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chicken-friendly solutions for eggs in winter

 
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Hi!

I'd love to hear your opinions about this:

I have 14 chickens, 2 of which are hybrids, saved from the egg industry, the others are more wild . They were laying lots of eggs during summer, but now the days get shorter they all completely stopped laying except for the 2 hybrids.

I can prolong the days by keeping a light shining in the evening until for example 10pm, but I only want to do this if I can assume that it would not force the hens so much that their life quality depends on it.

A way-in-between could also be to discontinue the evening light during 2 months (dec-jan) ?

All ideas welcome!

Jasper
 
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I found two issues with keeping a light on in winter. The main one was with the light on the hens are active.. but since they are shut in their coop from 4pm when it gets dark till 10pm when the light went off they got bored and started showing it. pecking eachother fighting etc. The coop was 6ft by 12ft for 6 hens with 2 6ft perches.  The second issue was that it didn't allow the hens a reset, I noticed that the chickens laid better eggs at the beginning of their laying periods, darker thicker shells and firmer whites that was true after going broody, moulting and after winter.
I had Marans some production hens a danish land chicken and an arucana the production chickens kept going all winter although they dropped from 6-7 eggs each per week to 3-4. Another thing I noticed was that the old breeds were still laying at full speed (in summer) at 3 years old and the production chickens were laying terrible thin shelled deformed eggs after 18months. I think this was due to the break the others took each year (October to March)

My choice was to have to many chickens for our needs, and to preserve eggs from the summer to take us over winter and let the girls have time off.
 
Jasper Van der Donck
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Thank you for sharing your experience!!
I decided to let them rest, and giving them light again perhaps in january if they still don't produce any eggs.

 
pollinator
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I'm finding that the lower daylight of fall comes at about the same time as molt when they don't lay anyhow. So light isn't going to help much then, but like someone else said, may just contribute to agitating them. I do like your idea of maybe starting to add light later and I might consider it in early spring just to get a jump on laying season. Makes me we wonder if that light should be outside the coop so they spend more time in the run before turning in at night.

It's odd to consider that every chicken has a finite number of eggs. Commercial producers have the goal of pumping out all those eggs in the shortest amount of time to spend the least amount on feed over a birds life. And they don't care that their hens are not happy about the conditions manipulated to make this happen. We permies usually have the benefit of not spending as much on feed (free ranging and feeding scraps) so we can let the laying hens have a bit more natural lifespan and egg career.
 
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Hey Jasper,
Every winter we've hoped our chickens would keep laying and every time they stopped. We tried lighting and fancy heating, and eventually just accepted our fate. But this past summer, we started mixing up our own feed, adding hot sauce (an old wife's tale but it seems to help them keep laying). Been trying hard to mix enough protein into the feed in the form of fishmeal, peas, and sunflower seeds. So far they're still laying! Its been pretty cold and gets dark at 4:30. I think if they have enough protein and nutrients and keep laying, it won't be a stressor to them. Best of luck!
Gabe
 
Jasper Van der Donck
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that's interesting Gabe!
thank you!
 
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Our hens are laying really well still.  We have a mix of 1-8 year olds.  We found that a little bit of sorghum seed will make them lay like crazy. We haven't had to give them any yet this year.
 
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Great topic.
This is my first year having chickens and now it's winter here in Iowa.
I only have 5 chickens. They are now inside in their larger area for the winter.
I turn the lights on in the morning until early evening and they seem very
good with the routine we have. They'd still rather go outside and when I go
down in the morning to turn on the lights they head to the steps thinking maybe
they get to go out.
They eat a bit more and I have been fermenting their food for cost and health of them.
I use black sunflower seeds, lentils, cracked corn, peas, etc
I sometimes give them sweet potatoes I've grown, bananas, apples, etc and that
keeps them busy and don't seem to get as bored. Especially when I hang a few
of them up.
I get from 4-5 eggs a day and a lot for one person so I do dehydrate for scrambled eggs,
boiled and can them with veggies and more.
I hope this might be helpful to someone.
 
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I'm retired from the chicken ranching business now. I've had up to 145 birds at one time, many were pullets and cockerels hatched by broody hens. I read the posts on this thread and found it interesting that some of your chickens molted in fall when the days got shorter. My birds always began to molt in late July or early August. I live on the south coastal area of Massachusetts. It is very hot and humid here during those months.

Regarding the supplemental lighting for egg production, I had a timer for the light. I set the timer to come on at 4 AM rather than in the evening. It seemed to me to be unfair to have the light suddenly shut off, leaving the hens in total dark, not able to find the roosts. While not giving the preferred 12 hours of daylight, the extra light in the morning seemed to be sufficient for better egg production during long nights.

Even with the supplemental lighting, laying will slack off. Long nights make for hungry birds when the light comes on or daybreak arrives. I've found that feeding sprouted whole corn fed late in the afternoons will prevent ravenous birds in the am. It works well to get the birds inside their coops before dark so you can retain some of the daytime heat. Tossing the sprouted whole corn on top of the bedding will keep the hens busy and helps with turning the bedding. Some grains will remain overnight and the birds will search in the morning, too.

Once a grain has been cracked open (like cracked corn), it looses nutrition. The grain looses it's viability. Feeding sprouted grains (whole wheat, whole corn, whole oats, other ancient whole grains) adds bang for your buck. I'm sure there is a thread on sprouting whole grains on this site.

Feeding sprouted oats in summer will release heat from the bird's bodies, so I didn't feed oats in winter. Whole corn will help heat bodies, so it's best fed in the winter time. The idea that you can't feed chicks with a broody hen whole corn is a fallacy. I have watched broody hens break up sprouted whole corn for their chicks. It's surprising how a week old chick can eat a piece of sprouted corn that momma has broken up. Their eyes are not bigger than their mouths!

Egg production in my flock was back up in full by the end of February. It seems that the heat of summer months reduced egg production but brought on broodiness in some hens, especially Buff Orpingtons.

I hope this helps.
 
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I grow a batch of meat chickens every year, so I pretty much need the coop for them. Therefore, I get my laying chickens for one year and then they go to freezer camp. I do, however, make sure they have everything to make them happy during their short life: Dry and clean coop, a small ceramic heater, good food, good meat scraps, plenty of fresh water, grit, extra calcium and plenty of room. Once the ground is covered, I also give them one tray full of sprouted wheat [about 3" high] every day: that keeps their yolk a lot darker and they really love it. I built them a "winter run" so that they can go out when I have to clean up their coop and the snow is feet deep outside. It is sandy and covered, so that is also an enormous dust bathing area. Also, when the snow is way too thick, that's where I feed them. They have a poop shelf, which really facilitates cleaning: Once a week, I get 2 homer pails full of straight poop. I won't need to change their floor litter for pretty much the entire winter.
I've had several breeds, and they didn't lay the same. The ones I have now [Sapphire gems] really do not lay as advertised, in spite of extra protein, extra light.
By the way, there is light and LIGHT. Please don't put fluorescent lighting. It is hard on humans and even harder on chickens.  I use a single stand of LED Christmas lights, the kind that is encased so they can't peck through it, just along their feed trough and by the water bowl. It is the kind of light they can still sleep through, but very subdued.
Last time, I had some Isa Browns, and they never skipped a beat during the winter. They kept right on laying and didn't have much of a molt either. I did have a light [100 Watts] but I turned it off late at night, when I went to lock them up.
Oh, about protein: an egg has a lot of protein, so if they lack the protein, they are unlikely to lay many eggs.. And about their molt, which usually is in late fall for me here, feathers, just like out nails are also protein rich, so if you want to try and get them over their molt faster, ramp up the proteins.
So, about adding a light, yes, it probably shortens their lives if it is on continuously and very bright. As far as being very helpful to make them lay more, I would say that the breed you choose is a bigger determinant.
 
C Fox
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Thanks for sharing this cynda.
I have a small grow light for plants in the distance so it's not totally dark where the chickens are and I think makes them a lot happier to not be in complete darkness.
I like the idea of adding sprouted grains too. This is a great idea and I'm going to implement this as well.

 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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C Fox wrote:Thanks for sharing this cynda.
I have a small grow light for plants in the distance so it's not totally dark where the chickens are and I think makes them a lot happier to not be in complete darkness.
I like the idea of adding sprouted grains too. This is a great idea and I'm going to implement this as well.




Indeed: My grandsons can't sleep without a little light, the kind that you plug directly in the wall. Why should chickens be any different: Getting on and off their roost is more dangerous in complete darkness.
For the grains, I use soft winter wheat and a column of grilling trays [They have narrow slits for the water to go through and fall in a bigger bin.
The first day, I add hot water to about 3/4 of a quart and let it sit covered and in water. The second day, I drain it and spread it on the bottom tray [I have 5-6], Do another one that I place above it and water both trays. I repeat until all trays are on the shelves. By the time I get to the 6th tray, the first one is ready to feed to the chickens and is almost 3" high. I pull it off the tray and parcel it, adding it to their feed [they prefer it dispersed. this way, they all get some].
 
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We have a pretty rough winter. I feed the chickens their organic soy free mash, and let them free range, and give them kitchen scraps and ripening tomatoes that were brought in before the frost. I like the idea of sprouting grains, so that the hens can have fresh greens. I think I will give that a try.

I have never felt good about trying to force hens to lay eggs through the winter. I think they deserve a rest. I think it is hard physiological work just to be alive when it’s so cold and it’s dark so long. I think humans should take it easy during the winter months too!  It does not make sense to me, that we would expect the same productivity during the winter as during the summer, both for ourselves and the hens.

I save eggs as winter darkness increases, and I don’t eat as many eggs in the winter.

There is a great thread here on permies all about preserving eggs!
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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C Fox wrote:Great topic.
This is my first year having chickens and now it's winter here in Iowa.
I only have 5 chickens. They are now inside in their larger area for the winter.
I turn the lights on in the morning until early evening and they seem very
good with the routine we have. They'd still rather go outside and when I go
down in the morning to turn on the lights they head to the steps thinking maybe
they get to go out.
They eat a bit more and I have been fermenting their food for cost and health of them.
I use black sunflower seeds, lentils, cracked corn, peas, etc
I sometimes give them sweet potatoes I've grown, bananas, apples, etc and that
keeps them busy and don't seem to get as bored. Especially when I hang a few
of them up.
I get from 4-5 eggs a day and a lot for one person so I do dehydrate for scrambled eggs,
boiled and can them with veggies and more.
I hope this might be helpful to someone.




Great to have you on this forum. Indeed, fermenting their food is a great idea. and it doesn't take as much effort as one might think. You are treating them well with all these diverse grains.
If they look like they might want to go out, let them. Trust them: If they don't like it, they will come back in pretty fast, even in subzero weather.
I normally leave the [human] door open during the day. When there is snow outside, I open only the trap door [incorporated in the human door]. It stays just a little warmer in their "winter run" [technically a hoop house], They get to stretch their legs and they also get some ventilation, which they really need. Drafty is not good, but an opening to the outside is great.
Mine get outside in the orchard but they seem to have no interest in apples, somehow. They do eat a bit of mash from pressed apples but they do not go after apples that fall to the ground. It's the first breed of chickens that shows no interest in that. they do go crazy for comfrey during the growing season, though!
It takes a lot to make an egg. If we give them what they need, and pamper them a bit more they keep laying.
Good job.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Just a word of caution on fermenting the chicken feed.  I knew a woman who tried this.  A couple of her hens got what she thought was botulism, became paralyzed and died.

I knew her, saw the afflicted , then dead chickens.  The rest is what she said about it, so I can’t speak for the validity of her assessment.  

Botulism toxin is created in an anaerobic environment.

 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Just a word of caution on fermenting the chicken feed.  I knew a woman who tried this.  A couple of her hens got what she thought was botulism, became paralyzed and died.
I knew her, saw the afflicted , then dead chickens.  The rest is what she said about it, so I can’t speak for the validity of her assessment.  
Botulism toxin is created in an anaerobic environment.




That can indeed be a problem, and you are correct that botulism thrives when there is no oxygen. I did say "ferment", but that's not accurate. I'm not sure that what I'm doing would be called "fermentation". It is more like making "microgreens". If I get my nose close, it has the smell of something that's fermented, but it's not really fermented:      
I sprout wheat in grilling trays stacked over each other and after 6-7 days, I have a beautiful green carpet of young wheat. They really go bonkers over that. [Anything green in winter is a treat they really go for. It gives their eggs a nice dark yellow yolk.
Every once in a while, I have a jar of some meat that didn't seal. The stuff expands and leaks. I don't give them that kind of stuff. It gets thrown on a pile where it will get some oxygen, and eventually, maybe loses its poisonous nature.  Now, chickens are more like scavengers and the kind of stuff they will eat is amazing, but we should not tempt fate either: Your friend may well be correct: Botulism can cause paralysis in chickens.
I tend to overfeed my chickens a little and I was told a sure killer of chickens is moldy grain, so that's another thing to make sure of: I had a pail of corn, and somehow some moisture got in. that stuff was pretty repulsive. I threw it outside of their enclosure. [I think crows, which we have in abundance here, can eat the stuff]
 
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I don't use a light. No particular reason. We usually have about 30 chickens of which half are laying by the time winter comes along. We try to butcher most of the older ones and can the meat into jars. Then we use the carcasses to make broth (we also add vegetables and spices - then strain before putting into jars). Then when winter comes along we feed them a decent laying mash from our local co-op. In addition to the mash they get pumpkin and squash that is left over from the garden during the winter (Sometimes it's so frozen I have to use the axe to cut it up!) every couple of days. The coop has a small door which is opened every day that the wind is not from the west. We have a few ducks left each year so water is put into an old rectangle (3 foot x 4 foot) aluminum 4 inch high container I found at an auction years ago. During the summer we use children's' swimming pools. Some years we get only 3 eggs a day and others we get about a dozen. It seems to depend on a few things like how old the new chickens are, what type they are, whether it is leap year or not, and whether I get up on the right or left side of the bed in the morning.  We don't usually worry about it. If we have a lot of eggs we use them. If we don't we make do and life goes on. The main thing is that our flock is healthy and happy. That means no unusual bills in the middle of winter when money can be tight. And for us, that's the bottom line. Jeff
 
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Hubby runs a small egg business so we get farm taxes. He buys "Industrial Chickens" so they tend to lay at least some eggs all winter.

However, we also have some Khaki-Campbell ducks. We've got a number of customers that are allergic to chicken eggs, but can eat duck eggs, so he tries to keep them happy. However, ducks normally do take a "holiday" in winter, and I don't like to interfere with that need.

So, we have two different duck areas. The area with our older ducks is naturally dark as it's part way down a north slope under a bunch of trees. We don't give them any artificial light and the 6 ducks are laying 1 egg every 2-3 days now that it's almost the end of November.

Our second duck area is near the top of a south facing hill, with no trees blocking the light. We do as suggested up thread - they get some supplemental light early in the morning, and go to bed naturally. They've been laying 3-4 eggs daily. This is enough to meet the needs of the couple of people who need duck eggs, and if we get a bit ahead, we have some other people who are happy to buy them.

So essentially, we've got two flocks and we artificially stagger when they get their "holiday" from laying. For people who feel they really need fresh eggs all year, this is an option to consider. If you're wanting to control breeding, having two separate flocks can assist in that also.
 
cynda williams
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Hey Folks, Regarding keeping a light on all night for the birds, when I first began raising day-old chicks, I had a red broody lamp for heat in the coop. I didn't understand why I found one bird pecked to death by the other birds. The local chicken educator told me that if a light is left on all night, the chickens can get too excited and that's why they pecked the one young chick to death. This light was on after the chicks were 6 weeks old. It was cold and I didn't understand that once chickens are feathered out, they don't need extra heat at night. I felt so guilty (and stupid) over this event. I thought I would add this info to this post thread.
 
Jeffrey Loucks
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Cynda, I lived in Alaska for a few years and my niece's family has lived in Anchorage for 8 years. During the summer there is a time when the sun doesn't set so there is light 24 hours per day. Now I live in Michigan and when we get new chicks in the spring it is quite common that the heat lamp has to stay on 24/7. The chickens don't have a problem so I have to wonder if your putting a light in was what caused the death. I have seen chickens go after one that was injured and although I don't know why they do it I have had it happen to my flock a few times.  This seems to happen at all ages from a couple of days through death. Maybe that is what happened to yours. In the long run, it ends up being a guessing game and all we can do is our best. Raising living beings brings us all kinds of joy. Unfortunately, every once in a great while we get thrown a curveball and it hurts. My heart goes out to you and I hope you are still raising chickens. Not only is the food we get from our own better but the smiles really make it worthwhile!
 
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For several years we have been working at developing our landrace of laying hens which will lay a decent amount during winter without extra lighting or special care. When I hear of somebody who has good, hardy layers I try to get a rooster from them to add to our mix. So far we have Chantecler, Dominique, Blue and Black Australorps, Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Bresse, Sasso, in approximate order of how much of each influence there is in the flock. The flock is usually close to 200.

We incubate eggs from the top ten percent best layers. We notice that there’s always a percentage of hens that keep laying all winter, with no extra lighting, and no going around daily to treat individual hens for leg mites and such things. It seems that number could be increased with selection.

We searched out old information concerning trap nesting which is how we have been identifying our best layers. We made some trap nests which catch the hens when they go in to lay an egg. We usually trap each group for at least a week to be sure we get a good representation of which ones are laying. During the trapping period we have to go and release them every hour or so, and write down the leg band numbers of the hens that laid an egg.

I wonder if somebody has come up with a better way since 1900, to track which hens are laying. We thought about game cameras but it seems that would require hours of analysis, scanning over the videos at the end of each day. How do other small breeders determine which hens are laying?
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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cynda williams wrote:Hey Folks, Regarding keeping a light on all night for the birds, when I first began raising day-old chicks, I had a red broody lamp for heat in the coop. I didn't understand why I found one bird pecked to death by the other birds. The local chicken educator told me that if a light is left on all night, the chickens can get too excited and that's why they pecked the one young chick to death. This light was on after the chicks were 6 weeks old. It was cold and I didn't understand that once chickens are feathered out, they don't need extra heat at night. I felt so guilty (and stupid) over this event. I thought I would add this info to this post thread.




Cynda, occasionally, chickens will peck each other to death but I really don't think that the red brood lamp had any play in that: Most of us use red brooding lamps when the chicks are young and they don't peck each other. Nor have I seen my chickens getting too excited with a red brooding lamp, even after they were feathered [I used it for warmth as we had a couple of really cold winters and my coop wasn't insulated..].
Chickens, just like humans, unfortunately, turn away from something that looks different to them. They distrust it and if they are in close quarters, the one that is different has nowhere to hide or get bullied. It gets worse if they are in competition.
I no longer had the light on and I found a young rooster pecked to death. It turns out that he was walking differently. I did an autopsy and discovered that one leg was broken. Another time, without lights, a hen was dead and the others were eating her innards. [It was shocking to me, and quite revolting: I could never look at them the same way after that]. It turns out that she may have had an egg that blocked her system. She was unable to expel it and the poor thing died overnight. I also had a rooster that became lame. That one had a competitor who would not let him take his turn with the ladies. He became irate and they fought long and hard. He was a bloody mess when I retrieved him. I butchered it that day. It would have been cruel to put him back in.
Cramped quarters and no distractions may have played a role too. Commercial poultry outfits have a person that keeps going along collecting dead birds during every shift. While some may suffer from the ammonia, others just get pecked on and die.
If you look closely at their face and their eyes, you will make the comparison with ancient  dinosaurs, from which they are descended. [The proteins found in the DNA of the T-Rex were most like those of the chicken. ]
Although we love them for all they do for us, they show their ancestry from a world where it was kill and eat or don't and die. Deep at heart, they are scavengers, and if the opportunity presents itself...
Oh, about those eggs with very soft shells: I always have available some oyster crumbles. Since the eggshell is mostly calcium, a hen that lays an egg a day is soon very deficient if she can't get calcium somehow. [If a woman were to shed that much calcium every day, she would have to take a supplement, and we are much larger, proportionately. I had perfect teeth until my children were born, and they were born 360 days apart. I had to go to the dentist a lot because I was now low in calcium. During gestation, an embryo takes the calcium from mom to make its own skeleton].
Going back to light or no light, it stands to reason that chickens would be fertile during the growing season while there is enough time to brood and hatch eggs and rest whenever they can't. Humans, however started selecting hens for superior laying ability, for looks, size, ease of converting food to meat and eggs. These creatures have been bred for that purpose. If you have a hen that is bred for laying an abundance of eggs, she will do that with or without a light. Such is the case of the Isa Browns. I never had a night light and they kept right on giving me eggs all winter, with just a little dip when they molted [and in some, I didn't even observe a big molt]. If you have a breed that wasn't selected and bred for that purpose, then you may raise the number of eggs a little by adding a light, and that's when we should ask ourselves "should we?"
 
if you think brussel sprouts are yummy, you should try any other food. And this tiny ad:
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