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Winter egg numbers?

 
Tony Hill
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I've heard that in the winter, the hens will almost stop laying, once it gets cold.

This year, in central VA, we have had a LOT of cold. Much colder than normal, with many record lows set. Daytime temps often not getting out of the teens, and many nights of single-digits to below zero F. But our first-year hens are still laying away. They were all sleeping in a bare dog-house. When temps were supposed to get -10F plus wind, I decided to FORCE them to go into the little hen house I made last summer, that has about 8" of straw on the floor, and straw bales for them to perch on. They did NOT want to go in there. I boarded up the dog house, and they just stood in freezing rain and snow, still refusing to go into the house. Finally I went out there and shoved them in one at a time and locked the door. Had to do the same on the next night. On the third night, when I went out there, many decided they could go in on their own. Night 4, all were inside, except for the "Tree Bird". On night 5 and ever since, ALL of them live in the hen house.

We are very happy with their egg production. Three breeds: White Sussex, Red Sussex and Brahmas. Do they normally lay right through winter? I've read that when they molt, they will stop laying for awhile. But does the cold stop them, too? This hen house is NOT heated or insulated, so it can't be much warmer in there when it's below zero at night. I guess 20 birds huddling together makes enough heat.

In the summer, we usually get 12-15 eggs a day (17 hens) Now, we are getting 8-12 a day, BUT I just found a couple dozen eggs hidden under a storage trailer. Our birds are free range, and I believe they are also laying in the neighbor's yard, They run over there every day, and eat all their cat's food, and tear up their garden, yet the neighbor mentions how she loves the birds coming by... HMMMM... Yeah, they are getting free eggs! But that's okay, as it surely keeps the peace.

Anyway, let me know if this is "normal" or if it's just a first-year thing, and we are just getting spoiled.

Thanks!

-TH
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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first year layers will keep up a decent output over the winter. This is usually not the case in the second year. You're experiencing the same output that I had from my flock last year. This winter they went into a full shutdown for a month or so during the coldest days and have just started back up again. From everything I've read, this is normal.

If you've changed up their living arrangements, you could be stressing them a bit which could cause them to stop laying for a little while. My hens will have slight slowdowns in production when they are moved to new housing or when I change the coop layout. Either way... everything you said is pretty normal.

 
Tony Hill
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Thanks for the reply.
Something strange about our birds.... When I slaughter, they produce MORE eggs. Almost if they are afraid they will be next, if they don't produce.

So after making them go into the coop, they produced MORE eggs than the week before. OR, they were warmer in the house, and that helped their production. OR, being in the house kept them from hiding their eggs.

My biggest problem is that they keep hiding their eggs. Reallly getting tired of the egg hunt. Found over 2 dozen just the other day, and they were all frozen and ruined.

I'm thinking of curtailing their free range, and putting them in a pen. I'm concerned that this will make them less happy, and they will produce less. But this year, I'm determined not to let them destroy the garden, flower beds, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, like they did last year!

Maybe I can keep them in the pen, and then let them free for an hour before dark, so they can't do too much damage. But if they run out and start destroying, they will stay in the pen. Can't allow the destruction they caused last year!

Does anyone know of any breeds that are better at eating bugs, and leaving the fruit and veggies alone? Maybe the Brahmas?

Thanks.

-TH
 
John Polk
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Sounds pretty normal to me. Spring chicks normally will not molt their first autumn.
Next year, they will probably go on strike for a couple of months once the days turn shorter/colder.

Yeah. Any change will cause some stress to their tiny brains. Stress will slow down egg production.

Often it is cheaper/easier to fence them out of areas (like gardens) than it is to fence them in areas.

 
Tony Hill
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John Polk wrote:Yeah. Any change will cause some stress to their tiny brains. Stress will slow down egg production.

Often it is cheaper/easier to fence them out of areas (like gardens) than it is to fence them in areas.




John,
Thanks for the feedback. On our case, the garden is pretty huge, the berry bushes encircle the entire house, the strawberry beds are in one corner of the yard, the raspberries in another, and the blackberries run along maybe 200' of fence line. I can see no way to effectively keep them out.

But creating a chicken penitentiary seems feasible. We just watched the animated movie, "chicken run" and it gave us some GREAT ideas! RENT THAT MOVIE if you haven't seen it. I really like their chicken yard! Yes, we need to make one of those...

Our problem with egg count is not that they stop laying, but because they are hiding the eggs in multiple, ridiculous locations. I think a fortified chicken penitentiary will solve that problem.

Everyone else is trying to give their chickens more freedom. We are looking for better ways to imprison ours. A year of running amuck has been quite enough!

-TH
 
Ryan Workman
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Egg production can be boosted in the winter if you add light to the coop to extend the short winter days. I did this last winter, but then I wasn't able to harvest the eggs before they froze (got home from work after 5), so I turned off the light. This caused the chickens to molt again! So this year I decided to let them have a winter break and haven't turned on the light at all. They just recently started to lay again after a month long dearth. We have 10 hens, 2-3 years old, and are getting 2 eggs a day now. Get 6-7 in the summer.
 
Tony Hill
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I did something interesting in the chicken house. I used an Anderson door with full-height glass on their coop. I salvaged it from a door replacement job.

I did this because I figured it would give lots of light, and make it easy to get in and out of the coop. The chickens like the brushed-nickel hardware, and it was FREE!

The door faces north, so the sun never beats directly into it, but the birds get lots of light. In fact, we have to be careful to keep outside lights OFF at night, because the chickens will wake up and come pouring out of the house hoping for an extra meal! That is a real pain when coming home at night, and the car headlights hit the coop!

No doubt about it- We need a chicken penitentiary!

-TH
 
John Polk
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You might try putting some fake eggs (even golf balls work - the birds aren't that bright) into their nests.
When they see them, their brains think "Hmm. That looks like a good place to lay."

Collecting eggs from truly free rangers can be a real chore.
Whenever you find one, you have to wonder how long it has been there. Today? Last week?

 
Craig Dobbelyu
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I've read that you can test the egg by putting it in a bowl of water. If it sinks it's still ok to eat. If it floats, compost it. If you have any doubt, throw it out. There will be fresh ones tomorrow.

Personally, I get enough eggs in the boxes that when I find ones elsewhere, I just toss them in the compost or give them to pigs.

Another trick to keep them laying in the box is to keep them in the coop for the first half of the day and then let them out for the afternoon. They are likely to lay in the morning hours, though not all birds are this way.

I have one hen that will hold an egg for as long as she needs to in order to lay it in the bucket near the wood pile. I can't break the habit, so I just leave the bucket there. It's a compromise I guess. At least she's reliable.

 
Amy Owen
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Hey guys! We live in the Ozark Mtns of Arkansas. Right now we have a lot of ice and a little snow. We have a light on our best layers, they seem to be doing pretty good. We are getting 10-12 eggs a day. Yes, our birds don't like the cold. During the molt, we don't get many eggs. Our best layers right now are the brown leghorns (white eggs) and barred rocks (lg brown eggs). We have ours all cooped up in the winter. In the spring and summer we free range but we are hoping to get our chicken tractor finished so that we can rotate with our cows, pigs and goats. It should get very interesting.
 
Tony Hill
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Interesting!

When it was crazy-cold last week, I tried keeping them locked up for half the day. A few laid in the house, (the same ones as normal) but most held on and then went running to their established spots upon release.

THAT'S how we found the "new" spot. Saw chickens go that way, heard the cackle, but couldn't find any eggs. Then I crawled on my belly and looked under the storage trailer, and OH MY! Dozens of eggs way back underneath the axle, where they were impossible to reach!

I used a long handled net and with effort, was able to get the eggs out. Most were muddy, hard-frozen and cracked, with the exception of three shiny new, warm eggs that were separate from the rest.

The others I left laying there in a big pile... Now that's another story. Turns out, we have an egg sucker!!!

Will make a separate post about that one...

-TH
 
John Polk
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Aha. Then they are hiding them from "That dirty old egg sucking hound." as Johnny Cash used to say.
If they know that the coop isn't safe for their eggs, they will lay elsewhere.

 
Tony Hill
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They are pretty smart, and maybe that's part of it, but the dog can't get into the coop. Those are safe.

Funny, but when a possum came around and ate some eggs, they never went back there. The dog takes them and they don't move. Go figure. Maybe they are taking care of their protector?

These hens just like to be contrary!

-TH
 
John Polk
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Look at the bright side: that means that the hens have accepted the dog into the family - but not the possum.

EDITED to add: When I worked in the Antarctic, there was a senior scientist (ornothology) who had been there years before I showed up. He was startled when I pointed out an observation I had made that had never occurred to him: every penguin rookery had a mated pair of skuas that resided there most of the time. The penguins never offered resistance when one of those 2 birds ate an egg, or chick. However, those 2 birds kept the other thousands of skuas from coming into the rookery. Like Chicago in the 20's-30's: you have to pay for your protection.

 
jay william
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We also have first year layers that don't seem at all bothered by the cold this winter in Northern NC.

Now our bantams, who are older, pretty muched stopped laying up until a week ago. So that seems to fit with the young hens not minding the cold trend.

All of these birds are in a mobile coop which is basically three sided. The door is hardware cloth over a frame, definetly not airtight. I think chickens in general are tougher than most people give them credit for being.
 
Tony Hill
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Yesterday was interesting. We got maybe 16" of snow or so overnight, and a steady drizzling rain was falling for most of the day.

The chickens came down the ramp, looked around, and went right back inside. After plowing our road all morning, when I came back in, my wife notified me that there were a number of birds "stranded" in parts of the yard, just sitting in the rain and getting soaked. They looked pitiful.

So I went out to rescue them and put them back in the pen, and amazingly, collected 8 eggs from their usual spots, with another 3 eggs in the coop. 11 eggs is not bad for a day of big snow, out of 16 hens. Good girls!

-TH
 
Ty Morrison
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This winter my four light brahmas really slowed down in egg production over last winter, like 50%. Then one of them died. This will be there third spring so I don't think it was old age.

Since the one died, the others have almost stopped laying (pining for their friend?) like on egg every four days from the three survivors. Last year they were almost shooting 75%.

In conjunction with the loss of a member of the team, I noticed that my light timer (on before dawn and after sunset to give them the 16 hours of light) was not working and they were getting light all night long. Now that it is corrected we will see if they get back on track.

My coop is 110 years old (really!) very permanent and not insulated, but shared with my six goats. The chooks seem to do fine.

The coop is very much a lock-down at night. Even though I live in the Boise city limits, not too far from downtown we have had 16 raccoons and 13 foxes try to get those chickens! My chocolate lab sleeps inside, so he is not a deterrent, but a fair warning device. I think he would eat the chickens if he could get in the pasture.
 
Tony Hill
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Sorry to hear about you losing one of your girls!

We've had much snow since my last post. The chickens, (5 Buff Brahma henss, 6 Red hens, 5 White Sexton hens, 4 Brahma roosters) have apparently gotten used to it, and also to the unusually cold temperatures, sometimes dipping below 0* F.

Our hen-house has thin walls, NO light, NO heat. 20 birds should help each other stay warm, except for the one bird that has gone broody over a clutch of eggs. She's on her own, bedded down in some leaves beneath my work trailer. We've decided to let her hatch them or freeze trying. I think she will hatch them!

Surprisingly, despite the cold and snow, for the last few days, we have gotten 15 eggs from 15 layers, which is up from 12/day. That's as good as it gets!

The only problem in all of this is how much they are eating lately. They are getting about 4 coffee cans of food a day, right now, with the ground frozen up. Time to cull out two more roosters!

The Brahma girls are the surprise in all of this. We were told that "all-purpose birds are good at neither!", but they are putting out just as many eggs as the Sextons and Reds. It just took them longer to mature and get start laying. Plus they are bigger, so they will make a better stew once they stop laying.


Anyone have any advice about how to handle the bird sitting on the clutch of eggs? She won't eat or drink. Is that normal?

-TH


 
Ty Morrison
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Tony:

Last year my girls laid almost every day despite the snow and cold. This year it's a different story. They seemed to go down to 50% when it really got cold (minus five) and we got about 6 inches of snow. Then the one died just as we got out of the cold and snow. Now we are near freezing at night, mid-fifties in day...no change since the one passed. I have taken to reminding them that elsewhere they would be stew or enchiladas, but that doesn't seem to help!

Of note: last season I had one that laid some doubles, one (maybe the same) that laid a few with almost no-shell and one (again, who knows which one) that laid some really small ones about the size of a jumbo olive.

I am guessing that Brahmas have more than one season of good egg-laying and that I am just not doing it right. Plenty of food, free range in the day and I recycle their egg shells. No rooster.

Any ideas?
 
Tony Hill
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Ty,
Since my original post, I've done a lot of asking around. EVERYONE tells me that the second year has the biggest drop in egg production. Their first real molt. So don't worry too much.

What was recommended was to boost their feed rate with "layer mix" pellets, and DO NOT heat their pens. The cold inspires faster feather growth, so they can get back to laying. These are farmers who have been doing this successfully for generations, so I listen carefully to everything they tell me. The layer pellets will fix the shell problem, too, as will some oyster shell tossed in there.

Our broody Brahma survived the crazy-cold the other night. Is snowing right now, but the weather is finally going up into the 50's this week, so we may be out of the woods with this crazy winter!

-TH
 
Ty Morrison
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Thanks.

I will take a 'chill pill' and get back to other tasks.

 
Yvette Spicer
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John Polk wrote:Sounds pretty normal to me. Spring chicks normally will not molt their first autumn.
Next year, they will probably go on strike for a couple of months once the days turn shorter/colder.

Yeah. Any change will cause some stress to their tiny brains. Stress will slow down egg production.

Often it is cheaper/easier to fence them out of areas (like gardens) than it is to fence them in areas.



My girls are free range in the back yard but do get locked in at night - too many night critters here. They still lay through the winter, but not much, but I have to clean the coop a lot more often to keep them happy. Once in a while I find an egg in one of three nests outside the pen but even frozen they are edible when they thaw.
 
Ty Morrison
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Egg production is up, so are the hours of sunlight and temperature.

Also, I am letting the chicks scratch around on the compost pile, ala geoff lawton's chicken tractor on steroids.

They really seem to like it.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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