less stressed.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Your chickens look like mine-mine are golden comets, a sex link cross. I provide no supplemental light, or heat, but do have lots of windows. My Golden Comets are still laying just like they did in the summer-they started laying in June. I am sure part of the reason is their age. No rooster, just happy biddies, laying away!

    ReplyDelete
  29. www.backyardchickens.com is a great website with wealth of information for those in the chicken life....

    For us we just give our girls more corn during the winter in their feed as it acts like a lil heater during digestion. We dont give them any extra light outside what nature gives them on a typical day.

    Also food for thought temps for a chicken usually need to run consistently between 45-87 for them to lay.. when its too cold their bodies stop laying to accommodate for the loss of body heat so they are focused on being warm.. when its too hot because even making eggs take a certain amount of body temps.. they are focused on being cool.

    As you grow more and more with your desire to raising laying hens and being more around the chicken lifestyle you will come to figure out the ebb and flow of your flock... I say HAPPY LAYING!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hi Gina, Lets talk chickens... I have had chickens for a very long time. Ebb and flow. My chickens get scraps everday and a flake of alfalfa in very cold weather. We have a heated water bowl as they drink alot of water.
    But I wanted to tell you how we also thought they need more light. We did put in electriciy and we went in and found a chicken hanging in the string. We just were shocked so we stopped that! LOL
    Blessings, Roxy

    ReplyDelete
  31. According to a farmer and author (Gene Logsdon), the notion of suppplemental lighting in the winter was put about by power companies to encourage rural folks to become customers. And, according to something I read recently, chickens fare better when fed things such as kitchen scraps, especially meat such as organ meat. Apparently it isn't well known that chickens love meat and will pounce on it before other foods, given the chance. I also just read that chickens love (cooked) winter squash with the seeds.
    from
    Bonny

    ReplyDelete
  32. I really don't know. In winter I turn the light on when I get there, but it doesn't make very much difference and our windows are smaller than yours. We have the Isa Brown Sex a Link also and they are sure good layers! Some of the chickens that are at the pre-pullet stage are Buff Orphington. I got them because I think it would be so much fun watching Mama hens hatching out there own brood. I am sure looking forward to when these pretty girls become layers. Do you have any egg customers? I can't keep up with the demand. : )

    ReplyDelete
  33. Our half grown chicks go nuts over the grasshoppers I throw them but just looked at the bread scraps! (I hope I didn't gross you out too much!)

    ReplyDelete

I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails