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5 months out of 12 no laying

 
Arthur Grand
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I purchased chicks in March 2010
They started laying August 2010
They stopped laying around Aug-Sep 2011
Started laying again Jan 2012
Stopped laying again in Aug-Sep.

I am in zone 7. In August and September the temp is still warm with considerable sun 70-85 F
They are free range chickens with fresh rainwater as their source of water. They eat a mix of clover, store feed and occaisional kitchen scraps.

Why would they not lay eggs for 5 months out of the year?

 
John Polk
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Most birds, in the wild, lay their eggs in the spring. That is when the chicks have the best chance to mature enough that they can survive the coming winter. They also molt their feathers late summer, so that they may regrow a fresh, new set that will protect them in the cold months.

Once they begin molting, they need their nutrients and energy to grow new feathers, so they quit laying.
The equinox is their signal to start their winter chores. Days are getting shorter, it is now time to prepare for the cold.

Five months does seem a little long though. Perhaps local conditions are upsetting their normal internal clocks.
If their coop gets shade that delays morning sun, or quickens dusk, it can fool them as to day length.

Many chicken raisers utilize lights on timers to fake them into thinking the days are still long. As long as they think they are getting 15 +/- hours of daylight, they continue laying. If you do use artifical lighting, it is best to add the hours of light in the morning, and NOT at night. Be forewarned though, that this does shorten their laying lives. Once they have laid their quota, they stop all together.

 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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The growing season pretty much ends in Sept. Your in zone 7 . The the "natural" free range bird are giving you 7 months of eggs. That sounds about right.
Like John said, Give them a higher protein diet. different grass/seed/bug mix. They could also be getting heavy competition from other birds for bugs etc.
The early morning light dimmer is worth a shot.
 
Jay Green
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What breeds do you have? Heritage breeds will have that normal slow down and it's not uncommon at all for the egg laying to slow to a drip for that long if you are raising certain breeds. Back in the old days, this was an accepted rhythm in flocks and no one blinked an eye about it.

Nowadays folks feel like they have to have eggs all year round or there is something wrong with their chickens, so they start feeding them high pro and high calcium feeds and supplementing lighting. All that does is get those chickens off their natural rhythm and cause them to burn out quicker. Chickens are not gumball machines and they usually take a rest in the winter months if they are dual purpose breeds...and this is a good thing. This means your chickens will still be laying up into their older years like mine~6 years old and still laying 5 out of 7 days in peak laying months.

If you simply must have eggs each winter, let your birds hatch a set of eggs each spring...by the time those chicks get old enough to lay it will be fall/winter and they should lay enough for you to eat some eggs that winter until the older hens kick in on laying again. That's how most old timers do it to get some eggs for the family to consume during the winter months...this will normally only happen the first year those birds mature. After their first year of laying, they too will take a break in the fall and winter. Then you do it all over again..it's called a rolling flock and it's how it has been done since the beginning of time. NOT with lights and timers to force abnormal laying cycles.

It's normal~be happy they are performing like their ancestors did.
 
Arthur Grand
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Thanks for so much useful feedback. I will be looking at the options now. Since my chickens are all hens, I might consider getting a set of chicks at the proper time so they can mature and provide eggs duing the down time. I have been lighting at night and since I read here that lighting in morning is preferable I will consider doing that instead. BTW the breed I have are Barred Plymouth Rock, which I suspect is a heritage breed. Are there other breeds better known to provide eggs closer to year round? My brother was thinking about getting a different variety in the next year.

 
John Polk
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The reason morning light works better is that the hens are still getting the required hours of light...day just 'starts' earlier.
With PM lighting, it simulates the daylight hours, but the timer clicks OFF long after it is naturally dark.
In one instant, it goes from full 'daylight' to total darkness. BANG!
Chickens do not see well in the dark. They will stumble around in the dark, get confused, and cause themselves to panic.
Their simple minds do not work well in extraordinary conditions...panic causes stress...stress leads to many health issues.

I do NOT recommend artificial light, as it does shorten their lives (laying and actual lives).
It is something used mostly in the commercial egg industry, where a chicken's life is measured in dollars and cents.
Hopefully, we in permaculture, think of hens as more than a sum of pennies.

It was mentioned above that hens were not bubblegum machines. In reality, they are close to one.
Each hen is born with a quota of eggs. Once they have all been laid, she is 'Empty'.
In nature, it can take many years to 'empty' her. With artificial means, we can empty her in a couple of years.

 
John Polk
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The Plymouths (Barred or White) are both good dual purpose birds. Have been around since the 1800's.

Rhode Island Reds, or New Hampshire Reds might be worth considering if you/your brother are thinking of trying a different breed.
Either one will produce a slightly smaller meat bird (about 1 pound smaller), but should produce more eggs.

If you are interested in raising your own chicks in the future, The New Hampshire Red should have a slight advantage, as they have a better reputation as being broody than either the RIRs or Plymouths.

If they end up cross breeding, you'll end up with a classic barnyard mutt...a mainstay for millions of farmers of the past.
A wider gene pool often leads to a sturdy, healthy flock, ready to grab life by the horns. The best of both.
 
Travis Day
Posts: 26
Location: Idaho, 43rd parallel Zone 6A
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It may be time to make a few chicken soup meals and not pay to feed eggless chickens.

Now I have 8 RIR's (Rhode Island Reds) that I got in March 2012 and I am in a 6A zone and I am getting right now no less than 5 eggs a day and one of my crazy hens thought it to be a good time to start molting almost 2 weeks ago, My girls are Free Range and I don't close the coop at all they can come and go as they please 24/7 also no heat or lighting.

I have been giving them more feed the last 3-4 weeks I went from 1/4 cup a day per bird to 1/2 cup and if they want any more they better get back to work.....LOL
 
Jay Green
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Hatchery bred RIRs are layers, plain and simple. They do not resemble the heritage breed that was RIR and they will lay all winter long...and will burn out on laying in a few short years, if they even make it that far. They have been bred over many years now to just produce eggs and not much anything else. Just like leghorns. If that is indeed the aim of your farming, to have as many eggs in a short a time as possible, then these high production mutants from the hatchery stock are a good choice. Then you will have a whole flock to stew up every other year or so.

Stewing hens that are not laying during a season when they shouldn't really be in full lay is like eating your milk cow when she dries up~it is only temporary until she is freshened once again. In nature there must always be a dormant period if an animal or plant is to be productive and healthy for many years. That is the case for much of nature and it's a good rhythm to know and respect if you really want to learn how to farm.

Permaculture? Isn't that all about slow and steady wins the race and also creating a healthy give and take to the soils, animals and environment? I don't see where that is consistent with production layers and agribiz farming methods of keeping high production layers and using them up as quickly as possible.

Now, breeder quality RIRs from quality lines that have worked to preserve their original characteristics will be a bird that will lay well, go broody, have a meaty carcass and will...yes..slow down a little during the fall and winter months because that's just what chickens are supposed to do~ and did~ before humans tampered with their natural hardiness, mothering and laying traits so that the agribiz folks could "feed the world".

If you cannot put your hands on good heritage breed RIRs or other layer breeds that have not been souped up to current agriculture standards, then keep some dual purpose breeds and a sprinkling of these high production layers so you can have the best of both worlds...but you'll have to keep buying those high production gals over and over.
 
John Polk
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I agree about the hatchery bred layers. Many are bred strictly for high egg production, as that is what most of their customers desire. Some will offer both Rhode Island Reds, and "Production Reds". The Production Red is derived from the RIR, but not a 'true' RIR. If you order RIRs from hatcheries, tell them "My daughter wants to raise some for 'show' ". A good hatchery will advise you whether their birds meet the "Standards" for the breed, or not. Birds that don't meet the standards have been bastardized for 'optimum production'.

I don't know where you live, but if it is a rural area, there are probably some locals who breed chickens. Among the advantages they have over the big hatcheries is that their birds are climatized to the region, and they do not spend the first days of their lives in the postal system. You will likely get birds that grew up around adult birds, lived 'on-the-land', and are more natural than 'factory birds' who have never seen the light of day until you open the box. Most small breeders don't sell 'day-olds', but more likely 'week-olds', so you should be starting with healthier chicks.

Ask your county extension agent if he knows any good breeders in your area.
Or, keep checking Craig's List, as many have extras to sell each spring.
Keep in mind that not all breeders are good breeders. Check out their operation before buying.

Good luck with your harem.
 
Arthur Grand
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Looks like I will be discontinuing my chicken flock after this one is done.

It is frustrating to read various books and see vids and articles on blogs (not anyone on permies necessarily) where people imply they can have eggs all year round and then leave out the significant down time. For half the year my hens make from 4-6 a day. Too many for us to eat. For almost half the year I have to buy feed for chickens that are not making eggs. So they go from producers to pets. If there was a low cost way to preserve those extra eggs that might help some with spreading the eggs through the year.
I have helped with slaughtering chickens before and found it unpleasant. Not looking forward to doing that when these hens retire. Was initially planning to get new chicks this spring, but then realised they would have the same issue and I would have to do the "rolling flock" method. This means slaughtering chickens in the fall as they wear out, and doing this every year instead of every two or three years.

Is there some "trick" I am missing that these chicken gurus are leaving out of their vids and articles?

 
mick mclaughlin
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Location: Augusta,Ks
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Not, what you are missing is the natural way.

It's what chickens were designed to do. As others have said, you can "make" them lay more by adding a light to the chicken coop during winter, or you can adjust.

I don't find butchering pleasant, but it is part of the cycle. You can always sell your older birds on Craig'slist. Someone will be willing to eat good yard bird.

Hate to see ya get out of chickens so soon. Maybe consider adjusting your expectations. You can also grow forage to supplement winter feed.

Nature is a cycle, and chickens have a short one!

 
Rosalind Riley
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Arthur, don't give up. I live in S.E. England and I've no idea what zone that is. We have had patchily-laying heritage breeds in the past like you, but last year got some brown layers in time for them to come in to lay in October. They have literally laid all winter (even quite a bad winter for us) - we were getting 2 eggs a day from 3 brownies, while the Black Rock, Light Sussex and Black Maran just ate their heads off. They're all laying now and we get 3 - 4 eggs a day, so the brownies are laying nearly every day.

I realise they may live less long but they have a brilliant life and enjoy themselves just as much as the prettier hens - they are vigorous and greedy and won't be hanging around for their last years, still eating their heads off and completely eggless.

We have an on-demand feeder and give them greens/grass/weeds from the garden and cooked veg from the kitchen. They are really low-maintenance and I love to have eggs to share with family and friends.

BTW there are ways to preserve eggs - rubbing with wax, keeping in isinglass etc; one of the best is to make cakes and quiches and freeze them!

Good luck!
 
Lindsey Foster
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Don't give up just yet! We do live in a cool climate in Australia, so while we have hot days in the summer we do get cold, short days in the winter. We've found that when we add 2-4 new chickens to the flock each summer we have plenty of eggs all through the winter and generally far more than we could use.

As far as preserving, eggs are quite easy to keep in the freezer. They do need to be cracked, and you can either beat them a little and freeze them (label each container with the number of eggs and date) or you can separate them and freeze them. Egg whites don't need any special treatment for freezing, just pop them in a small container with a label for date and number of whites so you know what's in there. Egg yolks change texture after freezing, so to prevent that you need to beat in a little bit of salt (1/4 tsp salt for each half cup of yolks in savoury dishes) or sugar (3 tsp per half cup for sweet dishes) and then label and freeze.

Boiling works too, but obviously not for the same length of time and then you only have boiled eggs to work with.
 
dj niels
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Thanks for the tips on preserving eggs. We are getting a lot right now, but not so many in the winter. We did add lights, but I see from this thread that I probably should not keep doing that. I am glad to know that, as it will make it easier to keep my birds down at my market garden in the winter if I don't have to worry so much about lights, and eggs that might freeze, etc.
 
matt hogan
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Location: Tennesse, an hour west of Nashville, zone 7
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I have Black Australorps and Americaunas. The first winter, they laid pretty well. Less than in the summer, but adequately.

This year, they all molted in the fall and stopped laying. Even after the molt, they didn't want to lay more than one every other day in December. Then i started sprouting seeds for them as their primary food, with using store bought food only as a backup. Within a few days, they started laying three per day. A couple weeks ago, i got lazy and didn't give them the sprouted seeds for a few days. Their production went way down, and back up after a couple days of sprouted seeds.
 
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