How to keep chickens laying in winter

One of the best parts of keeping chickens is the number of fresh eggs but don’t you find that there is just a glut in the summer and you end up giving some of them away?  Wouldn’t it be great if you could enjoy a supply of fresh eggs all year round for your home baking and winter dishes!

Read about raising healthy chickens here

Light is the main determining factor which lowers egg production and ceases egg laying so even if temperatures hold up well, the number of eggs will inevitably decline.  If the weather is cold, egg production will drop even further as more resources are diverted by the hen into keeping warm.  Shortening daylight hours direct the bird’s energies onto other activities such as the moult rather than egg laying.


So how can you keep your birds egg laying in the winter?

As with other species such as Thoroughbred racehorses, the main intervention is to trick the chicken’s body with an artificial light source.  Chickens do still need to roost so the perceived wisdom is to add additional hours of light in the morning allowing them to wind down with a natural lowering of light at dusk.  It is important that the light source is reliable as losing power for even just a few days will induce a moult and you will then be left with very cold and vulnerable birds.

Let there be light - how much light do chickens need?

For a small coop of just a few birds, a forty-watt light bulb should do the trick.  The light source needs to be safe and fireproof. Protect the bulb with a wire guard and use a timer to bring the light on at say 4 am.

 

It’s not just as simple as switching a light on

Ensure there is access to plenty of fresh water which is changed daily, particularly in freezing weather; this will need to be inside the coop on those long winter nights.  Chickens also love deep comfortable bedding, especially important when it is cold and they are shut in the hen house for longer periods. 

 

Feeding chickens in winter

Nutrition is key to optimise health and also ensure the hens continue to lay.  There are plenty of branded choices, pellets, layers mash and crumbles which are specifically designed to support egg production with the requisite levels of protein.  However, your chickens will also require more carbohydrate to stay warm.  Expect to feed them just under double their summer rations.  You can supplement their feed with treats such as cracked corn which is a lovely tasty option before bed to help keep them warm overnight. Buy cracked corn. This will also ensure your egg yolks are a rich yellow in colour. Warm oatmeal with banana or maple syrup is another option. Something you can scatter over the bed is always helpful to ensure long hours in the coop overnight do not become boring which can lead to undesirable behaviour amongst the flock.

Are some breeds better than others for egg laying in winter?

Some breeds fare better in winter than others in that they cope well with colder temperatures, these are the types of chickens which are going to find it easier to lay when the thermometer drops.  The Sussex is one such breed and the Buff Orpington another, both characterised by smaller combs and looser feathers making it easier for them to withstand chilly days and nights.  The Rhode Island Red is another excellent layer and some hybrids like Golden Comets barely flicker in egg production when the days shorten.

 

There are other factors

Other things affect a chicken’s ability to lay eggs and one simple determinant is age.  Older birds naturally decline in their egg laying abilities so keep a mixed age range of chickens within your group and the younger ones will compensate for lower egg laying by the older ones.


Why are eggs so important in our diet?

Eggs are a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein most of which is found in the egg white.  Eggs contain all the nine essential amino acids which we cannot make ourselves and which must, therefore, be obtained from food.  Great for calorie counting, a medium soft boiled egg contains around 84 calories.


Tasty winter egg recipes

Baked eggs with winter vegetables are lovely and warming on a chilly morning and very healthy.  You can cool the vegetables ahead of time and keep them for around four days in the fridge making this a very quick and nutritious breakfast option.  Sautee pre-cooked Brussel sprouts, leeks and spinach in a little bit of butter, season with salt and pepper and then crack over the top, a couple of your delicious eggs.  Cook in the oven for around eight minutes. Or how about winter vegetable egg scramble, so tasty it can make the perfect starter to your day or even a hot lunch. Soften some red onion, kale and celery, mushrooms too if you like.  Set the veggies aside, add some more oil, scramble a couple of your lovely eggs and then combine together.

As nature intended

Some breeders and hobbyists feel that it is wrong to force chickens to lay all year round.  When left in their natural state, they would moult and then restore and repair themselves over the winter period.  This is very much a decision for the individual keeper. If you have a mix of birds age-wise, you will probably find that the younger birds will still continue to produce some eggs for you during this off season anyway.
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